Originally created 03/07/03

Glen Mary Plantation's historic aura threatened



Scenic America has named Glen Mary Plantation Historic Site in Sparta, Ga., to its Last Chance Landscapes 2002-03.

Scenic America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving America's landscapes and distinctive character, designated the plantation as one of 10 of the nation's most threatened scenic landscapes. Other sites on the list include the Blue Ridge Parkway view shed at Roanoke, Va.; the historic Massachusetts towns of Concord, Lexington, Lincoln and Bedford; and the Schuylkill Marsh in Philadelphia.

Glen Mary is being preserved as a center for the study of plantation landscape and the environment, but the scenic area surrounding the site is in danger of disappearing forever.

Commercial logging threatens to destroy the view shed, said Marilyn Meyers, who has worked five years on the Glen Mary project.She found Glen Mary after a long search for a preservation project. She bought the house and founded Preservation America, a nonprofit, educational trust with a board of directors and paid consultants. The foundation wants to preserve the mansion and re-create the its antebellum gardens.Restoration of the mansion and antebellum gardens is expected to cost $2 million, Mrs. Meyers said.

Scenic America selects places of beauty with a pending threat and a potential solution, said Meg McGuire, president. Glen Mary was selected because it met that standard as a historic site facing the threat of being destroyed by logging and because it is typical of historic sites in which the site has been saved but the context is destroyed, Ms. McGuire said.

The house was named a National Treasure by Save America's Treasures, the White House Millennium Council's initiative to save America's cultural artifacts.

It was built in 1848 by Theophilus Jackson Smith for his wife, Mary Gonder. The plantation originally consisted of about 2,400 acres. Mr. Smith was a state senator and representative and member of the prestigious Planter's Club. He came back from the Civil War impoverished and discouraged, and in 1869 he had to sell the plantation to a Union officer -- Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, grandson of the Revolutionary War patriot from Vermont, Mrs. Meyers said.

"The general was an old man, and he had a war buddy named Col. James William Nicholls who was a Southerner, although on the Union side," she said. "Col. Nicholls said, 'Come to Georgia. I have a pretty young sister.' And the general did. He came and married Margaret Nicholls and promptly died within the year and left Margaret and her family Glen Mary."

The Nicholls family lived at Glen Mary more than 100 years.

"And they're still all around, and they come back to visit the plantation and the cemetery," Mrs. Meyers said. Consultants on the Glen Mary project include historian Dr. William Seale, who wrote the book on the White House for its bicentennial, and architect Charles A. Phillips, chief architect on the restoration of the Miles-Brewton house in Charleston, S.C., purportedly the finest private home in America. Ian Firth, a faculty member with the University of Georgia College of Environment and Design, is the landscape and garden consultant.

Mr. Phillips described the house as a wonderful example of high-style Greek Revival architecture.

"While it's had some changes over the years, it's still very recognizable for what it was originally designed as," he said.

The house is in good structural shape, but Mr. Phillips was dismayed when he saw it because it has been over-restored.

"So there's a huge amount of restoration to put it back in its historical character," Mrs. Meyers said. "That's critical because you don't get any of what they call perceptual aspects. You don't get a feeling evocative of 19th century agrarian life in the South. And that's what the consultant team is hired to do, if we can fund the project."

Mrs. Meyers said she believes Scenic America will raise national awareness about Hancock County, once the richest county in Georgia but now the poorest.

"It's a huge project that we need support for," she said.

The board has sought help from the Garden Club of Georgia to fund a landscape garden plan that Professor Firth would do.

She has asked the timber company to donate 821 acres it owns across the road that were part of the original plantation and become a partner in Preservation America's vision to reunite the plantation lands.

"They are very cordial, but I feel unless there is a financial inducement from the state, they are unwilling to help very much," she said.

On that 821 acres, Preservation America would put the Glen Mary Environmental School, a collaborative effort among Georgia college and state universities and the University of Georgia.

Glen Mary is open by appointment only. For information, call (706) 444-8134 or e-mail preservationamerica@hotmail.com. Donations are tax deductible and may be sent to Glen Mary Plantation, Rural Route 1, Box 183, Sparta, GA 31087.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.