Liberty County is famous for the LeConte pear.
In the early 1900s, there were hundreds of bushels of pears shipped from Liberty County each fall to the northern states. All the old farms had pear trees growing on them.
The LeConte pear is a dramatic chapter in the history of the botanical heritage of LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation in Liberty County.
Written in 1978 by Mrs. Claude A. Black:
“About 1855, Maj. John Eatton LeConte purchased a seedling pear tree from Thomas Hogg, a famous plant hybridizer and nurseryman in New York. This seedling was found growing in a nursery that included specimens of the sand or Chinese pear (Pyrus seratina) and the French dessert pear. Maj. LeConte sent the seedling pear to his niece, Jane LeConte Harden, then widowed and living at Halifax House on her portion of Woodmanston lands in the Riceboro vicinity. About the time the seedling came into bearing, the War Between the States intervened and little attention was paid to it until 1866. Then Leander Lewis Varnedoe, ex-colonel, CSA, and one-time superintendent of Jane’s lands, picks up the story.”
“In an interview with Henry Grady, April 16, 1882, Varnedoe stated: ‘In 1866, when I returned from the war, the tree had grown into a handsome tree and was loaded with the most delicious fruit. When I came to Thomas County, I brought some cuttings from the tree. I planted these and those superb trees are the results.’”
“The history of the Southern pear industry began with the introduction of the LeConte Pear tree into Thomasville in the early 1870s. At one time, it was conservatively stated there were at least 200,000 trees in Thomas County. Great prices were received, the growers in those days getting from $3 to $7 per bushel. The LeConte and Kieffer pear industry extended from Thomas County all along South Georgia to include Liberty County.”
“Miss Eliza Martin, who owned and lived on the John Martin Plantation in Flemington, had many LeConte and Kieffer pear orchards.
“Bailey concludes the story of the pear industry in South Georgia by saying: ‘Because of the blight and lack of care, with no systemized methods of marketing, the pear industry in southern states fell into a low ebb around 1916.’”
In 1760 John Eatton LeConte established Woodmanston, a 3,300 acre inland swamp rice plantation along the headwaters of the South Newport River in present day Liberty County. His son, Louis LeConte moved into the family’s hunting lodge in 1811. Here he pursued his scientific interests and established Georgia’s first botanical garden. Today Louis LeConte’s world-famous 19th century gardens are being re-created with historic roses and bulbs as well as a Georgia collection of camellias combined with a sampling of the historic camellias Louis knew. A small LeConte pear orchard commemorates its introduction as a cultivar in 1856 by Louis’s brother, John Eatton LeConte.