Visiting West Central Georgia

Come to west central Georgia and you'll have the sense that time (almost) stands still.

| January/February 1989

"But it’s so empty!" I kept saying to myself.

That's an impression one would expect to receive from a far-western state — not when roller coastering up and down the well-maintained highways of these forest-covered foothills at the southern end of the Appalachians. Indeed, when in rural west central Georgia, it's often hard to believe that one of the nation's busiest airports, Atlanta's Hartsfield International, is a drive of just over an hour or so away and that you can be shopping in the huge malls that make up much of Georgia's second largest city, Columbus, in half that time.

In many areas of Troup, Meriwether, Harris and Talbot counties — which adjoin one another between the Chattahoochee River and Flint River — you're as likely to encounter a wide-eyed deer, a bobcat or a flock of wild turkeys as another car. Wildlife is abundant here, including a few black bears and, it's said, even occasional pumas (often called swamp cats in these parts) that make their home in the more remote regions.

True, the woods now and then open to reveal the landscaped grounds of a sprawling factory that spews out trucks and cars during shift changes. Some sections, too, are heavily sprinkled with brick ranch-style homes as well as old "tenant houses" left over from another era. In contrast are modern architectural gems, often tucked out of sight on what would be called estates in other parts of the nation. But more impressive are the untold numbers of magnificent antebellum houses — some meticulously maintained and others in need of tender, loving renovation. The countryside is also dotted with many small towns and communities that have physically changed little in the last half century.

Even with all this, the feeling of emptiness and space is no illusion. It was not always so. In 1850, the fertile farming land of Talbot County, for example, supported 16,534 people and was among the highest-ranking cotton-growing regions in the state. The Civil War changed all that.

Fortunately, General Sherman bypassed this area on his fiery march from Atlanta to Savannah, sparing its many plantations from destruction if not from economic hardships. Though farmland here continued to provide raw material for the textile mills that later thrived in the other three counties, the boll weevil, the Great Depression, and other economic factors altered the landscape. Despite a primarily clay-loam soil and a climate that can grow almost anything, row crops have been displaced by timber, cattle, a few peach orchards, and a little dairy farming. As the century progressed, city jobs lured people away. Today, Talbot's population is just over 6,000 and is still declining.

1/18/2008 5:59:16 AM

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