CVHS hosts presentation about Newnan history

Published 8:30 am Saturday, July 22, 2023

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The Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society (CVHS) will have its quarterly program at 3 p.m. EDT (2 Central) on Sunday, July 23rd. It will be a virtual presentation via ZOOM. The program’s focus will be the McRitchie-Hollis Home in Newnan, Georgia and the museum it houses. For the past 10 years, this 1937 Neoclassical house has been the home base and a museum for Newnan and Coweta County.

Larisa Scott, the executive director of the Newnan-Coweta County Historical Society, will be the presenter. She will discuss the future of the museum and other services of the Newnan-Coweta County Historical Society.

A nonprofit organization, the NCCHS is more than 50 years old. The museum was originally housed in the Male Academy Museum but is now in the McRitchie-Hollis Home.

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Located near downtown Newnan, the museum is undergoing a major transformation. The building was once the home of Ellis and Mildred Peniston, a prominent mill family. It later became an office for the local hospital auxiliary before becoming a museum. It still houses many of the Peniston’s original belongings. The family’s kitchen has been preserved in its original state.

Many relics from Newnan itself are on display. In the Peniston’s former dining room one can find some preserved wooden blocks that once lined the streets of Newnan’s picturesque Courthouse Square. In the adjacent room, one can find the museum’s “meet the locals” exhibit featuring local Newman-born figures such as country music legend Allen Jackson. There’s also an exhibit on the infamous “Murder in Coweta County” court case, which was tried in the Newnan courthouse.

This 1948 trial involved wealthy Meriwether County landowner John Wallace, who was convicted of murdering a white man he’d employed on his 2,000 acre farm. The sworn testimony of two of Wallace’s black laborers were critical to the jury rendering a guilty verdict. The story was memorialized in a 1976 book written by Margaret Anne Barnes and in a 1983 TV movie starring Andy Griffith as John Wallace, Johnny Cash as Coweta County Sheriff Lamar Potts and June Carter Cash as Mayhayley Lancaster, the Heard County lawyer, political activist, midwife and legendary fortune teller.

In another room there’s an exhibit on one of Newnan’s most notable residents, former Georgia Governor Ellis G. Arnall. The portion of I-85 that goes through Newnan toward Atlanta is named in his memory. Elected in 1943, Arnall was notable during his day for his opposition to the poll tax, white supremacy and the prominence and influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Ardent conservatives of the day reviled him as “a traitor to the white race.”

His being opposed to this cost him dearly politically. In 1947 he lost his reelection bid to Eugene Talmadge. Interestingly enough, Talmadge died soon after the election, igniting the “three governors” controversy. It was finally determined that Lieutenant Governor Melvin E. Thompson would serve as acting governor until another governor election could occur in 1948. Herman Talmadge (Eugene’s son) would win that race.

“Our presenter, Ms. Scott, is a Georgia native and a Newnan resident for 25 years,” said program moderator Charles Powers. “She is very passionate about history, storytelling, education and preservation. She looks forward to sharing the history of the NCCHS, the museum, and future plans for it. Join us for this informative and interesting program this coming Sunday afternoon.”

To attend this virtual meeting, email before noon on Sunday, July 23. You will then be sent the Zoom link with instructions on how to join the meeting.