Hardman Farm: Where History Comes Alive
In the summer of 2004, Hardman Farm began stabilization of its 23 historic structures as part of its journey to becoming a living history center. Below is additional information on the history of Hardman Farm and The Georgia Trust's involvement in saving the property.
Read the latest on how the team is incorporating green practices into the stabilization process in the July/August issue of The Rambler.
Hardman Farm, located just outside Helen in the North Georgia mountains, includes 23 structures on the property, including the 1869
It’s a place that most people who pass by never forget. There is something about the red-roofed gazebo perched atop the Indian Mound that captures your attention and won’t let go. Across the road, a magnificent house appears between the trees, complimentary to the gazebo in color and style. The outbuildings and farmland give way to acres of mountains and fields seemingly untouched by time. The scene stays in your mind long after that last look out the car window.
If you’ve driven State Road 75 in White County on your way to Helen, Lake Burton or some other North Georgia attraction, chances are this place has caught your eye.
Hardman Farm, located just outside Helen in the North Georgia mountains, includes 23 structures on the property, including the 1869 Italianate farmhouse
Welcome to Hardman Farm at Nacoochee Valley, one of the most intact historic properties in Georgia. This amazing place has a story to tell, and The Georgia Trust, along with The Trust for Public Land (TPL), Georgia Power Company and Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), have worked together to give Hardman Farm an opportunity to share its story with you.
Thanks to donations of land from the Hardman family to TPL, the farm and surrounding property is well on its way to becoming a museum and interpretive center for the community and the hundreds of thousands of curious passers-by who have wondered about this place. The dream for Hardman Farm is that it will offer an interactive experience that will tell the story of the people who have lived on and loved the land, from Native Americans to the Hardman family.
A Property with a Past
The Hardman Farm property offers a unique blend of historic preservation, Native American history and natural conservation. This amazing place has a story to tell–a completely intact example of a working farm including a beautiful Italianate farmhouse and 19 historic outbuildings; a Native American past clearly marked by the Indian Mound; and 170 acres of land in the area known as the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley, unspoiled by the development that is sweeping through this area of Georgia.
Hardman Farm is regarded as the most complete example of a North Georgia working farm in existence. The Italianate farmhouse still contains furnishings from the home’s three owners, including many that date back to Civil War Colonel James H. Nichols, the home’s first owner (despite his attained rank, he was known as “Captain Nichols”). Capt. Nichols and his wife built the house in 1869 and named it “West End,” since it sits in the western part of Nacoochee Valley. They moved to the area for health reasons, and the house became their permanent home. In an 1892 book titled Health Resorts of the South, George Chapin wrote, “Captain Nichols has gathered around him everything that makes life pleasant, a large farm, well stocked rich fields, trained hounds, and plenty of game, fish ponds, a choice library, billiard room, gas, pure spring water throughout, green house, (and) fountains.”
The property contains 19 outbuildings, all of which are historic and standing in their original locations. Fourteen of the outbuildings were built by Capt. Nichols from 1869-1890.
Calvin Hunnicutt, a businessman from Atlanta, purchased the home in 1893 from Capt. Nichols and used it as a summer retreat for the 10 years that he and his family owned the property.
The original owner added a gazebo to the Indian Mound at the front edge of the property, helping to preserve the ancient structure and making it one of the most recognizable landmarks
In 1903, Dr. Lamartine G. Hardman purchased the property and it has remained in his family ever since. Dr. Hardman, who served as governor of Georgia for two terms (1927 – 1931), greatly expanded the acreage of the property and developed a year-round, working farm that was part of a network of farms he owned around the state. At Nacoochee, Gov. Hardman experimented with tile drainage, soil testing and crop rotation, all of which were innovative ideas in the early 20th century. In 1907 he established a large dairy, which he operated until the late 1920s. Prior to World War I, Gov. Hardman built five additional outbuildings on the property, some of which still contain his farming equipment. Although Gov. Hardman passed away in 1937, the property has been carefully preserved by his children and grandchildren.
Although it has been more than 170 years since Native Americans lived in the area, there are still gentle reminders of the people who inhabited this land for thousands of years.
The most visible sign is the Indian Mound across the road from the house, which rises almost 20 feet from the valley floor. It is believed that the mound was a prehistoric Woodland site (1000 BC – 800 AD) with Mississippian period components (800 – 1450 AD). Capt. Nichols built the gazebo atop the Indian Mound in 1869, the same year the house was built. To protect the mound from damage, the Hardmans fenced the property and treat the land as a pasture.
Although some have questioned the construction of a gazebo on top of an Indian Mound, the gazebo’s presence actually may have helped to preserve the mound from demolition or similar destruction that has befallen other mounds in Georgia. The gazebo and Indian Mound is now one of the most recognized landmarks in the state.
In addition to the manmade features on the site, the natural resources of this land are also a treasure. The Chattahoochee River, which provides the drinking water for half of the state, flows through the property. A creek creates a natural border on the eastern edge of the house and a separate spring emerges in the 1869 springhouse. This area also contains a rich variety of wildlife and vegetation, including hundreds of species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. The farm, located on the valley floor, is surrounded by some of the oldest mountains in the world, including Yonah, Lynch, Salls and Tray.
“There is no way to over-emphasize the importance of protecting this piece of land and its historical and natural resource significance along the Chattahoochee River,” said Lonice C. Barrett, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Making the Dream a Reality: A Public-Private Effort
After Hardman family members approached The Georgia Trust and TPL with the proposal to donate the property in the mid-1990s, The Georgia Trust conducted a feasibility study and formulated a business plan to determine the potential for the property and to identify necessary funding. The study, completed in 1999, outlines the existing condition of the property, market research with Helen-area visitors, appropriate interpretive programming for the farm, and estimated operational needs. The study was funded through a grant to DNR.
The study indicated that with the investment of substantial funds the property has the opportunity to become one of the stronger heritage tourism venues in Georgia. More than 1.5 million tourists pass by Hardman Farm each year. Three-quarters of Helen visitors surveyed indicated that they would “probably” or “definitely” visit a museum at Hardman Farm. Based on numbers from the study, annual visitation at Hardman Farm could grow to 100,000 visitors or more. The study also indicates that the project could be self-supporting after the initial start-up costs.
Plans for the site include extensive interactive interpretation and exhibits. The farm offers a variety of interpretive opportunities, including Gov. Hardman’s farming techniques and experiments, live dairy demonstrations at the creamery, and farmyard animals that would have lived on the farm during Gov. Hardman’s time. The house and supporting buildings could be interpreted to the 1910 era and furnished and decorated appropriately. An interactive Native American exhibit, which few other house museum sites in Georgia can offer, would provide interpretation of Native American history, artifacts and the Indian Mound. The mound and the land surrounding it would be available for viewing only.
“My father loved this place,” said Emma Hardman Thomson, daughter of Gov. Hardman. “Anything that has to do with caring for the land, he would have been most in favor of. He and my mother also cared a lot about other people and education. They would be very proud of turning this property into a learning center.”