Greensboro: It's for Real
Article and Photos by KathleenWalls
|Flo explains how people are like
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!"
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.
weaving functional beauty
||Some of the
colorful glass art at Genuine Georgia
can visit Festival Hall and take in a play by the Green County
Players such as "The Red
Velvet Cake War."
||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.
||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
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, 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 Whyllson and Captain James P. Kirk,
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 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.
McRay desplaying folk art style painting
depicting "The Marble Slab" story
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
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.
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