In 1825, when the last surviving Revolutionary War major general Marquis de LaFayette toured Georgia as the guest of President James Monroe and Governor George M. Troup, he is said to have remarked that the beautiful west Georgia landscape reminded him of his home in France, at the Chateau de LaGrange. Three years later, the city was founded as the seat of Troup County and named after LaFayette’s country estate. Today, the original downtown remains much the same as it did in 1828, with tree-lined streets and LaFayette Square at its heart, a fountain and statue of the war hero forming the centerpiece. The block of buildings on the east side of the square is known as the Horace King Block, named after the noted engineer and builder who constructed it in the 1870s. During much of his career King was a slave, but after attaining freedom in 1846, he continued to ply his trade in west Georgia, Alabama and northeast Mississippi and was acclaimed especially for his covered bridges. After his death in LaGrange, he was buried at Stonewall Cemetery on Miller Street.
LaGrange is a stunning example of an antebellum town with large trees dripping with Spanish moss and white-columned mansions behind massive magnolia trees. The town’s architecture was saved during General Sherman’s 1865 March to the Sea thanks to a group of women who formed a militia and drilled twice a week for more than two years in order to protect their homes. They named themselves The Nancy Hart Militia after Nancy Morgan Hart, a frontierswoman and Georgia heroine of the American Revolution for defending herself and her home from English soldiers. When Federal troops arrived in LaGrange on 17 April, 1865, the 40 or so Nancies shouldered their rifles and marched out Broad Street to the campus of LaGrange College where they met the force of Federals, more than 2,500 strong, and demanded that their homes be spared. Colonel Oscar LaGrange (coincidentally named) was so impressed with their gumption that he acquiesced, and although facilities helpful to the Confederate war effort were destroyed, no homes in LaGrange were burned and many of the city’s historic homes remain today.
Not long after LaGrange’s founding, in 1832, Mickleberry and Nancy Ferrell started building a home on their land just outside of town, and Nancy began laying out a formal boxwood garden on their property. When their daughter Sarah inherited the land, she expanded her mother’s garden, and opened it to the public for the citizens of LaGrange to enjoy. She maintained the gardens herself until her death in 1903, and in 1911, textile magnate Fuller E. Callaway purchased the property where he remembered playing as a boy. He commissioned a grand home to complement Sarah’s gardens and in 1916, the family moved into their new home, called Hills and Dales. Callaway’s son Cason would move to Pine Mountain, Georgia, where he would found Callaway Gardens. Son Fuller Jr. inherited Hills and Dales and raised his family there, his wife Alice lovingly caring for its famous garden as had her mother-in-law Ida and Sarah and Nancy Ferrell before her. Since Alice’s death in 1998, the property has been maintained as a historic house museum and garden, and one of the finest examples of preservation in the South.