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'Class' offers lesson on area's beauty

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

And the river she rises Just like she used to do. She's so full of surprises.

-- Poco

I spent a few hours Wednesday morning being schooled on "old Dougherty County," a land of plantations and historic families who've passed on their way of life over several generations.

My instructor was "Professor" Ken Faircloth, a Navy veteran and retired businessman who knows every back road and every plantation in the region ... and all the juicy stories about the families that founded them.

I met the Professor when he called me about city officials' inaction in response to his report that people were dumping old tires on a vacant lot -- that turned out to be owned by the state of Georgia -- behind his Radium Springs Road home. As he took me on a tour of his neighborhood, I saw the diappointment on his face as he described it the way it used to be.

Still, the decay all around him hasn't stopped Faircloth -- and his lovely wife, Patty -- from keeping the home that's been in his family since the 1940s in tip-top shape.

After that initial meeting, during which it became apparent to me that Faircloth had accumulated several volumes worth of knowledge over the years, I asked him if he'd show me some of the places he'd talked about one day. That one day turned out to be Wednesday, and we headed out with an admonition from Patty: "You boys don't get into any trouble."

We talked about Albany and Dougherty County during its heyday as the Professor navigated familiar streets that soon turned into backroads and eventually became dirt roads that I never knew existed. After listening to a particularly interesting story about The Herald back in the 1950s -- during which then-pre-teen Kenneth worked as a paperboy, slinging the daily news to the homes in south and east Albany -- I looked around and realized I had no earthly idea where we were.

That's when the tour really began.

The first grand site we passed on our trek was Ted Turner's Nonami Plantation, and from the county-maintained road you could just see a couple of guys getting in swings on his private nine-hole golf course and a little farther east livestock out grazing in the pastures. (Alas, no buffalo.)

The Professor then told me stories about the homes of workers that lined one of the dirt roads we travelled and how they were taken care of by the owners of Blue Springs Plantation. The stories kept coming: of Pineland and Wildfair and Pine Bloom and Tarver.

Faircloth cautioned me that, out of the deep respect he has for the owners of the plantations -- and a number of people who manage and work on them -- he didn't want me to write anything about specifics we might discuss during our wandering. I assured him I wouldn't because I, through him, had grown to respect and admire the majesty and history of the grand old places as well.

But I told the Professor there was one aspect of our trip I simply couldn't keep to myself. And since we had been given permission to visit Elakonee on the Pineland Plantation, he said that would be OK.

Elakonee is where golfing legend Bobby Jones built a home (it's since been moved onto a property off Newton Road), and adjacent to that site is perhaps the most beautiful natural setting I've ever seen in this area. A clubhouse/cooking shelter sits on land that is some 30 to 40 feet above the Flint River at perhaps one of its widest points.

It's difficult to find the words in my limited vocabulary to describe the scene. Breathtaking, stunning, awe-inspiring, timeless, one-of-a-kind ... These touch on what I felt, but they don't quite do it justice. I could really cruise blissfully into retirement if I knew I had regular access to such a vista.

The Professor promised to hold another "class" the next time I have some time, and he gave me a few hints of what might be on our syllabus. With the grand time I had the first time around, this is one class I don't plan to skip.

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