Photo of the Ware-Lyndon House, circa 1900 (photo/Special Collections Library, The University of Georgia)

Ware-Lyndon House:

The Ware-Lyndon House is located downtown in Athens, Georgia in the Old Lickskillet neighborhood. This property was purchased in 1846 by Dr Edward R Ware, who lived here until his death in 1874. The house was later sold to Dr. Edward Lyndon. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, over 100 people were enslaved here.

In 1939, the City of Athens acquired the Ware-Lyndon House under its Parks and Facilities Department, making it the first city-owned building after City Hall. In the 1970s, the Ware-Lyndon House was home to the community’s arts center. In 1971, it was included in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1999, citizens voted in favor of the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST) that funded the construction of a contemporary wing for the Lyndon House Arts Center.

1874 Map of Dr. Ware’s estate (map/Special Collections Library, The University of Georgia)

Today, the historic Ware-Lyndon House Museum hosts a decorative collection reflecting two prosperous doctors and their families: Dr. Edward Ware and Dr. Edward Lyndon. Until recently the house did not tell the full, dynamic and truthful story of the enslaved plantation and domestic workers. In 2019, a research project began in pursuit of a more holistic account of the Ware-Lyndon House and its inhabitants.

We’ve identified two descendant families through our ongoing research into the biographies and histories of those enslaved on the Ware Plantation: the Wilborn family and the Hall family.

Ongoing Interpretation and Research – Families of note: Hall

Hannah and William Hall were enslaved in Augusta as children in the early 19th century, where they were sold at auction and moved to the Ware plantation. They eventually married and had five children: Edward, Rebecca, Rachel and Mary.

Mary Hall’s first child, Alice Virginia Sansom, was 8 years old when Emancipation occurred. Alice Virginia stayed in Athens after the Civil War ended. She was educated at Knox Industrial School and Atlanta University, the first Black graduate school. [1]

Alice married William Decker Johnson, a free man from Maryland and aspiring preacher, in Athens, GA on June 13, 1878. [2]

William D. Johnson took a position as the first secretary of education at the First AME Church (known then as Pierce Chapel) which he held for 12 years. He led the installation of a steeple and bell, and in 1891, served on the advisory board of AME ministers for Savannah State University’s founding session on Baxter Street in Athens. Rev. Johnson was appointed Presiding Elder in 1897. [3]

The family was known around town as intellectual entertainers with an extensive library. They were multilingual, and taught English to the German-Jewish families who had recently immigrated to Athens. The following passage is from James W Davis Georgia Writer’s Project interview, where he details the mentor-student relationship he had with Rev. Johnson:

“The minister and his wife, an organist, ‘delighted in entertaining’ friends and visitors by singing spirituals. This act was more than simply a form of entertainment, however. It was a vital means by which the African-American community could preserve the culture of its African slave backgrounds…”

James W. Davis went on to receive an education in music and returned to Athens as a music teacher. One of his students was F Hall Johnson, William and Alice’s son. [4]

Obituary of Hall Johnson [5]:

“From an early age Hall showed musical talent and studied piano. As a child he heard spirituals sung by his mother as well as his grandmother, both of whom had been enslaved [by the Ware Family]. By the time he was eight, he was already writing down songs he heard. Inspired by hearing a violin recital given by Joseph Henry Douglass, grandson of Frederick Douglass, he wanted to play the violin. Determined to receive an extensive education which included The Julliard School in New York, he went on to play the violin and viola professionally, beginning his career as a violinist with James Reese Europe’s Orchestra. In time he became more interested in choral music, forming the Hall Johnson Negro Choir, the first of many choral ensembles, in 1925 to “show how the American Negro slaves-in 250 years of constant practice, self-developed under pressure but equipped with their inborn sense of rhythm and drama-created, propagated and illuminated an art-form which was, and still is, unique in the world of music.”

His Hall Johnson Choir, the first professional group of its kind, enjoyed a successful concert and recording career for more than three decades in the United States and abroad. During his professional life, he coached hundreds of distinguished musicians, including the famous opera singer Marian Anderson, Harry Belafonte, Leonard DePaur, and Shirley Verrett.

Johnson wrote Run, Little Chillun, which premiered on Broadway in 1933 and was produced in Los Angeles in 1935 – 1937 under the auspices of the Federal Theater Project. The choir made notable appearances in the films, Green Pastures (1936), Hearts Divided (1936), Banjo on My Knee (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), Dumbo (1941), Tales of Manhattan (1942), and Cabin in the Sky (1943). Extremely active in the Hollywood film studios, in 1938 he recruited local African American talent to found another ensemble, the Festival Choir of Los Angeles. Later he organized the Festival Negro Choir in New York in 1946. In 1951, the Hall Johnson Choir was selected by the United States Department of State to represent the United States at the International Festival of Fine Arts held in Berlin, Germany. In 1965 he published an essay, “Notes on the Negro Spiritual,” in which he explained the significance of this Black American art form. It is noted that he was the recipient of several awards including the Handel Award by New York City in 1970, honored by hometown of Athens with a plaque in city hall in 1976 and posthumously elected to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.” In 2020, Hall Johnson was inducted to the Athens Music Walk of Fame.

Ongoing Interpretation and Research: Families of note: Wilborn

Born to an enslaved woman in 1856, David Wilborn Sr. was a teenager when he left Dr. Ware’s plantation. In 1869, David left Athens for Richmond County in Augusta, Georgia where he lived with his mother Rebecca and his two siblings, Clearance and Milissa. David had 14 siblings total, all of whom were enslaved by Dr. Ware. [6]

After his mother passed away in 1874, David moved to Lookout Mountain, GA where he worked in a hotel, according to census data. [7] By 1880, David had moved to Springfield, OH where he lived with his brother, John, and John’s family: Henrietta (wife), Robert, and William (sons). David was 23 and worked in the hotel with his brother as a “laborer,” according to census data. [8]

David served in the Spanish American War as part of Ohio’s 9th Battalion Infantry. [9] Afterwards, David took a course at Clark’s School of Embalming in Cincinnati, OH. [10] He opened a business called Wilborn & Son, and is credited as the first black undertaker in Dayton County, OH.

In 1922, David joined the Civil Rights Protective League, an organization that formed as a result of an ideological split that severed the local NAACP chapter. David participated in a protest on November 7, 1922 to fight for school integration in Springfield.[11]

He was married twice, first to Laura Finch of Atlanta and then to Mary Elizabeth Buckley of Charleston, SC.[12] He had three children: David Jr, Ethel, and Helen Wilborn.

The family lived on 220 Fair St. in Springfield, OH until after David’s death in 1940. In the Negro Motorist Green Book of 1949, 220 Fair Street is listed under the category “Tourist Homes,” meaning it was a safe place to visit if one was traveling in the Springfield area. His wife, Mary E. Wilborn, is listed as the sole resident [13].

“I was born in Athens, Georgia Jan 13, 1856. My father, Robert Wilborn was a Cherokee Indian. My mother was the daughter of a Negro woman and German doctor. There were 15 children, twelve boys and three girls. Dr. Ware owned mother and we children, and father worked for him, making coffins for use when any of the slaves on his plantation died, and for Dr. Ware to sell, too. Dr. Ware owned a large number of slaves, I just don’t know how many, but I heard mother say something like 100. He was the doctor that examined slaved for the auction, and he was a slave trader.”

Of course we lived in a cabin. That was the way all slaves lived. We ate corn bread and fat meat, and hardly any vegetables, and syrup. We went barefoot, and wore loose shirts with a hole cut for the head to go through, and a hole for each arm. Any a day I picked cotton from sunrise to dark when I was just a little fellow…”

– David Wilborn, Sr. in 1937

Dave Bulkley Wilborn, Jr, was born in 1903 in Springfield, Ohio. He began playing the banjo at age 12, and in the early 1920s he was invited to join the McKinney’s Syncho Band, later known as the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. The band was a successful jazz and performance group who maintained residencies at summer resorts and toured all across the country. His career as a musician spanned decades and even included a legacy tour in the 1970s. Wilborn was featured on three albums: New McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (1972), You’re Driving Me Crazy (1973) and Rated “G” (1975).

“There’s a [banjo player] that lives up on Fair Street: Dave Wilborn.”

“Against the wishes of my mother and father, they finally acquiesced and let me join the band.” – Dave Wilborn, Jr. in 1981 [14]


[1] Atlanta University Roster 1878
[2] Marriage License: Alice Virginia Sansom and William Decker Johnson
[3] History of First AME Athens, GA –
[4] Gelfand, H. Michael. “Chronicling an African-American Life in Athens: James W. Davis and His Georgia Writers’ Project Interview, 1939.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol. 81, no. 3, Georgia Historical Society, 1997, pp. 713–34,
[5] Haag, John. “Hall Johnson.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Jan 12, 2022.
[6] David Wilborn Sr WPA Interview, Ohio History Connection
[7] 1880 Census, Clark County, Springfield, Ohio
[8] 1900 Census, Clark County, Springfield, Ohio
[9] Application for headstone, David Wilborn Sr
[10] Clarkes School of Embalming photograph, ca 1910
[11] Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. “Early Boycotts of Segregated Schools: The Case of Springfield, Ohio, 1922-23.” American Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 4, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968, pp. 744–58,
[12] Ohio History Connection, WPA interview, 1939
[13] 1949 Negro Motorist Green Book pg 60-61
[14] American Black Journal

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