In Search of Margaret Mitchell’s Tara

In Search of Margaret Mitchell’s Tara

Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind from an Atlanta apartment she called “the dump.”

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By SHERRI SMITH BROWN

Margaret Mitchell may have written her Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gone With the Wind from a small first-floor apartment at 10th and Peachtree streets in Atlanta, but the story was born from the red clay backroads that once wound mostly through Georgia’s Clayton and Fayette counties.

So why not hit the backroads and take a trip in search of Margaret, Scarlett, Rhett and that illusive Tara? Allow two days for visiting the sites below—one day in Atlanta and one day in Clayton and Fayette counties. After that, you will have a good sense of Margaret Mitchell, the land and the events from which she pulled to create characters and a place that are household words.

The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum
She called it “the dump,” but the bottom floor Apartment #1, where she and husband John Marsh lived from 1925-1932, was the place Margaret Mitchell penned most of her famous novel. It’s said the stack of papers that became the 1,037-page tome stood five-feet tall, once it was retrieved from under the bed and from every corner and closet in the tiny apartment. Published by Macmillan Publishing Company of New York on June 30, 1936, the book weighed nearly 3lbs and retailed for $3.00. Today, a first edition autographed by Mitchell would bring as much as $25,000.

Docent-led tours take guests through the apartment, which, during the Marsh’s stay, was known as the literary salon of bohemian Atlanta, with aspiring writers and journalists meeting there frequently. Archival exhibits in the visitor center tell the story of Mitchell before and after writing Gone With the Wind. The Movie Museum displays items from the actual movie set: Tara’s Palladian-style front door and the famous portrait of Scarlett that hung in the Butler home, marred by a liquor stain from a drink that Rhett Butler threw at it in a jealous rage.

Atlanta Cyclorama
The Atlanta Cyclorama is one of the best places to learn about the Battle of Atlanta, which Mitchell wrote about in her book. Located in Grant Park next to Zoo Atlanta, the Cyclorama is a circular panoramic painting that tells the story of the July 1864 battle. Completed in 1886, the Cyclorama is said to be the largest oil painting in the world.

After actor Clark Gable viewed the Cyclorama during the premier of “Gone With the Wind” in Atlanta in 1939, artists added Gable’s features to one of the Confederate soldier sculptures in the three-dimensional diorama in front of the painting.

Before viewing the painting, visitors are treated to an excellent film about the Atlanta Campaign narrated by James Earl Jones.

Historic Oakland Cemetery
On August 11, 1949, Margaret Mitchell was crossing the intersection of Peachtree and 13th streets, just a few blocks from “the dump,” when a taxi driven by an off-duty driver struck her. Five days later, the 49-year-old author died. She is buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery in the Mitchell family plot. John Marsh was buried beside her when he died of a heart attack in his sleep three years later.

A self-guided walking tour map of the cemetery with the location of Mitchell’s grave, as well as other well-known Atlantans, can be purchased at the Visitor Center/Museum for $3. There is no admission charge to the cemetery.

Road to Tara Museum
The Battle of Jonesboro plays a prominent part in Gone With the Wind, and Margaret Mitchell would have visited Jonesboro frequently as a girl and during her writing, as her maternal grandparents, the Fitzgeralds, owned a cotton plantation along the Clayton County side of the Flint River. At this museum, located in the Jonesboro train depot, there are exhibits on the Battle of Jonesboro, the Atlanta Campaign and Mitchell’s life, including her ties to Clayton County.

Gone With the Wind has sold 30 million copies worldwide since its release in 1936 and still sells about 250,000 copies a year; and it has been published in 42 countries and translated into 38 languages. The movie won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1939; the American Film Institute (AFI) named it 4th in the top 100 American films of the 20th Century; and, as of 2006, with adjustments made for inflation, it is the highest grossing film in box-office history.

The Museum houses much of the very significant movie and book memorabilia owned by collector and Sharpsburg resident Herb Bridges, including autographed photographs of the actors, original theater posters, original designer prints, rare books, manuscripts and foreign editions, as well as the original overcoat Clark Gable wore in his final “Frankly, my Dear, I don’t give a damn” scene—voted in an AFI poll as the most memorable line in cinema history.

Stately Oaks
Searching for Tara can be quite entertaining, but actually visiting Tara is not a possibility.

However—if you would like to walk through a period furnished antebellum home in Tara country, try the beautifully restored Stately Oaks in Jonesboro. This circa 1839 plain Greek revival plantation house once stood more in the vicinity of Tara Boulevard but was moved to its present location in 1972 by Historic Jonesboro. The home’s original log cookhouse and other outbuildings are also on the grounds, as well as the 1894 Juddy’s Country Store, which is now a gift shop, and the county’s last one-room schoolhouse, the Bethel School.

Costumed docents lead tours of the main house, telling stories about the families who have occupied it and explaining customs of the antebellum and Victorian era rural South.

Rural Home
According to letters written by Margaret Mitchell as well as her description in the book, Tara was not the white-columned mansion depicted in the movie. Instead, it was inspired by the plantation home in Clayton County owned by her mother’s family, the Fitzgeralds. The comfortable, very plain pine board homestead called Rural Home is long since gone from where it once stood, but if you want to get a feel for where Mitchell placed the O’Hara plantation when writing the novel, drive along Tara Road in Clayton County. Be aware that all of this property is now developed with subdivisions and private homes—this is a driving tour only.

From Jonesboro, go south on Tara Boulevard (Highway 19/41) to Tara Road (approximately 3 miles past the intersection of Highways 19/41 and 54). Turn right and travel about 1.5 miles to where Folsom Road dead-ends into Tara Road on the left. You are now at the heart of what was once Mitchell’s ancestral home. The Fitzgerald plantation house itself once stood on the left. This was the place where Mitchell spent her childhood summers. Drive another mile to Fitzgerald Road on the right. It’s believed that Mitchell actually imagined Tara on this raised hill when she was writing the book. Continue on Tara Road until it dead-ends into McDonough Road a half mile later. Turn left and head to Fayetteville.

Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum
Fayetteville historian John Lynch likes to say that it was just a twist of fate that the taxes owed on Tara says Clayton County rather than Fayette. In 1858, the Georgia State legislature made the Flint River the boundary between the two counties. Until then, the Fitzgerald plantation Rural Home, which lay on the east side of the Flint River, had been part of Fayette, rather than Clayton County. The Fitzgeralds, however, had been early settlers of Fayetteville, and they and their kin remained prominent people in Fayette County.

In Fayetteville, stop at the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum. This is where you will really begin to make connections between Mitchell, the places she knew and the characters and happenings she created in Gone With the Wind. John Stiles Holliday, a prominent Fayetteville physician and the uncle of the infamous John Henry “Doc” Holliday, who was Margaret Mitchell’s cousin, built the Greek Revival home in 1855. Annie Fitzgerald, Mitchell’s grandmother, attended the Fayetteville Female Academy (which Scarlett attended in the book) and stayed in the house when it was used as a dormitory for students. An exhibit inside the house tells the story of another Mitchell cousin, Martha Anne “Mattie” Holliday, who was in love with Doc, and who is believed to be the inspiration for Mitchell’s Melanie Hamilton character.

Mitchell is known to have made frequent trips to Fayetteville before and after her book’s publication. She donated money and books to start the Fayetteville Margaret Mitchell Library, which has since become the Fayette County Library. If you have a chance to talk to house manager John Lynch, take advantage of it. He is a wealth of historical information and can also direct you to the historic cemetery where the Fitzgeralds are buried.

The Fayetteville Historic Cemetery
Margaret Mitchell’s maternal ancestors are buried in this historic 1823 in-town cemetery a block behind the Holliday House. Mitchell’s great-grandfather, Phillip Fitzgerald, was Irish and known to be feisty with a penchant for riding and liquor—much like Scarlett’s father Gerald O’Hara.

The Fitzgerald family plot is located toward the backside of the cemetery. If you go through the main gate, along Highway 54, go straight down the cemetery road. The large family plot, surrounded by a short (two-to-three-foot) wall, is on the left just before the road curves to the left. Members of the Holliday family are also buried in the family plot.

The times about which Margaret Mitchell wrote are, thankfully, gone with the wind; but the characters and places she created based on the fabric of her own life will long be a fascinating study, not to mention, a good adventure—one that is intrinsically tied with the land around Clayton and Fayette counties.

VIEW INTERACTIVE MAP Take a Do-It-Yourself Tour of Margaret Mitchell's Atlanta and environs. 

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Photo Gallery

Margaret Mitchell’s Tara

Margaret Mitchell may have written her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from a small, first-floor apartment at 10th and Peachtree streets in Atlanta, but the story was born from the red clay backroads that once wound mostly through Clayton and Fayette counties. Browse the photo gallery below to see some of the places in Atlanta, Jonesboro and Fayetteville that tell the story of Margaret Mitchell and Gone With the Wind.

For more about Mitchell and Gone With the Wind, see the Brown's Guide blogs: In Search of Margaret Mitchell's Tara, Tara, Margaret Mitchell and the Flint River, and Where Was Margaret Mitchell's Tara, Really?

Click any image to start slideshow

  • Margaret Mitchell
  • Mitchell Dances at the Georgian Terrace
  • Margaret Mitchell House
  • Mitchell at her Desk in her Apartment
  • Mitchell's Original Wooden Desk
  • Mitchell's Original 1923 Remington Typewriter
  • Loew's Grand Premier
  • Scarlett and Rhett After Atlanta Burns
  • Schoolhouse Chimney from Rural Home
  • Schoolhouse Chimney Plaque
  • Fitzgerald Family Graves
  • Stately Oaks House
  • Stately Oaks White Columns
  • Scarlett at Tara in Gone With the Wind
  • Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler
  • Road to Tara Display
  • Scarlett's Twelve Oaks Dress
  • Road to Tara Movie Souvenirs
  • Mitchell's Burial Plot at Oakland

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Debbie Lapeyrouse says:

I am distantly related to Margaret Mitchell through her connection to John Newton Gambrell Sr. and Barbara Bruton Gambrell.  This delighted me to discover, because I’ve always been a huge fan!  Anyway, I can’t find any genealogical records that I can trace her back to our common ancestors.  Help?  Thanks!

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