A.H. Stephens State Park in Crawfordville

The A.H. Stephens Historic State Park sits nestled in the remote, quiet town of Crawfordsville, GA. Named after the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, it is an unusual location for a state park. Most state parks I have visited have been out of reach of any nearby towns, but a small town surrounds the entrance of Stephens Park. When driving through the Crawfordsville, it was difficult to ignore the level of poverty that emanated from the area. Not that it felt unsafe, rather that it seems to be a town shambled and forgotten. Nearby on Park Street, there was a horse-drawn casket for a funeral and the small Sheriff station just outside of town looked like a remote outpost, its parking lot filled with older, worn down cars. Nearly every vehicle in the town seemed to be a late model 90s car, at best. As someone who grew up in an impoverished town in east Texas, it felt starkly familiar and I recognized its troubles right away. As expected in my research, Crawfordville had a estimated population of 473 as of 2020, with a median household income of $19,063. Despite this, the town seems slightly comforting and quaint. It’s likely for this reason that that there is an appeal to film movies and TV shows here. Sweet Home Alabama, Get Low, and Coward of the County were all filmed in Crawfordville. But filming fails to translate into dollars for the town. The film crews bring lodging with them in the form of trailers, because there simple aren’t enough accommodations for them in the town. Props are constructed and then taken away, so if you’re searching for something recognizable from the silver screen, other than the courthouse, you’re out of luck. At the center, North of town, sits the former estate of A. H. Stephens, the purpose of our journey here.

A.H. Stephens Statue Looking Over Crawfordville. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.

The A.H. Stephens statue overlooks Monument Street, in the distance over rolling hills you come across the County Courthouse. Behind the statue you find A.H. Stephens’ home and the Confederate Museum, a reconfigured guest house that rests on the land, known as Liberty Hall. The museum was closed when we visited, but it boasts that it contains the most Confederate artifacts found anywhere.

A.H. Stephens Statue Looking Over Crawfordville. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.

We found the Georgia State park that bears his namesake a stone’s throw up Alexander Street, that parallels the statue and museum. Though staff clearly care for and maintain the park, it lacks any enthusiasm about itself. There is a small visitors center, opportunities for geocaching, campsites for tents and RVs, cottages, pedal boat rentals, horseback riding trails, hiking, and fishing on its lake filled with murky brown water. There is a dense padding of leaves that forms the park trails, deeply accumulated through the years. I believe part of the problem here is in its location and lack of money and workforce to help glorify the park. So, with this in mind, why would I recommend a visit here? This is likely, next to Appomattox., Virginia, one of the most important sites to the Confederacy that is not a battlefield.

A.H. Stephens House. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.
A.H. Stephens Home Plaque. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.

A.H. Stephens served as the first and only Vice-President to the Confederate States of America. During his life, he was also a U.S. Congressional Representative, Governor of Georgia, and a U.S. Senator-elect. Throughout his career they identified him by two distinct nicknames: “The Sage of Liberty Hall” and “Little Aleck”. Stephens was born near Crawfordville, but orphaned by age 14. His father Andrew and stepmother Matilda died of pneumonia a few days apart from each other. He fought illness and depression for most of his life, from crippling rheumatoid arthritis and a pinched nerve in his back. Still, despite his struggles, he found immense success in political life. This was due in part to his fiery nature and ability as a rhetorician. When Stephens had something to say, people listened. Stephens graduated from Franklin College (University of Georgia) and practiced law. He served in the U.S. House of Representative from 1843-1859, under the Whig Party. During an argument regarding the Clayton Compromise, which excluded slavery in the Oregon Territory and tabled slavery to a Supreme Court decision in New Mexico and California, Judge Francis H. Cone repeatedly stabbed Stephens in a fit of rage. Physically outmatched by his opponent, he attempted to defend the attack and refused to recant his position. He returned home to Crawfordville to recover and bought Liberty Hall in 1845, which became his lasting home. Stephens rebuilt the main house in 1875, but the slave cabins and other buildings on the property are mostly in their original condition. Stephens library inside the house predates the Civil War. Stephens spent the next few years as a Constitutional Unionist, essentially an independent, and he vigorously opposed the dismantling of the Constitutional Union Party when it began crumbling in 1851. Stephens did not seek re-election to Congress in 1858. As sectional peace eroded during the next two years, Stephens became increasingly critical of Southern extremists.  

A.H. Stephens Museum. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.

Stephens owned approximately 34 slaves and several thousand acres. Despite this, Stephens was an ardent Unionist and opposed Georgia’s secession from the United States in January 1861. Once the vote passed, though, he supported his state. He represented Georgia at the Provisional Confederate Congresss in Montgomery, Alabama in February 1861 and delegates elected him Vice President of the Confederacy.1

A.H. Stephens Property Plaque. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.

During the Georgia Secession Convention, Stephens called for the South to remain loyal to the Union, calling their relationship “a leaking but fixable boat.”2

Perhaps the most important speech of Stephens’ life, was his infamous “Cornerstone Speech” given in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861. Although he was an ardent Unionist, he adamantly supported slavery. The Brooklyn Evening Star reported he defended the Confederacy in his usual clear and forcible manner, acknowledging that the new government had slavery for its foundation.3 In his speech defending the Confederate Constitution against the U.S. Constitution, he declared, “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”4 He also argued that the founders and creators of the U.S. Constitution were unjust, saying, “They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal…Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. The negro by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.”5

Stephens had a tenuous relation with Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States, and even supported his opposition, Joseph E. Brown. Throughout the administration, he opposed Davis on the suspension of habeas corpus, impressment (or forced military service), and a slew of financial and taxation policies. Disillusioned with Davis’ policies and feeling unneeded, Stephens regularly left the Confederate capital to spend extended periods away at his home in Georgia.6 In 1863, Davis sent Stephens with Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee to discuss prisoner exchanges in D.C., but the Union victory at Gettysburg resulted in the Lincoln administration refusing to receive the men for talks. On March 16, 1864, Stephens chastised the Davis administration’s failures and pressed for peace with the Union. Davis vented substantially to the rest of his cabinet members about his anger with Stephens. In February 1865, Stephens met with Abraham Lincoln on behalf of Davis to end the Civil War with diplomacy. Lincoln wanted full surrender, a term that Stephens could not accept, and so the war continued.

They apprehended him for treason against the United States in Crawfordville on May 11, 1865. After being imprisoned at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor for five months after the war, Stephens returned home and in 1866 voters in Georgia elected him as U.S. Senator from their state. The United States Congress refused to seat him, and the seat remained vacant until 1871, when they readmitted Georgia to the Union.

After losing his bid for Senate, he contributed to a U.S. history book in 1868 by Edward Pollard, “The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates.” More commonly, we refer to this as the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy”. This is the first example of written revisionist history, in which he declared that secession was legal and that there was Northern aggression.

As the period of Reconstruction carried on and appeasement gained more traction, the people of Georgia once again elected Stephens into a political position. This time as a U.S. Representative, which the United States honored. He served five years in Congress until elected Governor of Georgia in 1882. One year into his term, on March 4, 1883, Stephens died. They erected the monument at Liberty Hall in 1893, a decade after his death. A small half-wall with a green wrought-iron fence protects his gravesite on the west side of the statue.

A.H. Stephens Cemetery Gate. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.
A.H. Stephens Gravestone. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.
A.H. Stephens’ Brother Gravestone. Photo: Charles Babcock, 2021.

  1. Dale Cox, “A.H. Stephens Historic Park – Crawfordville, Georgia,” ExploreSouthernHistory.com, accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ahstephens.html.
  2. Candler, Allen Daniel (1909). The Confederate records of the State of Georgia, Volume 1. Atlanta, GA: C. P. Byrd publishing. ISBN 978-1147068887. p. 16. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  3. “27 Mar 1861, Page 2 – Brooklyn Evening Star”
  4. “”Cornerstone Speech” by Alexander Stephens in Savannah, Georgia, March 21, 1861,” IDCA, last modified January 14, 2019, https://iowaculture.gov/history/education/educator-resources/primary-source-sets/civil-war/cornerstone-speech-alexander.
  5. “Alexander Stephens on Slavery and the Confederate Constitution, 1861 | The American Yawp Reader,” The American Yawp, accessed March 5, 2021, https://www.americanyawp.com/reader/the-civil-war/alexander-stephens-on-slavery-and-the-confederate-constitution-1861/.
  6. History.com Editors, “Alexander H. Stephens,” HISTORY, last modified November 9, 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/alexander-h-stephens.

One thought on “A.H. Stephens State Park in Crawfordville

  1. Thank you for your wonderful research and photos! I am writing an article for submission to the Georgia Historical Quarterly about the history of the museum you’ve depicted and I am wondering if I might have your permission to include your 2021 “A.H. Stephens Museum” photo (giving you credit for the photo, of course)? Thanks in advance for your consideration!

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