Submitted by Inger Wood
The Garden of the Coastal Plain at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro has served as a botanical and historical oasis on the edge of campus for over twenty-five years. The original core of the garden’s grounds were donated by Dan and Catharine Bland (shown in the photograph below), who ran a farmstead there from when they married in 1916 until they passed away in the 1980s. The Blands were among the earliest students at what would become Georgia Southern University, and they were self-taught naturalists, keeping detailed notes and collections of the plants they cultivated and encountered in the area. They made their living on their land, and the legacy they left behind tells an important story about 20th century life in rural South Georgia.
Director Carolyn Altman and Assistant Director Robert Randolph use this unique landscape to accomplish the garden’s mission of promoting and protecting the natural and cultural history of the southeastern coastal plain. Along with 6.5 acres, the Blands left their house, barns, and several other farmstead outbuildings, all of which contribute to the interpretation of the site. The Weathervane Barn was restored several years ago, and now each stall in the barn serves as a room in the Rural Life Exhibit about the agricultural history of the region. The Oak Grove School, a restored, late nineteenth-century one-room schoolhouse originally from Tattnall County, has a new home at the Garden of the Coastal Plain, adding another component to what the garden has to offer.
The Garden of the Coastal Plain has plans to transform the Blands’ cottage into a museum about the couple, the farm they ran, and the stewardship ethic that they exemplified. Restoration of the building itself has been underway since last spring, including extensive foundation stabilization and repair, fresh paint, and the installation of new, period-appropriate metal roof and wood floors. Research has also begun, compiling materials related to the Blands and the role they played in Statesboro. Among the information discovered are records of archaeological excavations conducted at the garden by former Georgia Southern Professor Steven Hale in 1993. Professor Hale, with the help of local kids enrolled in an educational summer program, investigated the old location of Bland Cottage. Artifacts recovered in these excavations include dish fragments, window glass, nails, and harness pieces, and Professor Hale and his students also found evidence of the old well and fireplace. The records of these excavations are now part of the growing Bland Collection, and will help tell the story of Dan and Catharine Bland in the exhibits.
Visit the Garden of the Coastal Plain at Georgia Southern University here: 1505 Bland Avenue, Statesboro, GA.