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Greensboro: It's for Real
Article and Photos by KathleenWalls

 

Flo
Flo explains how people are like candy
When Flo, the Waffle House waitress in her fifties hairdo and booming voice, jumped aboard our tour bus just before we headed for Greensboro, Georgia, we all wondered what was going on. It didn't take long to figure it out.  Ellen Hester, in her Flo character, was a motivational speaker here to tell us the story of Greensboro. She made it so simple and that fit Greensboro.

No world changing event happened in Greensboro. No big battles were fought here. No famous people came from here. Then again, no one will mug you here or steal your car if you wander into a local store and leave the keys in the ignition.  Everyone will nod and say "howdy " as you walk down its streets. It's simply a delicious slice of small town Georgia. Their 1849 courthouse and the 1936 circa post office featuring two of the last remaining WPA murals from the Depression, set the tone. The town is filled with interesting places and  people who all have a story to tell. And they are all good stories. Flo put it bluntly; "Greensboro is a whine free community!"

Greensboro's Courthouse

Flo recounted some rough times from the town's history. "Back in 1787, the Indians burned the town but did they whine about it? Noooo, they just rebuilt it. Then some of them Yankee's tore up half the town  during the war but did they whine about it? Nooo, they just waited and the Yankees left. Then in 1922, the boll weevil destroyed its economy but did they whine about it? Noooo, they just FIDO.  In case you don't know that means you jus' 'forgit it 'nd drive on.'"

So it's not surprising that one of the most interesting buildings in town is Genuine Georgia  where you can watch an artisan at work creating something beautiful It's  a one-of-a-kind marketplace featuring over 135 of Georgia's finest artists and crafters. Artisans like Cheryl White, a English born transplant to Georgia, weaves functional items and produces pieces of art in the process. The place if filled with color and beauty. And if all that isn't enoug, it is Lake Oconee's home town.

 

Cheryl White weaving functional beauty Some of the colorful glass art at Genuine Georgia

 

 You can visit Festival Hall and take in a play by the Green County Players  such as "The Red Velvet Cake War."

Festival Hall A scene from the hilarious "Red Velvet Cake War"

When you want refreshments, no place is better than the Yesterday Cafe where you can enjoy lunch or dinner and sample their world famous Buttermilk Pie or you can indulge in dining ranging from a light lunch to a full English Tea  at the Potted Geranium Tea Parlor.  Either will whisk you back to a gracious style of dining from a bygone era.

Yesterday Cafe Ripe Thing Market

You can stop by their own farmers market, Ripe Thing Market and find lots of locally grown produce as well as  unique items like Hibiscus Tea or Moonshine Jelly.

The Old Jail
If you are interested in the grimmer attractions, don't miss the Old Jail. Built in 1907, it is made of solid granite from a local quarry with two-foot thick walls. The original gallows is still in place upstairs. It is the oldest standing masonry jail in Georgia.

Criminals were placed in lightless dank cells with straw for a bed, a tin bucket for a toilet and a candle. If you were arrested for lesser  crimes you were lucky to be put in the upstairs cell where a little light filtered in a small barred window.

It was used  until 1895 when the new jail was built next door. That facility was recently renovated, it is now the L.L. Wyatt Museum, housing memorabilia from Greene County's law enforcement history but is currently not open to the public.

Stop in at "The Big Store" built  in 1856-1860. J.H. McCommons and Company purchased the building In 1929 and it had been in the same family ever since. In the old days, there was a blacksmith shop and stable in the rear of the store and a bell in the front of the store used to announce the opening of the store in morning and at midday meal time.  "The Big Store" sold almost anything anyone needed "from the cradle to the grave." It was the largest retail establishment between Atlanta and Augusta. It even included a funeral parlor. Today when you stop in you might chat with Steve McCommons. He will tell you the sorry of Oscar.

Back in 1937, one hot August day, a tramp got off the train. He stopped at a lady's house and she fixed him some food but when she brought it to him at the back door, he was not there. She looked and found him in the front yard drinking from the goldfish pond. She thought that was a mite strange as the well was just a few feet away.  He wandered up the road and ended up in an abandoned house. Some people called the sheriff who took him to the jail as there was no hospital here then. The man remained sick for several months then died.

My father was the undertaker and coroner at the time and he embalmed him and tried to find out who he was. They took fingerprints went through the FBI and Red Cross and had no success. Weeks turned into months and months turned into years and they kept getting calls from folks wanting to know what he looked like so they just kept him. Finally after 25 years, the health department got wind of it. They sent someone down to check on it. The cop told my father ”We understand you got somebody been dead here for 15 years."

My father replied, "Nope. he's been dead for 25 years."

 


They finally buried him but my father said he buried the best night watchman he ever had. Every year when school started, the children would ring the doorbell in the funeral parlor across the street and it would ring over here. They would want to see Oscar. Oscar started out in the top floor of this  building The students would look at him at Halloween  in my life time he was in the baseman. By third grade all the kids had heard of Oscar. They would come running down to see him. One time when I was in the first grade we all wanted to see Oscar. My father shouted down "Billy, these kids want to see Oscar. Fix them up real good."







I was in there with them It was very dark and Billy made everyone get up real close. He kept saying "Get up closer." We leaned over and he lifted the coffin lid and turned on that flashlight. All of us were gone. It scared the devil out of us.

After we buried him in 1962. when anything happens, like you forget and leave a key in  the door or a light comes on and it's not supposed to come on, it's blamed on Oscar.

 




The Big Store Trudy McCommons display picture of Oscar.
Steve is the little boy on the left.

Nowadays, "the Big Store" has been subdivided but Oscar still hangs around all of them The proprietor of the Antique Mall, one part of the store,, told me Oscar hangs around there near where the huge elevator is still located. The elevator was used to lower coffins of the "dearly departed" to the horse drawn hears that would transport them to the Greensboro Cemetery. The elevator also came in very handy for raising and lowering large items such as  plows or even a brand new automobile to and from the upper level of the store. The antique mall's  11,000 square ft. of antiques and vintage treasures provide some  wonderful souvenirs to take home. In the spirit of the original Big Store, Greensboro Antique Mall seems to have just about anything you might need.  (not counting Oscar.)

Jan Whyllson  and  Captain James P. Kirk,
Jan Whyllson, one of the artists-in-residence at Genuine Georgia, and her dog, Captain James P. Kirk, were sitting outside Hunter's Drug store painting. She told of the days when Greensboro was on the western frontier and had four  rowdy hotels and gambling parlors on main street. Where Genuine Georgia is located today, once stood the Strain-Statham Hotel, renowned for "its beautiful women and quality hay for horses."

Jan commented, " Obviously, the  important  thing in the 1800 was beautiful women and good hay for your horses."

Joel McRay, owner of Greensboro Florist and Gift Shop as well as county historian, told another interesting tale.

This building (his shop on Main Street) was built in 1862. its original purpose was a bakery. The fireplace is still in the  basement and the basement is still dirt as it was then. There was an oven under the sidewalk where they did the baking. Used to be a smokestack that came up out there.

     Joel McRay desplaying  folk art style painting
depicting "The Marble Slab" story


There was a wealthy family in Greensboro then named Grimes. The matriarch of that family was a lady named Charity Grimes. She had a beautiful daughter named Adeline who was 16 years old when she died. Of course they were grief stricken. Being people of means they ordered a marble slab from Italy. It came into the port of Savanna and was brought here by ox cart and placed on Adeline's grave.

Not long after,  it disappeared. Somebody told Mrs. Grimes of a baker in this building who was making candy on that marble slab. She got the constable and came up here and sure enough there was her slab. She used words her name, Charity, did not imply and told him if he didn't get it back into the cemetery by nightfall, he would be lying under one just like it.

Before I left I heard a few more great stories. One about a dog who continued to enjoy the weekly treat he used to share with his owner at Hunter's Drug Store long after the owner's death. and the exploits of legendary  Sheriff, Loy Lee Wyatt, who rid the county of moonshiners and  enforced the laws for fifty-two years until his death in 1977. There are other stories just waiting for you to hear in Greensboro and just like the people you meet here, they are real.

For More Info:

http://visitlakeoconee.com/greensboro-georgia.html

http://www.mccommonsfuneralhome.com/fh/home/home.cfm?fh_id=12169

http://www.n-georgia.com/genuine-georgia.html

http://www.greensboroantiquemall.com/

http://www.theyesterdaycafe.com/

http://www.thepottedgeranium.com/

http://www.festivalhallgreensboro.com/

 

 



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