It is not always possible to maintain a historic site andshare it with the world. There will surely be many more times when an historic
property is left “homeless” because the historic ground it was built upon was
needed for another fast food chain or housing development. And I thank god for
those sites who have the place to interpret such pieces of history and give
them their due, and provide them with an adoptive home to be displayed upon. But
I believe we should take great care to keep as many historic sites on their
original ground as possible so that “all angles” of the interpretive story can
However, with the Saving Tara Project we find ourselves with
a homeless plantation house moved from just over a mile away and a movie set
that was disassembled and brought to the location it depicts in the movie. And they
are both being restored on the property of a Plantation that has maintained its
integrity since 1835. It is an interesting coincidence and one that I think may
be used to better tell the true stories of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the
Wind and showcase David O. Selznick’s attempt to capture its essence in big
white house he built on his back lot, Tara.
The Crawford-Talmadge House was built in 1835 and still stands
where its first foundation stone was laid. It had seen the heyday of the
plantation system and the horror of the war that would end it. In fact its
lands were torn by shot and shell and its walls sheltered not only its family
but many a soldier of both north and south. By 1865, the mistress of the house
was forced to take down the draperies in order to make new dresses out of them.
The Talmadge family would become the owners in 1945 and they would continue to
be the caretaker of the “big house”, known to the locals as Crawford-Talmadge,
Lovejoy Plantation and Twelve Oaks due to its location so near the Fitzgerald
Property known to be the model for Tara.
The Fitzgerald House, built in 1825 was the neighboring
plantation and so its removal to the Crawford-Talmadge property in the 1980’s
was almost no move at all. The Fitzgerald’s were Margaret Mitchell’s great grandparents
and (as she told it) her model for the O’Hara’s in her book and their home (known
as Rural Home) her Tara. Rather than see it be destroyed during the development
of the property, Betty Talmadge had it moved to the Crawford-Talmadge
Plantation where it was later disassembled and stored in the barn. In Tom Jones
(Historic Preservationist) report concerning the Fitzgerald House he states
that it should be returned to its original site if at all possible (it wasn’t)
and if not, kept in the vicinity to better interpret its place in history.
The Tara façade arrived by every means necessary when Betty
Talmadge bought it and brought it to Lovejoy in the early 80’s. The Tara façade
had been brought to Georgia in 1959 and when the museum did not happen it had
been relegated to a barn in Alpharetta. Bettys plan was to see it sold to a
museum or historic site so that the people of Georgia and the world could see
it on the land which it represented in the movie. However, at the time of her
death her attempts had all failed, not because she didn’t try but because those
who took possession were unable to make it work. Not because there was not a
story to tell but because there were no storytellers in the group (hint, hint).
So when I’m asked why the pieces should not be broken up and
shipped to waiting museums across the country my answer is, here is where their
journey ended because here is where they best tell the story…together. I’ll be
telling that story once again this Saturday morning. I hope you can join me.