Since Gone with the wind was published in 1936, folks have been traveling to the red clay of Georgia to find the inspiration for the O’Hara’s and I dare say few have found it. The book described Tara in its more rustic form and then the movie carried it into the realm of, well… movie-dom…..white columns (which Margaret Mitchell hated) and white washed brick exterior. But the real Tara was always where Margaret said it was, “on the red earth of Clayton County” just south of Atlanta and for those who took time to ask a local they would find the Fitzgerald House sitting at the corner of Tara Road at Folsom Road (Tara Road was named long after the book and movie so it was not the inspiration for the name).
Phillip Fitzgerald (Margaret’s great grandfather) and his wife Ms. Ellen built the farm into the largest holding in Clayton County and they became the riches land owners in the area. They saw their world change from, “a land of cavaliers and cotton fields” to a war torn, ravaged land with more graves than inhabitants. And they stood fast in the face of the death and destruction to rebuild and flourish after the war and reconstruction. It was Mr. Phillip who was part of the first grand jury in Clayton County that met after the war, and they issued a call for their friends and neighbors to look forward and move on from the conflict of the past to a new day of prosperity.
It was Mr. Phillips hope that the plantation known to Margaret and her generation as Rural Home would remain in the family and “always be a place for any of the family to find shelter and a place of comfort and a needed home”. It survived the war, the deaths of Phillip and Ellen and their children and grandchildren and still housed relatives until the end of the 1970’s. Margaret stated on more than one occasion that Rural Home was her Tara when she wrote Gone with the Wind and more than once I have heard the stories of the Fitzgerald neighbors who saw Margaret there, sitting in a tree reading the old diaries and letters of her grandmother (Annie Fitzgerald) and her siblings. I have yet to find a response from Margaret in rebuttal to those who repeated that Fitzgerald House (Rural Home) was Tara and thus Fitzgerald and his family were the models for the O’Hara clan.
In the 1980’s after purchasing the Tara façade from Julian Foster and retrieving it from a barn north of Marietta, Betty Talmadge (wife of Senator Herman Talmadge) obtained the Fitzgerald House and had it move the short distance to her home at Lovejoy Plantation (the Crawford-Talmadge House). It was a natural fit since the Crawford and the Fitzgerald’s were the adjoining plantations and many referred to them as the real Tara and Twelve Oaks (another statement I have yet to find a rebutted by Margaret or her family) as together they saw the grandiosity, the war and death and the struggle to rebuild side by side on their adjoining acres numbering in the thousands.
Today in the same barn where the Tara façade is being preserved, the Fitzgerald House rests and with it the truth of the Fitzgerald’s who came from Ireland (as the fictional O’Hara’s did) and built a life in the Georgia wilderness. It no longer serves to house the family that created her but it still may stand to house the story, the legacy of those who lived in a time of great triumph and turmoil who rose from the ashes of the past with the same “gumption” that Scarlett O’Hara possessed.
I hope you will come and view the Tara façade with me and hear the true stories that filled the pages of Margaret’s book and inspired the white columned manse that rests alongside the Fitzgerald relics. It’s a story worth hearing and a tale worth remembering,… “on the red earth trail from Jonesboro to Lovejoy”.
I’ll be looking for you up at the gate.