Tarver Plantation, Newton Georgia

Date added: July 04, 2023 Categories: Georgia House Plantations & Farms Greek Revival
East and south facades of plantation house looking northwest (1988)

Tarver Plantation is a Greek Revival plantation house constructed about 1850. The plantation consists of approximately 1,300 acres that have historically been part of this large land holding.

It was the home of Henry Andrew Tarver and his wife Elizabeth Solomon Tarver until the Tarvers moved to Atlanta in the 1870s. In 1850, the plantation consisted of 3,700 acres and produced a variety of crops, including corn, oats, cotton, peas and beans, and sweet potatoes. In 1860, the plantation operation had been scaled down to 2,200 acres, with corn, cotton, and sweet potatoes as main crops. During the Civil War, the plantation was a source of food and other supplies for the Confederate government. The plantation was operated by slavery through the Civil War, and then changed to a system of sharecropping in the late nineteenth century. In the 1940s, the property became a hunting preserve under the ownership of Russell A. Alger, Jr. of Chicago, Illinois, as did many other Albany and Thomasville area plantations. Tarver Plantation continues to be a seasonal home to the present.

The classically designed house has very fine details that make the house an excellent example of the interpretation of the Greek Revival style in southwest Georgia domestic architecture in the mid-nineteenth century. These details include a symmetrical main block with front and side porticoes, entrances with transoms and sidelights, interior moldings and mantels, and an unusual cross-hallway floor plan with wide central hallways in the form of a Greek cross. A rear ell wing with a full-length verandah and the original kitchen wing are also significant features. A 1940s restoration made minor alterations and additions, but left the mid-nineteenth-century, Greek Revival character of the house very intact.

A cemetery with one marked grave and others unmarked is also within the Tarver Plantation property. This cemetery is reportedly a slave cemetery and is a rare and important historic resource.

The plantation house was constructed about 1850, and Henry Tarver and his wife were living there and farming in 1850. The Tarvers continued to farm the plantation through 1870 until Henry Tarver left to serve one term in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1871-1872. The Tarvers moved to Atlanta to live until 1887 and then returned to the plantation. At this point Tarver began to use the plantation as a seasonal home until his death in 1897.

Tarver Plantation consists of land lots 160, 161, 121, and 159 in the Eighth District of Baker County. Originally a part of Early County, the lots were in the region distributed by the 1820 Land Lottery, and were claimed by the winners at various times from 1821 to 1837. These land lots made up what the future owner Henry Tarver would refer to as the "homeplace". Baker County, which was formed in 1825, has lost its courthouse records, including deeds, from before 1870, so that no chain of title can be found to explain how the property came into the possession of the Tarver family.

One undocumented source states that Hartwell Harrison Tarver (1790s-1851), of Twiggs County, came to the Albany area, then in Baker County, approximately twenty miles from where Tarver Plantation would be located, with Nelson Tift in October 1836 to set up the trading establishment which started the town of Albany. This was certainly possible, since his wife Ann Wimberly Tarver had died that year. He returned to his home county of Twiggs by 1838 when he resumed the postmastership of Tarverville and was named a trustee of Ocmulgee Academy. The native Virginian was listed as a resident of Twiggs County in the 1840 U.S. Census, and was given the title of General in 1842 when the legislature appointed him to that position in the Georgia Militia. In 1843 he married Harriett Wimberly, and with her added two children to the six he had by his first wife.

In 1850 Hartwell H. Tarver was still residing in Twiggs County, but owned property in Baker County, and two of his sons, Paul E. Tarver and Henry A. Tarver, were living in Baker County. In the 1850 Census, the Population and Agricultural Schedules show the extent of the Tarver family holdings in southwest Georgia. All of these holdings were located in the area that was then Baker County.

1. Hartwell H. Tarver, who was living in Twiggs County, owned a 2,700-acre plantation in the Second District which was operated by an overseer.
2. William M. Tarver, Hartwell H. Tarver's brother, owned a 1,500-acre plantation in the Second District, but lived in Twiggs County as well.
3. Paul E. Tarver owned and lived on a 3,000-acre plantation in the First District.
4. Henry A. Tarver owned a 3,700-acre plantation in the Eighth District and lived there with his wife and two overseers. (This plantation was called the "homeplace" by the Tarver family and includes Tarver Plantation)

The first three of the above plantations were included in Dougherty County when it was formed out of Baker County in 1853, while the "homeplace" owned by Henry Tarver remained in Baker County. The 1850 Agricultural Schedule listed the "homeplace" as follows:

Land: 700 acres of improved land
3.000 acres of unimproved land
3,700 acres total valued at $50,000
Equipment: $2,000 worth of farming equipment and machinery
Livestock: 4 horses, 23 asses and mules, 10 "milch" cows,
4 working oxen, 25 other cattle, no sheep, 400
swine. Total value of livestock: $3,460
Production: 4,000 bushels Indian corn, 100 bushels oats,
175 bales ginned cotton, 400 bushels peas and
beans, 1,000 bushels sweet potatoes, 300 pounds
of butter, and $500 worth of animals slaughtered.

The 1850 Slave Schedule for Baker County listed Henry Tarver, at age 24, twice in the Eighth District, with a total of 87 slaves.

Henry Andrew Tarver was born in Twiggs County, Georgia, in 1826, the second child of Hartwell Harrison Tarver and Ann Wimberly Tarver. He was married in 1850 to Elizabeth Griffin Solomon, also of Twiggs County, who was born in 1831 to William Solomon and Susan L. Smith Solomon. The plantation house was apparently built for the young couple at the time of their marriage.

Whether Henry had earlier been farming in Baker County is unknown. Neither is it known if he acquired the land on his own, or if it was a gift from his father. The fact that not only he, but his brother Paul, and sister Dorothy, wife of Alfred Holt Colquitt, who lived at neighboring Pinebloom Plantation, all came to Baker County makes it plausible that the plantation was a wedding gift. The couple had a total of ten children between 1850 and 1871, eight of whom lived to maturity.

The 1860 census shows two plantations owned by Henry Tarver, one being the "homeplace" in Baker County, and the second in Dougherty County which was managed by an agent. On his Baker County plantation, or "homeplace", Henry Tarver had 400 acres of improved land and 1,800 acres of unimproved land for a total of 2,200 acres, and grew Indian corn, cotton, and sweet potatoes. This farming operation, down considerably from 1850, was worked with 14 slaves who lived in two slave houses. Tarver's Dougherty County plantation was considerably larger with a great deal more production. This 4,700-acre plantation was worked by 112 slaves who lived in 21 slave houses.

The coming of the Civil War did not result in the absence of Henry Tarver from his plantation operations, although his brother-in-law, Alfred Holt Colquitt, from neighboring Pinebloom Plantation, successively served as captain, colonel, brigadier general, and major general. Tarver was no doubt attending to his plantations which supplied the Confederate government much-needed food and other supplies. During the war, southwest Georgia was called the "Egypt" and the "Breadbasket" of the Confederacy. The Tarver plantations produced their share of the supplies which earned the region this title.

By 1870 the Tarvers had adjusted to life without slavery, and like other large landholders had begun a system of sharecropping. The Agricultural Schedule of that year did not list Henry Tarver in Baker County, but he was listed with two plantations in Dougherty County. This suggests that the "homeplace" may have been out of production or was combined with Tarver's nearby Dougherty County plantations in the Agricultural Schedule. The war and the economic depression of the South may have caused a decline in Tarver's production, but he still operated two relatively large plantations.

Henry Tarver served one term in the Georgia House of Representatives from Baker County in 1871 and 1872. Following this period, he moved his entire family to Atlanta, where they remained until 1887. The 1880 Agricultural Census does not list Tarver as having a farming operation in either Baker or Dougherty Counties.

When Henry and Elizabeth Tarver returned to southwest Georgia from Atlanta, their plantation home apparently became more of a seasonal home for the family rather than a permanent residence. Henry Tarver deeded the "homeplace" (1,125 acres at this time) and other nearby land holdings in both Baker and Dougherty Counties to his wife and children. Henry Tarver died in Albany, Georgia on February 10th, 1897, and his wife died on June 7th, 1909. Their eight children owned the "homeplace" jointly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1940 the "homeplace" was in the total possession of the youngest son. Fort Tarver. Fort was a local celebrity in the early twentieth century when he held annual barbeques at the old Tarver Place in connection with his election as sheriff of Dougherty County.

In 1940 Fort Tarver sold the entire plantation to Russell A. Alger, Jr. of Chicago, Illinois. During Alger's ownership, the house was restored under the guidance of architect Edward Vason Jones (1909-1980) of Albany. It was at this time that the breezeway connecting the kitchen with the main house was enclosed, and the kitchen wing was enlarged. New steps were built at the three major entrances and the rear gallery was enclosed with large windows between the existing square columns. Alger named the house "Placida" and used the plantation as a hunting preserve.

In 1947 the plantation was again sold. The new owners were Mr. and Mrs. Don Hunter of Cleveland, Ohio. By purchasing the old Tarver Plantation, which she again renamed "Tarva" to reflect the southern pronunciation of the original family's name, Mrs. Hunter was continuing the tradition of her family. Mrs. Hunter, the former Mary Haskell, was a daughter of Colburn and Gertrude Hanna Haskell, and granddaughter of Howard Melville and Kate Smith Hanna, also of Cleveland. The Hanna family, who had interest in the original Standard Oil Company, and started Hanna Mining Company, among other interests, began coming to the Thomasville, Georgia, area in the 1890s and buying property. Eventually the extended family collectively owned twenty-two plantations encompassing over 70,000 acres in southwest Georgia and north Florida, more than any other family group. These include Melrose, Sinkola, Elsoma, Pebble Hill, Hines Hill, Foshalee, Mistletoe, Beverly Fair Oaks, Ring Oak, at one time Winnstead, and others. All are used primarily as hunting preserves for hunting quail and as seasonal homes. Mrs. Hunter was the only Hanna family member who purchased an Albany-area estate.

Approximately seventy similar plantations are located between Thomasville, Georgia and Tallahassee, Florida. When available land for hunting became scarce in that area, these predominantly northern hunters moved fifty miles north to the old plantation belt around Albany, Georgia, and approximately thirty additional quail plantations were established there.

Mrs. Hunter continued the house's restoration under the guidance of Edward Vason Jones, and the kitchen was later remodeled by architect William Frank McCall of Moultrie, Georgia. After Mrs. Hunter's death, the plantation was inherited by her daughter, Miss Barbara Hunter.

Site Description

Tarver Plantation consists of an approximately 1,300-acre tract of rural forest and agricultural land and a Greek Revival plantation house constructed about 1850 that historically were part of an extensive working plantation. The plantation lies along either side of Tarva Road (County Route 122) in Baker County in southwest Georgia. While all of the property is located in Baker County, its northern boundary borders directly on the Baker/Dougherty County line. The land that makes up this plantation is of almost flat terrain, with several swampy areas and small ponds dotted throughout. Dirt service roads provide access to various parts of the property. Surrounding the main plantation house are several service buildings, including tenant houses, although no historic outbuildings remain. Other similarly large plantations surround Tarver, including historic Pinebloom Plantation directly to the south, so that the area has remained very rural.

The plantation house sits approximately 500 feet from Tarva Road and is approached by a semicircular dirt drive that circles in front of the house. The front lawn is dotted with large trees and shrubs. The house is one-story, wood-framed with shingled, hipped roof. The wood framed structure is put together with mortise and tenon joints and is raised on brick piers that have been stuccoed. The main section of the house is square and symmetrical, and there is both an ell wing and a kitchen wing on the rear. Stylistically, the house is Greek Revival. The hipped roof extends over the front facade to form a full-width portico supported by six square wooden posts. On either side facade is an entrance portico each with hipped roof and two square posts that repeat the design of the front portico. An entablature with one row of dentils encircles the house. The house's exterior is covered with weatherboarding except for the tongue-and-groove siding with beveled edge under the porticoes. There are four interior end, brick chimneys in the main section.

The symmetrical front facade is five bays wide with a central entrance. The main entrance consists of double doors with rectangular transom and sidelights flanked by fluted pilasters and topped with a plain entablature with stylized pediment above. The front windows are wooden, six-over-nine, double-hung windows, while the windows in the rest of the house are six-over-six. Window surrounds are simple with flat lintels. The side entrances also have rectangular transoms and sidelights and are flanked by six-over-six windows.

The rear ell wing has six-over-six windows on one side and an enclosed verandah on the other. Originally the verandah was open and protected by floor-to-ceiling shutters between the supporting square posts. The shutters have been replaced with triple-hung windows between the posts. A glassed porch has been added to the end of the ell wing. One interior brick chimney serves this wing. The verandah overlooks a brick-paved courtyard directly behind the house's main section. Across the courtyard and attached to the other rear corner of the main section is the kitchen wing which was originally freestanding and attached to the house only with an open breezeway. The kitchen wing has been enlarged and the breezeway enclosed.

On the interior, the house's square main section has an unusual cross hallway floor plan of 16-foot-wide hallways in a Greek cross plan with a 24-foot-square room at each corner. The main hallway extends from the front entrance to the rear and into the verandah that runs the length of the rear ell wing. The cross hallway extends to the side entrances on either side facade. The two front rooms open onto the main hallway with wide openings that contain pocket doors. Pocket doors also close off the rear section of the main hallway. Original door and window moldings are simple with slightly pedimented lintels. Original Greek Revival style mantels consist of Doric pilasters supporting plain entablatures. Floors are wide-plank pine flooring, with carpet within the rooms. Elaborate plaster ceiling cornices and medallions have been added. Walls and ceilings are of plaster, and doors are wooden paneled.

The rear ell wing contains two additional rooms with access directly off the verandah. Original doors and windows with moldings remain intact in this wing as well. Closets and baths have been added. The kitchen wing contains a butler's pantry, utility room, kitchen, servants' lounge, and laundry room. The laundry and utility rooms were added to the kitchen, and the breezeway was enclosed.

Restoration of the house began in 1940 when the house was purchased to be used as a seasonal home and continued in 1947 when the house again changed ownership. Under an architect's supervision, the kitchen wing was enlarged and the connecting breezeway enclosed, the rear verandah was enclosed with floor-to-ceiling windows between the supporting posts, new steps were built at the three entrance porticoes, closets and baths were added in the rear wings, and elaborate plaster ceiling cornices and medallions were added to the main rooms and hallway. A second architect remodeled the kitchen after the 1947 purchase of the house.

Several service buildings surround the main house. A board-and-batten guest cottage directly behind the house has an entrance onto the rear brick courtyard. An elevated pool with pool house is located in the lawn just south of the house. A tennis court lies beyond the pool to the southwest. Farther behind the house is a shop constructed of concrete blocks. To the north of the house are an office/guest house, horse barn, and tenant house, all of concrete-block construction. Fenced dog kennels are also in this area. Dirt service roads provide access to these buildings. Other buildings, mostly tenant houses, are scattered throughout the plantation. None of these outbuildings are historic, as they were all constructed during or since the 1940s.

The location of historic outbuildings, including slave houses, is unknown, although obviously with a plantation operation as large as Tarver's, a number of service and agricultural buildings would have been necessary. A cemetery that is reportedly a slave cemetery is located several hundred feet behind the main house, and only one grave is marked.