Rehagen is a writer and journalist. He joined Atlanta magazine as senior editor in 2011. Prior to that, he was staff writer and then senior editor at Indianapolis Monthly. He has been a finalist for City and Regional Magazine Association (CRMA) Writer of the Year in each of the past five years. His April 2012 feature “The Last Trawlers” was included in the anthology Next Wave: America's New Generation of Great Literary Journalists. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a Missouri native. He lives in Atlanta with his family.
Josh Rachel believes that every brewer falls in love with a certain aspect of the beer-making process. Some are obsessed with the chemistry involved. Others are gearheads when it comes to the equipment. Rachel gets wrapped up in the history of his craft, a seemingly magical ritual of fermentation that has remained largely unchanged since it
was brought to this continent by its earliest European settlers. History is also why Rachel’s company is called Jekyll Brewing.
The full name of the brewery is Jekyll Brewing of Alpharetta, Georgia. Though the actual beer is made some 350 miles northwest of its namesake isle in an Atlanta suburb, every bottle, can, and keg is infused with the spirit of Jekyll Island. “We’re based in Alpharetta,” says Rachel, “but we wanted to pay our respects to where beer developed in Georgia and the Southeast.”
Rachel is referring to what is believed to have been the first brewery in the Deep South, started on Jekyll Island by Maj. William Horton, friend and military aide to Georgia’s founder, Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe. Horton was granted rights to Jekyll Island by the trustees of the Colony of Georgia in 1735, and years later purchased a “Great Copper” pot to brew barley into beer—considered the beginning of the region’s first brewery.
In those days, alcohol was used less as a refreshment or intoxicant and more as a clean source of hydration. Water drawn from local streams and lakes was teeming with bacteria and could cause illness or death. But when it was boiled into wort for beer, the malignant microbes burned away.
Horton’s brewery helped to sustain an entire island of troops and colonists. When settlers arrived from Europe, they were issued a plot of land, some farming tools, and 44 gallons of beer. “Beer was part of what their survival was based around,” says Rachel. “That’s where it all started.”
For Rachel, it started about 260 years later when he came home from the University of West Georgia for Father’s Day and agreed to help his dad brew a batch of beer. Rachel’s father was a longtime home-brewer, and the knack proved hereditary—so much so that, after college, Rachel went to work in a home- brew supply store. Meanwhile, he honed his own takes on traditional styles of beer while being careful to stay true to their history.
By 2013, his recipes were ready for public consumption, and with the help of a Kick- starter campaign, Rachel and business partner Mike Lund- mark launched Jekyll Brewing. When it came time to name each beer, the pair doubled down on their regional heritage with Hop Dang Diggity Southern IPA, Cooter Brown American Brown Ale, and, of course, the Major Horton Export Stout.
Today on Jekyll Island, the tabby remains of what is now referred to as the Warehouse Ruins—what some still call “The Brewery”—are still visible across from Horton House on Riverview Drive. Meanwhile, at bars and restaurants all over the island and all over Georgia, thirsty residents and travelers can order a beer from Jekyll Brewing, toast Rachel and his muse, Maj. Horton, and taste a modern spin on a crucial part of Southern history.
Jekyll Island has many different histories, from the modern State Era, when Jekyll opened as a State Park, back through the Plantation and Colonial Eras, back even further, thousands of years ago, to the time that the Mocama and other Native Americans settled here. The island’s best-known and most mythologized period remains the Club Era, from 1886 to the start of World War II, when Jekyll was a private playground for America’s rich and famous. Titans of industry—the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Morgans among them—vacationed in luxurious cottages and the lavish Jekyll Island Club. They transformed the island into the world’s most exclusive retreat.
Within that gilded age existed a separate history, though, a photo-negative that ran parallel to, but mostly apart from, the storied world of old money. It was a place of back staircases, outbuildings, and a subterranean laundry; of cramped quarters and modest houses where the working class faithfully toiled in the shadows of their celebrity benefactors. It was a world inhabited by hundreds of men, women, and children who, while the wealthy had their fun, worked to keep Jekyll Island alive and running.
Life was not easy for the workers of Jekyll Island. Their days were spent filling many different roles: maid, cook, chauffeur, valet, nurse, carpenter, and laborer, to name a few. Though it’s impossible to get a true feel for a typical day for the servants toiling in the shadows of the rich and famous—typical days did not exist in the Club Era—a patchwork of anecdotes passed down through generations of Jekyll residents paints a picture of these people who dedicated much of their lives to the service of others.
To view the Club Era through the eyes of those who served, the natural place to begin is with Charlie Hill, the patriarch of Jekyll servants. Hill was said to have been part of the first delegation sent to survey the island when the possibility of a grand club on Jekyll was being considered in the 1880s. In 1891, the Maurice family of Hollybourne Cottage hired him as a coachman and caretaker.
In the beginning, two kinds of servants worked on the island. There were those who traveled with the wealthy snowbirds from the cities in the north. These were personal assistants, mostly of European descent—usually Irish or German—who filled any number of specialized needs, from footmen to hairdressers. Andrea Marroquin, curator at Mosaic, the Jekyll Island Museum, says that one family reportedly brought along a person whose sole responsibility was described as “packer of jewels.”
The rest of the island’s workers, like Hill, came from the nearby mainland, mostly from the Brunswick area. Like Hill, they lived on the island year-round. A vast majority were African American (about 77 percent), and they worked either for the Club (as anything from ferrymen to housekeepers to groundskeepers to gamekeepers) or the individual families (as cooks, maids, stable keepers, caretakers, or just about any other job). Some, like Hill and his wife, Angie, who also worked for the Maurices as a laundress, lived in houses near their employer’s cottages. Sometimes, the servants lived in rooms inside the cottages themselves. But a large cluster of them lived just steps from the Club in buildings along Pier Road.
During the Club’s heyday in the 1920s, Pier Road sported nearly 120 structures, both residences and businesses, for employees. There was a taxidermy shop, an upholsterer, several woodsheds, a dining hall, and The Commissary, a general store that sold provisions and served hot food. Every day, the Club foreman would ring a bell at noon, calling in the workers for their midday meal. He’d ring it again for dinner in the evening. As a result, Pier Road became known as “Feeding Road.”
The rest of the time, from dawn to dusk and into the night, the servants were performing their labors; out in the Coastal Georgia sun, or in kitchens, laundries, and workshops. Still, these positions were highly sought after. For working-class, blue-collar people, a position on the Jekyll Island workforce was as exclusive and elusive as Club membership was for the rich. “It wasn’t just the members who had to have the right checkbook balance, relatives, and acquaintances to get onto the island,” says Marroquin. “It was the same way with employees.”
Hill, as one of the original servants, wielded his patronage up and down his family tree. His brother was a groundskeeper, his nephew a caddy, an in-law was a wagon driver, and his daughter was a schoolteacher.
The allure of the work, primarily, was the pay. Hill made $25 a week during the height of
the Great Depression, when most people were lucky to scrape together a dollar or two. A head chef made $150 per month, a chambermaid $50, with most unskilled jobs still earning $20 a month. As everywhere else, men were paid more than women and whites more than blacks. (A white woman earned double that of a black woman.) Work on Jekyll was relatively lucrative for the time.
There were perks, too. Sometimes the wealthy employers were good tippers and gift-givers at birthdays and holidays. Other times they might even invite the employees to dinner or a party or dance. Sometimes, the Maurices were known to leave their house to their staff so they could have the run of the place for their own party.
Perhaps the biggest bonus to working and living year-round on the island was the fact that the aristocratic bosses were usually around for only three or four months during the winter. For the remainder of the year, the full-time residents were mostly free to roam the island and take advantage of its amenities. They could use the bowling alleys and tennis courts, swim at the beach, and enjoy their own dances and costume balls. Hill’s nephew, Earl Hill, became a scratch golfer by hitting the course in the offseason. “The island was still segregated,” Marroquin says. “But there would have been a lot more freedom for the African Americans from the Jim Crow rules on the mainland.”
The party, unfortunately, didn’t last. With the onset of World War II, the Club Era came to an end and the Club closed. Charlie Hill and Angie helped the Maurice daughters pack up their house for their final winter on Jekyll, in 1942. The island all but shut down. Hill, one of the originals, died in 1974, at age 99.
Whispers float in the darkness of an empty auditorium. Feet and metal chair legs scuffle across a wooden stage. The din subsides in a moment of anticipation.
Suddenly, the blackness is sliced open by a short bar of white light emitting a deep, otherworldly buzzing, like an ignited lightsaber. The floating horizontal line dips vertically to the right; the sound’s pitch intensifies. As the bar swings to the left, the tone climbs higher, completing a sort of electronic scale. The shadow of a gloved hand appears to strum the rod, sounding a single, flashing note. Then, a series of notes creates a strobe effect that, to adjusting eyes, barely illuminates a man in a dark hoodie who appears to play the beam like a broomstick guitar. White radiance turns to green to purple to blinking blue and red in a laser-show dance to an alien rock solo of robotic tones. After a frenetic crescendo of beeps, tweets, and bops, the light fizzles and withdraws into darkness.
The house lights go up to a smattering of applause from the two dozen or so people seated onstage in front of Chet Udell, a professor of biological and ecological engineering from Oregon, who has a seemingly ordinary fluorescent bulb hanging from a guitar strap over his shoulder. Udell explains that by using LEDs, some customized software, and more than a little imagination, he converted a shop light into the Optron, the novel musical instrument they just heard. At least 16 members of the gallery appreciate the difficulty of this achievement—as well as its creativity. They, along with Udell, are semifinalists in Georgia Tech’s ninth annual Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, a Star Wars cantina band-meets-science fair contest that attracts inventors from all over the globe. Participants battle for a $5,000 first prize while providing glimpses of what music might sound like in the future.
“We focus on pushing the envelope of what music can be.”
The annual contest actually began with student performances on a more traditional instrument: the piano. Originally called the Margaret A. Guthman Keyboard Competition, it was launched in 1998 by Tech alum Richard Guthman and named after his wife, a gifted pianist. In 2009, Georgia Tech opened its Center for Music Technology, one of the first of its kind in the world, and the faculty sought a flagship event that could showcase the center’s innovative mission. “We looked at the mirror and asked, ‘Who are we?’” said Gil Weinberg, contest organizer, CMT founding director, and himself a pioneer in the field of robotic musicianship. “We focus on pushing the envelope of what music can be.”
Tech rolled out the rebooted Guthman in 2009. Since then, it has grown to attract submissions from engineers, musicians, students, artisans, and designers in dozens of countries. In 2017, 85 applicants submitted presentations, videos, audio recordings, and schematics of inventions. The faculty then invited 20 semifinalists to come to Atlanta (three were eliminated for visa issues) and demonstrate their instruments before three judges, recruited from different realms of the music industry—performers, academics, and tech-company executives. The panel watching Udell and company consisted of Mike Adams, CEO of Moog Music; Elaine Chew, a professor of digital media from Queen Mary University in London; and Daedelus, a producer and electronic musician.
The judges have an unenviable puzzle to solve. The only entry criteria is crafting a virtual or physical instrument that generates sound acoustically or electronically, an infinite orchestra of possibilities. Udell’s Optron demonstration was followed by fellow semifinalists playing everything from the “Track It/Zip It” vest, wired with sensors that trigger electronic notes and melodic loops, to the primitive, 10-foot-tall Trombo Moderna that was merely wood and two strings modeled after an ancient Scandinavian harp. Amid that cacophony, the judges evaluated three factors—engineering, design, and musicality—and picked the winners.
“You would imagine that the mandate for those three principles would make it kind of easy, especially since there are so many approaches,” Daedelus said. “But if anything, all these different methodologies toward music make it really hard. Plus, you have to balance out what these makers are capable of on their instruments. It’s a musical instrument competition, not a performance competition.”
That distinction proved to be key during the 2017 final concert. The show moved briskly, with all nine finalists staking out risers on the broad Ferst stage, awaiting the spotlight for a few minutes each—a rapid fire variety show emceed by Atlanta radio host Mara Davis, featuring a medley of industrial sounds, techno beats, and Metallica covers. The flow was interrupted when Germany’s Subhraag Singh encountered a software problem with his Infinitone, a futuristic-looking woodwind played partially through an iPad. After some shuffling, he worked out the bugs, skipped his informative spiel, and jumped right into a meditative performance. At the end of the show, despite the snafu, Singh and his sax emerged victorious. “What he didn’t have time to tell everyone was that his instrument has 256 different notes in a scale,” Daedelus said after the show was over and the crowd cleared. “It opens up a realm of possibility that is really significant.”
The auditorium emptied except for the inventors onstage, who gathered to congratulate one another, exchange contact info, and get the address for the after-party. Udell wound up his cables and put away his laptop. The Optron didn’t finish in the money, but Udell’s sci-fi ballet won the audience’s vote for Best Performance. “I feel wonderful,” Udell said. “I’m relieved it’s over. And sad.”
The house lights went off, the stage lights down—the Optron buzzing and glowing in a yellow-green hue until Udell bent down to pull the plug, leaving the stage in shadow.
Meet the 2017 winners:
Akito Van Troyer: MM-RT
From: Cambridge, Massachusetts Contest Finish: People’s Choice: Most Unusual
The Material and Magnet—Rhythm and Timbre (MM-RT) uses magnets and actuators to vibrate circular pads on a console. Van Troyer places small objects or containers of cardboard, glass, or tin filled with knick-knacks on the pulsating pads to create a vast array of rumbling, jangling sounds. Like a DJ, he rotates combinations of jars and boxes to lay out textural percussion using everything from marbles to coins to a balloon.
Once he hatched the idea, Van Troyer says he would just walk through dollar stores and tap on items to see how they’d sound. “You can turn everyday objects into musical instruments,” he says.
Subhraag Singh: Infinitone
From: Stuttgart, Germany Contest Finish: First Place
Specs It looks like a futuristic soprano saxophone, but instead of keys, remote-controlled slides on the top and sides trigger small hobby-helicopter motors on the woodwind. This can produce a range of 256 different notes per octave, as opposed to the 12 typical of Western instruments.
Singh says he sought to create an instrument that could enable players to “paint” with the infinite color palette of an artist—limited only by the composer’s imagination.
Somesh Ganesh, Hanoi Hantrakul, and Zachary Kondak: Moog’s Greatest Hits
From: Atlanta Contest Finish: Special Award for Most Collaborative Music Making
Specs A wooden drum box is rigged with a Moog synthesizer that is placed in a cardboard box, which is lifted, lowered, swung, and even tossed between musicians to create a range of sounds that accompany the beat.
Backstory This entry is the first-place winner from another Tech event, the 2017 Moog Hackathon, in which teams of students are given identical Moog synthesizers and 48 hours to conceive, design, and fabricate the most innovative instrument.
Ly Yang and Zak Seipel: Lyharp
From: Platteville, Wisconsin Contest Finish: People’s Choice: Best Overall Instrument
A 23-string acoustic-electric harp that is played horizontally with two frets
Lyharp has a tuning mechanism that enables it to play all the notes in the chromatic scale, making it especially versatile. Special pickups also trigger preprogrammed accompaniment.
Caleb Byerly: Salimbaa
From: High Point, North Carolina Contest Finish: Third Place
Specs The primitive appearance of strings stretched across a wood-topped steel bowl is deceptive. The 36 strings are doubled up, with half the strings played by a mallet while the other half resonate in harmony beneath. Plus, the Salimbaa is chromatically tuned, which means that the player need only turn the instrument a few degrees to change key.
Backstory Byerly says that the idea of the Salimbaa came to him in a dream while he was doing mission work with the indigenous Manobo in the Philippines. As it turns out, his vision closely resembles an ancient Philippine instrument that had been lost to time. Now, Byerly runs a nonprofit that works with tribal peoples to “redeem” long-forgotten flutes, drums, and stringed instruments.
Takumi Ogata: Rib Cage
From: Ann Arbor, Michigan Contest Finish: Second place
Specs An electro-acoustic instrument, the Rib Cage is just that: a spine of aluminum bars lined with 3D-printed plastic “ribs” that can be struck with a mallet or sawed with a violin bow or even a comb to create a range of acoustic sounds.
Backstory Appropriately, the Rib Cage’s electronics also produce a heartbeat pulse that quickens and subsides with the intensity of the percussion—resulting in a deeply primal musical experience.
Yoshihito Nakanishi: Cell Music Gear
From: Tokyo, Japan Contest Finish: Finalist
Specs A pair of soft 3D trackpads respond to touch and pressure and translate those signals into sound.
Backstory The instrument can play any genre but is best exemplified when Nakanishi “DJs”—producing a mix of electronic and techno beats.
Erich Netherton: The Netherbox
From: Atlanta Contest Finish: Finalist
Specs A wooden acoustic box contains a contact microphone that captures the sounds of the long screws and springs that are plucked, strummed, and struck on top. Netherton creates the percussive sound, records it, and loops it to create a complex piece of music.
Backstory Netherton is a percussionist, fascinated by all things that can be struck to make a sound. “I walked into Home Depot, bought a bunch of stuff, cut it up, and hit it,” he says.
Chet Udell: Optron
From: Albany, Oregon Contest Finish: People’s Choice: Best Performance
Specs A shop light, some multicolored LEDs, a complex array of electronics (including a webcam equipped with a motion detector), and a laptop create this straight-out-of-sci-fi instrument that can be played by waving it around, running fingers up and down a sensor, or strumming it like an air guitar.
Backstory Japanese noise artist Atsuhiro Ito created the first Optron, which was a buzzing fluorescent tube. Udell’s device reminded almost everyone, young and old, of phantom duels with Darth Vader.
What can fans expect to see that’s different this time around? There’s a good chance that people will hear songs they’ve never heard live. We’ve got six solo records to choose from, and we’ll be playing a lot of songs from the new album. Be prepared for a louder rock ’n’ roll show than you might expect from the other records.
The new record is also more political. You’ve said that Trump’s election made you lose faith in the South. Do you expect any backlash here? Atlanta can sometimes be the exception to the rule in the same way that Nashville is. There are some urban pockets in the South that don’t really [accept] all the politics of the rural South. The current political climate, and the fact that I have a family, has motivated me to try to tell people what I believe. A lot of people can’t afford to stay silent. If they choose to, they’re ignoring a lot of Americans who don’t have a voice. I don’t really go into diatribes on stage. I normally let the songs do the talking.
Artists often seek conflict. You’ve been living straight for the past few years, though. You’re sober, married, and a father. Before I got sober, before I got my act cleaned up, I was afraid of what happiness or satisfaction might do to the art that I’m trying to make. That was a trick. My mind wanted me to keep drinking. That’s been pretty clearly disproven. I’ve been a lot happier over the last three albums than ever. And my work has improved because of it. Once you get your own problems solved, you can start focusing on the things outside your own front door. You can find a higher calling.
See the show
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play at the Fox Theatre, with special guest James McMurtry, on February 8 and 9. foxtheatre.org
Do you feel like, overall, your music is better received in the South? We did better in the South early on. But I think that had more to do with Southern people supporting natives than the content and subject matter. That stuff tends to translate everywhere, all over the world. Southern people just like to see a member of their tribe do well.
Do you feel like you’re proselytizing at your shows or preaching to the choir? When I put this record out, a lot of people would say, ‘Well, you’re going to alienate half your fan base.’ I don’t think it’s anywhere near half. If I alienate anybody, it’ll probably be a small portion of people who, for one thing, don’t agree with me and, for another thing, just aren’t willing to listen to people they don’t agree with. I think there’s a chance to give them some information they’ve not heard before. More than that, I don’t think it matters if you’re preaching to the choir—you just keep preaching.
Where do you go for inspiration? I read a lot—a lot of fiction. That helps me figure out what works and what doesn’t. Much of it comes from day-to-day conversation. I’ll be talking to my wife, or my best friend, or my dad, and someone will say something, and I’ll write it down. And I’ll go from there.
The mere sound of air shrilling through metal organ pipes summons images of cavernous churches and movie houses and long-dead virtuosos. In that context, Spivey Hall’s 25-year-old Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ is just a babe. So how does this newcomer size up against metro Atlanta’s ranking piper, the Fox Theatre’s “Mighty Mo?”
Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ Nickname None Installed 1992 Made in Padua, Italy, by Fratelli Ruffatti Number of pipes 4,413 Longest pipe 32 feet Shortest pipe 1/4 inch First performance A concert by British organist Dame Gillian Weir in May 1992 Connection to famous organist Virgil Fox Fox was good friends with developer Emilie Parmalee Spivey, for whom Spivey Hall is named.
Möller Opus 5566 Theatre Organ Nickname Mighty Mo Installed 1929 Made in Hagerstown, Maryland, by M.P. Möller Organ Co. Number of pipes 3,622 Longest pipe 32 feet Shortest pipe 6 inches First performance A musical accompaniment to Steamboat Willie, Disney’s first Mickey Mouse feature on Christmas Day 1929 Connection to famous organist Virgil Fox The organist headlined several “Fox at the Fox” concerts in the 1970s.
Fifteen minutes south of Nashville, deep in the wooded hills, the creative spirit of Music City is distilled to its rustic essence. Leiper’s Fork is barely a wide spot in the road, but this village of wood-framed country cottages lures Nashville royalty with its authentic musical offerings. It isn’t uncommon to find Winona Judd or Justin Timberlake eating fried chicken and playing alongside locals at Open Mic Night at Puckett’s Grocery, and everyone from grocers to Grammy winners shows up at the Lawnchair Theatre for live music and free movies. AtSerenite Maison, strum a tune on priceless instruments such as a vintage 1944 Martin B28 guitar or a 1930s Gibson mandolin. (Alas, these instruments are not for sale, though many a would-be buyer has tried.) Leiper’s Fork is also home to more than its share of world-class art, thanks to galleries including Copper Fox, Leiper’s Creek, and David Arms—the eponymous studio of the renowned painter housed in a refurbished barn.
Where to Stay
Moonshine Hill Inn / Situated on twenty-one private wooded acres, this luxurious inn features a pond, vegetable garden, tree house, and its very own music barn honoring the town’s place on the Americana Music Triangle. moonshinehill.com
Where to Play
Lawnchair Theatre / Bring a chair or quilt and enjoy live music or free Friday-night movies all summer at this outdoor theater, complete with a tin-roofed pavilion. visitfranklin.com
Where to Eat
Puckett’s Grocery / Over the last sixty-plus years, this country store has grown into a classic meat-and-three and now operates several locations throughout Tennessee. But this is the original. puckettsofleipersfork.com
Meet the Neighbors
In 1995, when developer Aubrey Preston returned from Colorado to his home state of Tennessee to raise his family, he discovered Leiper’s Fork. At the time, the burg was little more than a hollowed-out timber town that had long been left to its ghosts. He fell in love with the place, the hills and rural wilderness reminding him of East Tennessee, where he grew up. Preston, fifty-seven, bought up much of the village and encouraged Nashville artists to refurbish and set up shop in some of the abandoned buildings he’d acquired. One of his rules was that every business had to have a front porch, fire pit, or some place where people could congregate, rock in their chairs, and most importantly, play guitar—one of Preston’s passions. “The community takes a lot of pride in letting anyone who wants to play participate,” Preston says. “Music is a way of life here.”
For a window on Old Florida, look no further than Mount Dora, a popular winter destination for Northerners in the early twentieth century. With 1,400 lakes and an elevation 184 feet above sea level, the Central Florida town was dubbed the “Land of Lakes and Hills” by early promoters. Its most famous body of water is Lake Dora, a former entry point for steamships and home to the Lakeside Inn, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Florida, open since 1883. In the downtown village, much of the action is centered on Donnelly Street, named for J.P. Donnelly, the town’s first mayor. Wander antique shops (Oliver’s Twist, Village Antique Mall) and tasting rooms (the Wine Den, Maggie’s Attic). Then, stroll to Donnelly Park, where you’ll find the Donnelly House, a stunning example of Queen Anne–style architecture and one of the town’s most notable landmarks. Just a few blocks away at the public boat ramps, the red-and-white striped Mount Dora Lighthouse stands as the only inland lighthouse in the state.
Where to Stay
Lakeside Inn / The last remaining Victorian-era hotel in Central Florida, this 130-year-old landmark features a broad porch lined with rocking chairs overlooking a private pier and beach. lakeside-inn.com
Where to Eat
Pisces Rising / Feast on Caribbean-style seafood, steaks, and drinks—as well as sunsets over Lake Dora—in a restored 1919 bungalow. piscesrisingdining.com
Where to Play
Mount Dora Festivals / No matter what time of year you travel to Mount Dora, you’re likely to stumble upon a special event in Florida’s “Festival City.” Spring and summer standouts include the Blueberry Festival (April 29–30) and the lakeside Seafood Festival (Aug. 26–27). visitmountdora.com
Meet the Neighbors
Amy Sellers / Amy Sellers has always drawn inspiration for her paintings from the people and places that have touched her. And since she and her husband, Andrew, discovered Mount Dora six years ago, the lakeside community has served as a generous muse. “It’s almost like going back to Mayberry,” says Sellers, fifty-two, who grew up in rural Pennsylvania before moving to Tampa for college. “Mount Dora is a quaint town where everyone knows and helps each other.” Oils of landmarks like the Mount Dora Lighthouse and the Orange Blossom Cannonball tourist train line the walls of her downtown studio. Sellers says that prints and reproductions are quite popular with visitors who, like her, have fallen for this Old Florida town and want to take a piece of it home with them.
These days, you don’t often hear the term “boom town” associated with a small community. But this creative village in the Lowcountry marshes is happy to break the mold. Bluffton’s population has exploded by more than 120 percent since 2000, and the median age of its residents is thirty-three. This injection of youth is both the cause and effect of a thriving arts scene based in the historic district, Old Town Bluffton. The neighborhood itself is a work of art, filled with restored buildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Admire the weathered wooden Church of the Cross, a gothic structure built in 1857, and don’t miss the Heyward House, a classic 1841 plantation home that doubles as a visitors center. Artists and artisans showcase their works throughout the district; highlights include Fantozzi’s Wrought Iron Design, Al-Harry Furniture Design, and the Filling Station Art Gallery. After browsing for an original piece to bring home, take a short stroll to the May River, where everything from baptisms to boating still takes place.
Where to Stay
Inn at Palmetto Bluff/ A town unto itself, this luxury resort features a variety of accommodation options, half a dozen dining experiences, a golf course, and a spa. montagehotels.com
Where to Eat
Bluffton Oyster Company / This local institution, owned by a third-generation oystering family, serves up the briny mollusks freshly plucked and shucked. blufftonoyster.com
What to See
Rose Hill Mansion / A stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture, this private residence is open to the public for tours every day at 2 p.m. Reservations required. rosehillmansion.com
Secession Oak In 1844, Congressman Robert Barnwell Rhett stood beneath an ancient live oak in downtown Bluffton and made a fire-eating speech riling up local furor over perceived abuses by the federal government and its Yankee leaders. The offense to South Carolina’s sovereignty was so outrageous, he claimed, the state should consider splitting off from the Union. The speech spurred a Southern nationalist movement, and seventeen years later, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. The man, the cause, and the Confederacy are, of course, long gone. But the oak (some estimate its age at more than 400) still spreads its moss-draped branches over Old Town Bluffton. Seventy-five feet tall, it is a peaceful symbol of a turbulent past.
In the late nineteenth century, Thomasville was a terminus on the Southern Railway, making it an easily accessible destination for wealthy Northerners. Enchanted by its pine-scented air and warm temperatures (it’s just a few miles from the Florida line), they chose it as a winter vacation destination. Many built lavish homes or purchased former cotton estates and transformed them into hunting plantations. Fast-forward to the present day and this air of Victorian refinement is still as central to Thomasville as the massive 300-year-old oak at the corner of Monroe and Crawford streets. Drive or walk down the town’s original brick roads, sit on its wrought-iron benches, and admire its preserved Victorian architecture. Restored downtown buildings house thriving retailers such as Dillon Candy Company, which has specialized in pralines and pecan rolls since 1918, and Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, where you can sample local meats and cheeses. Don’t miss the grand Pebble Hill Plantation, a standout among the town’s plantations (also see: Pine HillandSinkola). While you’re there, take a tour and book a quail hunt—after all, the area is known as the Quail Hunting Capital of the World.
Where to stay
The Paxton House Historic House Hotel / Experience Gilded Age charm at this B&B built in 1884 as a vacation home for wealthy West Virginian James Paxton. Have breakfast on the sun porch before taking a spin around town on one of the hotel’s complimentary bikes. thepaxton1884.com
Where to eat
George and Louie’s / A Thomasville institution since 1981, this Greek restaurant and market features a large porch on which to enjoy its famous grilled-shrimp Greek salad. georgeandlouies.com
What to see
Lapham-Patterson House Historic Site / Built between 1884 and 1885 as a winter home for Chicago businessman C.W. Lapham, this ornate National Historic Landmark showcases unusual design elements such as asymmetrical rooms and more than fifty exit points. gastateparks.org/laphampatterson
Rose Show and Festival
April 27-29, 2017
Once home to a test garden where botanists experimented with growing different types of roses, Thomasville—known as “The Rose City”—boasts a world-renowned variety of the genus. All year long, visitors can walk through the Thomasville Rose Garden, which showcases more than 1,500 bushes. And every spring since the 1920s, the city hosts the annual Thomasville Rose Show and Festival, a three-day affair with two parades of flowery floats. The main event, of course, is the rose show itself, during which thousands of visiting flower enthusiasts will see rose hybrids in a staggering array of colors—from black to green to aquamarine.
Nestled on Albemarle Sound, two hours inland from the Outer Banks, Edenton was established by cotton and peanut farmers in the late seventeenth century and incorporated in 1722 as the first capital of the North Carolina colony. To this day, it feels a little more New England than Old South. A sizable portion of its architecture dates back to the eighteenth century, including the 1736 St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the red-brick 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, the most intact colonial courthouse in the country.
Follow the city’s guided walking tour of historic buildings, or take the trolley from the courthouse to the Cupola House, an architecturally unique mansion built in 1758. It’s framed by the expansive Colonial Revival Gardens, filled with fruit trees, beds of herbs, and other plants botanists believe could have been grown here prior to 1800. For a taste of the true colonial spirit, head to the Barker House museum and welcome center, a 1782 residence overlooking the bay where former owner Penelope Barker organized the Edenton Tea Party to protest unfair British taxation. Next door stands the relatively new Roanoke River Lighthouse; built in 1886, it is believed to be one of the last remaining square-framed structures of its kind.
Where to Stay
Cotton Gin Inn / Set in a restored 1900 cotton plantation, this food-focused bed and breakfast offers organic breakfasts, locally sourced appetizers during cocktail hour, and special supper-club events open to the public. thecottongininn.com
Where to Eat
The 51 House / Enjoy steaks, seafood, and views of the Albemarle Sound at the site where Penelope Barker inspired more than fifty women to sign a petition pledging to boycott British goods. the51house.com
Where to Play
Paddling trails / Rent a canoe or kayak at the Edenton Town Harbor and explore the area’s natural history on its many scenic waterways. visitedenton.com
1767 Chowan County Courthouse With its brick facade, window shutters, and signature bell tower—complete with a weather vane—this National Historic Landmark is a model of classic Georgian architecture. The oldest continuously operating government building in the state, it has also witnessed the formation of a colony, state, and nation. Lawyer Joseph Hewes, who helped build the courthouse, went on to sign the Declaration of Independence. During the revolution, future Governor and Senator Samuel Johnston practiced law in the central courtroom. The hall also hosted meetings of the Masons of Unanimity #7, of which George Washington was a member. The chair in which America’s first president sat is on display. While court cases are no longer heard here, county business is still conducted in the offices.
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