Back in 1937 when Gene Talmadge was finishing his second two-year term as governor of Georgia, he took a big step. For Miss Mitt (his wife), he built a new home on U.S. Highway 341, between McRae and Lumber City, in his home county of Telfair.
In today’s world, this residence looks much like a Southern 5-4-and-a-door, with two-story white columns, red brick, and set about 100 yards back from the highway in a grove of pine trees. But it wasn’t built in today’s world, but constructed 77 years ago when most people in Telfair County probably didn’t have running water in their homes, and many had to bring out the buckets when it rained because of leaks in the roof.
It was properly called the Talmadge “Mansion.” Today it would be considered a “very nice house.”
Talmadge was born in Forsyth, Ga., and after graduating from the University of Georgia, set up law practice and farmed in Montgomery County. He soon was active in McRae in nearby Telfair County. He first won statewide election as Agricultural Commissioner. He was a favorite of many Depression-era Georgians, and always entertaining with his white shirt and red suspenders. When accused of improprieties, he came back on the stump, telling backers and farmers of that day: “Sure, I stole, but I stole for you.”
Elected during the county-unit times, which meant political domination by the small counties, he would say to people at barbecue rallies when running for office: “”The poor Georgia dirt farmer only has three friends he can trust: God……Sears and Roebuck….. and Eugene Talmadge!” He won his first term as governor, taking office in 1933 and was re-elected for 1935. Forced to sit out in 1939, he came back easily winning another two year term in 1941, and winning the Democratic primary in 1946 for what would be his fourth term. But he died in December, 1946 before taking office. This set off the “three governors” controversy, which eventually put Lt. Gov. M.E. Thompson as governor, and in 1948 led to Herman Talmadge starting his years as a Georgia governor, then Senator.
Now, why all this Talmadge background? It’s for the newcomers to Georgia.
Over the last dozen or so years, the “Talmadge Mansion” had fallen into disrepair since Gene’s daughter, who lived there, died. (Herman before his death maintained a home in Lovejoy.) The Talmadge property in Telfair became so grown up in pine trees that you could barely make out the home from the highway.
That’s when Jim Wooten, the retired former editor of The Atlanta Journal, stepped in. Jim’s once lived in Telfair County. He bought the house at no doubt a bargain rate from the bank that ended up thinking it a white elephant. He says: “The house was in bad shape, and we suspect it had not been painted in 30 years.” He patched walls and ceilings, and found period furniture for the entire house.
He’s exquisitely restored the home to perhaps even better than it was before. Jim’s making it an events facility for the local area. Already parties are taking place there. When the Georgia Press Association board met nearby recently, he invited past presidents and their wives to come check out the restored facilities, with a barbecue set among the pines on a beautiful moonlit night. The entire grounds are gorgeous, and the restored home a fitting tribute to a former governor.
Jim Wooten, remembering ‘old Gene, has restored the home in true Mansion style to admire and to use. Hats off for Jim!