When C.B. and Elizabeth Hutcherson salvaged two of Eatonton’s shotgun houses from the town’s well-known “Aluminum Hill,” they did so for a love of creative recreation – and re-creation. They had an innate devotion to all things original – things others may dismiss and discard. Where most people in the town of Eatonton saw blight, they saw beauty.
They couldn’t have predicted – only hoped – that these pieces of life from the turn of the century, placed side by side on their farm, would one day draw one of their daughters back home from Atlanta to help turn their beloved Forever Glades Farm into a full, family homestead.
Today, the two families work side by side to restore these two homes in two very distinct styles. Together, three generations work to create a space where history unleashes the wisdom from which the future will draw – a community connected by corpuscles and construction.
This vision – rooted in peace on the perfect parcel of land that could provide it – could only have been actualized via faith in action – a foreign concept to many this day and age. It often means sore backs, dirty hands, sweat-soaked brows, and some days, inexplicable tears.
But sharing the blessings of their land is what life is all about for the Hutchersons.
Planting the seed
Lake Oconee was essentially unchartered territory when the Hutchersons ventured out in 1987. After years of operating their company, CB&E Porsche Interiors in North Carolina, C.B. and Liz didn’t just crave a respite, they needed sincere regeneration. But, the links and the lake could only wedge the chasm of loftier leanings for so long.
The concept of restoration began to creep back into their being. Their company had been built upon refashioning patterns and carefully preserving and enhancing classic engineering, which eventually spilled over into architecture. As a young man, C.B. restored an antebellum home in Wilmington, North Carolina. After that, says his wife, Liz, it got into his blood. Reconnecting the conduit of history, and serving as a conductor for that still pulsing energy, is something that is hard to forget or ignore.
At the hub of what was then an undeveloped Lake Oconee, The Hutchersons purchased an old dairy barn and milk room from local farmer, Fuzz Larman, with the idea of establishing commercial outlets to serve the budding region – the popular retail space that is now the Shoppes at Fore Magnolias and the Shoppes at South Magnolias.
They turned their eyes to the unwanted and abandoned mill houses on Aluminum Hill in Eatonton, conjuring images of quaint boutiques scattered amidst the existing barn and milk room. The homes seemed well suited for repurposed retail spaces. However, they were caught in the quagmire of litigation and could not be acquired at the time.
Fast forward twelve years to the place where faith unravels itself. The mill houses were finally being offered by the Eatonton Downtown Development Authority. Though it was too late to utilize the frames for earthly fortune, the Hutchersons now had a yearning to actually re-inhabit their walls. It would take a lot of effort – disassembling each roof and foundation before extensive transportation to the farm – but the Hutchersons were already aboard the shotgun train.
A shotgun house is typically long and rectangular, with one room leaning into the next without hallways. This innovative, yet uncomplicated structure was particularly suited to hot climates because a breeze could flow from front to back and cool down the dwellings. The porches also provided shade for outdoor fellowship. This style of housing is now recognized as an African-American contribution to architecture and reflects a streamlined way of existence.
It’s often assumed that the name was assigned because a bullet, fired through the front door, would travel uninterrupted through to the back. However, some evidence suggests this name may actually be a derivative of the sacred West African concept of “shogun” or “God’s House.” This is the preferred interpretation of Forever Glades Farm.
Awaiting the bloom
Sarah and Tim Johnson followed a familiar pattern of many suburbanites: bond, beget, and build. But it wasn’t long before the haven they erected on the outskirts of Atlanta for themselves and their three sons became more of a burden.
Sarah and Tim began reimagining their utopia, clinging to the concept of something more meaningful that mere materialistic delight. “Family comes first, and God was urging us to simplify,” says Sarah. “Four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and numerous extra rooms were starting to close in on us. We felt like we were wasting our time, energy, and ultimately, doing a disservice to our sons.” She and her husband decided to dedicate that energy to faithfully pursue what was needed for their family.
“We loved the feeling of peaceful simplicity the farm gave us on the weekends when we visited Mom and Dad,” she says, and we couldn’t justify maintaining our ‘manor’ in Ball Ground any longer.” The bones of a home in need of rebuilding beckoned the family in need of renewal. The Johnsons decided to escape the confines of suburbia to begin building on a dream, which also meant painstakingly piecing it back together.
The shotgun homes were structurally sound. They are built from solid cypress – a popular wood in the building industry due to its resistance to termites before it became a protected commodity. “It was a real bonus when I realized the houses were cypress,” says C.B. Hutcherson. As he worked with his daughter and son-in-law on the flesh on the homes, they discovered other bonuses stashed between the lathe walls. There were pay stubs from 1907 and union pamphlets from the 30s – treasured documents that reminded them of the convergence of lives, worlds apart.
The Johnsons had some of these items framed and plan to hang them in their finished home, demonstrating an inherited desire to preserve history while repurposing the future. “It is so fulfilling to have them just as passionate about this project as we are,” says C.B.
Together, there is an excitement on the farm to sew a harvest they can collectively reap – each party afforded their portion only after bearing the burden of potential bounty.
Grafting the fruit
The backbones of the farm are true craftsmen. It’s a heady endeavor, but building off fragments of the past, they fashion a functional future.
The Hutchersons’ half of the project – dubbed Sandy Ridge because it reflects the farm’s natural, pastoral environment –will largely retain the original layout of the home’s architectural past. Its floor plan will remain shotgun-like and its ceilings will be restored to maintain the one-story feel despite the sharply-pitched roofline.
The Johnsons are opting to reveal their high ceilings and create more of a rustic, lofty feel within their new living space – christened Coastal Plain to realize their dream of a family getaway. “I wouldn’t necessarily describe our place as more modern, just updated to fit a full-time family,” says Sarah. The Johnsons chose to maximize the space allowed while mindfully maintaining the bones of the structure. “This meant me leaning on Tim’s creative craftsmanship and also letting our son, Cory, use his budding engineering mind.”
The majority of the wood, doors, window housings, and integrity of the structure itself have been – painstakingly, at times – respected. The ceilings in the main area have been vaulted to accommodate the loft above the rear addition which will comfortably sleep all three sons. Alternating tread stairs guide them up at night to lay their heads – a design dating back to Jefferson’s era.
“The doors were hand sanded individually by moi,” Sarah bemuses proudly, but not puffed up because her hands still blister at the mention of the paper used to refine them.
Both mother and daughter agree that recycling and repurposing, where appropriate, is paramount. Pulling from historical pieces is not only cost effective, but allows the project to maintain its original integrity. But the culinary arena must respect the current technology, so the kitchen is the only place you’ll find anything polished or pristine. Ikea cabinetry has been tediously assembled by Tim to store the utensils that will eventually inherit the bounty of her gardens. A green thumb has been passed down by Sarah’s maternal grandmother and will be her gift to their little community.
The original mantle that perched atop a warming fire way back when will house her menu board and “serve to remind us of many nights that previous owners kept warm beside its glow,” she says.
Between the two homes, a barn connects the properties, its pool house deck and summer kitchen serving as a perfect place for all parties to gather at the end of a long day on the farm. A calmness collects while the crickets offer a resounding “Amen!” to whatever topic is being discussed.
Plank by plank, the Hutchersons and Johnsons have portioned out the space and crafted a perfect blend of preserved patina and rustic opulence. The walls reveal their secrets by sharing glimpses of who must have laughed and loved there.
As a second generation visionary, Sarah explains, “What made these houses worth saving? Most people might overlook the value and heritage. We aren’t most people.”
Nature itself is diverse, yet cohesive – an intricate weaving of aesthetic wonder and simple serenity. This if Forever Glades Farm’s new landscape – a sandy ridge serving as tributary and shoreline to a vast coastal plain.