Charred and crumbling and obscured by trees, the shell of Casulon Plantation looks as if it’s been falling down for the last one hundred years. When I first saw photos of it I figured that the old house had been a Civil War casualty, or maybe just a Windsor Ruins-like victim of an accidental fire, burned down in an era when a dropped cigar or overturned lamp could torch a house in no time.
The real story of Casulon is somewhat less romantic, though just as sad. It involves a “suspicious” fire, an over-eager rock mining company, a former Georgia governor, Civil War re-enactments, and a bed and breakfast. Oh, and hippies.
The house was built in 1824 in the heart of Georgia plantation country, just a few miles away from the Ponder House. James Harris, Casulon’s builder, owned over a hundred slaves and thousands of acres, and eventually added Greek columns to the house to show for it. Somehow Casulon made it through the Civil War unscathed, and in 1883 it was the setting for the wedding of Harris’ daughter Susie and the governor of Georgia. Newspapers across the state talked up the home’s grandeur and charm, the carefully decorated tables at the bridal dinner, the “grove of beautiful and stately oaks.”
Of course now it’s hard to imagine anyone calling Casulon’s grounds stately. They’re overgrown with trees and weeds, littered with trash, and overrun by wasps. The estate began to decline in the late 1940s, when the home’s elderly owner died and left it to her nephews, who could only see the impracticality of owning such a place. They left it to sit empty, then sold it off to a cork company that had plans for demolition. Fortunately the Morgan County Historical Society jumped in and saved Casulon, though even they weren’t quite sure what to do with it. In the 1970s they rented it out to hippies, who in turn gave tours to visitors. Somehow, it didn’t quite work out.
In the ’80s Casulon was properly restored and turned into a bed and breakfast. For years the grounds were open to the public again, hosting Civil War re-enactments and antebellum-themed festivals. But the land around Casulon was too valuable. In the ’90s, a local mining company tried and failed to start operations just in back of the house. Then Hanson Aggregates stepped in and fought even harder to put in a quarry. Casulon’s owners, overwhelmed and going through personal troubles of their own, had to sell the house. While they were away one night, a fire was set off in back of the estate, burning it down past repair. Arson was suspected, though no one was ever charged.
Since then the house has been left as it was on the night of the fire. When we went, the grounds were so overgrown that it was hard to even find a pathway in. The place is fenced off, with No Trespassing signs everywhere and cop cars driving slowly by on the gravel roads (not that you can really drive anything but slowly on those roads). Squatters manage to evade the police and live in what’s left of Casulon, though in its roofless state I imagine that accommodations aren’t nearly as comfortable as what the hippies had.
As far as I know, Hanson Aggregates’ Casulon quarry plans never came about.1