Like a fairy tale cottage, the original Burge House sits surrounded by forest. Across the street from its original location, a bigger home has been erected and stands proudly on the land that has bore the Burge name since the 1830s. The original house, now a private residence, turned 200-years-old this November, celebrating a monumental anniversary in Newton County.
In 1830, 327-acres of land were purchased from the estate of Wiley Burge by Thomas Burge for $817, forming a large part of what is now known as Burge. In the 1830s or 1840s, Thomas built a home for his family on the land.
Their farm was one of the largest in the county and the family was active in the community and their church. In 1848, Mary Clark Burge, Thomas’ wife, died, leaving him with four children and a nephew to raise. Two years later he married a widowed teacher named Dolly who kept a detailed diary from 1848-1879, leaving valuable information about life on the plantation, which prospered from 1850 to 1858.
When Thomas died in 1858 his will left his estate to Dolly with the exception of slave property which he left to his children.
"Two of Thomas’ children, Rebecca and Wiley, sued Dolly, contending that she had exerted undue influence on their father, but Dolly finally won the suit in 1873," according to Burge history supplied by Betsy Morehouse, owner of the farm.
Throughout the years Dolly wrote faithfully in her diary about the start of the Civil War and the trials and tribulations faced in her day-to-day life from shortages and inflation to the loss of local soldiers and how their deaths affected their families and the community as a whole. She wrote of the Yankee soldiers that converged on Burge Plantation and the terror they felt as they watched livestock killed, crops burned and belongings looted on Nov. 19, 1864.
In 1866 Dolly married again and moved from Burge to Oxford where her new husband, a well-known Methodist minister and charter member of the board of trustees at Emory named William Parks, lived. During that time the plantation became a tenant farm with small fields operated by various tenants. Three years after her new husband died in 1872, Dolly returned to Burge once more.
"Looking at Burge’s history as we have presented it in the Burge "Story cottage" shows Burge history as much more than the story of one family, or of our noted ancestor Dolly Burge," said Morehouse. "Though our knowledge would be much the poorer without her diary, it is the story of early settlement in Newton County, slave times, Civil War, farming, tenants, sharecroppers, laborers, farm managers, neighbors, communities. We hope people looking at Burge history can also learn much about the history of our part of Georgia."
In the early 1900s Ida Morehouse, the grandchild of Dolly, purchased the shares of the plantation that had been owned by Thomas’ children for $500 each and in 1920 the original Burge house was rolled on logs across what is now Ga. Highway 142 and a new home was built in its location, the house that now is the site of many weddings and social events in Newton County. In 1930 Ida’s husband Merritt Morehouse took over the farming of the land and was able to grow the family’s farming operation.
In the 1960s the home was in the hands of John Bolton, the grandson of Ida and Merritt Morehouse. He sold the old home and his 230-acres and Burge Plantation was owned outside the family for the first time in its history. However, 860-acres of land that had belonged to Ida and Merritt was owned by Dutton Morehouse. Burge operated as a diary farm and was rented by Lewis Davis who had worked there since the 1930s, as had his father before him. The main house had caretakers, the family who lived in a cottage behind the home, and Dutton brought a group of economists to Burge once a year for a retreat. In 1970 Dutton and his wife retired to Burge Plantation. The couple’s three children were grown but in 1972 when Davis, who had ran the dairy, died, Sandy Morehouse, began getting involved in the running of the plantation.
As the years passed by, the plantation flourished and eventually grew to include row crops, hay and soybean production and a cattle operation. By 1991 the control of Burge was under Dutton’s three children and Sandy — Thomas’ great-great grandson — was actively carrying on the family tradition.
In 1995 Sandy and Betsy retired and moved from Atlanta to Burge, and after purchasing land owned by his sister and brother, Burge once more had a single owner. In 2000 the plantation was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and this year the farm was declared Georgia Centennial Heritage Farm.
"It’s a wonderful experience [to immerse yourself in family history] because you grow to know the people and enrich your own understanding of the past by sharing and appreciating their lives," explained Morehouse. "The history of Burge includes and reflects the history of our local communities, families, agriculture, daily life, conflicts in this part of Georgia so in some way it is the history of all of us, and to lose it would be much more than simply the loss of Burge’s past."