MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Amongst all the new construction and renovations taking place on the Georgia Military College Prep School campus is a project aimed at bringing a bit of history back to the old statehouse square.
The north and south gates, along with the Old Capitol Building in their backgrounds, have long stood as well-known symbols associated with the institution originally known as Georgia Military and Agricultural College. Now GMC is in the process of adding a third gate into the mix on the campus’ west side (the Wayne Street side) where it is likely that a smaller, less ornate gate structure once stood. The in-progress gate will be similar in style though smaller than the ones that are currently situated on the campus’ north and south sides and serve as a reminder of how the historic grounds used to look.
The project is part of the ongoing renovations to GMC’s Jenkins Hall and the new annex building for the prep school.
In the 19th century when Milledgeville was Georgia’s capital and the Old Capitol Building was actually the state capitol, the building’s west entrance was the front, not the east side as it is today. That was presumably the case because whoever was serving as governor could take Washington Street three blocks right up to the capitol from his mansion on Clarke Street. Multiple accounts and a circa 1840 drawing of Milledgeville place a gate one could walk, or possibly ride a horse a buggy, through on their way up to the capitol building’s then front entrance.
Once complete, the new western gate will serve as another pedestrian entrance into the campus.
GMC historian Mauriel Joslyn, working out of the school’s Sibley Cone Library, has spent the past few days researching to learn as much information as possible about the old gate that stood well over 100 years ago.
“When the Union army came through during the Civil War, the statehouse square had a picket fence all the way around it,” Joslyn said. “So there were probably gates to the north and south just like there are now.”
That picket fence was torn down to be used as firewood and the state arsenal that stood somewhere on the north side of the square was blown up by Gen. William T. Sherman’s men when he took over the state’s capital during the Civil War. After the war during Reconstruction, Joslyn’s research told her that Georgia state engineer Col. B.W. Froebel, who is buried in Memory Hill Cemetery, was tasked with putting the state’s important resources back together.
“He’s the one who built the north and south gates (completed in 1867) from the rubble of the arsenal,” said the historian. “Over the years they’ve been maintained. The arsenal was a brick building, so he built them out of that brick, which is why they look alike.”
It remains unclear exactly what the statehouse square’s western gate looked like as well as when it was torn down, but Joslyn has found old accounts (probably from the early to mid-1900s) of people who remember the west gate and the fact that it was less ornate than its famous relatives on the north and south sides. There is also a picture of Milledgeville’s statehouse square estimated to have been drawn circa 1840 that places a small gate at the beginning of the path to the capitol building.
“It’s like being a detective,” Joslyn added. “This is about three day’s worth of digging up bits and pieces. Somebody will send me a piece of the puzzle and somebody else will give me something different, so it’s about putting them together.”
GMC VP of Engineering Jeff Gray told The Union-Recorder that no foundation for the original west gate was found during construction, but he has observed a brick wall base for the formerly standing picket fence running alongside Wayne Street. He approximates that the old gate was originally a little closer to the sidewalk than the new one currently being constructed.
“I’ve known where the wall was for the 14-plus years that I've been here,” Gray said. “There were a few places where erosion had shown some remnants, so I've actually taken a probe and found it along Wayne Street. I’ve never seen it on the other three sides because those areas have been so disturbed over the years.”
He added that the big ongoing renovation and construction opened the door for the new gate to be built.
“It just made sense when we started it to restore the gate,” Gray said.