National Register of Historic Places
Tag Archives: Live Oaks of Coastal Georgia
George III of England granted 2,000 acres along the south bank of the Altamaha River to William Hopeton in 1763 and Hopeton soon set about creating the rice plantation which bore his name. So began the long modern history of this property, first known as Hopeton and now more widely known as Altama. In 1805, the property was sold to two Scottish immigrants, John Couper and James Hamilton, who grew Sea Island cotton with hundreds of slave laborers. Couper’s son, James Hamilton Couper, vastly improved the property after he acquired it in 1827. He built the original Altama plantation house (pictured below) in the Georgian style circa 1858 (its ruins may remain, per a Glynn County historic resources survey).
After visiting Holland he introduced a system of dikes, canals and rails to move his rice and sugar efficiently to the river for transport into nearby Darien. Couper was perhaps Georgia’s greatest “Renaisance Man” and it’s unfortunate that he isn’t better known today outside a small group of historians. He led the survey party which mapped the Georgia-Florida border, built Christ Church in Savannah, and was the first to describe the Indigo Snake to science. He is honored eternally in its Latin name, Drymarchon couperi.
The Civil War was the death knell for Hopeton-Altama as a working plantation. In 1898 a small colony of Shakers attempted to tame the property, which was long neglected and dotted with ruins of its former glory. Their efforts to grow rice and raise cattle were unsuccessful and they abandoned the project in 1902. William Dupont bought the adjacent Hopeton and Altama properties in 1914 and renamed the expanse Altama. Dupont wintered and trained racehorses here and built the main house (pictured in this post) based on the original plantation house. Cator Woolford bought the plantation in 1930 and built the swimming pool and “Play House”. In 1944, Alfred W. Jones scion of the Sea Island Company, acquired Altama, primarily for use as a hunting reserve. Cabins and structures supporting the sporting life were constructed in the ensuing years. With the Sea Island bankruptcy in 2010, Altama was bought by a private equity firm who planned to develop the property as homes and shops. With the help of the Nature Conservancy, the Marine Corps and private donors, the property was acquired by the state of Georgia in 2015 for future protection and management and will now serve as a publicly accessible Wildlife Management Area, part of a 120-mile corridor of protected lands stretching from Florida through the Okefenokee Swamp to Fort Stewart. It’s a real conservation success story and the cooperation of state and private entities is commendable.
The photos that follow are placed in relative order to where you will see them walking over the property from the main entrance, at Highway 99 just off Interstate 95. Though not particularly historic in terms of age, most of the outbuildings have a cultural value as part of a grand 20th-century hunting plantation. The Playhouse and swimming pool, built by Cator Willford, are important in their own right, as earlier examples in the evolution of Altama.
Spanish-moss-draped Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) are emblematic of the Southern coastal region and a great place to see them is Gascoigne Bluff, adjacent to Epworth By The Sea. There’s a public park here with ample free parking. The oak grove is quite impressive, but perhaps not nearly as impressive as what a visitor would have seen 200 years or more in the past. The timber used in the construction of the famed USS Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides, was cut at this bluff.
Hofwyl House, Circa 1851
In 1806, Charleston merchant William Brailsford purchased the “Broadface” property on the Altamaha River between Darien and Brunswick and set about creating one of the most prosperous rice plantations in 19th-century Georgia. He renamed it Broadfield. Upon his death, it passed to his son-in-law Dr. James M. Troup, brother of Governor George Troup. When Dr. Troup died in 1849 Broadfield included 7300 acres and a community of 357 slaves. Around 1851, Troup’s daughter, Ophelia, and her husband George Dent built the plantation house still standing today and christened it Hofwyl House, after a school Dent attended in Switzerland.
After the Civil War, mounting taxes led to the selling of most of the original lands and by the 1880s when George & Ophelia’s son James took over management of the plantation, Broadfield’s dominance was over. Rice was cultivated until 1913, but without slaves to make up a cheap labor force, it was hardly a profitable venture. When James died in 1913, his son Gratz established a dairy on the site, which was operated until 1942 by his sisters Miriam and Ophelia Dent. When Ophelia died in 1973, she left the house and grounds to the state of Georgia, who operate it today as a state historic site. Unlike most historic homes, Hofwyl House retains the original family antiques and possessions of the Brailsford, Troup and Dent families from five generations. It is known today as Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation.
The rear of the house features a wisteria arbor along the back porch, as well as an attached kitchen.
Interior Views of Hofwyl House
The entryway is highlighted by a Palladian fanlight over the main door.
A dining room is located to the right and a parlor to the left.
Bedrooms are located upstairs, arranged around a large open hallway.
Dairy & Outbuildings
The open-air dairy barn is where a herd of around 35 Jersey and Guernsey cows were milked daily. Just next door is the bottling house, where milk was produced for customers in Glynn and McIntosh counties.
Central to any plantation operation was the commissary, where laborers were given credit for necessities and staples, though much of their income went to repaying debts incurred here.
Servants were housed in a basic “cabin” like the one seen below. Furnishings were spartan and utilitarian.
The pay shed served an obvious and important purpose.
Ruins of the Broadfield Rice Mill
The marshes of the Altamaha River delta at Broadfield Plantation are very similar in appearance today to what they were in the early 19th-century. These tabby ruins are all that remain of a once thriving rice mill.
Trees of Broadfield Plantation
While Hofwyl House and its related outbuildings are a significant resource, the real attraction for many is the large number of Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) located all over the property. Some are estimated to be between 500-800 years old and two are members of the Louisiana Live Oak Hall of Fame.
As is common with many Live Oaks on the coast, several appear to have been uprooted but continue to live and prosper nonetheless.
The grove of oaks leading into the property is a landmark in its own right.
Two state champion trees of other varieties are to be found on the grounds, as well, including this Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum clava) or Hercules-club, located beside the pay shed.
The largest Sweetbay Magnolia known in the state is located near the rice fields but I was unable to get a good photograph of it.