Terracotta Ornaments

The Douglas County Museum of History and Art is currently displaying three terracotta ornaments donated by Gleda James. The garden ornaments were used on the grounds of the Piedmont Chautauqua in Lithia Springs beginning in 1888.

Lisa Cooper/Special

Engraved bricks.

You donate money to a worthy cause and your name is displayed on the brick for all to see. The display becomes a permanent part of the building usually.

The bricks at the Douglas County Courthouse and the Cultural Arts Council come to mind — both were worthy projects, but what if you were able to take the brick home?

Even better — what if the object isn’t a brick, but is a reproduction of an item used in a historic Douglas County garden?

Imagine a fundraiser where you have something to take home and display in your yard or garden?

A bit of Douglas County history you can take home!

The Douglas County Museum of History and Art is currently displaying three terracotta ornaments donated by Gleda James. The garden ornaments were used on the grounds of the Piedmont Chautauqua in Lithia Springs beginning in 1888. 

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries people were hungry for cultural and educational opportunities. The Chautauqua caught on because the events included a mixture of instruction with play. Take the atmosphere of the fair and mix in speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, and preachers for a period lasting three to seven days, mix it with a few fireworks and you get the idea.

Our Piedmont Chautauqua was the brainchild of Atlanta’s own father of New South thinking, Henry W. Grady. In fact he used most of his own money to build the Chautauqua grounds next door to the equally fabulous Sweetwater Park Hotel.

Newspaper accounts from the spring of 1888 through the grand opening of the Chautauqua on July 4, 1888 mention the Chautauqua grounds were filled with over 50,000 roses, dahlias, and other flowers.

The terracotta ornaments are just some of the items that were used on the grounds. The museum is taking orders for reproductions of the ornaments at full size for $250 each to raise money for future museum programs.

What a win-win!

You get to donate to a worthy local cause, and you get a piece of local history to grace your yard. 

Getting back to the history — The Chautauqua grounds, including a man-made lake, were designed by Joseph Forsyth Johnson, former curator for the Royal Botanic Garden in Belfast.

Johnson was invited to Atlanta in 1887 to assist Joel Hurt with his Inman Park development, and he also helped with designs for Piedmont Park as well.

The lake covered four to six acres. “American Engineer” magazine for June of 1888 mentioned the lake, stating how the water was pumped to it from a creek over 3,000 feet away.

A rose mound was also designed, which sources indicate was 42-feet high and 100 feet at the base. The mound was covered entirely in rose bushes. Four thousand were ordered from Pennsylvania while another 2,000 came from Georgia.

Opposite the rose garden was a sunken garden sodded with blue grass and watered by several fountains. Paths wound from the sunken garden to the top of the rose mound.

One description I found described the grounds this way: “What with the flower beds, the emerald green lawns, the winding pebbly yellow sanded walks, the fountains, the domes, the towers, and white gleaming walls, and the swell of the music, I felt as if I had stepped into Baghdad. Now when all this is lighted with electric arcs in colored glass clips around every flower bed and all over the minarets, towers and domes the resemblance to an “Arabian Nights” dream is still further enhanced.”

Wow! Mr. Johnson knew how to design beautiful grounds, for sure.

I wish we had more pictures so we could see what it looked like.

The Piedmont Chautauqua lost its cheerleader when Henry W. Grady died in December of 1889. Gradually, the Chautauqua ended. By 1903, the grounds John Forsyth Johnson had meticulously designed were in disrepair and weeds were taking over.

Today it’s very difficult to imagine such a fantastic place sat along Bankhead Highway.

Revive a bit of the Chautauqua by adding a piece of the grounds to your yard or garden.

Come by the Douglas County Museum of History and Art as soon as possible to see the terracotta ornaments and place your order. We would love to have you visit Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you would like to call for more information the number is 678-449-3939. 

Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can also find her Facebook page for Douglas County history under the name “Every Now and Then,” and visit her website at lisalandcooper.com for even more stories. 

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