A Simpler Place in Time | A Look Back

For Sale.  Near Athens, 15 miles from The UGA Arches, 250 Acres.  Will subdivide. $1,100 per acre.  Call xxx-xxx-xxxx”

It was a simple ad in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Sunday in 1992 that immediately caught my attention.  The seed of an idea had been planted a few months earlier;  the thought of combining our love of the outdoors, hunting, farming and saving money all at the same time!

The plan started as a way to put the boys together on a place; our own place.  The search had already started, I just weeks earlier I had been driving around in the countryside east of Athens and discovered an area I would later find had been known as “Pleasant Hill” back in the 1800’s and later gained prominence as the center of the largest Plantation in Georgia.  It was a pleasant hill indeed!

It would later be named for its patriarch, Georgia Planter James Monroe Smith, and would become known as Smithonia.  I was excited to learn that the land for sale in Oglethorpe County was just a few miles for this beautiful area I had accidently stumbled upon!

One of three brick barns that were constructed with convict labor in the 1880’s. These barns are now owned by the University of Georgia and are used for events such as weddings.

As good fortune (or perhaps Divine Intervention) would have it, I was the first person to call and look at the land.  I had my choice of any acres on the 250 tract, so I chose and bought a beautiful old home site, which eventually grew to include 20 acres.  Thus began the love affair with this piece of land and what it would come to represent.


Smithonia is in Oglethorpe County Georgia, which was founded in 1795 on land that was surrendered by the Creek and Cherokee Nations in the Treaty of 1773.  It is named for Georgia’s founder General James Oglethorpe, a British soldier and Member of Parliament, who hoped to resettle the poor of Britain in the New World, beginning with those subjects in debtors’ prisons.

The Plantation House. Colonel Smith’s home as it appeared in 1958.  It has since been renovated as well as some other buildings in the area and is a centerpiece of the Smithonia Historic Area.

The Plantation house was extensively remodeled a few years back. Here is how it looks now in 2019.

Smithonia was the largest Plantation in Georgia in its day and was the center of a vast operation that had a hotel, 2 railroad lines, over 500 buildings (constructed mostly of brick manufactured in its own brick factory) and a labor force of over 1,250.  Besides factories, structures included warehouses, barns, schools and tenant houses.

Jim Smith also known as Colonel Smith was the undisputed “king” of this vast domain; a kingdom that was built after the Civil War on the backs of convicts, mostly if not exclusively black men who had gotten crossways with the State or the local sheriff and who were “leased out” to Smith at the price of fifty dollars a year.  The poor convicts were essentially utilized as slaves to expand the Smithonia empire.  Smith was accused of “peonage” but was acquitted of the charges and later discontinued the lease of prisoners in his later years.

Colonel Jim, as he was known to his workers, was well known and viewed as a progressive planter who was one of the first to rotate crops, warehouse cotton to sell later often at higher prices.  His skills as a farmer and businessman became known far and wide, certainly throughout the State of Georgia and the Southeast.   In 1906 The Colonel made an unsuccessful  run for Governor, but remained influential and active in business and politics until his death on the Plantation in 1915.


Colonel Smith on the veranda.



James Monroe Smith as a member of the Georgia Assembly circa 1878


One of the six schools on the Smithonia plantation. The schools were segregated with 3 schools for black children and 3 for white students.

This map of the area, as it was in 1915, shows our little farm in the very center of the vast Plantation; we are at the fork in the road between Clouds Creek and Little Clouds Creek.

The cover of the book by E. Merton Coulter published in 1961.

1 Pictures from “James Monroe Smith: Georgia Planter. Before Death and After by E. Merton Coulter.

To be continued…

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