A living history village in Tifton, Georgia, surrounds visitors with the sights, sounds, and experiences of the 19th century.
By Max and Bea Hunn
The noise of interstate highway traffic fills the air as you roll along in your motorhome on Interstate 75, which runs from Michigan to Florida. There’s no doubt you’re in the frenetic 21st century. Yet, by taking exit 63B to Tifton, Georgia, home of the Georgia Agrirama, you can step back more than a century in time.
Within minutes you will see what life was like in this area between 1870 and 1910. By wandering the grounds of this living history museum, listening carefully to the interpreters, and exercising your own imagination, you can appreciate and understand the obvious and subtle changes wrought in agrarian life by industrialization and urbanization of American society, not only in the South, but throughout the United States.
The Agrirama is situated on 95 acres and encompasses 45 old-time structures gathered from all over the state. The buildings have been restored as reminders of the past and help to form a living history exhibit. People attired in typical late-19th-century costumes can be seen throughout the four general areas: a traditional farm community of the 1870s; a progressive farmstead of the 1890s; a rural town; and an industrial sites complex.
The Agrirama Country Store is adjacent to the entrance. It is an excellent introduction to the past, with its wooden counters and 19th-century display cases packed with local souvenirs and other items. It’s also the exit; so, if you’re interested in shopping, you can plan on making purchases before you leave.
How you wander the exhibits is your choice. A map of the entire complex is provided, so you can meander as you like.
The traditional farm area deals with the agricultural practices and patterns in the Southern pine belt, specifically the wiregrass region of South Georgia. Sparsely occupied by small farmers and herdsmen before the Civil War, this area earned its colorful name from the tough bunchgrass that carpeted the dense pine forest and made land-clearing difficult.
The centerpiece of this area is a typical farmhouse of the period with its storage cribs, smokehouse, barn, and loft. The barn and loft are composed of two log cribs under the same roof. The run, or hallway, and loft above are formed by plates that tie the two structures together and support the roof.
Inside the farmhouse are period furnishings and costumed interpreters. Outside are barnyard animals that children (and adults) love to visit.
Each November the wiregrass farmer turned his attention to the sugarcane harvest. A wood frame mill was used to extract the juice from the cane. The juice was boiled in a kettle to produce syrup; or, with more evaporation, brown sugar. Later in your tour, on the progressive farmstead, you will see a more advanced system of sugar refining, indicative of the increasing commercialization of this phase of agriculture over the years.
The rural settlement depicts the era before 1880. Georgia and the South at the time were largely agricultural and undeveloped. Most people living outside of the cities and the central cotton belt congregated in small family communities and crossroads hamlets called settlements. This pattern prevailed until the great railroad boom of 1886.
The settlement includes a typical rural church, schoolhouse, and fields. The church originally was built in Dougherty County for the congregation of Wesley Chapel. The building also housed other congregations and a school. The church has hand-planed boards in the walls and furnishings, as well as poured-glass windowpanes and original shutters.
Many of the Agrirama’s visitors are schoolchildren. If you are fortunate enough to tour the facility while a school group is visiting, you may see a lively example of a one-room schoolhouse in action, with lessons in progress. It’s a fascinating learning experience for today’s students to be taught in such a school.
Wandering on, you encounter typical fields, which, depending upon the season, may be planted in cotton, corn, pinders (peanuts), oats, sweet potatoes, melons, tobacco, cowpeas, and various vegetables. The fields are worked with mules using implements and techniques standard in the 19th century.
The progressive farmstead of the 1890 period shows how things changed in a mere 20 years. Following the Civil War, the South’s recovery was slow. Economic conditions forced Southern farmers to concentrate on growing cotton, but an erratic market for cotton caused economic losses. To offset the skittish prices, farmers during this time stayed self-sufficient. These exhibits depict their independent spirit.
The farmhouse is a version of many 19th-century Southern dwellings. It’s characterized by an open breezeway called a dogtrot, located between two sections of the building. The house was built in 1896 in the town of Ty Ty. Other buildings at the progressive farm include a syrup or storage house; a smokehouse; a chicken house; and a privy. A kitchen garden is situated alongside the traditional swept dirt yard. Often an attendant in typical dress sweeps the yard with a corn-shuck broom.
A sugarcane mill and shed also are on the premises. As transportation improved, some farmers began to produce cane syrup for distant markets. The three-roller mill, brick furnace, and kettle represent the first stages of bigger production. Sixty gallons of cane juice and three to four hours of boiling were required to make six gallons of syrup.
Also in this exhibit are animal pens, a barn, and a buggy shed for farm vehicles. The barn is modeled after a Miller County mule barn built in 1889. The livestock are typical of those commonly seen during the period, such as “piney wood rooter hogs,” sheep, goats, dairy cows, horses, and mules.
Many people today are unaware how much commerce has changed in the last 100 years. Prior to the railroad expansion in the last quarter of the 19th century and the establishment of towns, markets were located at river landings or railroad depots, often 40 miles or more distant. Farmers depended upon their local production and lived in a self-sufficient way. They made the long, hard trip to market only at harvest. Often the local commerce center was a mill, so this display includes a miller’s house and a gristmill. The owner of the mill was a very important person, for the mill was vital to the processing of grains for food and fiber crops for sale. This mill store, however meagerly supplied, was the only local source of “bought” goods. Often the mill owner also was the postmaster, justice of the peace, and notary public. The mill here was built in 1879 near Warwick, Georgia.
The industrial sites complex shows the development of South Georgia after the Civil War as the nation’s need for new sources of pine timber and pine products brought railroads, industry, and increased population to the area. The wealth created by the virgin forests helped build railroads, towns, and cities, and sparked increased immigration to new farmlands.
The sawmill is a small operation similar to those used to process timber from the yellow pine forests between 1870 and 1910. The Agrirama’s DeLoach circular sawmill is powered by an Atlas 25-horsepower steam engine that was capable of cutting 10,000 feet per day “” and it’s portable. A crew of 10 men was required to keep such a mill operating.
The turpentine distillery depicts the industry that was established in 1870. Pine trees were tapped for their sap, which was distilled to produce spirits of turpentine. Rosin, a by-product, was drained from the still afterward. Naval stores (the collective name for these by-products) were important in the pharmaceutical and paint industries, and shipped to port cities such as Brunswick and Savannah. Related buildings on the site include the cooper’s shed, where barrel makers created temporary rosin barrels and glue-sealed “spirit” barrels, as well as the company store. The latter building was constructed in Dooly County in 1889.
Visitors can ride a logging train into the woods. The trip will help passengers to better understand the final phase in the development of South Georgia: the railroads. Towns sprang up around depots as the Industrial Age arrived in rural areas. From the depot, an original building brought here from Montezuma, Georgia, you can walk to different buildings.
A blacksmith shop represents the smithy and wheelwright business in a small “sawmill town.” The Printing Office and the Telephone Exchange are detailed examples of communications in Georgia during the 1890s. A working print shop includes old typesetting equipment and antique presses “” a quarterly newspaper of events at the Agrirama is published with this equipment. The Telephone Exchange is an authentic working system typical of the 1890s, complete with hand-crank telephones.
The cotton-gin house is equipped with an 1896 Lummus cotton ginning system that removed the seed from the cotton. A cotton warehouse nearby is patterned after an 1890 structure located in Brooklet, Georgia.
The beautiful, original Victorian home of Henry Harding Tift, the founder of Tifton, also should be on your list of places to see. Tift’s family used their funds to bedeck the house with silk wallpaper, fine china, and fine paintings of the day, all of which are on display.
Be on the lookout for a new addition to the Agrirama, too. In March 2005, officials plan to open a new museum of agriculture on the premises. It will offer a full view of agriculture, from its beginnings long ago to cutting-edge futuristic developments.
You may want to time your visit to coincide with some of the museum’s yearly special events. In April, the Spring Folk Life Festival includes demonstrations of sheep-shearing, rail-splitting, log-rolling, textile arts, and quilting. Other festivities include the Old Fashioned July Fourth Celebration; Cotton Ginning (in October); Cane Grinding (in November); and an 1890s Victorian Christmas (in mid-December).
Whenever you go, the Georgia Agrirama is a fascinating step back in time.
P.O. Box Q
Tifton, GA 31793
The Georgia Agrirama, which is approximately 80 miles south of Perry, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors over 55, $4 for children 5 to 16, and free for children 4 and under. Parking and admission to the Country Store are free.
A new campground was scheduled to open on the Agrirama grounds at press time. The RV park has 42 full-hookup sites. For details about rates and site availability, call the Agrirama at (800) 767-1875.
The following is not a complete list, so please consult your favorite campground directory or FMCA’s Business Directory, published in the June and January issues of FMC and online at www.fmca.com, for additional listings.
Amy’s South Georgia RV Park
4632 Union Road
Tifton, GA 31794
The Pines Campground
18 Casseta Road
Tifton, GA 31794