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Woman restoring grandfather’s dream

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It’s only a few miles from the busy Bobby Jones Expressway corridor, but in many ways, it seems like Catherine “Sweetie” Fleming’s Blythe family homestead is leagues away from any smattering of bustling life in the 21st century.

Dozens of varieties of trees and shrubs dot the 55-acre landscape. The temperatures are cooler and according to Fleming, visitors feel a peaceful atmosphere as soon as they step onto the land.

“It’s like taking a mini vacation,” said Fleming who is restoring the property that once belonged to her grandparents. “It’s only 20 minutes outside of Augusta, but it feels like it’s far away.”

When Fleming’s grandfather, Alonzo Plumb “Lonnie” Boardman Sr. sold his south Augusta oasis on Boardman Lake to the government for Fort Gordon’s new home in the 1950s, he didn’t want to give up on a rural getaway so close to Augusta.

He went just outside the Army’s boundaries of the military installation. In 1958, he purchased land in what was once known as Bath, Ga., a tiny dot on the map that only exists in history books and a few places such as the name of the Bath Presbyterian Church and Fleming’s Bath Gardens. The site borders Fort Gordon.

Bath, Ga. was once a getaway for those living in Richmond and Burke counties. About 18 summer homes were built there. People would come take a dip in the natural spring water during the hot summer days, Fleming said.

Inside one of the buildings at Bath Gardens. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Guests to the old “Bath House” could jump into the brisk waters for a quarter; men were on one side with the women on the other.

When Boardman purchased the property, he found a jungle that he intended on taming and turning into a setting reminiscent of the Austrian villages he’d visited on his travels.

A marshy area in the jungle led him to create an underground labyrinth of pipes to channel the water into a pool.

“It was a total swamp. There was so much water in the valley,” she said.

Boardman thought taming the land would take six months. It took him six years instead.

“He loved the natural beauty,” she said.

And it got the attention of newspapers and other publications of the day once it was finished.

He built a few structures on the site. One is a cottage that her grandparents lived in. Fleming also stays there. Another is a lodge that although it’s only 60 years old, it seems as though it was built much earlier. Inside the lodge are antiques that lend to that mystique.

One of several bells located at Catherine Fleming’s family homestead in Blythe. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Other buildings on the property include some storage buildings and an apartment.

Boardman also had a fascination with bells — not handbells but large ones.

According to a publication on Augusta’s bells written by Rudy Volkmann, Boardman had nine bells on the property. Four of them were mounted, while five were stored. Volkmann said that one bell called “Big John” is surmised to have come from the Dublin City Hall in Dublin, Ga. while the other was from the old Augusta courthouse. He’s unsure of the origins of the other bells, but he believes some of them were once church bells.

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/nEPhP5QhVMI

Fleming said her grandfather’s fear was that his beloved property would “return to seed” after his death.

While it has remained in the family, the property and buildings had been used for family gatherings and a couple of family weddings. It had been maintained as needed, she said, but some parts needed more attention.

A close up of the lodge at the Bath Gardens in Blythe. Staff photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Fleming inherited the property in 2018 and has been restoring it since 2019. That underground web of pipes was one of the things that needed attention. She’s also working on other landscape elements.

She has a lot of plans for the property including using it for weddings or other types of rentals. She could envision a movie being filmed on site. She also hopes that the site could be a place for the public to come and utilize.

Fleming has created the Bath Gardens Foundation, a nonprofit designed to preserve “the environment and the history of Bath, Georgia and of inspiring in the public, through education, research, farming and the arts, an appreciation of the rich historical, cultural and ecological aspects of the Bath community. The foundation has begun operations in pursuit of those charitable purposes,” according to the Bath Gardens website.

Fleming plans for a ribbon cutting at the site April 28.

A long shot of the lodge and the pool in front. Staff photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

She can see artists coming out and using the space for inspiration, and garden club members could use the site to explore some of Georgia’s native plants. Children’s organizations could explore nature.

And everyone would be able to appreciate the natural beauty that captivated Boardman six decades ago.

For more information about Bath Gardens, visit www.bathgardens.com.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the managing editor for The Augusta Press. Reach her at [email protected] 

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