SUTTON'S CORNER MUSEUM
115 Washington Street, Fort Gaines, GA, 39851
Originally located on the edge of long ago plantations, this ancient frontier store complex has been recovered and moved to the former "Globe Tavern and Inn Stagecoach Stop" in Fort Gaines, Georgia. Endorsed by Museum curators as, "one of a kind in America." ... Imagine if you will that you have traveled back in time to the "1840s" and have entered a frontier country store with it's petticoat counters, wooden cash registers, antique post office, grist mill, tobacco twister, velvet bean sheller and over 4,000 artifacts (many of which are the only surviving artifacts in the U.S. today, three dimensional documents of frontier life, all worn by human hands, all authentic and original. That's what you will experience when you visit Suttons Corners Frontier Country Store Museum. See more photos here.
From the 1840’s through the post-civil War South, the country store was an intimate and functional part of the social and economic lives of its customers. It was the hub of the local universe — market place, banking and credit source, recreation center, public forum, and news exchange. Literally, everything from swaddling clothes to coffins, from plow shares to Christmas candy, from patent medicines to corsets was included in its inventory. The storekeeper was all things to his community, and if his credit practices sometimes smacked of usury, who would have advanced credit on shaky liens or promissory notes secured by unplanted crops of cotton and tobacco? Through three generations, the Suttons did just that, commencing their fortunes selling off the back of a mule wagon. This historical museum is far more than a nostalgic look at an almost vanished institution. It reveals the economic importance of the frontier country store to the southern economy, balancing its romance and color with the grim realties of surviving in the frontier days.
Commencing in the pioneering days of the 1840's until it abruptly closed in 1927, with the accidental death of the last Sutton, through three generations the Suttons literally never changed a thing, there was no modernization; and for a simple reason, "It worked." — as historians say, "A true portrait of frontier life - an unforgettable American moment."
History of Suttons Corner
Suttons Corner Frontier Country Store
1844 - 1927
Originally located on the edge of long ago plantations, like a tiny ruin on the outpost of an old empire of legends and epics - entombed in Spanish moss and vines - its premises occupied with rattlesnakes, this ancient frontier store complex has been recovered and moved to the "Globe Tavern and Inn" stagecoach stop in historic Fort Gaines, Georgia. Historians have called its discovery "an occurrence of rare occasion." Many of its artifacts are the only survivors in the U.S. today. Suttons Corner was an unprecedented time capsule.
The restoration process required over a decade of maximum effort and investment, and is now endorsed by museum curators as "one of a kind in America," and is rated by historians as the epitome of American heritage museums in the nation, a true national treasure. Spanning seven explosive decades, during which America effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity, Suttons Corner finished as it had started, a simple frontier country store, devoid of any change since the day it opened. The complex provided a living museum with it’s petticoat counters, wooden cash registers, antique post office, grist mill, bear traps, blacksmith shop, over 4,000 artifacts and hundreds of pages of documents pursuant to early frontier life and all authentic and original. It closed abruptly in 1927 after three generations of Suttons had built and operated the complex and it’s thousands of acres of land, commencing with Warren Sutton the first (1808-1858), Col. Tom Sutton (1840), Queen Victoria Sutton (1840-1888), and lastly Warren Sutton the second, who was killed in 1927. Colonel Thomas Chandler Sutton served in the Civil War and was a highly respected elected state senator. Colonel Tom, as he was known, founded a saw mill and cotton-gin adjacent to the frontier store complex, which served the region for many years. He could be seen almost everyday at the store’s post office greeting his many customers and smoking his hand-rolled cigarillos filled with black tobacco. He avoided being killed during the war only to die when he lanced a boil on his nose with his jack knife…
The last of the Sutton dynasty, Warren the II, born in 1866, was a fascinating study of an elusive personality. In the early nineteen hundreds he purchased a new black Chrysler automobile, the first to be seen in the area. It had bright yellow wooden-spoke wheels and was reported to go 90 miles per hour.
One Sunday morning he stopped in Fort Gaines at Luke Hurst’s "Mule and Horse stables," which was located just behind the Globe Tavern and Inn stage coach stop. (Note: a famous bordello operated on the second floor over the horse and mule barn with a stairway down to the inn. At least six men were shot and killed at the inn.) Mr. Sutton enjoyed exchanging news and gossip with the fellows sitting around the ol’ stables. They sat in the sun, whittling and chewing tobacco with an air of unalterable dignity. Everyone told a story, whether true or invented. The social distance between them disappeared, they were just friends sitting together. They talked and he was asked where he was headed, and he replied, "Boys, I’m going to be in Suttons Corner or hell in ten minutes." He never made it to Suttons corner - and the ol’ country store vanished into the "rain and the sky," closed and forgotten for almost a century … waiting to be discovered.
As the shuttered buildings slowly succumbed to being entombed with vines and Spanish moss, its new guardians and sentinels occupied the premises, a multitude of rattlesnakes, and their presence deterred intruders and antique hunters. Their eviction required the services of an eighty-seven year old "root doctor," all other attempts and methods had failed to dislodge them. Drawing on pages of handwritten letters, deeds, ledgers and an array of biographical and historical works, vital moments of American frontier life and its stories has been preserved for history. The museum looks at the soul and thoughts of men and women and it demystifies many of the enduring enigmas of the existence of frontier life. The store’s customers were sharecroppers, farmers, plantation help, trappers, hunters, tenant farmers, and stage coach travelers.
A sense of the past is always with you here, it’s a curious thing, but people who tour the museum start moving more slowly once they are inside, there is this feeling of enjoying a secret consent between the visitor and the past as vestiges of the life and time of hard-scrabble farmers and settlers create a memoir of distant times. Over the last decade, we have conducted scores of interviews with sharecroppers, tenant farmers and the descendents of those who touched that moment of history. Their ages ranged from seventy to one hundred and two years old. Some had actually traded at the complex prior to it’s abrupt closing in 1927.
The museum’s ability to evoke an era long gone is abundantly evident with the satisfying historical tales that relate to that epic moment of our nations history. Suttons Corner takes us back to a "vanished world," a treasure-trove of early frontier life, vividly expressed, an eloquent testament to our first settlers.
Historians, museum curators, writers, scholars, and history buffs from all parts of the nation and the world have toured the museum and their letters tell the story, as one writer said, "The museum and it’s stories are an expressed thought for the soul." Another visitor wrote, "The museum looks at what’s in our bones and its stories recreate an entertaining knowledgeable history of frontier life." At the time that Suttons Corner commenced in 1844, the U.S. population was only seventeen million. To put that in perspective that was seven people per square mile. Today its eighty people per square mile with Alaska added. When the frontier store first opened its doors, it would be ten years before the New York police department would be formed and Vincent Van Gogh was just one year old. Eighty percent of our population lived on farms or small rural communities. At the time it closed in 1927, there were about thirty million farmers in this country; at present there are approximately four million.
Suttons Corner presents the heart and soul of a vital segment of American life and its evolution from a time when the farmer felt himself at the very center of the national experience, to his ambiguous position of today.
If culture is, indeed, a reflection of society, then the story of our early settlers, hard scrabble farmers and sharecroppers both past and present are a unique moment of knowledge and insight of the American experience. When one reflects that eighty percent of our countries population once lived on farms or in small rural communities, we all must have that historical moment in our bloodlines.
As to the stories of this moment in history, one must note the everlasting nature of sentimentality and it’s bloodline - nostalgia!
In a conversation with a grand lady who was in her 90’s and a natural born story-teller, she summed up her ancestor’s ability to survive frontier life in a few words, “their like will not be here again.”