Equity Fund - Clay County, Suttons Corner Museum
We at OneGeorgia want to continue to inform you of where we are putting dollars to work in rural communities, and we are proud that we were instrumental in assisting Clay County in recovering, acquiring and stabilizing the contents of the Suttons Corner, Frontier Country Store Museum in the City of Fort Gaines.
Originally located on the edge of a long ago plantation, this ancient frontier store complex has been recovered and moved to the Globe Tavern and Inn stagecoach stop in historic Ft. Gaines. Its imposing architecture and character is a natural lure for passersby and travelers through Southwest Georgia. The museum serves as the home for the Fort Gaines Historical Society and houses the collection of what a rural, agrarian, hand-made heritage really means. The museum chronicles the life of rural Georgia from 1840 to 1927 and is an excellent example of heritage tourism.
The museum owner, curator, historian, artistic arranger, designer, historical re-creator and object sculptor was in problematic health and made the probability of loss a real danger to the collection. The Museum is of such a caliber that it had attracted many serious offers of purchase and relocation from interested parties such as the Smithsonian Institution as well as from museums across Georgia, America and Europe.
From the 1840’s through 1927, the Suttons Country Store was an intimate and functional part of the social and economic lives of its customers. The store’s customers were sharecroppers, farmers, plantation help, trappers, hunters, tenant farmers and stagecoach travelers. It was the hub of the local universe — market place, banking and credit source, recreation center, public forum and news exchange. Everything from swaddling clothes to coffins, from plow shares to Christmas candy, from patent medicines to corsets was included in its inventory. The complex provides a living museum with its petticoat counters, wooden cash registers, antique post office, grist mill, bear traps, blacksmith shop, over 4,000 artifacts and hundreds of pages of original documents pursuant to early frontier life.
The storekeeper was all things to his community, and if his credit practices sometimes smacked of usury, who else would have advanced credit on shaky liens or promissory notes secured by unplanted crops of cotton and tobacco? Through three generations, the Suttons did just that, commencing their fortunes selling off the back of a mule wagon. The store closed abruptly in 1927 after three generations of Suttons had built and operated the complex and its thousands of acres of land, commencing with Warren Sutton (1808-1858), Col. Tom Sutton (1840), Queen Victoria Sutton (1840-1888)and lastly Warren Sutton II, killed in 1927.
Years later, as the shuttered buildings slowly succumbed to vines and Spanish moss, a multitude of rattlesnakes deterred intruders and antique hunters. Their eviction required the services of an 87-year-old root doctor; all other attempts and methods had failed to dislodge them.
Drawing on pages of handwritten letters, deeds, ledgers and an array of biographical and historical works, vital moments of American frontier life and its stories are now preserved at Suttons Corner. The museum looks at the soul and thoughts of men and women and demystifies many of the enduring enigmas of the existence of frontier life. If culture is, indeed, a reflection of society, then the story of our early settlers – hard scrabble farmers and sharecroppers, both past and present, is a unique insight into the American experience.
Ft. Gaines has had visitors from 34 states and 6 foreign countries come through the Museum. The demographics of the typical visitor would be a late baby boomer, retired, leisure traveler, a link to Georgia usually by relatives or children, heard about through word of mouth, but more typically via the web site, found using GPS coordinates, who want something in their hands when they leave to remember the visit, and they usually leave a generous donation.
Day travelers are passing through and want to eat at a local, very local, restaurant and will swing by the beautiful Lake W.F. George on their way out of town. It is estimated that they will spend approximately $20 per person, and they are almost always traveling with two to four persons in a vehicle. That translates to a significant amount of non-local money spent in the community.
Overnight travelers will usually have as a destination the George T. Bagby State Park and will stay longer in the Museum. They travel from more distant hometowns and want to know what else there is in town to do and see. A natural progression for their leisure tour will be to visit the Frontier Village and the New Park Cemetery. This again slows the visitor to a pace where they will more than likely find something to buy while in town. The economic impact of this overnight guest is estimated to be approximately $145 per night stay. Since the opening, the Museum is serving as a gathering place for local townspeople and a welcoming place for visitors.
For more information about Suttons Corner Frontier Country Store Museum, visit www.suttonscorner.org.
Portions of this article are excerpted from “Southwest Georgia Living” March/April 2011, written by David Robert Campbell. www.southwestgeorgialiving.com
Photography courtesy of John Haley.