Nolan Plantation | Morgan County, Georgia | c. 1850s, c. 1906
There was a time in this region of Georgia when cotton was king. When expansive plantations like this one still dotted the landscape in this area. And while many of them are gone now, this impressive example still stands. Impressive not only in stature and construction but in history due to its unique position in the timeline of our Nation’s history.
Beginning as a slave plantation and transitioning to a tenant-based farming system makes this place a unique example from its era. I hope sharing with you here will help us all to interpret more about what life might’ve been like then.
The Nolan Family Comes to Georgia
Thomas Nolan arrived in Madison County, Georgia sometime between 1820 and 1830 from South Carolina and began purchasing large tracts of land. In January of 1856, Thomas Nolan bought 600 acres in Morgan County and included in that purchase was an early 1800s I-home (pictured below), thought to have been originally built by the Barton Family around 1821, and then lived in by the Swift Family who sold the land to Nolan.
During the time he lived here, the plantation operated on enslaved labor that helped to make Thomas a prosperous man. The plantation, which spanned hundreds of acres, had its own cotton gin, mill, and blacksmith shop. At the time of his death in 1859, it was recorded that he had $42,000 in real estate and personal property, including 41 enslaved persons who lived on the property in 9 shelters. For perspective, at that time, most farms in Morgan County were valued between $2,500 and $5,000 and the average number of enslaved was between 15 and 20.
After Thomas’ death, members of the Nolan Family continued to live in this home, updating it with a full facade porch (now replaced) and an extended ell off the rear of the home where a kitchen was added. But a war was looming and the Nation was about to face an upheaval that brought freedom to millions and uncertainty to everyone.
The Second Nolan Family Home
Despite the challenges that were faced across the region, the Nolan Family continued to prosper as evidenced by the second home that they built for themselves, on the same property, just down the road from their first home. Constructed between 1904-1906 by James Alonzo Nolan, grandson of Thomas, this 3,724 square foot Neoclassical mansion is one of the most impressive ‘farmhouses’ I’ve ever seen. The dramatic columns and 2 story porch must’ve made quite an impression to those who traveled the route that runs in front of the house.
The Sharecropping Era
The changes that must’ve been felt during this era are hard to understand nowadays but we can at least agree that things would shift drastically for some over the following years. And surely, Nolan Plantation wasn’t exempt from the changes that came with such a monumental shift but in many ways, things stayed much the same here too.
After the end of slave labor came to the South, many of the freedmen from this plantation stayed on to work as tenant farmers, signing contracts that kept them tied here. The Sharecropping Era had begun and just as many others did, a commissary and tenant homes were built here to accommodate the needs of the nearly 2,000-acre plantation.
Scattered around the surrounding area are other signs of the massive tenant farm that once operated here. Pictured below are a collection of the modest shelters that were once home to sharecroppers and their families. There is speculation that at least one of these cabins was initially used as housing for enslaved persons before the tenant farming era, but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet.
The Sharecropping Era Comes To An End
Thanks to the sharecropping system, the Nolan Family cotton farm continued to prosper here until the boll weevil came to the South. The boll weevil is a beetle from Central America that feeds on cotton buds and flowers. In the 1890s, the invasive species had made it to North American farms, and by the 1920s, had decimated cotton crops across the South. Many farmers tried their hands at new crops, but with their main crop no longer viable, it must’ve been difficult to keep a large farm afloat with land that was now much less productive.
The Abandoned Nolan Mansion Today
The Nolan Family continued to farm this land with peaches as their main crop until the 1970s when the operation shut down for good. A relative bought the property in 1977 but never moved in and the house has been empty ever since. In 2005-06, the home was used to film scenes for a television show so some effort was made to clean it up but by 2007, the windows had been boarded up to protect her from vandals and the elements.
Despite these protective measures, the home has been looted of many of its original fixtures and is marked up with graffiti and destruction on the interior walls. In 2015, the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and again on the 2020 Georgia Places in Peril list with hopes that something could be done to save her before it’s too late.