Back on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, a meeting of the Georgia Humanities board of directors took me to Watkinsville, Georgia — about an hour and a half east of Emory. As the county seat of Oconee County, Watkinsville has a small but bustling downtown and a thriving arts scene, anchored by the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, which itself is worth the trip.
Most interesting to me, though, was the boyhood home of 19th-century Emory president Atticus Greene Haygood. I stopped to see it on the way out of town at the end of the day.
Born in the house in 1839, Atticus Haygood had a sickly childhood and suffered from epilepsy. Consequently he spent many hours indoors reading precociously and taking early to the likes of Lord Byron, Thomas Carlyle, and Walter Scott–stretching his imagination and honing a facility with the written word that would later make him a compelling preacher and author.
While his father, Greene Haygood, was a busy lawyer, Atticus’s maternal grandfather was a Methodist minister in the town, and the Haygood home was a way station for many visiting preachers. One of these, quoted by Haygood’s biographer Harold Mann 47Ox 49C 51G, recalled the “old-time, two-story house, built for room and convenience” on “a beautiful level site, with twenty-six varieties of fruit and forest trees . . ., a well of good water and a dry well in which to keep milk cool.”
The Haygood home was governed by a deep, Methodist religiosity, and with a preacher grandfather and clergy coming and going, Atticus naturally was drawn to preaching himself. Legend has it that the large rock fifty yards behind the house, overlooking a small stream, served as his first pulpit. It has thus come to be known as Pulpit Rock.
It stands about four feet high from base to summit, and one can easily imagine childhood friends and younger siblings pressed into service as a congregation.
Today the house is home to the Chappelle Gallery and Happy Valley Pottery. A trail alongside the gallery’s property leads past Pulpit Rock to a six-acre public park named Watkinsville Woods. If you can’t get there in person, check it out on Facebook.