Claire Cothren of Blueprints and Backpacks was my co-pilot during my days as an architectural surveyor at UGA Find It. We spent many long hours cruising around Georgia and documenting and photographing buildings, trying to convince people we were not tax accessors, and eating a lot of biscuits. She recently shared this post about some our favorite findings and lessons learned on the Georgia backroads. Enjoy!
Backroads... For Southerners they hold a special place for us that’s obvious anytime you turn on country radio. In grad school I got to drive them like it was my job, because it was. While working towards my masters degree in Historic Preservation at The University of Georgia, I received an assistantship with the Center for Community Design and Preservation. The center is a part of the College of Environment and Design and serves as a public service and outreach office. The assistantship was with the Findit! program. According to the website:
“FindIt! is a state-wide cultural resource survey program sponsored by the Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC)
in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division (GA SHPO).”
In other words, counties in Georgia hired us to drive around incorporated areas of the county and document historic resources (buildings, cemeteries) and enter them into Georgia’s Natural, Archaeological, and Historic GIS (GNARHGIS) inventory. What this meant is that my grad school bestie and fellow blogger Emily and I drove around Georgia backroads following tiny purple dots on large quadrant maps from the 1970s searching for “potential historic resources”. After we located and surveyed these resources, we entered them into the GNARHGIS system and the information became available to the public. Emily drove, I navigated. As you can imagine, 2 girls in a University vehicle driving dirt roads with a clipboard and a camera can create a little suspicion. We encountered many characters in the Georgia backwoods, some welcoming and some not so much, but overall it was a wonderful experience. Counties surveyed under my assistantship were Baldwin, Talbot, Glascock and Atkinson. Some days we found treasures galore, others were full of trailer parks and old kaolin pits, but I wanted to share some things I really came to appreciate along those Georgia backroads.
Credit: Vanishing Georgia(http://vanishingsouthgeorgia.com/category/talbot-county-ga/)
1. Small churches and cemeteries: Oh, how I wish I had more of my own photos of these amazing places. Being from Mississippi, small community churches are not an uncommon sight. But the churches we came across on those Georgia backroads were some of the most unique I have ever seen. Some were simple with a traditional center tower and steeple, and some were tiny greek temples at a dusty crossroads in the middle of nowhere. And the cemeteries! We came across so many, and saw some truly amazing wrought iron fencing and carved headstones, many that were makeshift and obviously created by loving family members. We also came across plenty of four wheelers and fishing headstones as well. Driving through a county surveying cemeteries makes one very familiar with surnames of the prominent people of the area, and more than once I had to repress the urge to ask someone with said surnames if any of their folks might be buried down in Talbot County. Not creepy at all.
2. The Flint River Outpost: This gem of a gas station/outpost/general store/bar/hotel is actually just outside of Talbot county across the Flint River in Thomaston, but it quickly became one of our favorite stops. It is just as charming as it sounds, and you bet your behind you can buy bait and vienna sausages there, along with awesome tank tops (see photo above). The outpost reminded me so much of the small grocery store on my hometown lake, and I’m pretty sure there was a mounted deer butt in there somewhere with a face on it. You can also rent kayaks and canoes there for an outing along the scenic Flint River, or just pick up an Orange Crush and some stylish additions to your wardrobe.
Hoop Cheese costs extra
3. Roadside stands and Hoop Cheese: In Georgia you can find some of the best fruit (peaches, obviously), vegetables, chicken salad, biscuits, and yes, hoop cheese, that you get find anywhere at a roadside stand. Do you know what Hoop Cheese is? Cause I sure didn’t. Apparently it is a type of farmers cheese that is difficult to produce, which is why you don’t find it much anymore. It is a firm, dry cheese and tastes pretty darn good on a country ham biscuit. Get you one.
Want more Hoop Cheese... click here.
4. Backroads Folks: Fortunately, we never came across anyone hostile on our journeys besides the occasional territorial dog. But when someone is standing in front of your house taking photos, you just might feel the need to see what they are up to, and this happened often. My favorite story involved a man who wanted to show off a little, and took us underneath his well restored home to show us a secret area where he believed the original family hid from Native American attacks during the early territory days. It was only when he closed the door and shut us in did I think this may have been a bad idea. Luckily, he let us out and we sustained no attacks. A not-s0-favorite story involved a man with a skull ring asking us if we were carrying a gun as we surveyed a small secluded cemetery. Not that you had to ask, but he was carrying several. For the most part, people just wanted to chat, and it was usually through these folks that we gained the most information for our surveys.
Willacoochee Chamber of Commerce
5. Lessons learned from this story: Towards the end of my second year, the time came to survey Atkinson County. Atkinson County is about 4 hours from Athens. Therefore, we needed to go and spend the night. I was trying to finish my thesis and all other end of graduate school things and I had a Bad Attitude about this trip. I would have traded my grandmother’s silver not to have to go to South Georgia to spend the night in a town called Willacoochee to do this survey. But, it was our job so off we went. When we arrived in Willacoochee, we were met by the mayor at the Chamber of Commerce/VIP hotel, which consisted of 2 train cars joined together on abandoned tracks in the center of town. The mayor, Mr. Lace Futch, showed us our lodgings and presented us with a beautiful fruit basket from the good people of Willachoochee. As we were talking about the town and its pronunciation, Mr. Futch caught us quite off guard when he asked, “Now you girls know what ‘coochee’ means, don’t ya?” Insert nervous laughter and sideways “is he saying what I think he’s saying” glances. I’m thinking, what is about to happen?! Where is the nearest exit?! Well, after what felt like quite the pause, Mr. Futch continued on, “It’s an old Indian word for ‘water’!” Whew. Of course, Mayor Futch meant us nothing but a good laugh and after a confusing discussion about wifi, or the lack thereof, was on his way. Emily and I retired to our traincar, which looked (and smelled) very much like my grandmothers house if she lived in a trailer/train, and prepped ourselves for a long day of survey.
After an excellent biscuit breakfast at Mary’s Restaurant across the street with some locals, we set off lickety split. Normally for these trips we would be in UGA vehicles, but for this adventure we given a tiny rental resembling a tin can. Because Willacoochee is in south Georgia, the soil is quite sandy and we basically hydroplaned across the entire county. I can’t say I remember many of the resources surveyed, but I do remember yelling “Just don’t stop! Keep going! Keep going!” as Emily drove us across the sand dunes in the tin can narrowly avoiding sliding into ditches and mailboxes.
The point is, I absolutely dreaded this trip and would have rather stuck a needle in my eye than go. But, it turned out to be one of the most hilarious and memorable moments of my graduate school experience, and I’m glad I didn’t miss out on the opportunity to go somewhere I would have never gone otherwise. So what are the lessons I learned from this trip? First, don’t judge a town by its name or what it may or may not sound like. Second, some of the best people you will meet are ones you might not have wanted to in the first place. Last but not least, ALWAYS take the backroads (but get a bigger car)!
This is a guest post by blogger Claire Cothren of Blueprints and Backpacks