Sit too close to the front and you’ll get soaked. On Saturdays an old steam engine tugs 2 open-air cars lined with wooden bench seats through the piney woods. Each time the engineer blows the whistle, a cloud of steam belches from the smokestack. It cools down, sprinkling the passengers riding behind.
The train is just one of the many attractions at Agrirama, the Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village, showing life in rural Georgia just after the Civil War. Here each exhibit has a different guide–a volunteer who has lived the local history.
Inside the 28,000 square-foot Museum of Agriculture a seasoned docent guides visitors through the main gallery. She wears a homespun dress and talks about picking cotton under a hot Georgia sun as a girl. “Y’all know that movie where Norma Rae was pickin’ cotton until her fingers bled?” she drawls, “Well, it’s not true. Y’all can’t sell cotton with blood on the lint.”
She points to an odd-looking farm tool. “Look here—y’all know what that is?” You don’t of course, so she tells you where it’s from and how it works. Over the years she’s picked cotton and plowed fields behind a mule. She knows how to barter chicken eggs for yard goods, and how to string tobacco leaves.
Around the corner your nose picks up the scent of dried tobacco. A short video in old black and white footage showing laborers in the tobacco fields, drying sheds and warehouses plays in the background. A real tobacco sled on the floor holds a stack of dried leaves. You can pick one up by the stem and take a sniff. “That’s a fine grade,”she’ll comment.
Once outside stroll down a dirt path to find yourself transported back a century. Here stands the 1887 Tift house, with its stained glass windows, silk wallpaper and hand-carved pine woodwork. You can take pictures as the guide gives the history of the man who built it, then founded the local town.
Next door to the blue Masonic Lodge, circa 1909, is the doctor’s office. Inside the guide points out an ether mask—an early form of anesthetic. Beside her are racks and cabinets full of steel probes, instruments and clamps—some of which defy description. In the corner stands a metal chair next to a foot-operated treadle that powered a scary looking dentist’s drill. A pair of hand-carved crutches rests against the wall.
The historic village at Agrirama houses over 35 structures inside a park surrounded by 1.3 miles of railroad where you can spend the day exploring life in rural Georgia circa 1870-1910. There are six separate areas to see as well as several educational programs.
Want to learn how corn is ground into meal? Visit the water-powered gristmill. You can purchase a bag of meal at the country store to take home. Strolling through the farmstead you may catch sight of a mule harnessed to a plow; a blacksmith hammering out a horseshoe at his shop, or children dripping freshly made ice cream down their arms in front of the drug store.
Georgia’s Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village in Agrirama is located at the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia. Admission is $7 for Adults, $6 for seniors (age 55+), $4 for children (5-16), ages 4 and under is free. Admission is a little higher on Saturday when the steam train runs. The park is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.
For more information, call 229-386-3344 or visit their website at www.agrirama.com.