This is Native American architecture, too!

Construction began on the Indian Springs Inn (later “hotel”) around 1821. It was designed, built and initially owned by citizens of the Creek Nation. The inn was definitely in operation during 1825.


by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

The Conchakee-Creek town of Cartacay, near present day Ellijay, GA

When traders from Charleston first started entering what is now northern Georgia and the area around present-day Columbus, GA on the Chattahoochee River in the early 1680s, they immediately noticed indigenous towns, where most of the buildings were sheaved with vertical board siding. The boards had been split from large hemlock or long leaf pine* logs, not sawn. The boards were fastened to the timber frame with ropes. The rope holes were sealed with pine tar.

*For unknown reasons, vast stands of Long Leaf Pines were growing in the Appalachian Valley of NW Georgia and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, when Anglo-American settlers arrived, Most were quickly cut down to build long–lasting houses and barns, but since the Long Leaf Pine is dependent on regular brush fires for the seeds to sprout, this species is gone from the Shenandoah Valley, but is beginning to make a comeback near Rome, GA.

These houses were roofed with split-cedar, split-cypress, split-hemlock or bark shingles . . . also fastened to the timber frames with rope. The towns also contained winter houses (choko from the Itza word for warm) which had thick wattle and daub walls.

It is not known whether the warm-weather vertical board houses were a Pre-Columbian indigenous tradition, or were inspired by European settlers. They were very similar to the houses built by the Northwest Pacific Coast tribes . . . but also, it is well documented that Sephardic Jewish, French and Dutch gold miners lived in this region during the 1600s.

The Georgia – Texas Connection

As part of the requirements for graduation with a degree in Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech, my sister had to work one summer in career-related employment. Her job was in Marshall, Texas . . . which is in the eastern part of the Lone Star State. She had a wonderful time, but came back puzzled as to why Marshall and other older towns in eastern Texas looked like the historic cities and towns in West Georgia. Their counterparts in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama did not.

The answer to this mystery would come years later. Former Director of the National Museum of American History and the National Park Service, Roger Kennedy, hired me in the spring of 2010 to be his research assistant for what would prove to be his last book, Greek Revival America. He also asked me to photograph early Greek Revival Style buildings in Northwest and West Georgia. I had actually worked on some of them.

In his initial research, Roger also had recognized that the Greek Revival Style had initially jumped from Georgia to East Texas . . . even before Texas won independence from Mexico. What is even more odd is that some of the leaders of the breakaway Republic of Yucatan in Mexico, had also built Greek Revival Style houses in Merida, Yucatan. It was quite a mystery for us to unravel.

Then I remembered the 1997 TV series, “True Women.” The plot was initially focused on the mixed-blood Creek children and grand-children of United States Indian agent, Benjamin Hawkins. Most of them eventually moved to East Texas or Louisiana. I recalled that they had originally lived in Greek Revival houses in Georgia. Yes, indeed.

In the meantime, Roger made another astonishing discovery. General Andrew Jackson had hired four agronomists to examine the suitability for cotton cultivation of all soils in the territory of the Creek and Cherokee Nations PRIOR to leading an army from Tennessee to fight the Red Stick Creeks in Alabama! This is the reason that most of the land stolen from the Creek Nation at the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814 was land occupied by his pro-United States Creek allies! The excuse was that they were being punished for allowing the Red Sticks to rebel against the Creek Tribal Government.

A second discovery by Roger was that these agronomists had determined that all land in northwest Georgia in the Cherokee Nation below 1000 feet in elevation was suitable for cotton cultivation. Even though the Cherokees had furnished a large number of soldiers to fight the Red Sticks AND they had saved Jackson’s life on two occasions, Jackson fully intended in 1814 to betray his Cherokee allies, also. The public is never told that the Cherokees were first offered a deal in which if they ceded all of the cotton growing lands in Georgia, they could stay in the east on their remaining lands in Alabama. The Cherokee leadership declined, assuming that their supporters in the Northeast would protect them.

This is what we eventually figured out concerning Greek Revival jumping from Georgia to Texas. Most people don’t know that one of the first Greek Revival houses in the United States was the home of Cherokee leader, James Vann, in Spring Place, GA at the foot of Fort Mountain. It was constructed in 1805 by Moravian craftsmen and Cherokee laborers. The architecture of the Vann House was derived from Drayton Hall (c. 1736) which was Georgian style architecture. However, the interpretation of Drayton Hall in the Northwest Georgia Mountains ended up being a pioneer of Greek Revival.

When culturally-assimilated Creek families in western and central Georgia began to prosper, they looked to the Vann House as the appropriate architectural style to announce their affluence. Most could not afford brick walls, but by using wood, they were able to afford scaled-down wood-sided interpretations of the the Vann House and wooden facsimile’s of Greek temple cornices. Southern Greek Revival was born.

Since the founding of Savannah in 1733, the Creek Indian intelligentsia in Georgia had generally been treated as equals by European settlers and frequently intermarried with them. Even though the Georgia Creeks provided two regiments to the United States during the War of 1812 . . . one to fight the British and another to fight the Red Stick Creeks in Alabama . . . things started getting sour fast in the 1820s. White planters and wannabe cotton planters were greedy for the prime bottomland fields that Georgia Creeks had established their European style farms on.

Middle and Upper Class Creek families in Georgia had assumed that even if the poorer Creek families were forced into Alabama, their special status was assured. Even the Governor of Georgia had first cousins, aunts and uncles, who were Creek. However, the trashier elements of white society began using vile tactics in West Georgia to make life unpleasant for the Creek elite. You will see them in the TV series, “True Women.” They included the ravaging and hanging of pretty Creek teenage girls. From an earlier part of this series, readers may recall that this was the fate of a great-aunt of mine in the early 1900s.

The Georgia Creek intelligentsia were Christians (mostly traditional Eastern Creek Christianity and Methodists) while the Creek traditionalists in Alabama had adopted elements of Shawnee animism, which involved sorcery. The leaders of the Alabama Creeks were mostly former Red Sticks. There was bad blood between the two former enemies. Although Creeks in remote valleys of West Georgia often figured out a way to stay put, those in more accessible regions had to leave. However, they were between a rock and a hard place.

Then, in 1824, Mexico adopted a democratic constitution modeled after that of the United States. Residents of the United States, especially educated Southeastern Native Americans, were offered large tracts of land in Tejas, Coahuila Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas States. Traditionalist bands of Creeks and Cherokees settled in Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, where some of their descendants still live today. The West Georgia Creeks headed to eastern Tejas and western Louisiana, which contained soils ideal for the cultivation of cotton. There were also French-speaking Creek communities living there, which had left Alabama in 1763, Mixed-blood Creek families, wearing European clothes, would have no problem blending in and would teach their new neighbors cotton farming and the new Greek Revival Style.

They were followed by hundreds of their white neighbors. Georgians died in the Alamo and composed the entire regiment commanded by Colonel James Fannin that was massacred at Goliad, Texas. In the coming decades, thousands more Georgians, mostly young, landless couples, would migrate to Texas. Captain William Hardee, from Georgia, was second in command of a troop of U.S. Army Dragoons, which was ambushed on April 25, 1846 near the Rio Grande River . . . thus triggering the Mexican-American War. Although becoming a famous Confederate general, prior to the Civil War, prior to the Civil War, he wrote Hardee’s Tactics, which was the training manual used by both sides in the war.

Why did Greek Revival architecture appear in Merida, Yucatan shortly after it appeared in Texas? This is something else that I learned from Roger Kennedy. Did you know that the Texas and Yucatan rebelled against the tyranny of General Santa Ana at the same time? A group of “liberals” in Yucatan formed a Masonic Lodge as a means of connecting with kindred souls in the United States. This eventually led to a rebellion and then Yucatan forming a confederacy with Texas. While visiting Texas, the Yucateca delegation saw some Greek Revival houses. Since Thomas Jefferson had also been fond of Greek architecture, the Mexican heroes thought that it would be an appropriate architectural style to symbolize democracy coming to Mexico. Now you know!

Cherokee men built this Federal-style school building in 1836. (Yes, really!) They even made the bricks. Lafayette, GA, is located near Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was the Architect for its restoration.

An improbable reconnection

Had not Roger Kennedy supported me financially during much of 2010, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article today. In fact, I don’t know what would have happened to me. We were never more than acquaintances and he hadn’t see or heard from me in 15 years, when he telephoned my home in Jasper, GA on the night of December 18, 2009 to see if I was interested in doing research for him. Neither of us knew that I would be getting an eviction notice on December 21, which said that I must remove myself and all my belongings out of the house by Christmas Eve. I had a letter in my possession stating the amount that I needed to have in the bank for closing on a Fannie Mae mitigation loan in mid-January 2010! Somehow, Roger found me again, while I was camped out in the Smoky Mountains during April 2010.

The first thing Roger said in December was, “Is this Richard Thornton the Architect, who had the brilliant French girlfriend in Virginia? Yep, for the first three years, that I knew Roger, he couldn’t remember my name, but remembered the name of the French actress that we both met for the first time at a Smithsonian Institute staff Christmas party. Totally enchanted with Vivi, Roger discussed early European history with her until his wife, Francis, suggested that he needed to let Vivi return to her boyfriend. (moi)

Even two years later, after Roger had appointed me to the Citizens Advisory Council of the American Battlefield Protection Program in March 1993 and then nominated me to be Architect of the National Capitol in late April 1993, he still couldn’t associate my name with my face. Jay Monahan, Katie Couric’s late husband, and I sat beside Roger and Francis at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Roger obviously couldn’t remember my name, but blurted out, “How’s Vivi? Did you ever marry that brainy and beautiful French actress?”

Jay was stunned. First of all, he didn’t know that I had finally said yes to my estranged wife’s requests for a divorce so she could be with her paramour of seven years . . . then couldn’t imagine me being with any woman other than a organic farmer, tree hugger or hippie artist. He did have the sense to subtly give Roger my first name.

My estranged wife never gave me the letter about the Architect of the National Capitol nomination, thinking that the salary would enable me to hire Jay’s law firm for the divorce hearings. She told the National Park Service that I had suddenly disappeared without warning, yet she had never filed a missing persons notice. This caused both Roger and Vivi to think that I had been murdered.

I would not be in another situation, where Roger and I could have a conversation until July 1995 after I had become Principal Planner of Cobb County, GA. I was in Roger’s office to discuss a grant that we had been awarded to restore an eleven mile long line of Civil War fortifications. This was also the last time that I ever saw him in person.

Again, the first thing he asked was “Did you ever marry Vivi? She worshiped the ground that you walked on.” No I never saw Vivi again after March 1993, but had she not she always been on Roger’s mind, I don’t think that he would have remembered me in 2010 and you would not have learned that “Southern ” Greek Revival houses were a Native American invention!

Life is indeed, stranger than fiction

. . . but the book and movie True Women were not fiction either.


  1. For a murder victim, you are surprisingly healthy LOL. A shame the Southern Greek Revival was replaced by Victorian, yet, Victorian has it’s flare, too; a brightness amid the garish. And, I need to watch the series, much thanks! niio

    Liked by 2 people

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