History Is Alive At Georgia's Agrirama

Costumed interpreters provide the personal touch when it comes to demonstrating how our forefathers and mothers lived off the land.

| May/June 2007

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    Chickens scratching in the coop add to an idyllic scene at Georgia's Agrirama. The vegetables are nearly ready to harvest from the garden next to the miller's house.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    Students experience class as it was taught in the late 1800s as they sit at desks inside the one-room schoolhouse at Agrirama, in Tifton, Georgia.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    A traditional farmhouse – built in 1885 – is surrounded by a split-rail fence of heart pine. Natural resins in the wood protect the fence from decay and pests.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    A lone mule provides the power needed to squeeze juice from sugar cane fed into this 19th-century cane press. Interpreters at the Agrirama maintain the equipment and, in the fall, they harvest the sugar cane that is fed to the press. Volunteers then process the gallons of juice to yield pure cane syrup, which is then bottled and sold.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    Off to school they go! The school mistress – one of Agrirama's interpreters in authentic costume – leads her students to the one-room schoolhouse. When a group of young people visits the living history museum, the girls are given long skirts and the boys receive suspenders to wear – all of which lends a touch of realism to the students' visit.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    As an interpreter leads George the mule, a visiting student tries his hand at maneuvering the single stock plow in a field on the grounds of Georgia's Agrirama. George was rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    It's not as easy as it looks – an interpreter, dressed as a farm wife, shows visiting students how to make up a feather bed.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    Soap making – as it was done in the 19th century – is part of the activities at the Agrirama. An interpreter stirs a batch of lye soap in the backyard. When the cooking is finished the mixture is poured into trays, and the soap is allowed to set before being cut into bars.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell
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    Learning to use a cross-cut saw takes a steady hand, as these students from Tallahassee, Florida, discover, while an Agrirama interpreter keeps a watchful eye on the youngsters' efforts.
    Photo by Carolyn Abell

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Tifton, Georgia – A walk through Georgia’s Agrirama is truly stepping back in time – into a period when the phrase “living off the land” was a profoundly accurate description of life in the South. Born from an idea conceived by former state Senator Ford Spinks, the glimmer evolved into a vision and finally a reality, with Agrirama’s grand opening appropriately timed to coincide with our nation’s 200th birthday on July 4, 1976. Billed as “Georgia’s living history museum,” this delightfully unique microcosm of agrarian history has become one of the South’s proudest tourist attractions.

 

Nestled in the heart of South Georgia’s “Wiregrass country,” Agrirama comprises 95 acres in Tifton. Visitors are invited to stroll along the dirt paths or just sit on the front porch of a 19th-century farmhouse, looking out over fields of cotton or watching cows and sheep grazing. This outdoor museum is a scaled-down version of a farming community with its supporting infrastructure as it would have been just over 100 years ago.

 

More than 30 buildings originally constructed in the late 1800s have been donated by Georgia residents. Furnishings, tools and other artifacts from the period add to an atmosphere of virtual history. In addition to the farmhouses, a church, one-room school, doctor’s office, commissary, sawmill, grist mill, pharmacy, variety works and other sites make up a typical village. Partially disassembled at their original locations, then moved and carefully restored, these homes and businesses are authentically maintained by museum employees, who dress in period clothing and serve as “interpreters” of history for tourists, school groups, Scout troops and attendees of special events. Many of the interpreters are in the 70- to 90-year-old age range, and many can recall similar living conditions in their youths.

 

A typical “heritage workshop” for a school will begin with an orientation in which the girls are all issued long skirts and the boys are issued suspenders to enhance their immersion into history. In the one-room wooden schoolhouse, they participate in a lesson with a slate tablet and a McGuffey Reader. Here, and throughout Agrirama, good manners and posture are stressed, with students listening politely to interpreters and referring to all adults as “Ma’am” and “Sir.” If it is summer, the doors and windows of the school are left open to catch the stirring breezes; in winter, the pot-bellied wood stove in the middle of the room radiates heat.



 

Following the two-hour lesson at school, the boys visit the farmyard, where they learn to feed livestock, use various farm tools and draw water from a well.

 

The girls go to the farmhouse, where they participate in meal preparation, learn how to set the table in the manner of the period, observe the techniques of making up a feather bed and receive an embroidery lesson, among other things.






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