The iron horse sculpture near Athens, Ga. Photo courtesy of Visit Lake Oconee.

Iron horse sculpture near Athens has storied past, visitors today

Q: Why is there an iron horse on a farm in rural Georgia, and has it always been there?

A: The legendary sculpture can be found on a rural stretch of Ga.15 in a field between Watkinsville and Greensboro.

Sculpted by Abbott Pattison, an acclaimed artist from the Chicago Institute of Art and the University of Georgia’s sculptor in residence at the time, the 12-foot-tall piece was created in UGA’s old Fine Arts Building and originally placed in front of Reed Hall on May 25, 1954.

Controversy surrounded the two-ton abstract sculpture within hours of its installation. Public display of art was not the norm at UGA in the early 1950s. According to reports, students and faculty voiced differing opinions about the sculpture, and students began to vandalize the artwork before violently beating it and setting a fire beneath it. UGA authorities and the Athens Fire Department were called to the scene to extinguish the fire.

At the time, university official R.I. Brittain said he was disappointed that college-age students acted like children and reacted violently to something different and new. The statue was moved into hiding early the next morning.

In 1959, L.C. Curtis, a horticulture professor at UGA, moved it to his farm in Greene County, about 20 miles from Athens. It was placed in a field facing south. Legend has it that the horse’s rear faces UGA’s campus where it experienced brutal ridicule, however Curtis’ son, Jack Curtis, told the Athens Banner Herald in 1999 the rumor wasn’t true.

”The truck got stuck, so that’s how it stayed,” Curtis said in 1999, as he described the Iron Horse’s move on the back of a truck from Athens to the field on his family’s farm.

In 2011, UGA purchased the 660-acre Curtis farm for agricultural research and renamed it the Iron Horse Plant Sciences Farm (commonly known as the Iron Horse Farm).

Joshua Griffin, Iron Horse Farm manager, said the Curtis family owns a small portion of the property surrounding the horse so the sculpture could remain in their family.

The “Iron Horse” has become a significant attraction over the years. Visitors stop at all hours of the day, especially to admire the sunrise and sunset or to look at the stars, he said.

UGA students have found ways to include the “Iron Horse” in campus life. Griffin said sororities in the past have required new members to watch the sunrise at the Iron Horse every morning for a week.

“There’s probably not much time during the day that there’s not really somebody there kind of visiting it,” Griffin said.

If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail q&a@ajc.com or call 404-222-2002.

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