When you travel on the back roads, do you ever notice the many abandoned farmhouses that are falling down or covered with vines, usually wisteria or cow itch?
I know you have seen many old barns with the shelter on each side falling down and old tobacco barns made from logs still standing but used only to store junk in or under the shelter. I have seen many old boats around the coastal area that have been left in a yard or at the edge of woods and have had vines growing over them until they hardly can be seen. I often wonder why people just let the old houses fall down instead of either fixing them or tearing them down.
I always see some silos on our trip to Lake Park and think, “What a beautiful picture they would make if I had my camera with me.” I recently splurged and bought myself a very nice camera with a tiny disk in it that says it will hold 400 photos.
No matter where we go, I cannot stand to travel on the interstate. We are not in a hurry to get anywhere, and there is absolutely nothing to see. To me, it is good gas wasted if I cannot enjoy some scenery along the route.
Since the interstates came into being, the old highways like 301 and 17 that once were well-travelled now hardly have any traffic. The interstates helped cause all the old stores, restaurants and motels on highways to go out of business. Some of the buildings remain just as they were when they were boarded up or shut, except most of the time the Coke signs or Gulf signs have been stolen or removed.
Do you recall all the stores that had bedspreads pinned on lines on the buildings’ sides? There was one in Long County near Flournoy Road that I passed by each day on the way to school in Ludowici. It originally was called Crummey’s. I loved to look at the beautiful chenille spreads and choose the one I would like to have. I always chose the colorful one with the peacock with spread-out tail feathers on it. All these trading posts or stores are things of the past.
However, there is a young man who is doing his very best to preserve the past in pictures all over South Georgia.
Brian Brown of Ludowici was born and grew up on his parents’ farm in Fitzgerald. His father, William, retired from CSX Railroad and his mother, Deena, retired from the Ben Hill School System. The farm they live on has been in the family for more than 80 years and has mostly pecans and pines on it. His brother, Blake Brown, lives in Fitzgerald as well. Brian graduated from Fitzgerald High School in 1988 and started his college days at Young Harris. He received his bachelor of arts degree with a major in history in 1992 from Georgia State College and University. While in the ninth grade, he studied photography at school. The digital cameras of today are much simpler to operate than the ones he used in school!
Brian taught world history at Fitzgerald High School. After being in a classroom all day, he realized his calling was outside in the wide-open spaces, and that his passion for history was in field research. Photography was on his mind again. The opportunity to work at the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historical site came his way. There, he was able to use his camera skills and history education in a new way. The site is where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured May 19, 1865, by Union troops; it also is where the Confederate States of America ceased to exist upon Jefferson’s arrest. The site stimulated Brian’s interest in nearby Irwinville and the old homes there that were part of the U.S. Resettlement Administration Project to help rural Americans during the Great Depression. Look up Irwinville Farms on the computer to see old pictures of the homes and people in the 1930s.
“My destinations in Georgia are forgotten rural communities,” Brian said. “I have fun getting lost on dirt roads and discovering old farmhouses, churches, cemeteries and barns people generally take for granted or don’t ever see. With my camera, I can do more with history than I would ever have imagined. I had several college history professors that taught in a way that kept history alive, interesting and up to date. I’m constantly looking for various stories behind the places I photograph. The challenge often lies in identifying the places I’ve captured. Luckily, my websites have become very interactive and people across the region often share stories and histories about these little known locales. My three major projects have put me in touch with people around the world who share my interest in vernacular architecture and the loss of small rural communities.”
Brown’s photography and writings have earned him many local and national awards. He was a winner of the 2008 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, one of the largest independent literary prizes in the country. He became an award-winning photographer in the 2011 Thomasville Landmarks Photo Contest. His historic poems have been published in more than 50 journals and anthologies.
“I was returning from Atlanta in 2008 and I began noticing all the old buildings that I used to take for granted were simply disappearing, and it seemed no one was documenting this history,” he said. “I saw a great opportunity, a way to share what I knew must be of interest to others. On Feb. 21, 2012, 1 million views have been recorded on the website about vanishing South Georgia. In the past four years, I have traveled over 20,000 miles, culminating in over 300,000 photographs made in 81 counties and 342 named places. I think I have an obsession with this! The first picture I took was an old red-tile tobacco barn in Ben Hill County. I always took it for granted and when I bought a better camera I went back to retake the photo of the barn. It was gone, as if it had never been there! I can’t save every old farmhouse and barn, but photography is the great equalizer in this effort. It becomes a preservation tool in its own right. This would not be possible without you, the public, and your generosity in spreading the word about my work. Thank you.”
Brian, you deserve the thanks for all this great work.
After I read about Brian, I looked up his website. Two hours later, I finally had to quit looking at the beautiful photos he has taken. The neatest thing about it is that it’s organized so well. When you get on his website — vanishingsouthgeorgia.com — you can look through the list of places he has photographed and click on the county or city you want to look at. For instance, I clicked on Long County and it has 106 photos, Liberty County has 56, Ludowici has 19 and Hinesville has five.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed looking at all these old pictures. I recall so many of the places; I felt like I had toured all of Southeast Georgia and had not even left my computer chair! Many photos have historical notes and comments on some of them, and you can see what other visitors thought of the pictures.
Brian said that fellow photographer Mike McCall of Ludowici is his friend. I knew Mike when he was in grammar school, and then he became my children’s teacher at Bradwell Institute in Hinesville. I asked Brian why he moved to Ludowici.
“I moved here to be closer to the coast, but not on the coast,” he said. “I am also working with a (Savannah College of Art and Design) student who is doing a documentary about my work with Vanishing South Georgia that will be completed this fall. Ludowici is close to Savannah and Brunswick but not near the traffic problems. Mike and I are working on a photographic project of the Altamaha River.”
His other copyrighted website is georgiacoast.wordpress.com. He asks that anyone who knows of a place that would be a good one to capture for history email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.