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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Harris County Ghosts of Grandeur: The Walker Plantation and Homestead Place

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

SOURCES: Ghosts of Grandeur: Georgia’s Lost Antebellum Homes and Plantations by Michael W. Kitchens, 2012. Historic American Building Survey, Library of Congress, 1936.


(Editor's Note about Walker Plantation construction date: The information provided on when the home was built was through an interview with Mrs. Jessie Terrell Doughtie (granddaughter of Dr. Erastus Hood) by William Davidson in 1964. She stated the home was finished in 1818. The following information was also brought to our attention - According to the 1820 census “Rich Billy” Walker was living in Putnam County. In a notice in the April 14, 1814, Georgia Journal newspaper, he is selling "a valuable plantation in Washington County on Williamson's swamp" that includes a two-story house, a cotton gin, and apple and peach orchards. He was still living in Putnam County at this time. Court records show that in 1828 Rich Billy started buying up a large number of sections of land in Harris County. Shortly after the removal of the Creek Indians from the area, the State of Georgia began giving land away to settlers in a land lottery, with each section or lot being 202.5 acres.)

 

In 1821, the Creek Nation ceded to Georgia a wide swath of land ranging roughly from today’s Atlanta to Leesburg, and from Macon to Thomaston. Just a few years later, the Creeks would cede to Georgia another portion of their land reaching from Newnan to Cuthbert, and from Thomaston to the Chattahoochee River at Columbus. However, at a time when everything for miles around was still a part of Creek land, William Walker built a Federal style plantation home for himself and his family. William Walker was born in Burke County in 1765 as the sixth child of George Walker, who immigrated to America from Ireland in 1750. William married Mary Vivion, a resident of Jefferson County, in 1791. The couple shared eight children. After originally settling in Putnam County, this pioneering couple moved in 1811 to the Creek lands, what would become Harris County in 1827, where they established a plantation in 1818. Walker became wealthy producing crops on his 1,000 acres of fertile soil below Pine Mountain. Those who knew him nicknamed him “Rich Billy,” for it seemed that all he touched managed to turn a profit.



In 1816, he started construction on a plantation home that was one of the largest homes at that time anywhere west of Milledgeville. While other pioneers in the area were building crude log homes or dogtrots, Walker was erecting a refined Federal style home using materials harvested from the property. Within two years, his house was complete. It was a two-story I-house with two rooms on each floor divided by a central hall. Along the top of the five-bay front, Walker’s skilled enslaved carpenters carved a double-dentil mold and placed decorative brackets under the eaves. Perhaps its most striking feature was the entryway capped by a semicircular transom light and flanked by side lights bordered by fluted pilasters. Its broad front door was paneled in the traditional Cross and Open Bible style. The interior contained paneled wainscoting and molded chair railings. Some of the mantels were carved to emulate Adam style mantels commonly found in more refined Federal structures in Savannah or Augusta. Other mantels mimicked Greek Revival motifs that may have been added later.


Along the right side of the house was a second structure containing a kitchen and small dining room for everyday dining. It was attached to the house by a walkway. An older, kitchen outbuilding stood a short distance from the big house and contained two rooms on either side of a central chimney. The grounds contained many cabins where those he enslaved lived and other common outbuildings such as a smokehouse, privies, loom house, and cotton gin.


Walker became one of the wealthiest men in west central Georgia and built several other plantation homes for his sons. His son, Virgil Homer Walker, built four small houses on the 700 block of Broad Street in the new town of Columbus in 1828. They were originally constructed as dog trots with one room on either side of a central hall on top of a raised basement. One of the houses, located at 716 Broadway, still survives and is owned by Historic Columbus. It is the Walker-Peters-Langdon House (c.1828) and is the oldest house in the city.



When William Walker died in 1831, his enormous estate allowed him to leave each of his heirs more than four hundred acres of land, a share of gold, and other valuable items. His wife Mary lived in the home until she died in 1857. As early as 1850, Elijah Cook and his wife, Elizabeth – Walker’s daughter, were living with her mother in the plantation home. After Mary’s death, Elijah and Elizabeth Cook came to own the home and its acreage. By 1860, the Cooks stood with the ranks of the wealthy, claiming more than $32,000 in real estate and $162,000 in personal property, mostly those they now enslaved. The plantation was purchased by Dr. Erastus Hood, who later transferred it to his granddaughter, Mrs. Jessie Terrell Doughtie. Mrs. Doughtie lived in Columbus and still owned the Walker plantation in 1964 when William H. Davidson visited the property to collect photographs and information. The home survived another fifteen years before it finally crumbled from neglect. By 1980, when surveyors from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources visited the property, the house was gone completely.


 

Homestead Place Plantation



This second Harris County house burned to the ground in 1962 after suffering from years of vacancy. It was built in the early 1840s as the nerve center of a sprawling, several thousand-acre plantation owned by John Davidson (1792 – 1862). Davidson was a Warren County native who move to the Harris County area with his wife Elizabeth Nichols, well before 1838. The couple had eleven children. On a visit to Columbus, Davidson came to admire the Greek Revival home built nearby at John Fontaine’s plantation, Bellefonte. Inspired by the design, Davidson obtained the services of a highly trained enslaved carpenter who had done much of the work on Fontaine’s country home. This artisan, whose name is not recorded, assisted Davidson in building kilns, selecting trees for construction, and curing the lumber before construction began. All of the lumber and bricks used were harvested from materials found on the property. It took more than a year to build and careful attention to details before the home would be completed. He called both the residence and the plantation Homestead Place.



The use of mortise and tenon building techniques and thick wood pegs to hold structural wood pieces together made the home exceptionally strong. Homestead Place had two rooms over two rooms with a wide central hall dividing the rooms on each floor. It also had a one-story shed room and ell projecting from the back of the structure. A finely detailed portico projected over the central bay of its three-bay façade. Supporting the portico were pleasingly proportioned, round, fluted columns, each carved from a solid tree trunk. Vernacular Ionic capitals topped each column. Elliptical fanlights and flanking sidelights graced identical doorways on the first and second floors. The upper floor’s doorway opened onto a cantilevered balcony with sheaf-and-wheat balusters. Homestead Place’s interior details were as dazzling as the exterior. Davidson installed stunning paneled and beveled wainscoting underneath molded chair rails in the parlor. The rest of the house was adorned with wainscoting and chair molding that was slightly less refined than that of the parlor. Doors were paneled in the frequently used Cross and Open Bible style. Mantels installed throughout the home were unusually elaborate. The parlor’s mantel shelf was supported by disengaged Doric columns, while the mantels in each of the remaining rooms utilized Tuscan columns. The ell at the back of the house contained the dining room and spiral stairway leading to an attic where the young boys of the large family slept. A second stairway in the central hall served as the main staircase for the rest of the family.



John Davidson died in 1862 after being sick for several years. In 1872, probably after Elizabeth Davidson died, William Davidson inherited Homestead Place. He later sold the plantation to Lorenzo D. Hutchinson, who owned an adjacent plantation. Over the next several decades, the house passed through a succession of owners until it was burned by vandals in 1962. Fortunately, photographers for the Historic American Building Survey captured the home in 1936.



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