Abandoned Nolan Plantation in Georgia Stands Empty

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.

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This is the oldest home that stands on the plantation property. Thought to have originally been built by the Barton Family in the 1820s, the Thomas Nolan and his family moved into this home before descendants built the larger home later in 1906. This home was later occupied by the farm operator, tenant families, and most recently, by a hunting club who helps keep it up.
The Barton-Swift-Nolan House as it looked in 1989. Photo courtesy of the College of William & Mary.
Photo c. 1989 courtesy of the College of William & Mary.
Photo c. 1989 courtesy of the College of William & Mary.
View of the Barton-Swift-Nolan house from the rear, looking at the one-story kitchen addition. Photo c. 1989 courtesy of the College of William & Mary.

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.

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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.

The Nolan Crossroads store (pictured above), was likely a large part of life here on the plantation as workers would use their credits from farming to buy goods here, creating their own micro-economies. And while the “company store” would provide a necessary service to the tenant farmers, this system kept them virtually chained to the land where they worked as their credits weren’t honored elsewhere.

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.

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Photo taken in 1946 on the Nolan property while a tenant farmer uses a new mechanical plowing device.
The ruins of the Nolan Cotton Gin. Photo c. 1989 courtesy of the College of William & Mary.
The former blacksmith shop at Nolan Plantation. Photo c. 1989 courtesy of the College of William & Mary.

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.

This house is on private property and is not open to the public.

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41 thoughts on “Abandoned Nolan Plantation in Georgia Stands Empty”

  1. Interesting bit of history. Much of America’s history known to Americans today has been “sanitized” to fit a prevailing narrative. I enjoy driving secondary roads and making unexpected stops because of interesting things. Thank you for sharing history.

  2. Sheree Fielding

    I have passed through Georgia a few times and always believed there was a lot of history to be shared.I am so glad that you can explore for all of us that cannot.Maybe someday!You are my eyes into the past.I enjoy it all so very much.Thank You for all your doing.

    1. There are two Nolan Family Homes that are still standing. The main one featured in the article is from 1906, the earlier family house (the unpainted wooden building pictured here too) is from the early 1800s.

  3. Diane Robinson

    If I was rich I’d restore the Nolan plantation it’s a shame people vandalized that place

  4. I am currently researching my families past for a link to this home. I do hate to see any historical home just left to the elements.

  5. I came to visit my cousin’s family in August of 1963 as my uncle Arba was the chief herdsman of the Boll Weevil Plantation. This house looks very similar to theirs. Does anyone know if this is the place?

  6. Thank you for the history and information you share here. I love historic homes (especially antebellum homes) the most.

  7. I sure hope she can be saved! Seems like a bit of history that should be protected. Some would say we should destroy everything that has anything to do with slaving and plantations, but I disagree. How else are we going to remember where we’ve been if we don’t have statues and protected properties and plantations and mansions and just basic houses that mark history like that

    1. I agree with you. Our country’s history must be preserved and passed on to future generations.
      We learn from history the good and the bad. God Bless America!

  8. If the home is on private property, why are the owners given the choice of either restoring the home or selling it? As it is, it’s such a selfish waste on the owners’ part….

  9. I am interested in the Barton-Swift Family that owned it before Nolan Family purchased it. Barton is my ancestoral name. I wonder where it is located.

    1. The original family home was built around 1808 and is shown in the article (it is the wooden building without paint), as well as the second house that was built in 1906.

  10. The current owner of this property also owns over 200 acres in Morgan County where the Nolan house sits and over 300 acres in Gwinnett County, Georgia assessed at over 4 million dollars – who knows the true value of that much land in suburban Atlanta. They could restore the house if they chose to.

  11. I know this house. We used to pass by it in the late 80s and early 90s on our way to visit my grandparents in Good Hope. I was around 6 or 7 years old then. In college I worked a summer in Madison, commuting from Athens I started passing it again. I’m always fascinated by historical houses, we lived in two when I was growing up, but one of the things I like most about them is that they’re landmarks that remind me of my youth and my family at that time.

    1. They are involved and very interested in saving it, however, the property is privately owned and the owner has the final say on what does or doesn’t happen here, so the blame doesn’t lie with the Georgia Trust.

  12. If you love history and old southern homes, you may want to read my book, “The Last Heir” about our plantation in Newberry, S.C. Built in 1830’s, it still stands and is being renovated. Its history is fascinating as 6 generations of our family occupied it. It was written as a memoir, but is enjoying popularity. Thanks, Laurie Shoemaker

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