I drove through Lakeland, Georgia, a while ago on my way to somewhere and spotted a large painting on the side of one of the buildings.
I turned off the main drag and came around the block to take another look and along the way spotted three more large murals, including one on an old gas station that has been recycled into a restaurant.
Turns out I’d landed myself smack in the middle of “Georgia’s Historic Mural City.” I spent an hour or so wandering about, reading the plaques and taking photos. There are some 30 murals in all, spread over a five-block area.
The murals are there because of local matriarch Nell Patten Roquemore, whose grandfather, Bob Patten, and father, Lawson Patten, founded what is known today as Patten Seed Company, best known today as the producer of the popular Super-Sod.
A working mother of five, Roquemore served on the city council following her retirement from the U.S. Postal Service, where she was postmaster in Lanier County from 1955 to 1968.
On a visit to Orangeburg, S.C., she noticed what appeared to be some people standing along the street. She didn’t give them a second thought until someone told her they were murals, the work of Ralph H. Waldrop, a Columbia, S.C. muralist. The idea was born.
Armed with private donations and one $10,000 state grant, Roquemore commissioned Waldrop to begin work on the Lakeland murals in 1998. All of the artwork depicts actual people and businesses around town in 1925, the year Lakeland shed its former name, Milltown.
As Roquemore, who was born in 1924, put it: “It gives me a good feeling to walk downtown and see people I knew.”
It all may seem old and dusty, but this town keeps its history project in tune with the times. There was a major restoration of all the murals just this month and that most modern of items, the QR code, is plastered liberally around town for smart phone users to find out what it’s all about.
Many more photos below. All by Ron Haines, all rights reserved.