One hidden treasure nestled on the border of Liberty and Long counties soon will be uncovered to television viewers interested in rural America.
A three-man film crew was on the scene Thursday at Tea Grove Plantation near Walthourville to shoot a segment for the RFD-TV show “Small Town Big Deal.”
The show, which premieres at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, features vignettes on rural areas. The segment taped at Tea Grove is slated to run Nov. 1, according to marketing coordinator Tibretta Reiman.
“It’s about people, places and events in rural America that have made rural America great …,” show host Rodney Miller said. “Different collectors to events around the United States that are really cool in small towns to people who have aspired from greatness in rural America — it’s anything that makes life worth living there.”
So what drew the crew to Tea Grove?
Fourth-generation plantation owner Danny Norman’s eclectic desire to recapture life as it once was in Walthourville Village.
“Each generation has tried to maintain the property and keep it in that valued form that we received it in,” Norman said. “There’s a lot of heritage here; there’s a lot of good feelings here.”
Now the plantation off Tibet Road boasts a 300-yard stretch that looks like the main streets of eras past, complete with train tracks and a train station, a firehouse, service station, general store and church.
The land once was the site of the Walthourville Village post office within the general store Norman’s grandfather opened in 1905.
“This is Walthourville proper — now, Walthourville, if you look on the map, is about two miles away because in the 70s they moved the town,” Norman said.
“The original store and the post office, when I was growing up, always had memories of the smell and the kerosene and the leather that just made me feel good,” Norman told Miller during an on-camera interview yards away from a replica of the store.
As a youngster, Norman watched with displeasure as folk culture and family heritage were lost to modernization.
“In the 70s, I decided that the right thing to do was try to replicate back something that would honor that memory, and I began a process … and as you can see, it got really out of hand,” Norman said.
“That’s the understatement of the year,” Miller said with a laugh.
“But the intent was to preserve history, preserve what to me was a good memory, and a heritage that I thought was extremely important,” he said.
Norman lauded areas like Savannah and, more recently, Hinesville for their historical preservation — but those efforts do not encompass rural areas.
“The era that I was after, the rural heritage, the rural environment that didn’t have wrought-iron fences and brick-column gates,” Norman said.
His era includes wood-frame buildings, steam locomotives, vintage trucks and classic tractors.
At the fuel station where Miller filmed the interview with Norman, brightly painted metal signs advertise Koppers Coke, Sinclair Credit Carns, Nehi beverages, Pepsi and Royal Crown Cola. Another sign proclaims that Norman’s General Store proudly sold Sunbeam breads.
“This is an unbelievable collection of everything, it looks like, from way back …,” Miller said. “He’s got a whole city back here that steps back in time 50 to 75 years, for the most part … and then he’s trying to depict a Ford dealership here that’s probably 60s and 70s era, so some of the stuff is turn of the century, and then you have different stuff that is 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.”
Norman’s passion for collecting took root when he was a preteen working at a service station.
“I was able to acquire some old junk cars, and before my mother and father realized it, I had accumulated 35 cars — of course none of them could run — but I was buying and selling parts, and you know, for a 12-, 13-year-old boy, it was a pretty good adventure,” Norman said.
The show also will feature scenes from downtown Hinesville, where the crew shot footage to help lead into the segment, Miller added. Hinesville also may wind up in a commercial for the show that compares the hustle and bustle of city life to the calmer pace in outlying areas.
“It just shows a slice of Americana, and that’s what we try to do with every story,” Miller said.