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Landmarks, history tie family together on 200-year-old farm
This house was built by Jane Hemmer's grandfather probably in the 1840s. - photo by SARA GUEVARA


John and Jane Hemmer talk about their belted Galloway cattle, which Jane received as a wedding anniversary gift. The old breed is marked like an Oreo cookie, black with a band of white in the middle.

Centennial Family Farm

The Georgia Centennial Farm program recognizes farms that have influenced Georgia's agricultural history. The Hemmer's farm was recognized in 2007 as a Centennial Family Farm, meaning it has been in the same family for more than 100 years. The program also recognizes old farms that have switched hands. Since starting in 1993, the program has recognized 350 farms around the state. It is administered by the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Georgia Farm Bureau Federation; Georgia Department of Agriculture; Georgia Forestry Commission; and the Georgia National Fair and Agricenter.

Georgia Historic Preservation Division

The land sprawls across the hills off Ga. 365. Mountains peek above the horizon, ponds are settled in low-lying pastures and sunlight glints through the trees across dirt roads that cross the property.

But the quiet pastoral setting is only a small part of what makes these 400 acres special to owners Jane and John Hemmer.

The land has been in Jane Hemmer's family for at least 200 years.

Jane's ancestor Bartemous Reynolds came in 1789, her son Lee Hemmer said. He came from Virginia with a land grant and settled about 3,000 acres.

Over time, much of the land was sold off, but the Hemmers continue to farm the remaining 400 acres.

Jane oversees the work, and family members pitch in to help with the 20 head of belted Galloway beef cattle as well as a crop of pine trees. One employee who lives nearby also does much of the work.

"I would say it's a joint venture. Somehow it all gets done," Jane said. "... He (John) does some; I do some; Lee and Beth help out. So it all gets done. It's just a family farm."

Jane didn't grow up on the farm, but she visited often with her father who farmed the land.

"I was always just fascinated with this farm, from the time I was a tiny girl," Jane said. "And my dad would come pick me up to bring me up here on his rounds every day just because he knew how much I loved it."

In the late 1970s Jane moved to the farm with her husband John. They used timber cut for the highway to build their house. And they collected rocks from the acreage to construct a massive stacked stone fireplace in the house.

Work ties the family together, but history and memories tie it across generations.

A white house with a long front porch sits at the edge of the property. The Hemmers think it was probably built in the 1840s. Jane's father was born there. Jane and John lived there when they first moved to the farm, but rent it now. When they renovated the property years ago, they found old tree stumps where the land had been cleared; rocks were placed on top of the stumps as part of the home's foundation.

A barn sits behind the house and is at least as old. Rolling hills to the right of the barn used to be an apple orchard. Only one tree is left now, but two horses, Rachael and Patches, enjoy the open land.

Take dirt roads farther into the property and more historic treasures await.

A small family chapel sits by itself looking out onto a field, with forest behind. The chapel has four rows of short pews that fit maybe two people on either side. Glass windows open to cool the intimate space. The Hemmers' daughter Mary had her wedding reception there. Family services are sometimes held there.

An old family cemetery is dotted with stone markers, some engraved with names, others not. Jane's great-grandfather is buried here. A baby, 2 months old, is buried there, too.

In 2007 the state designated the Hemmers' place as a Centennial Family Farm, meaning it has been in the same family for 100 years or more.

Of course it has been in the family much longer, Jane said.

The long history makes for some colorful stories.

Part of the dirt road leading across the property was originally cut for covered wagons to make their way from Greenville, S.C., to Gainesville and beyond.

"This is part of the old road bed. You can see how it's cut," John said, pointing to rocks cut down on either side of the dirt road.

Maybe this is the road Zachary Taylor traveled when he came to visit his niece, who married Jane's ancestor Bartemous.

The former president came to visit when one of her children was born.

John points out a flat place beneath the trees. There once was a log cabin there, where Jane's grandfather lived.

"My aunt ... said that he told her he remembered the Indians peeking in the windows," Jane said.

There was a good-sized Cherokee population in the area, Jane said. Bottomland now used for pasture likely was used to grow maize. A lake built by her father was once a spring for the Cherokee. There are probably arrowheads beneath the water, she said.

Behind this old homesite is a spring.

"You can still see where her great-grandfather and all, where they used to get their water," John said. "Because there's a rock, but it is hollowed out just the size of a bucket; and you can put your bucket in there and get your water."

Other homesites are marked by flat land and a well, and maybe some flowers that have survived the generations.

The land is steeped in family history.

"That's the reason we could never leave," Jane said. "Is just the memories permeate everything."