Birdsong and Gainey homeplace featured on Historical Society tour

FIVE GENERATIONS of the Gainey family have been associated with the “Old House.”

The Grady County Historical Society’s “Tour of Grady County Gems: Homes & Heritage” will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27, and tickets are now on sale at various locations in Cairo.
Two of the featured stops on this year’s tour are the Birdsong Nature Center and the Ray and Kaye Gainey residence, which The Messenger is spotlighting this week.
In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 27 tour, The Messenger will feature the various tour stops.
Around 1830, William James Dickey, who was two years old at the time, moved with his parents, Shadrach and Susannah Dickey to southwest Georgia.
In 1851, William, the founder of Birdsong Plantation, built a one-room log structure. It is believed sometime before the Civil War the home was enlarged to a “dog trot” with two rooms with a central passage way. Some of the original building materials still exist in the current structure such as the sills of the current northwest room, the roofline and the hand-planed boards on its exterior north wall.
The home was added to again in 1911 and 1912, completing the home as it stands today.  
In 1938, Ed and Betty Komarek purchased Birdsong Plantation from the Dickey family. Today, Birdsong Nature Center is 565 acres of wildflower meadows, forests, ponds and swamps, and is home to a myriad of birds and other wildlife. The home is a working nature center complete with a large bird observation window, which was installed in 1958.
The Ray and Kaye Gainey residence, better known by the family as “The Old House,” is located about 10 miles south of Cairo between Gainey Crossing and Hadley Ferry Road. The five generations of the Gainey family associated with the home include: Cullen Gainey (1800-1875); Robert Haywood Gainey (1854-1945); Cullen Gainey (1897-1989); Wendell Gainey (1921-2003); and Ray Gainey, the great-great-grandson of the elder Cullen Gainey.
The elder Cullen came to Georgia from North Carolina and settled near Attapulgus for a few years. In 1858, he purchased the present day property from Thomas C. Holden and for a time lived in a house already on the property.
In 1865, Cullen Gainey built the present day house out of logs and hand-hewn timber, probably with assistance from his family.
Robert Haywood Gainey, one of Cullen’s sons, gained possession of the home and he and his wife, Tomzil Maxwell Gainey, raised 11 children in this home. During those years, some additions were made to the original log house. It is believed the additions were made in the early 1900s.
After the couple’s deaths, four daughters: Ollie, Mollissie, Mary and Lizzie (the sisters of the younger Cullen and third generation of the family) never married and lived in the home place.
In 1981, Wendell Gainey, Cullen Gainey’s eldest son and a member of the fourth generation of the family,  purchased the Old House site from one of the Gainey heirs. He first renovated the home in 1981 and completed the last project in 1985 when Wendell and Ila Gainey moved in following their retirement. A lot of work was done to the outbuildings, yard and the house over those years.
During the renovation, the original Old House, a 30’ x 40’ log structure, was in good condition and was left intact. Several rooms that had been added to the Old House over the years were in disrepair and were removed from the original log construction. Limestone rocks, about 30″ x 18,” used for piers under the log house when it was built were removed and replaced with a concrete footer and concrete blocks.
Amazingly, after 116 years, very little leveling had to be done on the seals under the house.
Ray’s granddaddy Cullen told him the rocks came out of Buck Creek, which is located just north of the Lower Hawthorne Trail. Today, these rocks are in the yard southwest of the house.
With the help of Clyde Lee, a new 14’ x 40’ structure and a screened walkway to join the original kitchen to the Old House were added.
During the course of the renovations, Ray Gainey restored his grandfather’s grist mill that he operated in the 1940s. The mill is a burrstone top-runner, made in Ithaca, N.Y. Today, the grist mill and mill house are located on the property near the Old House.
In 2009, another renovation began under the direction of Ray and Kaye Gainey with the goal of making the “Old House” their future home.
Ray began the renovation once again with the help of Floyd Creech, Lewis Oliver, Flint Reynolds, Gary Hobbs, Terry Davis and Buddy Hopper.
During this renovation, everything was taken down to the original 30’ x 40’ log house. Travelers’ rooms on both sides of the porch were taken off and replaced with an open front porch fitting it to the original old brick front steps.
The 6″ pine floor joists and 3″ pine pole roof rafters are still in place, just as they were when the house was built in 1865. The unpainted interior tongue and groove wall pine boards were left unpainted, but were washed and sanded during the renovation. Only the ceilings were painted to lighten the interior.
The original south bedroom of the Old House is now a dining room with a new chimney and fire place constructed from salvaged bricks. The original north bedroom is used today as a guest bedroom. Ray sawed through logs in the two original log bedroom walls to add matching windows to the original two windows on the front porch. Original pine flooring in the log house was pulled up, milled and put back in place.
Approximately 2,200 feet were added to the log house joining it to the old kitchen. The old kitchen was reworked, leaving the original foundation intact. The fire place used in the old kitchen was replaced with an exterior door. Ray’s grandfather told him a man was paid $5 plus room and board to build the fireplace and chimney for the old kitchen.
An old window of pegged construction from the original Old House was used to frame a section of logs to view in the present-day living room. The wide boards on the front and back porches are of tulip poplar that have been pressure-treated and all the porch columns, railings and picket rails are also of tulip poplar wood. Old bricks salvaged were used to underpin the house.
“Ray and I are blessed and fortunate to live at a place with so much history. A lot of time and work was put into renovating the Old House but there is no doubt, without the good Lord and our ancestors, this would not have been possible. We consider ourselves caretakers for a short time while passing through,” Kaye Gainey said.
Ray is also an accomplished furniture craftsman, and many pieces of the furniture in the Gainey home were made by him.
He has also donated a bench to the Historical Society that will be raffled to a lucky winner. Tickets will be sold the the day of the tour for $5 each and available for purchase at each tour stop. Proceeds will benefit the Historical Society.
Besides the Gainey home, tour participants will have the opportunity to tour the gardens, historic outbuildings and a large collection of antique tools and farm related items. The pump house, chicken house and stock barn will be interesting to see.
In addition to Birdsong and the Gainey residence the tour will feature the residences of Matt and Dr. Clair McCaskill, John and Shann Davis, John and Anna Marie Brown, and Mark and Patricia Williams; along with the newly renovated Brasington Place, Melrose Plantation, Bethpage United Methodist Church, and the Grady County Museum and History Center.
The tour of homes is a fundraiser for the Historical Society and the proceeds go toward the management and operation of the Grady County Museum and History Center.
Tours begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27, and conclude promptly at 4 p.m. Participants may begin their tour at any of the locations and do not have to tour them in any specific order.
Light refreshments will be served for tour participants at the museum the day of the tour.
Tickets for the tour went on sale last week for $25 each. The day of the tour tickets will be $30 each. The tickets can be purchased at the Grady County Museum and History Center, Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce, Center Drugs, Cox Pharmacy, Hester’s Insurance Agency, Miss Myrt’s, or from Yvonne Childs by calling 229-377-1275.
For more information or to order tickets call 229-377-1275.

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