Many of Georgia’s 56 state parks and historic sites offer a history lesson. Gen. Coffee State Park, located about 90 minutes from Hinesville on Highway 32, is like stepping into the past.
Named for Georgia militia leader and U.S. Congressman John E. Coffee (1782-1836), the park is in Coffee County. The more-than-1,500-acre park features a Heritage Farm that exemplifies the state’s agricultural history.
The park includes two log cabins, a tobacco barn, smokehouse, outhouse, corn crib, sugar-cane mill, herb garden and a 4-acre lake. Children can play with goats, sheep, pigs and a friendly — but always hungry — mule. Adults and kids under adult supervision can enjoy fishing at the lake or the Seventeen Mile River. Picnic tables near the lake make this park a perfect family weekend getaway.
Four two-bedroom cottages and the Burnham House cabin are available for park guests with advance reservations.
Cathy Cliett, a part-time clerk, said park guests have to have reservations to get through the gate to the cottages, which are separate from other park amenities. She said those interested in seeing the cottages can go to the park’s photo gallery on the state parks’ website, www.gastateparks.org, or ask to see them while visiting the park.
“The gate is kept closed for cottage guests’ privacy,” Cliett said. “The Burnham House is beautiful, by the way. It has three bedrooms and two baths ... We have three full-time park employees, including one park ranger, an assistant manager and manager.”
Cliett talked about Gen. Coffee, whom she noted was credited for building a road all the way across Georgia to help the militia move munitions into the Florida Territory during the Creek Indian War. She said part of that dirt road, still called the Old Coffee Road, runs near the park.
She said all state and national parks recently observed a free parks day. Several park rangers not assigned to Gen. Coffee State Park guided children through games played by Georgia farm kids 180 years ago. She said parents of smaller kids pushed them around the Heritage Farm in strollers, visiting the cabins or walking the trail that surrounds the lake. A boardwalk and wood pedestrian bridge the crosses part of the lake.
Guests can sit on the benches provided and watch the ducks swimming or diving for fish. A lone billy goat is captain of a tiny island in the middle of the lake. Spectators can discuss among themselves about what the goat did to be segregated from the other animals.
Recently at the park, an older man with weathered skin and friendly eyes gestured, with a callused hand, at the island’s tall grass. He suggested the single goat probably was placed there to “mow the lawn.”
Another old man paused and sniffed the air before crossing the narrow foot bridge. He stared into the water on his right and sniffed again. Then he told a young man casting his fishing line on the opposite side of the bridge to cast his line “over yonder.” He told him there was a “bream bed” there. He also suggested changing from artificial bait to a “night crawler” or cricket.
Except for making the bait change, the young man followed his instructions. He didn’t catch anything. The old man could be heard chuckling to himself as he and his wife continued strolling along the lake’s shore.
In the distance, the mule wailed, having had enough of being petted but not fed by scores of children. Soon, two roosters joined in, making it a musical trio. Some startled kids ran to their parents.
Most, however, took it as part of life on the farm in the 1830s.