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1820s Porterdale home once served as stagecoach stop

When the Georgia General Assembly signed legislation on Dec. 24, 1821 creating Newton County, the act encouraged settler growth in communities north, south, east and west within the new county - from the Brickstore of the Winton Community, circa 1822; to the gristmill, plantation and blacksmith shop of the Cedar Shoals Community, established 1822 through 1826; to Covington, itself, in between.

Sally Jarrett's 84-year-old cousin, Ruth Shaffer (now living in North Carolina), remembered their great-great-grandmother saying their family home was once the stagecoach stop for Cedar Shoals, later to be named Porterdale. Jarrett's family lived in the house at 38 S. Broad St. continuously from 1919 until 2004. Between her grandparents, J.A. and Sally Morrow Sowell, parents, Millard and Inez Sowell Buckalew, and Jarrett herself, three generations have called the old house home.

The house sits at an angle to neighboring houses because the former road crossing the Yellow River at the old bridge came and went from that direction. Other homes along Broad Street face the current road.

Two stacks of stepping stones, one in front of the house and one in back of the house, remain today. Stagecoaches in the early 1800s were strongly sprung with large high wheels to roll on rocky, rut-embedded roads. The metal step under the coach door for disembarking still left travelers a good distance from the ground. Those stacks of rocks made the long step to the ground easier.

"A specialist in appraising and dating historic structures once told me he had no doubt the house was once a stagecoach inn - for one, because of the way the house was built. It has four main rooms downstairs with a wide hall, running from front door to back door, separating them. It has two rooms upstairs with the upper hall running crosswise. Each characteristic is very similar to the old west hotels and stagecoach stops of that era," said Jarrett.

Another appraisal in 1831 described Cedar Shoals thus: "The water falls about 50 feet, and the river is about 430 feet wide. No known available water power in the whole South is equal to it. The climate is fine for great in-land trade. There are privileges and water sufficient for a wool carding and cotton factory ... also, land necessary for houses and gardens convenient to the proposed factory."

The appraisal of the area also pronounced it satisfactory for other enterprises including: the making of furniture, cabinets, carriages, boots, shoes, bonnets, hats, caps and trunks; the crafting of harnesses, saddlery and wooden ware such as pails, tubs, barrels, casks and agricultural tools; and the tanning trade. It was noted that hides and bark were abundant and cheap, and that the ground was also rich for growing fruit.

The 1831 appraisal, contained in Newton County's heritage book compiled by the Newton County Historical Society, also listed two dwellings, occupied by then present owners, and noted them as being very good houses. The Jarrett's home was one of the two. In addition, 18 small houses suitable for mechanics and laborers and also for use as outbuildings, barns, stables, corn and grain cribs and smokehouses were listed.

The appraisal must have impressed the bank because Noah Phillips and John Persall were granted promissory notes for land lots 89, 99 and 101. By 1841, Noah Phillips was the sole owner of the properties. At that time, there were three dwelling houses east of the river within the 506.25 acres and two additional fine, large dwelling houses, plus 18 small ones.

Gerard Camp and his son, Charles Camp, soon joined Noah Phillips in ownership. The widow of Charles Camp, Julia A. McCracken Camp, married Oliver S. Porter on Feb. 10, 1870, and the legends of Porterdale's mills began.

By 1919, when Jarrett's family took residence, stagecoaches were only operating for tourists in parks and resorts across the nation. The role of stagecoach inns, which once served to stable teams of horses for stagecoaches and mail coaches and replace tired teams with fresh teams, had been diminished by the railroad. Newton County's extensive agricultural base was also being challenged by the textile mills at Cedar Shoals/Porterdale as early as the 1840s.

After 1900, textiles became a major industry in the area. The stagecoach inn became a boarding house and then a Bibb property, until all Porterdale houses were sold to those Bibb employees living in the houses, and Jarrett's family purchased the home.

"I was quite sad to have to sell," said Jarrett. "Being single, on a fixed income, I'm just not able to care for such a large yard and home. Everything was antique or worn and needed special care. Two huge magnolias as old as the house once graced the yard. One had to be taken down this year. When I heard Craig Elliott had purchased the house and was renovating it, I was very, very happy."

Craig Elliott is a professional photographer with a passion for restoration.

"I am always looking for old structures," said Elliott. "At the time I bought the old house on Broad Street there were letters of intent to tear it down. I knew it needed extensive remodeling, even though the purchase price was reasonable. I bought it simply to save it. There aren't too many of these old mills and old houses left. Mike Harper did the restoration work for me. He's done a lot of work in Porterdale, and I knew he would do a good job."

The entire remodeling process and some of Sally Jarrett's family photos are on Elliott's Web site at http://www.eephotography.net. Elliott bought the house with his heart, to save it, and for no other specific purpose. He could live in it or sell it, but if zoning could be had, he would love to use the old stagecoach house as a photography studio.

Linda Reynolds is a columnist for the Citizen. She is interested in stories about historical landmarks in Rockdale and Newton counties. If you know of a special story, place or event, e-mail her at linda.reynolds@rockdalecitizen.com or call her at 770-483-7108, ext. 252.