Near the end of his two-hour Gone with the Wind tour, Peter Bonner likes to surprise tourists with a delightful revelation: Prissy really lived.
I searched the tax records and learned that she lived in Jonesboro, Ga., until at least 1890, Bonner explains.
Prissy, of course, is the famous slave character from Margaret Mitchells Gone With the Wind, perhaps historys most popular novel. Less well known is Jonesboro, a town of 4,000 about 20 minutes from Atlanta. As Bonners historical tour shows, people are dead wrong if they trek to Atlanta hoping to find the road to Tara. For that they must visit Jonesboro where this novel was born.
As a child, Mitchell spent much of her time at the nearby Fitzgerald Plantation where her grandmother, Anne Ruth Fitzgerald, entertained her with stories of the Civil War and the genteel tradition that all but disappeared in the smoke of the countrys bitter conflict. Later, at the Clayton County Courthouse in Jonesboro, Mitchell pored over old county records to research the historical background for her classic novel.
Its easy to see why this had such an influence on Mitchells fertile imagination, Bonner says. Our town and the surrounding county was the scene of some of the Civil Wars heaviest fighting.
Historians consider the Battle of Jonesboro, fought on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 1864, to be of major importance to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his famous March to the Sea. The victorious Union soldiers were able to cut off Atlanta, forcing the city to surrendera major turning point in the war. A Confederate cemetery just minutes from the downtown area contains rows of white rock pillars, a stark reminder of the wars legacy.
Leave the cemetery and tour Jonesboro and you can quickly see the battles impact, Bonner says. The town couldnt avoid it.
A number of historic homes were, however, spared from the wars ravages.
One of them, Stately Oakswith its Greek Revival architecture, white-columned entrance and picturesque Southern settingis vintage antebellum South. The county records show that Union troops camped in the fields below the house and drew water from it while owner Robert McCord went off to defend the Confederacy.
Stately Oaks is impressive, but the most elegant house in Jonesboro is Ashley Oaks Mansion (no relation to the novels character). Ashley Oaks, built in 1879-1880, boasts 14-foot ceilings, 10 fireplaces, and dramatic furnishings of antiques, crystal, silver, and oil paintings. It could easily have served as the setting for Gone with the Wind.
The Margaret Mitchell and Civil War associations simply abound in Jonesboro and Clayton County, and theyre housed in more of the areas historic buildings:
The Warren HouseBuilt in 1859, it served as the headquarters and hospital first by Southern troops and then by Union soldiers during the Battle of Jonesboro. Signatures of Northern troops are still visible on the walls. Mitchell visited the house several times in 1935 and 1936.
Lovejoy PlantationMitchell is believed to have drawn inspiration for her fictional Wilkes family of Twelve Oaks here. You can still see the bullet holes from the Battle of Jonesboro in the walls, Bonner reveals.
Allen-Carnes HouseBelieved to be the oldest surviving building in town, many local residents fled to this former plantation home during the Battle of Jonesboro.
Visitors marvel that so much Southern charm, grace, and history remain amid the dizzying signs of booming, multi-billion dollar growth consuming the region. Note this anomaly to the locals and they only smile. Margaret Mitchell would still recognize Jonesboro if she were alive today and returned to our town, Bonner says proudly.