History of Carnes Place

The architecture, gardens and streets of Summerville are imbued with the history of generations of Augustans who, since before the American Revolution, have called the area home. Aggressive preservation policies have ensured that the aesthetic and intrinsic values of the homes and land of Summerville continue to endure.

The following is excerpted from Edward J. Cashin’s From Balloons to Blue Angels:

The story of Aviation in Augusta, Georgia Only seven months later the American, Peter Carnes, launched a balloon in a field near Bladensburg, Maryland. Carnes managed the historic Indian Queen Tavern in Bladensburg and married the widow of the tavern’s owner, Jacob Witt. He and his wife reared her son, William Witt, who later made a name for himself in politics, and served as James Monroe’s Attorney General. Because George Washington stayed there on his way to the First Continental Congress in 1774, the house – that still stands today – is also called the George Washington House. Finding the tavern business too tiresome, Carnes studied law and began legal practice in 1780. Evidently the success of the Montgolfier balloon caught his eye, and he began to make and experiment with balloons. He succeeded in fabricating a balloon 35 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. On June 14, 1784, he published an announcement in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser announcing the test of his “American Aerostatic Balloon” with a few lines of poetry: “On vent’rous wing in quest of praise I go, and leave the gazing multitude below.” at flight was unmanned. He launched the first manned flight in this country in Baltimore on June 24, 1784, with a thirteen-year-old Edward Warren as a volunteer pilot. The varicolored sphere rose to the height of the tethered rope, about 200 feet, with the young astronaut waving his hat to the cheers of the crowd.

A few days later, Carnes himself made a well-publicized ascent in Philadelphia on July 19th with greater fanfare and less success. The balloon lifted off from a prison yard, but swung the basket carrying the inventor into the wall, spilling him out. It was a lucky accident, because the rapidly ascending airship burst into flames.

Carnes had to give up his aerial hobby because Jacob Witt’s brother sued him for back rent on the Indian Queen Tavern, even though Carnes had married Witt’s widow and assumed that the marriage excused him from rent. Unfortunately, the county judge agreed with the coldhearted brother and ordered the sheriff to seize Carnes for non-payment. Carnes decided that this was a good time to go to Georgia, and specifically to Georgia’s capital city, Augusta, where other enterprising individuals from every quarter were gathering in the hope of improving their lot in life. Carnes prospered in Augusta, bought a lot in the Hill section soon to be called “Summerville,” and built a house. The Sand Hills cottage that stands at 914 Milledge is presumed to be his. In 1791 Carnes was one of the privileged few who rode out the Savannah Road to meet and welcome President George Washington to Augusta. When Carnes died in 1794 at the age of 45, the Augusta Chronicle paid him this tribute, “Speak not his name; but that here the great Carnes lies, He needs no epitaph, who never dies.” Carnes’ earlier prediction serves well as the introduction to our story of aviation. In a lecture preceding his first launch of the balloon, he assured his listeners of “the great uses to which the important discovery may be applied for the convenience and delight of human life.”