The Bluff

The Marshallville Chronicles…

(Vingette from “119,” in remembrance of J. T. ‘Mac’ McElheny, Sr. of Marshallville, GA)

Photo date: 1976

Photo date: 1976                                                                                                                                        The Bluff at Bryant Hill:  It overlooks an expansive clay canyon etched by the prehistoric, erosive actions of the Flint, its colorfully striated embankments extending down into the river swamps.

… Past the little branch that runs to the Flint River, the paved highway curves toward Indian Lake and becomes Vinings Road, while the dirt road continues and begins to climb. Tom parked the car a ways beyond the curve, and the two brothers left it to navigate the ditch that separates the pavement from the eastern edge of the escarpment. Colloquially known as “the Bluff at Bryant Hill,” it overlooks an expansive clay canyon etched by the prehistoric, erosive action of the Flint. Its colorfully striated embankments extend all the way to the river swamps.

Climbing down the ridge, they reached the site where the dilapidated structure formerly known as the Stage Coach Inn had stood for years amid dying oaks. Built by a man named Nathan Bryan along the old highway in 1810 as a stylish carriage roadhouse, the story-and-a-half dwelling, with its front and back lean-tos and rustic timbers, also housed the first ‘bank’ in the state of Georgia. Later, it was used as a private residence, long since abandoned, and eventually destroyed by fire, but during Tom’s youth, it loomed over the escarpment like a wooden mausoleum.

The house, called the “Bryan Place,” always seemed hostile in Tom’s mind, as hostile as the house off Old Perry Road where the angry dogs lived under the porch, yet the bluff, itself, was anything but. The bluff was a sacred portal, a magical transport to endless hours of adventure and exploration, a place where dads were guardians. No mothers ever went there. The canyon’s gentle slopes up from the swamps were for climbing, and jumping, and expending boundless amounts of energy, imagination, freedom. It was the farthest point west that a boy could reach on a bike, and the hike to the mill pond below served to extend the journey into the impossible, the place beyond bicycles, still attainable, heretofore, when fathers took sons hunting.

Photo: 1976

Photo: 1976

But while the house was never the main attraction for young Tom, it did add atmosphere. Thrill seekers from the three surrounding counties ventured there amid rumors that the once-elegant inn was haunted. Indeed, a bullet hole in the large upstairs room remained as evidence that a murder had taken place.

Subsequently, every child in Marshallville knew it as the quintessential haunted house. Proof of the haunting, “House on Haunted Hill ain’t got nothing on Bryant Hill!” was proclaimed on the school bus in 1960. It was proclaimed on the afternoon Mac told the kids to get into the car, and drove them there on an expedition. When someone suggested they explore the house, Mac led the way inside to the central staircase.

Photo credit: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Ward Dennis, Photographer - June, 21st, 1936 VIEW OF GABLE END AND FRONT - Marshallville, Macon County, GA

Photo credit: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Ward Dennis, Photographer – June, 21st, 1936
VIEW OF GABLE END AND FRONT – Marshallville, Macon County, GA

“Now, when you get up there,” he instructed, “look way high in the corner and see if you can’t find the hole in the wall where the bullet went after it went clean through that woman’s head.”

Without question, the children carefully navigated the stair steps. The second floor was a large room intersected by the enclosed central stairwell whose walls extended all the way to the ceiling. It served to separate the room into quadrants, each with its own narrow window. The interior seemed almost gallery-like, as Tom, Nancy and their friends circled around it looking for the right high corner. Just as they were inspecting the darkest, there was a “creeeek” on the stairs. No doubt, it was Mac heading up to help with the search, so they resumed their investigation, and had located what they thought was the notorious ‘hole,’ when the “creeeeking” sounded, again. This time they waited, but Mac didn’t appear. After several ominous “squeaks,” Tom alone peered down the stairwell.

“Dad?” he called. There was no answer. Tom turned to relay an expression of puzzlement to the others who were frozen and listening. When he turned to look again, Mac was on the top step peering down at him, his head shrouded in shadow. Tom shrieked and fell backward. Terrified, the children scattered. Mac followed them down the stairs, and did his best to reassure them it was all in fun. Only when they regrouped outside, did they learn that Nancy had bailed out of one of the windows into a brier bush.

On the way home in the car, everyone had a good laugh, and for years to come they laughed. The episode remained in Tom’s memory as one of the funniest, and scariest of those times his father had caught them off guard, as he was apt to do since they were little, playing hide and seek. Mac never told them how he was able to duck behind the wall each time after hitting the bottom step, and bolt up the stairs without a sound, but nobody was in a hurry to explore the house again — the precise outcome Tom’s father had intended. Mac was a skillful guardian.The Bluff View West Toward The Flint

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Copyright 2015 – 2021, Real Spooks – Cynthia Farr Kinkel

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8 thoughts on “The Bluff

  1. That really had me spellbound! It sounds like your Dad was a lot of fun and really had the knack to scare the bajeezies, a Donna word, out of you! Enjoyed reading the story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it. Apparently, Tom’s dad also knew how to steer his children away from danger without dampening their sense of adventure. Thanks for reading and for commenting!

      CK 🙂

      Like

  2. Not sure if this is still an active blog so I don’t know if anyone will actually see my comment. I found you totally by accident when my eye caught the name of Nathan Bryan. He was my Great-great-great Grandfather and I have been searching high and low for a picture of his famous house. My mother was born and raised in Marshallville and I was wondering if there was book or journal that could be purchased? I would love to give her something to read but she does not have a computer. Neither is she internet savvy. She was born in 1931 so I’m thinking some of this stuff might set off some bells in her own memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cindy! (Yes, this blog is active, LOL!)

      Glad to hear from you, and to know about your relationship to Nathan Bryan.

      To my knowledge there are no books or journals, but there are websites with information and photographs about Marshallville, and if you use one of the social networking sites like Facebook, there are several ‘groups’ related to Marshallville (school) Classes and the Flint River Ferry. Many photographs are posted on those group pages.

      I know how difficult it can be for some of our elderly folks to adjust to today’s technology. If you have a laptop, perhaps, you could grab a few photographs and print them out for her. ? Just a thought.

      Thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

      🙂

      Like

      • Thank you for your response. I love Bryan history. Not sure if you know the reason the old homestead built by Nathan Bryan was known as the first bank?

        It was because people would borrow money from him, and write him an IOU that he would keep in a leather chest. When they paid him back, he would give them back their note. Here is a picture of my daughter in 1997 standing next to Nathan Bryan’s famous leather chest.

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

        Liked by 1 person

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