Historic Home And Garden Tour

Interpreters bring history to life

by BRENDA PEDRAZA-VIDAMOUR

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Interpreters in period costume for Newnan's Historic Homes and Gardens Tour take a break from candle dipping, bench-making and other chores to warm themselves by the fire pit at the Bailey Home. From left is Marvin Greer of the Atlanta History Center, volunteer Blake Argotsinger, Kelly Whitfield of AHC, Joanna Arrieta, executive director of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society, and Ruth Wagner and Cameron Argotsinger, both of AHC.

It rained and temperatures were cool, perfect for the gardens featured in Newnan’s Historic Homes and Gardens Tour on May 4, if not so much for the visitors.

“Well, they missed it,” Nadine Evans of Newnan said. “It was amazing and so much more than I expected, especially at the Magnolias’ gardens. It was breathtakingly beautiful.”

Evans was one of perhaps 100 or more who braved the weather and at times mucked through mud to see the gardens up close at the Magnolias Plantation, the Bailey Home and the Reese Home.

Besides the homes and gardens, the tour also included exhibits and activities showing how life was in the 1860s. Music, fashions and live demonstrations were featured, including an exhibit with animals representing those from a working farm of the era.

Jan Bowyer of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and Coweta County Master Gardener Extension Volunteers figured the poor weather was Coweta’s forefathers’ way of helping today’s generation understand how tough life was then.

“Our ancestors are up in heaven and looking down on us and saying ‘You want authenticity of how hard life was 100 years ago? Let me show you how hard it is when you’ve got to go out and take care of animals in the rain,’” she said.

The 1860s theme was selected as part of NCHS’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Executive Director Joanna Arietta said the interactive activities encourage people to engage more as they learn. Interpreters from the Atlanta History Museum were on hand at the Bailey Home, a former slave-holding farm, to demonstrate skills such as fire pit cooking, candle dipping and planing wood by hand.

One interpreter told stories about enslaved times.

“Every time we interpret antebellum life, we depict the enslaved experience. Not only is it an important story to tell… but also because it was the defining aspect of the antebellum period,” Arietta said. “It is so important to share with the public the stories of enslaved resistance and community because those stories are not typically taught or studied. It helps all of us to understand antebellum history in a more accurate light.”

The Bailey Home, built in the 1830s, is owned by Thomas Lee. The home, occupied by members of the Bailey family for more than 140 years, was restored to reflect its yeoman farm history. The property on Poplar Road featured several outbuildings, including the slave cabin, and vegetable and herb gardens.

The Magnolias Plantation, built between 1829-1833, is owned by Morris Steward and George Johnson, who furnished the Federalist-style home on Bill Hart Road with antiques.

Formal boxwood gardens, cutting gardens, a parterre vegetable garden and several other spaces are spread throughout the property like “little stories in small spaces,” Evans said.

The Reese Home, built by Dr. J.T. Reese in 1856 as a one-story Greek Revival cottage, had a second story and other details added during subsequent remodels. Reese was a druggist who maintained an apothecary at the home. When Bonnie Umberger and her husband restored the Greenville Street home when they owned it in 1983, they discovered fragments of medicine bottles in the basement.

Umberger said she also found a piece of plaster with Victorian scrollwork, which she speculates was drawn by a 19th century itinerant artist. She traced the design, and gave it to the home’s current owners, Steve and Kim Wright. Umberger was delighted to see Kim Wright made a stencil from the drawing to hand-paint the design as a ceiling border trim along the home’s hallway.


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