DECEMBER, 2015 – LAGRANGE, GA – When exploring Georgia’s most historic towns and villages, a stop in LaGrange, just an hour from both Atlanta and Columbus on I-85, is practically a prerequisite.
In LaGrange’s early days, Troup County was bustling with the need for construction, and builder Horace King fit the bill. King began his career as a bridge builder and architect in the 1830s while still enslaved to John Godwin. After being granted his freedom in 1846, he constructed truss and covered bridges over nearly every major river in Georgia. After moving his family to LaGrange in 1872, he designed and constructed the block of buildings known today as the Horace King Block on the east side of Lafayette Square, LaGrange’s downtown centerpiece, and was buried in LaGrange after his death in 1885.
LaGrange was home to more than 100 Federal- and Greek Revival-style mansions by the beginning of the Civil War, city homes of many well-to-do planters in agrarian west Georgia. Broad Street, LaGrange’s main thoroughfare, will lead you straight to National Historic Landmark house Bellevue, the 1855 home of Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill. After the end of the Civil War, State Representative Hill urged compliance with Reconstruction and Georgia’s re-entry to the Union, and served as a U.S. congressman and then a senator until his death in 1882. Today, Bellevue is home to the LaGrange Women’s Club which hosts tours and events there among its 1850s furnishings and family mementos.
The Civil War brought big changes to west Georgia: more than eight companies of soldiers marched out of the city leaving the town and their homes unguarded. Nancy Hill Morgan and Mary Alford Heard realized that defense of the town and their families was in their own hands, and they organized a militia of nearly 50 women from the county, naming themselves The Nancy Hart Militia after Georgian Revolutionary War spy Nancy Morgan Hart. The Nancies learned how to shoot and march from a local doctor, and drilled weekly from their formation through the end of the war. On Easter Sunday of 1865, more than 2,500 Federal troops approached LaGrange from West Point and the defense of the town was left to the Nancies. They marched out to meet the Union Army at LaGrange College, advised the coincidentally-named Colonel Oscar LaGrange that they would surrender the city peacefully if he would agree to spare their homes. Impressed with their gumption, the Colonel agreed, and almost all of LaGrange’s antebellum homes survived the war.
The centerpiece of LaGrange’s architectural treasure trove is the 1916 mansion at the Hills and Dales Estate, the former family home of the illustrious Callaway family. Patriarch Fuller E. Callaway made his fortune in the late 19th century in the textile industry. He purchased the property formerly known as Ferrell Gardens in 1911, a tract of land just outside of the city where original owners Nancy and Mickleberry Ferrel had laid out a terraced boxwood garden. Their daughter Sarah had expanded the garden and maintained it until her death in 1903. In 1914 Fuller commissioned architect Neel Reid to build his first residential project, a stately mansion to complement the formal garden as a 25th anniversary gift to Fuller’s wife, Ida. Eventually, the Callaways’ son Cason would move to Pine Mountain, Georgia, where he would found Callaway Gardens. Second son, Fuller Jr., inherited Hills and Dales and raised his family there. A horticultural masterpiece, Hills and Dales features collections of rare plants, almost all of which are original to the property during the time of the Callaway family’s occupancy. The boxwoods growing there today are all either original to Sarah Ferrell’s 1841 garden or are cuttings from her original boxwoods. Hills and Dales is a rarity in that the house was designed to complement the extant garden, and is one of the finest examples of historic preservation in the South, celebrating the centennial anniversary of its completion in 2016.