NEWNAN – Like many others in our state, especially the northern half, I first learned about this charming and becoming community when I stopped by for lunch at Sprayberry’s Barbecue while on my way to Auburn for a football game during my undergraduate days.
While I can’t remember the final score of the game, I well remember the barbecue and Brunswick stew along with the exalted reputation that the owners—Houston and Mattie Lou Sprayberry—enjoyed.
The family has been in business for almost a century. People travel long distances just for lunch at Sprayberry’s, now run by the grandchildren. In addition to Sprayberry’s barbecue, Newnan is known as a city of beautiful homes and for being the birthplace of country music singer, Alan Jackson.
Often when he was home in Newnan, you might find Jackson at Sprayberry’s savoring down home barbecue that was as renowned as he was. Sprayberry’s was also an enduring favorite of syndicated columnist, the late Lewis Grizzard, who grew up in Moreland, seven miles south of Newnan.
There is more to Newnan than the legend of Grizzard and Alan Jackson and the memory of Sprayberry’s barbecue, however. Newnan remains a place of beautiful homes, and any local will remind you that the businesses here are beautiful, too. The courthouse square is enduringly attractive and is a reminder of the past when all small towns were identified by the courthouses and water tanks. To them, this made their town square the center of the universe.
“There is only one thing wrong with Newnan,” a local attorney, Michael Sumner, laughs. “It just needs to be a little closer to Athens on fall Saturday’s.” He and his wife, Leah, also a lawyer, are passionate Dawg fans and live in an historic home on LaGrange Street which looks like the place where Rhett Butler emerged to remind Scarlett O’Hara that their relationship was over, expressing his sentiments with that classic farewell, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
That was quite sensational for the silver screen in the fifties, the use of a four-letter word in a movie script. Today, if a screen writer doesn’t inject about three four-letter words into a sentence, he runs the risk that his work might be rejected.
As we sat in the Sumner’s cozy den by a wood burning fireplace (one of seven in their house), surrounded by antique furniture and artifacts which survived the deadly tornado of three years ago, Leah explained that their home is on the highest ground in Newnan which enabled Confederate General “Fightin’” Joe Wheeler to visualize the attack that repelled Union soldiers toward the end of the Civil War.
The town was saved, and when Sherman made his march to the sea, his forces took a more easterly route down the middle of the state. This preserved many of the stately homes which are part of the Newnan landscape and the community’s inviting personality. Newnan has a small town, even rural feel, and why not? It was home to cotton plantations in its colonial heyday.
If you wish to connect with the Atlanta sports scene, there are plenty of options for you. No one took advantage of that more than Truett Jarrard, a cardiologist who settled here in the mid-seventies and couldn’t get enough of the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks—all subordinated to his affection for his favorite team between the famous hedges of Athens.
There is an attractive golf club here, and the genial doc not only became a golfing addict, but he also built a platform tennis court in his back yard. He was inclined to stay active and fit, always “preaching what he practiced” to his patients.
As the guest of Laura Meredith of “The Newnan Book Company,” I enjoyed a recent gathering of book aficionados, which was followed by dinner with the Sumner’s at the “Cellar,” where steaks were the menu centerpiece of fine dining.
After a restful night, feeling very antebellum in the Sumner’s guest quarters, there was breakfast at “The Redneck Gourmet,” which is operated by Casey Smith who took over from his mother Cecilia. It is a popular place where the locals hang out for coffee, gossip, and small talk. One of the regulars is Otis Jones, a former UGA football letterman who is very successful in insurance, but forever keeping connected with his alma mater. For sure, he is a “Damn Good Dawg.”
Crisscross the state and you will find many such communities in Georgia—rich heritage, beautiful homes, becoming architecture, and good people. Good reason to always keep Georgia on your mind.