Ponder House


The twin monuments in Ponder Cemetery are almost startling to come across when you’re driving along Fairplay Rd. in Morgan County, Georgia. From a distance they look like they don’t belong: tall gothic spires jutting out of rolling fields and farmland. It’s hard to make sense of them until you see the much smaller gravestones scattered around them and the white plantation house in the distance.

This part of Morgan County is cotton country. At the turn of the 20th century, multiple hamlets (too small to be called towns) sprung up around the county as the industry boomed. Successful landowners and farm families built up crossroad communities around cotton gins and country stores. The cotton gin at tiny Fairplay is long gone, though supposedly the town store is still there. I didn’t really notice it. All I could focus on was that cemetery and the still immaculate Ponder house.

It started out as the centerpiece of an antebellum plantation, worked by slaves.  John H. Ponder had the house built sometime around 1850.  According to 1860 census records1 his son George owned 54 slaves, more than most landowners in the area. But the Civil War hit the Ponders hard. In August of 1864, Union soldiers stopped at the plantation to rest and to pillage, leaving the house alone, but stealing horses and clearing out all of the food in storage. John H. Ponder had had enough. He died on November 17th, 1864, just as Sherman’s army was beginning to invade Morgan County on its march to the sea. Family lore has it that the elder Ponder was so worked up with anger at the thought of being raided by the Yankees again that he had a heart attack and died on the spot.2

I can’t find a whole lot of information about what came next for the Ponders. I know that George continued to run the plantation, focusing mainly on cotton after the war was lost and slavery was outlawed. Many of the former slaves stayed on as tenant farmers, forming their own culturally rich communities around the area. George Ponder and his wife Sara had sixteen children, all of whom are buried out in the family cemetery.  None of them lived past the age of ten.3


This entry was posted in African American History, Cemeteries, Civil War, Georgia, History, Roadside. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

41 Comments

  1. Anthe Tyndell
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    The Cemetery is sparse but elegant! Love George & Sarah’s headstone’s.

    • admin
      Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Anthe, they were really tall too–around 15 feet.

    • RStansbery
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      The two large headstones are my 7-times-great-grandparents. The cemetery wasn’t sparse until the last decade or so. When I was a little boy, it was full of headstones of a few generations from the mid-late 1800’s, especially very small stones for babies and children. I have pictures of the cemetery from the early 80’s that show how full it was. All but the largest stones have been stolen.

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  2. Jessica Hanson
    Posted May 5, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I live and grew up in FairPlay. The Ponder House is now owned by my cousin and was bequeathed to him by his late mother and father John William and Edna Ponder Hanson. When I was growing up I’d visit an older cousin who lied their at the time. As one might imagine the home and family grave site are the source of many ghost stories and wildly spun folklore in the area. The story that I find most believable is that both the mother and father, unknown about at the time, had the Rh negative blood type. This could be the cause of the untimely deaths of their many small toddlers and infants. Many infants born to parents with Rh negative blood are still born. Others who live beyond delivery suffer with jaundice, kidney failure and ultimately wary failure. Also, if you visit the large cemetery in the nearby town of Madison, you will find many young and elderly burial sites from that same time period scattered about. History shows that there was a terrible influenza epidemic in the area through the years that the civil war hit Morgan Co the hardest. All I know is, I once babysat my cousins young children alone in the home as a teenager. When the house fell quite and the you children were asleep- from the uninhabited upstairs I swear I heard the sounds of a crying infant child and woman with the creaking of a rocking chair. I’ve always been known to have a vivid imagination. However as a teenager, friends and I visited the cemetery late one night. Wrapped around one of the surrounding fence post a friend of mine found a small tarnished wire like decorative bracelet. She thought it to be an interesting keepsake and put it on to keep. Later in the middle o the night she was awakened with a terrible ringing in her ears and pain in her wrist and found a terrible rash had developed where the bracelet had been. That event I know wasnt the product of my imagination. A few days later she was hospitalized for blood poisoning. Gives me chills to this day When her parents learned of the bracelet they had her return it to the post. I think I will stop by there later to see if its still in place. .

    • Randi
      Posted December 23, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jessica. I suspect this is likely a far shot, but decided to give it a shot at the very least. I recently got engaged and am looking to get married in fall 2015. I am from the Social Circle area and am looking for a cotton plantation home for the ceremony and reception. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is proving to be a difficult task. Do you happen to know if your cousin is living in the home or potentially have contact information? If you happen to be able to help connect me to the owners in any way, I would be forever grateful! Now to sit, wait and wish! :)

      • Jess
        Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        Im sorry I changed email addresses and was not informed of the new comment on the blog. My cousin now rents the house. They have hosted weddings and photo shoots there but I have relocated:to Houston since my original post. You will find my cousin on Fairplay Road or in the Madison phone book under Patsy and Harry Hanson. There is also a great venue on Fairplay Rd towards Bostwick at Sow Hatchet Farm owned by Dan Rather (not the famous guy) Some of the locals or Harry may know how to reach him. Also, the Bostwick Cotton Gin where the new Footloose and My Cousin Vinny were filmed. I believe it is:either owned by John Bostwick or the Ruark family. Hope that helps if you havent already gotten married by now. Congrats and Good luck.

      • Jess
        Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        Id love to help. I posted a comment below. Feel free to email me and I will put you in touch with someone. jessica_h4@rocketmail.com

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20 Trackbacks

  • […] be.  If you’re a Southerly reader, expect lots of future posts about abandoned towns and homes and farms around Morgan County. Drew got photos of a burned-out plantation that even beats out the […]

  • By Casulon Plantation | The Southerly on June 6, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    […] 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 […]

  • By Turned Georgian on June 10, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    […] converted to sharecropping after the Civil War. Based on slave-holding census records (referenced here), the Ponders were among the wealthiest landowners in Morgan County at that time and though the […]

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