Thick as The Leaves of Time
George Michael Troup had read about far away places like Vallambrosa in John Milton's Paradise Lost. He also had read about the Valle d'Osta along the French border in Northwest Italy. When it came time to name his homes, Vallambrosa and Valdosta, in Laurens County, the eminent founder of the State Right's movement in the South chose names with a touch of culture and class. This is the story of the former, Vallambrosa, which was situated on Turkey Creek in western Laurens County.
The site was first settled by Col. Joseph Blackshear before 1815. Blackshear, a brother of Gen. David Blackshear and a veteran of the War of 1812, built the original house and set out grand groves of oak trees along the lane leading to the house. It is believed by early writers that Blackshear brought the mighty oaks from the Georgia coast after they had attained a considerable size.
U. S. Senator George M. Troup purchased the 1800-acre plantation for $7,000.00 in December 1832 two years after the death of Joseph Blackshear in 1830. Troup, nearly a year away from his retirement from the Senate in November 1833 and half way through his term, purchased the property to expand his holdings to the western side of the Oconee River. He preferred living in his much inferior and disjointed log home, Valdosta, on the Milledgeville to Darien Road (now the Old River Road or Georgia Highway 199) just above the present Interstate Highway 16.
Troup hired an overseer and assigned slaves to Vallambrosa to cultivate the rich farm lands along the creek. By 1849, Troup purchased from the estate of John Thomas another major plantation, which was a short distance to the northeast at the intersection of the Lower Uchee Trail and another main Indian trail running from Indian Springs through Macon and Dublin and onto Savannah at a place still known as Thomas' Crossroads.
Following the death of Governor Troup in May 1856, the lands at Vallambrosa passed into the hands of his daughter, Oralie. Miss Troup, who had lived a majority of her younger years along the southern coast of Georgia where life was more gentile, had a spring house built on the property not far from the current Federal highway. Above the door of the spring house was a stone medallion, which bore her name, a four-leaf clover, a goblet, and the date of 1860. The marker lies in front of the Dublin-Laurens Museum today.
After Oralie married the handsome and relatively young Dr. John Vigal, the Vigals moved to Vallambrosa and instantly set out to enhance the dilapidated house and unkept grounds. Vigal's untimely and devastating death resulted in Oralie's commitment to the Lunatic Asylum. The management of the plantation was assigned to her sister's son-in-law, Col. Robert P. Wayne, formerly of Bryan County. Wayne, who was only an honorary colonel, was lauded for his heroic actions as a lieutenant and adjutant of the 1st Georgia Sharpshooters in their defense of Savannah in the late war. After the war, Wayne married Augusta Foreman, a granddaughter of Gov. Troup. The couple had been living on Savannah's East Charlton Street, next door to Julian Hartridge, a former Confederate and United States Congressman.
Wayne, who had some experience as a Savannah commission merchant, provided the necessary impetus to get both Vallambrosa and Valdosta back on a profitable basis. When Wayne first arrived at Troup's homes, he found both of them unfit for even a tenant to live in. With the aid of more than four hundred former slaves, Wayne implemented modern farming techniques to restore the plantation to its former splendid stature.
The revival did not last long. For on October 24, 1880, around 4:00 p.m., a fire cremated the stately dwelling while Wayne was absent on business. Lost were most of the Troup's family possessions, including the vast library, said to be the finest in the county and which was stocked with many of the Governor's volumes as well as a number provided by Wayne, who was well-read himself.
Wayne had left the home that Sunday morning leaving instructions to his cooks to have his dinner ready by five o'clock in the afternoon. While the supper was cooking, the cook was called to the front gate. The cook had built too large a fire, which overheated the stove pipe, ignited the wooden kitchen, and rapidly spread into the adjoining home. Apparently, the kitchen was not built far enough away from the home in accordance with the customs of that time.
Neighbors came from up to two miles away to render assistance. But all was lost, save an old piano, a melodeon, and a few books. Even the silverware was destroyed. There was no time to grab the family portraits from the walls. Many of the oaks were damaged or burned outright. The devastating loss was made more crushing because of Wayne's failure to carry sufficient insurance. To add insult to injury, it was the fourth fire on the place in the previous eleven years.
Just three weeks after the fire, Wayne lost the use of two of his fingers when they were mangled in a gin accident. Wayne did not rebuild Vallambrosa, but spent most of his time trying to wind up the affairs of Oralie, who died a sad and lonely death in 1879. Wayne saw to it that her body was buried in the grave yard between the house and the main road.
The Waynes returned to his ancestral home near the Georgia coast. Tragedy once again struck the Troup family as it always seemed to do. On February 4, 1881, the brilliant Col. Wayne died just weeks before his 42nd birthday. Augusta Wayne would eventually return to Laurens, where she lived in the old house at Thomas Crossroads, if only briefly before her return to Savannah, where she lived on Gwinnett Street near Forsyth Park. Augusta would spend her later years operating a boarding house at 832 East Duffey Street.
Today, if you look real close, shut your eyes, and imagine, you can see the grand and glorious place they once called Vallambrosa. To get there, head toward Dudley on U.S. 80 and just before you turn to the left toward Northwest Laurens Elementary School, turn right and travel down the oak lined lane. The site was marked in 1938 with a bronze marker by the John Laurens Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. To see it, look even closer in a grove of red tips along the side of the highway. I tell you all of this in honor of the 230th birthday of our county's most famous citizen, who was born on September 8, 1780.