This Barn Has a Yarn: Bodacious Bauble Is Put to Good Use
David Goldberg, Staff Writer, AJC
[Written in 1992]
Roscoe- If by some miracle the old barn wheezed to life, and if after nearly 70 years of decay it felt like talking, the first story Marie Powell would ask it to tell would be the one about Wayne P. Sewell, the man who built it.
She'd want to know what possessed Mr. Sewell, an eccentric dandy who became something of the P.T. Barnum of Coweta County, to build at great expense the "largest and finest barn in the Southeast" four years before the Great Depression. That, despite the fact that he had little interest in farming.
But future generations might want to hear the story of Mrs. Powell herself.
After her husband, Brown Powell, purchased the 65-year-old barn eight years ago, the couple decided to let children with disabilities ride horseback there.
Today Mrs. Powell, 39, a cadre of volunteers and some aging horses form the Coweta Organization for Riding, Rehabilitation and Learning (CORRAL). Since 1988, the old Sewell barn has been the magical bright spot in the lives of children with disabilities in schools from four counties, thanks to CORRAL.
The colorful stories the cavernous shelter could tell may eventually land it on the National Register of Historic Places. The barn is a central part of an application to make the entire community of Roscoe, with its two ancient churches, antebellum and turn-of-the-century homes, Civil War-era trenches and family cemeteries, one of the largest historic districts in the nation.
With any luck, such a designation could protect it from the bulldozers of the Georgia Department of Transportation, which has tentatively planned to route the Outer Perimeter through downtown Roscoe.
Almost all of Roscoe's 200 or so residents have a story about the barn Mr. Sewell started building in 1925.
Sometime after the turn of the century, Mr. Sewell inherited the property in Roscoe from his grandparents. A successful Atlanta booking agent, Mr. Sewell moved his business there along with his bride, Hettie Jane Dunaway, the star actress of the Vaudevillian Chautauqua circuit.
Mrs. Dunaway Sewell declared that under no circumstances would she live among those barren cotton fields and tenant shacks. Unless, of course her husband allowed her to create a theatrical training center, which she would surround with lush, terraced rock gardens and a tea room par excellence.
He obliged her, and before long performance companies from throughout the United States were coming to Dunaway Gardens, according to Carolyn Busby, president of the non-profit group that now owns the Gardens.
Apparently determined that his wife would not surpass him in eccentricity, Mr. Sewell set out to build “the biggest and finest barn in the Southeast,” Ms. Busby said.
"Some say he just wanted to show off," said Roscoe resident Willis Potts, who painted a vivid picture of Mr. Sewell in the "zoot suit" he wore, always with a cane in the crook of his arm.
The barn took two years to build from hand-sawn pine. Some 240 windows ring the ground and loft levels of the building, and woodwork suitable for a fine home supports the eaves.
After a time, the Gardens and barn became the production center where the Sewells' company produced Vaudeville-like shows.
But a barn has to have animals, so Mr. Sewell went to the World's Fair and came back with a collection of high-priced prize livestock, Ms. Busby said.
For a time, Mr. Sewell's brother used the barn to house a menagerie of exotic animas, Mr. Potts said. He collected a fox and other critters, but best remembered is a bear, the scent of which once caused a neighbor's mule team to panic and trample a flower garden.
In 1992, the barn is still a place of minor miracles for Mrs. Powell and the children who make weekly therapeutic visits there.
One morning last week, 5-year-old Carlos Johnson got his first chance to lay eyes on a horse, much less ride one. He was one of four mentally disabled children from the Carroll County school system who came to ride.
Frightened at the sight of animals, Carlos had to be lifted kicking and screaming onto a horse.
But after a volunteer had led the animal a few steps forward, Carlos was giggling through his tears. Twenty minutes later, he was grinning and gleeful as he paraded around the riding ring.
"There's something magical between kids and horses, I don't care what you say," Mrs. Powell said. "And there’s something magical about this old barn, too."
"Really Okay" CORRAL
Story and photos by Greg Brett, Managing Editor
The smell of sweet feed hangs on the morning air as several horses pass through shafts of sunlight filtering into the barn. Their soft munching is interrupted only by the occasional bark of a dog or the talking of workers as they carry saddles and blankets from the tack rooms.
"There's plenty to be done before they get here," says David Goode, a gentle-mannered man who moves deliberately from one stall to another in the old barn. "When they get here at nine we get real busy." As he finishes smoothing the coat of one horse with a currycomb, the sound of a school bus braking in front of the barn is heard.
"They're early," says Marie Powell, finishing combing Trigger, a docile horse that seems content to continue the combing an pay little attention to the school bus.
Children's voices cause Trigger's ears to perk up; he seems to know it's time for him to pay attention. Maybe he looks forward to the arrival of these small guests more than an onlooker might realize.
Trigger's "friends" whom David, Marie and other volunteers greet several times each week, are children with special needs--children who love life but aren't always sure how to embrace new opportunities. Trigger's friends have mental and physical disabilities; some have very pronounced needs while others need simply to hear reassuring words or spend time with a friend. They all respond to a common bond: Trigger... and other horses like Hobby and George and Mozzy... and they develop an attachment to Marie and David, too!
This is the magic of CORRAL, the Coweta Organization for Riding, Rehabilitation and Learning, a therapeutic horseback riding program based in Roscoe, Ga., and developed by Brown and Marie Powell in 1987. Today, CORRAL rides an average of 220 kids each year at the barn and corral located off GA. Highway 70 just north of Newnan. Children with special needs come from all around and the Coweta and Carroll county school systems keep CORRAL workers busy teaching six week classes to students with mild, moderate, and severe intellectual disabilities.
Aside from the obvious successes that teachers witness when bringing their students to CORRAL, school officials and families put their faith and trust in the leadership and safety provided by CORRAL. Accredited through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), CORRAL operates on just $50,000 annually, a relatively small budget built on individual contribution, a variety of donated supplies an services, and United Way support.
Since 1987, Brown and Marie Powell, members of Macedonia Baptist in Newnan, and their contingent of volunteers and supporters, have developed a program that includes 12 horses, 2 donkeys and one barn cat (and a few friendly dogs that keep a watchful eye from their resting spots in the middle of the road). The faces of the young riders and workers that come and go at CORRAL attest to the love and appreciation between riders, workers and horses. The commitment of everyone has resulted in several CORRAL youth performing in the Special Olympics and winning at the international level.
"At first I didn't think I could do it," remembers Marie Powell. "When my husband Brown suggested I work with disabled kids, I couldn’t bear the thought, but before long I realized I was the one with the 'disability.' Now, I can't imagine doing anything else."
According to Brown and Marie, tough times when funding or certain resources weren't available helped develop a bond of faith that CORRAL workers depend on. They still need additional funds for supplies, "tack," as it’s known to the horse community, and for the construction of a covered arena, but they trust God will provide.
"We've been blessed to have contributions show up at the right time, sometimes at the last minute," describes Marie. "And, we are blessed to have Christian folks working as volunteers, board members and others helping here in Roscoe and throughout Coweta and surrounding counties." Marie is quick to point out the CORRAL mission statement says they will provide “... a safe, Christian environment...” for serving children with diverse backgrounds and needs. Brown and Marie Powell's Christian ethics attract devoted workers like Noel Christopher and David Goode, among others.
On this day, three other volunteers are present--one is a retired teacher, another a critical care nurse and another is a new neighbor recently moved from Boston. Noel, riding instructor for CORRAL, watches intently the reactions of both horse and rider as they circle the outdoor arena. Her obvious love for horses and children goes to work as she softly encourages Kyle, a first-time rider who is afraid. In another moment, Noel's steady voice directs riders and volunteers to pay attention.
"Doing this every day hardly seems like work..."