This week when we didn’t have guests or chores that needed our immediate attention we decided to play tourists and took a short excursion (33 minutes) to the Hardman Farm State Historic Site just south of Helen, Georgia. A guided tour of the restored and furnished main house, outbuildings, and grounds took us back in time.
Situated on the historic Unicoi Turnpike, the farm was actually occupied by three different families with the Hardmans being the last family to own the property. In 1999 it was donated to the State of Georgia and as of this writing it is the newest Georgia State historic site. Our tour guide shared the rich history of the estate and its influence on the area.
The Nichols Family- The First Residents
Confederate Captain James Hall Nichols of Milledgeville, GA purchased the property and built many of the original buildings as a permanent home for his wife Kate and daughter Anna Ruby – namesake of Anna Ruby Falls. The main house called West End was built in the early 1870s using an Italianate design. It is identical to his brother-in-law’s home in Milledgeville with a few innovative exceptions to make the home more comfortable. Captain Nichols added a cupola or solar chimney on top for cooling and a larger wrap around porch to take advantage of the mountain breezes from any direction as well as beautiful views of Mount Yonah. He also made his own acetylene gas on the property that produced lighting in the home. The now iconic gazebo on top of the Indian mound across the road from West End was also built by Captain Nichols as a picnic spot inadvertently saving the mound from destruction – several other mounds in the area were leveled to create farm land.
The Hunnicut Family
The Hunnicuts of Atlanta purchased the property from James Nichols in 1893 for $22,500. Calvin Hunnicut, like Captain James Nichols, was active in the Civil War but became impoverished after the war. He formed a plumbing and stove company in Atlanta to make his fortune. Unlike the Nichols family who used the property as their full time home, the Hunnicuts only came to the farm for summer getaways. They enjoyed the Atlanta social life too much to leave Atlanta for too long.
The Hardman Family
Dr. Lamartine Griffin Hardman best known as Governor of Georgia between 1927 and 1931, purchased the property in 1903 renaming it Elizabeth on the Chattahoochee for his mother. The farm was just one of his many properties and an opportunity to practice innovations in farming, dairy farming, the use of electricity and more. The grist mill just around the corner from the main house was part of the purchase and renamed Nora Mill in memory of his sister and used to produce electricity for the home – much safer than the acetylene gas originally used on the property. Hardman married Emma Griffin of Valdosta in 1907 and they raised four children who enjoyed their summers at the farm as did their children.
The Hardman Farm has 15 structures that you can see including several that you can tour. You must purchase a ticket for a guided tour if you want to tour the main house most of the year. During the Christmas holidays the farm is decorated and docents in period dress share the history of the farm with visitors. Farm to table dinners are offered from time to time using fresh produce from the gardens. For special event dates, check the site below.
Also make sure to hike the Hardman Heritage Trail which starts at the farm and follows the Chattohoochee River to Helen. The hike is flat and easy on a concrete trail. Informational signs posted along the trail explain the history of the area. You can hike the trail even when the farm is closed and see Nora Mill from a different perspective across the river.
For more information on the Hardman Farm and tour information visit https://gastateparks.org/HardmanFarm