One of Bulloch County's oldest farms, a landmark graced by an enormous family home that is known for its intriguing history and legendary hauntings, was recognized Friday during the 22nd annual Georgia Centennial Farm Awards Ceremony at the Georgia National Fair in Perry.
Harville Family Farms was one of 13 farms recognized for the Centennial Family Farm Award, which recognizes farms owned by members of the same family for 100 years or more that are not listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Tommy Harville, who owns Harville Family Farms, said he has lived on the property all his life and has never seen evidence of any haunting at the renowned Harville House, the stately, unique mansion his great-grandfather built.
He knows the real history, but for decades, legend has had it that the house is haunted by the spirits of his aunts, who lived there in the '60s and '70s. No one knows how the rumors of haunting were started, but to this day, the house is listed on websites as a "haunted house," and people continue to visit in hopes they see something spooky.
Harville still farms the property on Harville Road, where he raises cattle and grows crops such as soybeans, cotton, peanuts and "a few pecans."
The farm can be traced back to land grant records in 1818 but was purchased by Samuel Winkler Harville in 1862, he said.
According to records from the Bulloch County Historical Society (bullochhistory.com), the farm was originally 754 acres. Samuel Harville was one of the two delegates Bulloch County sent to the 1861 Secession Convention in Milledgeville. He voted for Georgia to secede from the Union.
"Samuel's son, Keebler Henry Harville, purchased the property and built the Harville House as a one-story house around 1894. The second story was added 10 years later resulting in a total of 14 rooms to accommodate a growing family," the site reads.
Tommy Harville said the farm had expanded during his grandfather's time, but is now just 120 acres. Tommy is now the only family member left who comes directly from Samuel Harville's line, with the exception of his two sons, he said.
For years, dreams of restoring the historical Harville House have been shattered by expense, but a new effort by Harville and his relatives may result in funds to preserve the home. Currently, an old barn is being renovated and expanded to create a venue for family reunions and weddings, with the first to be held this month, he said. Revenue from renting the facility in the future may be used to restore the home.
According to the Bulloch County Historical Society website, Tommy Harville's grandfather Keebler designed the house. "The lumber used was cut and sawn from timber grown on the farm. By the time of Keebler's death in 1946, the farm had grown to 2,800 acres. More than just a landmark, the farm was self-sustaining for 10 families. It included a grist mill, saw mill, cotton gin, two-story smoke-house, ice house, syrup house and a commissary."
Keebler Harville was the first in Bulloch County to sell peanuts commercially, and picked peanuts commercially for other farmers from Blitchton to Claxton. He purchased the first corn snapper in the county, the site reads.
The house has been featured on numerous Internet websites due to its unusual design and legendary haunting. One site listing the house is vanishingsouthgeorgia.com.
Legend has it the house is haunted by the ghosts of two elderly women. Harville said the tales likely began after two of his aunts moved in the home.
His aunt Nan had been placed in a mental health facility in Milledgeville, but when her sister Naomi closed her beauty shop in Statesboro, she decided to care for Nan herself. The two women lived peacefully in the huge house for over 25 years, but once the rumors of haunting took hold, the intriguing legend grew. Today, ghost hunters come from all over to see the house.
The Harville family has suffered trespassing and vandalism over the years, especially around Halloween.
"We don't mind people looking, but it's the late night visits" that are troublesome, Harville said. He asks people to respect the property, which has been boarded up for safety reasons, and limit their visits to looking and taking photos.
Now the home site has been cleared and a fence and overgrowth removed, the house is more easily seen and possibly less spooky, he said: "It's not haunted, as far as I know. I've lived next door all my life."
Georgia Centennial Farm Awards
Regardless of whether one believes in ghosts, the history of Harville Farms is found fascinating by many, including the folks at the Georgia Centennial Farm Program, which is a partnership between the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Georgia Farm Bureau Federation; Georgia Department of Agriculture; Georgia Forestry Commission; and Georgia National Fair and Agricenter; with support from Georgia EMC, according to Historic Preservation Division Public Affairs Coordinator Jeff Harrison.
Thirteen historic farms from around the state were recognized during Friday's ceremony, he said.
"Farms hold a central role in the heritage of our state, having formed the economic, cultural and family foundation for generations of Georgians," he said. "Since 1993, 482 farms have been recognized by the Georgia Centennial Farm Program. Farms earning recognition have continuously operated for 100 years or more."
Other farms listed this year as receiving Georgia Centennial Family Farm Awards include Boyd-McLocklin Farm, Barrow County; Traders Hill Farm, Charlton County; Chambless Farm, Colquitt County; Benefield Farm, Gwinnett County; Martin Dairy Farm, Lamar County; Georgia Gregory Terry Farm, Murray County; Hickory Hill Farm, Oglethorpe County; Renfroe Hill Farm LLLP, Stewart County; Grace Acres Farm, Wayne County; J.O. Rees-Dillard Farm, Webster County; Pope Cattle Farm, Wilkes County and Pinkney Farm, Worth County.
Other awards issued through the program include the Centennial Heritage Farm Award, which honors farms owned by members of the same family for 100 years or more and are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Anyone interested in nominating a farm for recognition during the next application cycle should visit www.georgia
centennialfarms.org to download an application, or contact Lynn Speno, Centennial Farm Awards committee, at (770) 389-7842 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The postmark deadline for applications is May 1 of each year.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.