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Appalachian History: The Reece Farm & Heritage Center

“From chips and shards in idle times

I made these stories, shaped these rhymes

May they engage some friendly tongue

When I am past the reach of song.”

-Byron Herbert Reece, Epigraph from Bow Down in Jericho

Tucked below Georgia’s Gainesville Highway, in a bucolic valley with rolling meadows, sits the Reese Farm and Heritage Center. It’s a place that blends so seamlessly with the landscape, if you’re not looking for it, you might just miss it.

Reece Farm exudes tranquility. From the babbling Wolf Creek running through the land, to the quiet forest beyond the meadow, it is a setting for creativity and reflection.

This was home to renowned poet, Byron Herbert Reece. During his life, the place would have been abuzz with daily activities like growing vegetables, tending livestock, and preserving food. Despite that, or maybe because of it, this place inspired him to write his award-winning poetry.

Tour the Farm

The Welcome Center is the most modern building here, built as the family’s home in the 1950s. Here, visitors can get a map of the property and exchange their money for quarters to feed the donkeys and goats near the barn.

A small gift shop with snacks, toys, local crafts, and books by Byron Herbert Reece fills one side, while exhibits about the history of the Choestoe region and Reece family adorn the neighboring room.

Behind the Welcome Center, a walk along the paved Poetry Trail invites visitors to view four stone islands with Reece’s poetry etched into them. From there, the trail leads to a cozy red building Reece lovingly named Mulberry Hall. With floor-to-ceiling bookshelves covering the back wall, a sleeping cot, and a small desk, Mulberry Hall was his private writing space.

Nestled between Mulberry Hall and Wolf Creek, a double crib barn stands as a testament to nineteenth and twentieth century Appalachian living. The eight-room crib barn holds the implements of daily life, from a kitchen exhibit with thick glass bottles and a wood-fire stove, to tools and equipment used for planting and harvesting.

Since life in the mountains separated folks from many conveniences, they had to make everything they needed within their community. They milked cows, butchered meat, grew vegetables, and preserved foods from one season to the next. This was the subsistence farming life Byron H. Reese lived.

Wooden steps into the barn’s loft leads to a single room over the pens below, visible through the roughly constructed flat boards which make up the floor. Where the lower level of the barn shows the agricultural side of Reece’s legacy, the loft portrays his professional life.

A writing desk with a vintage black typewriter, as well as a sitting area with mid-century furniture and a radio honor Reece’s passion for writing and music. Much of his work was influenced by his childhood, when Reece recalled his mother reading the Bible to him by the fire in the evenings. Though, as an adult, he admitted to being agnostic, Reece’s work leaned on those Biblical lessons from his childhood.

Behind the main barn, Wolf Creek calmly flows past the rocks, winding through the property and under a scenic bridge. It’s difficult to imagine the Reece family would have needed modern entertainment in such an unspoiled and peaceful place. With the breeze blowing through the trees as the winding creek flows southward, the inspiration for Reece’s nature-centered pieces became obvious.

A short walk down the creek leads to the other buildings necessary for subsistence farming, like the smokehouse, used for preserving foods prior to in-home refrigeration.

When they needed to keep items cool, they used a springhouse, a small building over the creek whose cool waters helped to slow the spoilage of perishable foods. Today, the museum has moved the shed from the creek, but it’s still available for visitors to see.

Standing apart from the other structures, the Pentecost Antiques Building, built in 2019, looks slightly out of place in the pastoral landscape. But the internal displays stay true to the period when the Reece family worked the land.

Old bottles, cast iron cookware and stoves, keys, phones, and other household goods were donated by locals as examples of the tools the family would have used.

Short life of a Celebrated Poet

Byron Herbert Reece was born in Union County, Georgia on September 14, 1917. His family’s farm originally consisted of 100 acres in the Choestoe district, spanning its current location to where Vogel State Park sits today. The museum has retained nine of those acres.

Reece’s Appalachian upbringing involved a strong sense of community and resilience, growing up in a place where people had to make everything they owned, or make do with what they had. He recalled fearing automobiles in his youth. They were an invention he didn’t see in his hometown until long after the rest of the country was using them.

Though Reece always considered himself a farmer, he had a knack for writing, which became evident when he first enrolled in Young Harris College in 1935. He had to leave school and re-enroll several times as his family members grew ill and they needed help on the farm. Despite these disruptions in his education, Reece eventually became a teacher at a local school to help his family make ends meet.

Between farming and teaching, Reece worked on his writing. He published his first book, The Ballad of the Bones and Other Poems, in 1945, followed by Bow Down in Jericho in 1950, before a stint as a poet in residence at UCLA in 1951.

He continued to write and teach at Young Harris College for the next few years while battling depression and tuberculosis. During this time, he became too ill for physical labor and simultaneously lost his beloved mother. In 1958, a few months shy of his forty-first birthday, he graded his students’ final papers in his apartment on campus, then shot himself through his diseased lung.

Now, the Reece Farm and Heritage Center memorializes a local man loved and respected by his community, by showing visitors how Reece grew up, how it shaped his writing, and what he contributed to his rural town.

Visitors do not need to be familiar with the works, or life, of Byron Herbert Reece to enjoy a tour of the area. With its rustic family farm - a throwback to a bygone era - the relaxing creek, and majestic mountains rising above, there’s plenty to enjoy about the Reece Farm & Heritage Center. Even so, Reece’s life was an interesting and accomplished one, and learning about this poetic farmer further enhances the experience.

Know Before You Go

Location: 8552 Gainesville Highway, Blairsville, Georgia

Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Open seasonally. Please check the Reece Farm & Heritage Center website for more information.

Fees: FREE. Donations accepted.

Parking: Large paved parking lot available.

Restrooms: Located in the Welcome Center

Accessibility: This historic site has uneven terrain. Please contact the Heritage Center (706) 745-2034 for more information.

Would you want to visit this heritage site? What’s your favorite place to see in North Georgia? Drop a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!


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