When Pam NeSmith first visited Smithonia, she was awestruck by its beauty and history. The former chair of Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation admits, “It was love at first sight.”
That may have been the same way James Monroe Smith felt when he purchased the land in the late 1800s and turned it into a masterpiece of agriculture and manufacturing in northern Oglethorpe County.
At the height of his career, Col. Jim Smith’s holdings were estimated to be 80,000 acres. He may have been the largest farmer in America. Cotton was king, and he was definitely Georgia’s King of Cotton.
On the 16,000 acres in Madison and Oglethorpe counties — the headquarters of his diversified agricultural and manufacturing operations — he carved a community. Smithonia boasted a hotel, schools, commissary, post office, two railroad lines, his mansion and hundreds of other structures, including three mammoth brick barns.
Smith died in 1915, but his legacy lives on through legendary lore and impressive structures he built on the rolling land.
And now, a century later, Pam NeSmith wants to revive the magic that Smith started. On Nov. 12, 2012, she purchased the three barns, including 223 acres, and selected a new name: Historic Smithonia Farm, LLC. Dozens of brides and grooms have since said their vows in the barn, the courtyard, the pasture or under the 200-year-old laurel oak by the lake. They fall in love with the history and beauty of HSF at first sight.
After Smith died, the property was broken into multiple tracts and passed through many hands. The most notable deed holder was country recording artist Kenny Rogers, who assembled 18 tracts in the 1980s to amass about 2,000 acres.
For a while, The University of Georgia leased the brick barns for its equine breeding operation. Then, in 2000, Jewett Tucker bought the barns and surrounding acreage from Rogers. He converted the biggest barn into an event space.
And that new business is what lured NeSmith to Tucker Plantation in 2006. As chair for the Georgia Trust Ramble in Athens, she worked with Tucker Plantation in planning a tour and dinner at Smithonia.
“We’ve worked very fast to get the farm and barns looking their best,” said Pam Shirah NeSmith, who has always been one to roll up her sleeves and work. She grew up working on her family’s farm in Mitchell County in southwest Georgia. She graduated from The University of Georgia in 1971.
Pam is no stranger to business, either. In 2000, she and Smith Wilson purchased the old Coca-Cola bottling plant on Prince Avenue in Athens. The seven-building, 85,000-square-foot complex earned two prestigious awards: the Georgia Trust Excellence in Rehabilitation and the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation Excellence in Community Revitalization. They sold The Bottleworks in 2008. In 2011, she was elected to the board of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. And now, she concentrates on Smithonia to make the historic property a showpiece again.
Standing on Historic Smithonia Farm’s highest hill and watching a 180-degree, pumpkin-orange sunset, NeSmith looked back at the silhouettes of the massive barns and said, “I feel at home here. I can see our grandchildren romping through these pastures and fishing in the lake. And I can’t wait for everyone to see these grand old barns.”
Yep, it was love at first sight. Thank you, Col. James Monroe Smith.
As soon as the Civil War was over-150 years ago-James Monroe Smith started digging in the dirt. With one mule, he began turning Northeast Georgia red clay. And when his crops were in the barn, he hitched that same mule to a peddler’s wagon to sell tinware. In time, Smith’s vision, guts and hard work paid off. He owned one of the largest farms in Georgia, encompassing 30-square miles.
The center of his agricultural empire was in Smithonia. James Monroe Smith built 17 miles of railroad tracks to haul his products to market. The rail lines, his personal rail car, sawmill, fertilizer plant, brickyard, cotton gin, schools, post office and hundreds of other structures are gone, but six historic structures- his mansion, the milk house, the hotel, the plantation’s commissary and three massive brick barns- still stand in the center of his Oglethorpe County community.
Our neighbors have done a wonderful job restoring the hotel, commissary, milk house and the mansion. Our concentration has been of thee magnificent barns. The bricks were handmade on Smithonia Plantation. The gigantic 65-foot heart-pine beams and trusses were cut from the farm.