Down a sleepy roadway off I-75, past a former movie set, and tucked into the Piedmont National Forest is Jarrell Plantation State Historic Site. The Jarrell family lived and worked here for over 125 years, from 1847 into the 1960s.
It’s not the Hollywood version of a plantation, it’s the real deal, and the 20 original structures show life pre-Civil War, as well as the many changes that happened afterward. It’s a short drive from High Falls State Park which offers camping and hiking trails.
The Jarrell story is mostly told from the white family’s side, but Georgia State Park rangers at the park are trying to bring the stories of those who were enslaved and later worked for the Jarrells to life as well. We took a tour with Ranger Derek to learn a bit more about the families and the plantation. He was an enthusiastic host and I encourage you to engage the rangers while you are there, or better yet, visit during one of the carefully crafted special events for more hands-on fun.
Jarrell Plantation Houses
A tour of Jarrell takes you on a trip through time that spans more than 125 years, and shows how modest life was back in the day. John Jarrell built a thriving plantation. When times were good, he reinvested in land and labor. At its peak the plantation included 900 acres and 42 enslaved people. During the Civil War Union troops raided the plantation, burned the buildings, stole the livestock and freed the slaves.
The original farmhouse looks nothing like Tara. There are no columns or grand porches, just a functional home that was likely roomy for the time, and a much more realistic representation of the plantation era.
There are two other homes on the site. The 1895 house which was the home to John’s son Dick Jarrell, his wife Mamie and their 12 children. Next time your child cries about someone else in his/her space, bring him to this modest abode and try to figure out how you would stack 14 people into it.
The 1920’s house is a beautiful farmhouse built with lumber cut and milled on site. It has 10 large rooms and was a MAJOR upgrade from the 1895 house. This home is not on the tour, but it is a bed and breakfast if you’d like to visit and stay (although it is temporarily closed due to COVID-19).
Life at Jarrell Plantation
Other buildings on the property are for the various industries the Jarrell’s ran, which included farming, and milling. It was a completely self-sustaining farm, so there is also a blacksmith shop, and a syrup furnace and well. There was no specialization on the plantation; everyone had to be a jack-of-all-trades.
It wasn’t all work and there is a short movie in the visitor’s center that includes interviews with Jarrell descendants who grew up on the farm telling first hand stories of what life was like. It’s worth the time investment to give you a sense of the real people that lived here.
Black Lives at Jarrell Plantation
Even though blacks outnumbered whites for much of the plantation’s history, it has been difficult to learn about the Africans that lived and worked on the Jarrell Plantation. The only structure left is a pile of rocks, which the park believes is the ruins of a slave and later tenant house.
The park is trying to balance out the story, and in addition to the structure, they have researched the slaves of John Jarrell and compiled them into a book in the visitor’s center. It’s a clinical account with the ledgers recording the worth of each slave or family group. It may be hard to read, but it’s an important story to tell.
In addition, rangers have created a card about black lives at Jarrell and tell the story of two former slaves – Reason Jarrell and Enoch Card. Reason is believed to be the son of John Jarrell and a slave woman. There is so much to unpack in that one statement. If you want an eye-opening look at one side of these relationships, I recommend Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
The other former slave is Enoch Card. Card worked the plantation as a tenant farmer after the Civil War, but then moved to Michigan as part of the Great Migration.
On the surface there is a lot to see and do at Jarrell Plantation. Kids will love running around the grounds, petting the resident goats or trying to catch the free-range chickens. You will certainly learn something about life in a by-gone era.
Looking at the complex relationships on the farm over a continuum of 125 years is a unique opportunity.