Story and images by Charlotte Gallagher
An idea that came to life in the 1930’s because of Lt. Col. John Word West, a history professor at North Georgia College, who wanted to preserve the stories and old way of life that he heard his grandparents say was “disappearing.”
Westville is a historical playground located in our backyard at 3557 S Lumpkin Road right next to Fort Benning and behind Oxbow Meadows. Step into the past as you walk through a preserved 1800’s Georgian town. The town is filled with homes, churches, shops, a general store, a doctor’s office, and a courthouse complete with interpreters dressed in 19th century gear from head to toe demonstrating traditional work skills and discussing the life and culture back then. History buffs will love this place. Non-history buffs (like myself) might start to change their mind. One of Westville’s goals is to provide a new cultural cornerstone for Columbus by giving citizens and visitors an opportunity to learn about and have an appreciation for history. Their main purpose is to “empower present and future generations to engage in thoughtful and informed discussion about the complex history of the American South.” These pictures truly speak for themselves, but to experience Westville you must come and see for yourself. You can access it by road or it’s a pleasant 45-minute bike ride on the Riverwalk from Uptown.
The first step upon entering Westville is to purchase an admission ticket of $10 for adults or $5 for children. This admission will help preserve the homes and artifacts that were hauled from Lumpkin, GA where the original Westville used to be for 50 years. Terra Martinez, Chief of Operations says that was “quite the process.” The next step is either taking a short walk down a dirt path to the town or hitching a ride in their convenient free golf cart service (probably the only non-1800’s item on the grounds). The tour is self-guided so feel free to explore wherever you want for as long as you want.
“We’re less than a cost of a movie ticket and you can stay here all day,” mentions Terra.
One of the most interesting facts about Westville is that most of their interpreters had little to no experience of the craft they demonstrate. They have been learning as they go and are now (what I would call) experts as they have literally been immersed in this specific time period. One example is Tim, the bootmaker. He had worked with leather before but had never made shoes. His learning process began with making baby shoes (which are available in the gift shop) and a few months ago started making boots. One goal for the shoe shop is to offer the service of custom-made boots or shoes for any citizen or visitor who requests a pair.
Fun facts: Boots were the most common shoe during this period for both men and women. Most people would only have one pair of shoes they would wear throughout the entire year.
“It’s a lost art. There aren’t many real shoe-makers anymore,” says Terra Martinez, Chief of Operations. She adds that the largest manufacturer of boots for soldiers was in Lumpkin, GA.
Another interpreter Lee, the carpenter, explains that there are nuances to all the tools. “My screwdriver, hammer, nails, saw, etc. may not look like yours but essentially it does the same thing.” The carpenter’s apprentice Alaina said that she had no prior wood making or sewing experience but is really good with her hands, a quick learner, and has a theater background, but everything else she learned as she went.
Fun fact: It was costly to import wooden tools, toys, and furniture so a local woodworker would make them for their community. Carpenters would have an apprentice who would study under them for 4 to 7 years.
Fred, the blacksmith has been working at Westville since the beginning - 47 years! He’s a man of many talents like his father – a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a basket weaver among other things. “I have spent my life at Westville,” says Fred. He also maintains the rest of the houses in Lumpkin that are waiting to be transferred to Columbus (funding pending). On this particular day, I observed Fred making horseshoes in the forge, a large fireplace used for heating the metal, but the next time I return he might be making a fireplace set or knives which, in the future, will be available for sale in the gift shop.
“We want the experience to be that every time you come visit Westville the interpreters are working on something different and it gives the visitors a different experience,” Terra says.
Jackie, the seamstress began working at Westville 2 months ago. She fell in love with history and thinks everyone should know about it – the good and the bad. Just by working at Westville has taught her about so many of the artifacts and tools used back then.
Fun facts: Quilting was an ornate art form back then and a practical item. It could be used as a warm blanket or to cover open/drafty doors and windows. Making a quilt by hand can take up to a year!
The kitchen was separate from the rest of the home to ensure the house wouldn’t burn down if something caught on fire.
The phrase “sleep tight” came from the box spring being a criss-cross apparatus of tight rope underneath the quilt.
The bathroom was a ceramic bowl with a teapot looking handle hidden underneath the bed.
In the 1840’s there was not a large choice of stores like today. For farmers, it was a special trip to travel to the closest general store. The store was a meeting place to socialize, do business, and the post office. Customers could purchase their supplies for cash or trade.
Doctors would make their own medicines using local herbs and trees. Example: wild ginger roots and leaves for sore throats and stomach aches.
Jeremy, who interprets as a Native American, mentions that when he wants to learn a new skill, he seeks out an expert in that skill to teach him. His room is filled with handmade bows, arrows, baskets, and other tools.
Fun fact: During the Native American portion of the tour you can practice tomahawk throwing!
All of the interpreters clearly seem to have interesting stories of their own which will require further research and perhaps future articles.
Visitors near and far have already traveled to Westville since it opened last June, but they are still trying to increase exposure. Every quarter they plan to have a main event. Their first ever History and Cocktails event in September was a success and their 1st Annual Harvest Fest will be on Saturday, November 2nd from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. They will have live music, food trucks, games, crafts for kids, a baking contest, and much more!
Westville’s mission is to “tell the stories of all southern people including European Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants; how their lives were inextricably linked but their experiences diverse due to race, class and gender.” (Read that again)
Westville offers elementary, middle school, and high school field trip and outreach programs.
“There aren’t many places like this anymore. It gives students a different, interactive way of learning about history,” says Terra. ◼︎
If You Go:
What: Westville's 1st Annual Harvest Fest
When: Saturday, November 2nd from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Where: Historic Westville, 3557 S Lumpkin Road
Cost: Adult admission is $10, K-12 runs $5, and Active Military, Seniors, College Students are admitted for $8, Children under 5 are FREE.
Visit any time:
Westville's regular hours are Wednesday-Saturday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Regular admission is $10, K-12 students are $5, and Active Military, Seniors, College Students are admitted for $8. Children under 5 are always FREE.
All entry fees benefit Westville’s preservation and their Phase II development. Yearly memberships are also available.Westville is looking to increase their volunteer pool and are always accepting donations. Please visit https://westville.org/ for more information.