Seven Columns


The Nolan mansion front facade. Photo by me, March 2023.

There are several sites on the internet that tell some of the story of the Nolan mansion and most will recycle the same information over and over. I wanted to find a different angle.

My life is like the summer rose
That opens to the morning sky...
- Richard Henry Wilde


That line of poetry was quoted by the son of the man that built this house in his college yearbook. Why did he quote this line from an obscure Georgia poet that died forty-seven years before he was born in 1894?


I pulled to the grassy side of the road one morning in the first week of March. My destination was Madison, Georgia but this house had been a destination on my long list of places to see for the last seven years. I feared it would be gone before I had the chance to stand in front of it taking in the long shadows of the trees across the spring green grass and red dirt drive.


I was in a place that never had an official name, though some called it Nolan's Crossroads for the name of the family that owned a store and a plantation at the intersection of two roads. It is two miles on a two lane road south of the town of Bostwick, population three hundred and seventy-eight, where Confederate flags hang limp on poles and faded red brick storefronts crumble. I could be standing at the center of Bostwick in the 1980s or 70s and it would not look much different from today. Bostwick was never much of anything; a cotton gin, a mercantile, a hotel and on a spur line to a main railroad. It achieved its peak population in 1920 with four hundred and twenty-four residents. 


Photo by me, March 2023.

The house was built in 1905 on land that was part of the Nolan plantation. Old houses have histories and we tend to be more interested in them when they are pretty, unique, someone famous lived in them such as Graceland or if they were the scene of a tragedy. This is not one of those old homes with a tragic past such as a murder or murders, a haunting, a jilted bride that never overcame the embarrassment and died a heartbroken spinster or the wasting away of a family fortune by spoiled heirs. The only tragedy here is the state of neglect that this house stands like the solitary flower straining against the weeds in an untended garden.


Snow white cotton not weeds had grown in the fields around the house in every direction then ten years after construction of the house, the boll weevil devoured the Georgia cotton crop beginning in 1915 and many farmers turned to other crops. Cotton production was not fully stopped, it just became less productive, in Morgan County. As the boll weevil struck, sharecropping, which the plantation was reliant, began to dramatically decline. As with many rural counties in Georgia there was a steep drop in population between 1920 and 1930. Morgan County lost thirty-eight percent of its population that decade and it continued to decline until 1970 when it bottomed out at nine thousand residents, less than half of what it was fifty years before.


Across the road from mansion was the family store. It was called the T.H. Nolan General Merchandise Company. Photo by me, March 2023.

Morgan County became one of the largest dairy producers in the state from the 1930s and continuing for the next thirty years. It is possible that the plantation continued growing cotton and diversified into the dairy business too. There is photographic evidence of continued cotton farming through 1946 on the Nolan plantation in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) Photograph Collection at the University of Georgia.

In 1959 the son of the man that built the house, the college student that quoted obscure Georgia poets died. Of the five children from that branch of the family only one still lived, a daughter, and she would until 1995.


Tenant farming continued through the 1960s in Morgan County and finally ended by the the 1970s and so change came to Nolan's Crossroads. Why that change happened is unknown, but whatever reason and whatever choice was made, no one lived in the house with seven columns anymore. The doorknobs stopped turning, the floors stopped being swept and the petals from the roses fell.

This is when the known history of the plantation turns muddy as it has been repeated ad nauseam online that the Nolan's turned to growing peaches until the 1970s. A close examination of the area through historical aerial photographs from 1955 through the 1990s reveal no peach orchards. The fields around the mansion were open and maintained land from the 1950s through today. The only significant change to the landscape was the large field to the southeast across Georgia Highway 83 that was planted in pines by 1981. The trees were large enough by 1981 to lead me to believe they were planted in the 1970s.

A search through property records indicate that a family member sold the house and five acres in 1977 for $16,800. The 2022 appraised value for the property was $75,000 with $45,000 of that price attributed to the land. With the current condition of the house it is not surprising that the house was valued at less than the land it occupies. The median home price in 1977 for the United States was around $38,000. For five acres of land and a mansion, $16,800 was a steal. The sale was also a private one and the house was not on the open market and that raises a question - was it purchased for sentimental reasons? If so, why has it sat empty and been neglected for almost fifty years?


Photo by me, March 2023.

A pulp wood truck rattled by carrying away Morgan County one stick of wood at a time.


It must have been a sight to see the seven columns raised into place along the front porch. I ask myself, walking along the ditch, "how many mules did it take?"


The son of the man that built the house would have been eleven when the house was built. He would have spent his formative years taking breakfast in the fine home and looking out the upstairs windows over the land they owned for as far as the eye could see. How much pride and satisfaction filled him as his hand grazed the columns before he ran down the front steps to adulthood?


He must have thought that a house this grand, grander than any around for miles, would be there forever. How could a house this grand, a spectacular monument to personal fortune and family be left to rot in the Georgia sunshine and creaking stillness of the night as the possums scavenged?


The absence of the routines of life have not gone unnoticed over the decades. The vandals and thieves have come like tomb robbers with torches, broken windows, stolen objects, kicked out the spindles of the staircase and scratched their names into the paint of the walls like carving initials into a tree in the woods. 


Photo by me, March 2023.

The house spills out its guts from the side like a cracked melon. That is the impossible truth.

The local county conservancy has made it known that they would like to see the house saved and The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has too and placed it on their list of places in peril. Awareness and advocacy for saving the house can only go so far. Without investment and desire from the owners of the house to save it then nothing will be done to keep it from collapsing. I do not know which of those is preventing it from happening. I have read that it is a lack of desire from the owners to save it or sell it, but that is speculation - perhaps gossip is the better word - from people on the internet. The truth is often a complicated and reluctant friend that takes awhile to suss out and comes in as many shades as the faded paint on the wood siding of a decaying mansion.

I do not know why the son of the man that built this house chose that poem. I am no closer to answering that question either. I puzzled over it in bed, behind my keyboard for days and as I took a walk on a cool March day.

From the last stanza of the same poem that the son selected:

Soon as the rising tide shall beat,
All trace will vanish from the sand;
Yet, as if grieving to efface
All vestige of the human race...

Perhaps he unknowingly predicted the fate of this place when the paint was fresh, the dust rose from the road out front and the china tea cups were new.


The mysteries of our follies, passions, abandonments and hearts are sometimes as vague, distant and secretive as the countryside beyond the lights of progress. Nothing, no matter how grand, is out of reach from time.


Photo by me, March 2023.

I drove on to Madison inspired. 


Great architecture like any art form should perform that duty and prove that humans can create glorious beauty with our hands and imaginations though we seldom do anymore with our modern structures. May the Nolan mansion stand for another century, I have my doubts that it will, and if not then the rising tide will be undefeated.