By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
I grew up in Telfair County, and have heard countless stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. One of the most intriguing stories is that of the Talmadge House, now Sugar Creek Plantation.
For as long as I can remember, driving south from McRae-Helena through the forests of longleaf pines, all that was visible of the house from the highway was a historical marker noting its location. But we all knew there was something special behind the wall of shrubs, bushes and vines.
Built in 1937 for Governor and Mrs. Talmadge (affectionately known as “Miss Mit”), the house has 12 rooms and was built to serve as a residence upstairs and an entertainment space downstairs. The rooms promoted and even encouraged people to meander from room to room, mixing and mingling with other guests. It was grand to say the least, but for years the property was all but abandoned.
My friend Jim Wooten grew up in Telfair County. After a storied career with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he moved back home to the family farm. Shortly after his return, the Talmadge House was placed on the real estate market. After a brief tour of the house, Jim decided that he wanted to buy it—for what, he didn’t know, but he knew that the house had to be saved.
This was in November 2011. The house had been abandoned for 10 years and there was extensive damage throughout the structure. The plastered walls were heavily damaged, and the exterior trim hadn’t been cared for in decades and were rotting. Light fixtures were missing, and the house was void of usable furnishings.
After closing on the property, Jim enlisted the help of volunteers, and construction started six months later. The plumbing fixtures were re-glazed, new electrical wiring was run throughout the house, and a new central heating and A/C system was installed. At one point, there were 17 craftsmen working for three months around the clock. This work and labor of love resulted in rebuilding the entire interior, and all of the home’s features were preserved.
As the repairs progressed, the group continued to wrestle with what to do with the property. They thought about restoring the home to its original 1937 condition. The thought of a museum was entertained, but the unique design of the house had to be taken into account.
“The house is designed so there is not a cul-de-sac in the house. There are two exits to every room,” stated Jim Wooten. It was then they decided to make it an event space.
When asked about the conversion of the property to an event space, the face of Pam Walker– who is largely responsible for guiding the work done inside the house– lights up. “The house needs people and hosts great parties and weddings. You can feel the atmosphere.”
The response has been amazing. So far this year, the property has seven or eight weddings booked. And wedding parties love the facility! They have free reign of the property and the upstairs rooms, and cottages onsite provide the perfect areas for getting ready for the big event.
The Christmas season is also a popular time for the facility. It hosts luncheons for many of the civic clubs, organizations and companies not only in Telfair County but throughout the region. The home is also open on Sunday afternoons throughout the holiday season for tours.
And, of course, the Peaches to Beaches weekend provides additional opportunities. The yard sale happens every second Friday and Saturday in March, so be sure to check it out this weekend, March 11-12, 2016! Although the facility doesn’t host a yard sale on the front lawn, the property is open for tours.
“Georgia’s heritage and cultural attractions, destinations and events are among the most popular reasons travelers choose to visit our state,” said Cindy Edison, Director of Tourism Product Development with the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“The restoration and revitalization of the historic Sugar Creek Plantation as an event facility will help to support the growth of tourism in Telfair County,” she stated.
If you’re traveling down US Highway 341 south of McRae-Helena, plan some time to stop and explore a little Georgia history and see the transformation of Sugar Creek Plantation for yourself.
Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development.