Last year marked a momentous date in American history: four hundred years since Africans first set foot on North American shores in 1619. Early in 2019, Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center in Portal, GA decided that they would commemorate this by conducting tours of all thirty-four known African American cemeteries in Bulloch County. This series, called “If These Cemeteries Could Talk,” usually consists of one tour per month. Tours frequently begin at a church, garnering participation from local ministers, church members, and other attendees from the community. After an introductory program, everyone heads into the cemetery to hear the stories of those buried there, with emphasis on formerly enslaved people. Now, a year and a half later, Willow Hill has conducted fifteen tours, with nineteen still remaining.
However, Dr. Alvin Jackson, the board president at Willow Hill, quickly saw that COVID-19 was changing those plans. “ We realized it was not a good idea to have a lot of individuals meeting. We wanted to maintain social distancing and mitigate exposure to the coronavirus.” Therefore, Willow Hill decided to move the cemetery tour series completely online.
Fortunately, this transition was not too difficult, as they already made use of Facebook live to broadcast the tours to those who could not attend in person. Since the pandemic, it has become their main platform to disseminate information to the public. Dr. Jackson and one or two knowledgeable people (at a safe distance) conduct a tour through a given cemetery, highlighting individual people buried there. Meanwhile his daughter Wiloise Jackson Harper records the video which she broadcasts live on the Facebook page.
Dr. Jackson says that the online version of the project has reached people that otherwise could not have attended the tours. A great number of African American residents left Bulloch County for cities in the North and Midwest during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This movement is known as the Great Migration. Through these video tours, people whose families have long left Bulloch County are able to reconnect with their family’s history and learn more about the lives of their ancestors.
“Facebook Live tours will continue until the pandemic is over and we know it is safe to allow people to come back,” Dr. Jackson says. “It is our way of protecting individuals.” In addition to the tours, Dr. Jackson is also creating research guides for each cemetery.
People can find the online tours at Willow Hill’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/WHHRC/. Their most recent video tour is of Cone Cemetery in Ivanhoe, Georgia. The programs for the tours are all available online through Digital Commons at Georgia Southern’s Henderson Library.”
Splash in the Boro – the waterpark at Mill Creek Park – has been serving the Bulloch County community since it opened in 2004. Its most recent expansion in 2017 added a wave pool, additional concession stand, as well as a children’s splash area.
While the waterpark is open only during summer’s long, sunny days, Splash in the Boro serves the community all year round through a variety of services. They provide aerobics classes and swimming lessons throughout the year, courtesy of two covered pools. A partnership with the county’s schools provides facilities for their swim teams to practice.
Current manager Justin Blanton says that it is all due to the effort of his predecessor. “He was the one who did work and research in the community to determine that a waterpark would drive revenue in the county.” Blanton said that he was sure the idea sounded “crazy” at first, but the department “worked at it to eventually convince the board of commissioners.”
Splash in the Boro is currently closed, in compliance with state orders. Blanton says that he is still optimistic for the summer season. There are still plenty of sunny days ahead for Splash in the Boro.
If you have walked along the left hand side of East Main street towards Statesboro’s downtown, you may have noticed that the wall of 48 East Main facing the alley has a new look.
Charleston-based artist David Boatwright painted the new mural that now adorns a spot that used to be bare brick. Boatwright was approached by the Bulloch County Historical Society with the idea for the mural and specified the moment in time that they wanted him to capture.
The mural depicts the moment that Statesboro’s residents received word by train that the college had been funded, a moment that changed the history of the town. A nearby historical marker tells the story of “ The Fabulous Fifty of 1906.” In December of that year, fifty delegates from Bulloch County traveled by train to Savannah. Their quest: to secure Bulloch County as the spot for the district’s first Agricultural and Mechanical School. The mural depicts their triumphant return to Statesboro having secured the winning bid.
Boatwright and his associate Michael Kuffel spent several weeks in Statesboro painting the mural.
The artist used an old photograph of the train station to form the basic image.
Boatwright has been doing hand-painted signage and murals since the 1990s. He says that ever since, demand for such pieces has increased. When asked the reason for such a boom, he said “It is absolutely a reaction to the digital revolution. Digital signs are visually crisp and perfect, but there is something about hand-painted, custom work that has more value now than it has ever had.”
“…there is something about hand-painted, custom work that has more value now than it has ever had.”
-David Boatwright, Mural Artist
If you are looking for a way to get some fresh air while social distancing, take a walk along East Main street and check out the mural. Lose yourself in the festive atmosphere of the train station scene and an occasion that changed Statesboro forever.
Bulloch County has had four “courthouses” since its establishment in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The first was a small wooden building constructed in 1803 that served the legal needs of residents in the largely agricultural county. A second wooden building served as the courthouse until it burned down as Sherman’s troops marched through the area in 1864. The two-story structure built to replace it served the community until 1894. In that year, the residents of Statesboro voiced their opinion that the current building was no longer meeting the legal needs of the county, and they needed a newer, bigger courthouse.
The architectural firm Bruce and Morgan designed the new building. Since the original allocation of funds for the courthouse did not provide for a clock tower or bell, the public raised the funds to purchase them. The clock in the tower traveled all the way from Connecticut before making Statesboro its home. The bell itself is from Baltimore, Maryland. When the clock struck for the first time on February 25, 1897, the courthouse was finished, but it still had yet to acquire the distinctive look that Statesboro residents know and love today.
The building underwent a major renovation in 1914 under the direction of the architect Edward Columbus Hosford. (He was well known throughout Georgia and Florida for designing neo-classical style courthouses, and went on to design the Donehoo-Brannen house on Savannah avenue three years later). These renovations included internal expansions and a serious facelift to the look of the building. The courthouse acquired columns, additional brickwork, and white trim.
In 1954 the quantity of legal business conducted in the courthouse began to surpass its capacity. The following years saw several failed attempts by county commissioners and public referendums to raise and approve funds for renovating the courthouse. Some offices relocated to annex buildings in the general area. In the 1970s the courthouse took on a new look, courtesy of a coating of white plaster with asbestos.
In the 1990s the city began efforts to renovate and restore the century-old building. To minimize health risk to the workers and community, the asbestos-laced plaster coating was painted over with a red-brick color, closely resembling the color of its original brick. This brought the courthouse to its present appearance as a Statesboro landmark.
The story of how the courthouse came to occupy its prominent place in the Statesboro skyline is one of official action as well as community input.
For further reading see Parrish Blitch, “The True Story of the Bulloch County Courthouse” https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/bchs-pubs/3
All of the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market vendors have a story. Some are of decades old generational family farms. Some are of the desire to see healthier food options and increased environmental sustainability. And some are simply those who turned hobbies or crafts into steady sales. The 24/7 House, Inc. is no different. Here is their story.
The 24/7 House is a faith-based residential recovery facility that began in 2009. They operate in a renovated nursing home purchased from Appling County Healthcare Systems for $1.00, serving men and women who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The staff conduct a multi-faceted and comprehensive program for recovery. Residents participate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a minimum of one year to achieve a success rate that is over twice the industry average.
One part of that program is the greenhouse.
All residents at 24/7 House work in the greenhouse where they cultivate and harvest hydroponic local produce everyday. Currently, that includes living butterhead lettuce, camaro cucumbers, vine ripened beefsteak tomatoes (large and small), and green beefsteak tomatoes (perfect for frying!).
All proceeds from 24/7 Houses’ farmers market and Market2Go go to helping addicts in recovery.
Visit twentyfour7houseinc.com come for more information.
Go to statesboromarket2go.locallygrown.net to order from 24/7 House and dozens of other farmers market vendors.
Vandy’s Barbecue is the very definition of a “local institution.” Established in 1929, it celebrated its 90th birthday last year. Their iconic location at 22 West Vine street has been there since 1943, but that was not their original location. Vandy Boyd actually started his business in the town of Portal. He clearly knew what he was doing, since he moved his business into Statesboro’s downtown, taking up residence at the Simmons Shopping Center (formerly located on the block bordered by Elm Street, between North Main and North Walnut). Their “newest” location at the Statesboro Mall is over a generation old, established in 1970.
From their open-style barbecue pit (one of only six left in the state) they serve up roasted pork and chicken, alongside regional favorites like Brunswick stew. Since they use local oak wood to smoke their meat, you can say that everything they do is literally permeated with local flavor!
The restaurant has changed hands several times in the last couple decades but subsequent owners have maintained the local character of the establishment that has served the Statesboro community and beyond for over ninety years.
“It is all about the staff…We have a lot of great people doing a great job.” – Brandon O’Mahoney, Owner
Current owner Brandon O’Mahoney is tenaciously trying to keep the downtown location open for take-out and serving the community while respecting the restrictions around social distancing. O’Mahoney says “It is all about the staff…We have a lot of great people doing a great job.”
Their signature barbecue sauce is available on their website in case you find yourself missing your favorite sauce, or have since moved away and crave a taste of Statesboro.
These are unprecedented times, full of unexpected changes. Locals can take comfort in the fact that one thing that does not seem to change is Vandy’s.
Willliam Samuel “Blind Willie” McTell (May 5, 1898 – August 19, 1959)
Willie McTell was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist that predominantly played Piedmont blues and ragtime. He wrote the song “Statesboro Blues.”
McTell was born at the turn of the 20th century in Thomson, Georgia. His mother brought him to Statesboro where he learned to play the six-string guitar. Eventually he would transition to the 12-string guitar which he would play exclusively for the remainder of his musical career. McTell left Statesboro after the death of his mother and traveled playing music from Atlanta to New York.
McTell wrote “Statesboro Blues” and recorded the song in 1928 with Victor Talking Machine Company.
Blues musician Taj Mahal recorded an adaptation of “Statesboro Blues” on his debut album in 1968. Then in 1971 The Allman Brothers Band released their version of “Statesboro Blues” on their album At Fillmore East. This version of the song has garnered several accolades including being named number nine on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
The song is still played on the radio worldwide and brings many visitors to Statesboro annually.
Blind Willie Statue
The Statesboro Blue Mile Committee commissioned the creation of a statue honoring McTell and graciously decided to place it at the entrance of the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2018.
Since it’s installation, numerous groups and individuals have stopped by the Visitor Center to see the statue. It’s always a bright spot in our day when we look out the window and catch someone taking a selfie or a picture of their loved ones with Willie.
McTell was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990.
If you are in need of a hotel room during this time, we are keeping a running list of hotels that are still open. There is also a list of other open businesses in Statesboro and Bulloch County that can be found HERE.
This list has been updated as of: 3/31/2020 1:03pm
Comfort Inn – Open
Super 8 – Open, lobby closed
Holiday Inn – Open, Emma’s and Pool closed, limited room service
Holiday Inn Express – Open
Knights Inn- Open
Home2 – Open
Eagles Nest – Open, pool closed, no breakfast
Quality Inn- Open
Studio 6- Open
Red Roof Inn – Open
Patriot Inn – Open
Parkwood RV Park and Cottages – Open, over-the-phone reservations
Deluxe Inn – Waiting to hear back
Eagle Inn- Waiting to hear back
Stiles Inn – Waiting to hear back
Stay Plus- Waiting to hear back
Springhill Suites – Closed
Hampton Inn- Closed
These are difficult times for all of us, and local restaurants are no exception. They are one of the many industries that can’t “work from home” or survive long in a social distancing movement. In response to this, many Statesboro restaurants are making significant adjustments to accommodate the current situation.
The status of these restaurants changes every couple of days, but here is an update-to-date list being maintained by Grice Connect and the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce.
4 ways you can support your favorite local restaurants and eat local:
1. Purchase Gift Cards
Most restaurants offer some form of gift card or gift certificate. This is something you can do to ease their burden of the loss of your normal spending. This is also something you can do while staying at home. Many local restaurants will provide a way to order gift cards over the phone or online. Once things return to business-as-usual, use the gift card sparingly and spread out over a period of time to make sure these businesses have a steady flow of revenue afterwards. Or better yet, give it as a gift to a friend you’ve been trying to convince to try your favorite place!
2. Order Takeout
A lot of restaurants are streamlining their takeout services. Many dine-in restaurants are changing to take-out only. Even fast food chains, that normally thrive on takeout, are making adjustments to their order handling processes. Check your favorite dining establishments for how they are providing to-go meals.
3. Order from Market-2-Go
The Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market has a year-round online market where you can order locally grown and locally made products like produce, dairy, meat, herbs, plants, seeds, jellies, preserves, and more! Ordering must be completed by midnight on Tuesdays to be picked up at the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau on the following Thursday. CLICK HERE for more information.
Several local restaurants are still open for business. Some have even adjusted their dining room to allow more space between customers, and staggering seating times to make sure safe distances are kept between parties. This means they are valuing social distance over the quantity of customers they can serve during this time.
In fact, all restaurants seem to be posting about stepping up their cleaning & sanitation game. And for food service establishments that already operate under stringent health codes this means quite a lot. Could you imagine if your kitchen was scrutinized the same way theirs are even under normal circumstances? Not sure we’d all get passing grades.
These are four simple ways to make sure that we all support each other during this time and to help ensure the recovery period afterwards goes quickly. Let’s be an example for others to follow and show the world why we’re The City that Soars!