story by susan lee photos by shelia scott
The Salzburgers were an industrious group that took to building both of their settlements right away, planted crops sufficient for surrounding areas and in spite of hardships advanced the industry of the community they built from scratch.” –Armstrong State University’s Undergraduate Journal of History
Michael Maddox stands on the front porch of the country cottage he designed and built on family land in Guyton. “When it rains and it’s windy outside, you look out these giant windows and it’s almost like you’re watching a movie or the nature channel,” he said. “The woods give off this special kind of energy and smell when it rains.”
His home is set on six of the 25 acres of land on Zittrouer Road that he inherited in the 1980s. The Effingham property, originally 200 acres, has been in his family since 1798, when his Irish immigrant ancestors, the Conaways, received a land grant from the governor.
For the past several years, Michael has committed much time and effort to creating Green Bridge Farm, an ecologically-friendly subdivision with a motto of “think globally, act locally.” “This community is for people who are interested in building energy efficient houses, growing their own food, and collectively reducing their carbon footprint,” he explained.
Once Michael received approval for the subdivision from the county zoning commission in 2008, the sustainable living project got underway and the nine wooded lots went up for sale. One family bought three of them. As of the end of March, there are currently four 1.5 acre lots left, priced at $45,000 per lot.
Approximately four acres have been set aside for community space, including existing organic vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. According to Michael, gardening is not mandatory, but this project provides a unique opportunity for those interested in growing their own food.
In order to preserve Green Bridge’s commitment to sustainability, the neighborhood association does have a few stipulations for residents. Covenants include sufficient setback to ensure privacy and aesthetic appeal, a maximum 10% loss of woodland for house sites, and square footage and height limitations. Homes must also be equipped with environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling systems. Earthcraft or LEED home guidelines are encouraged but not mandatory.
Now that the project is nearing completion, Michael said he has no plans to embark on a new development. “Once all the lots have sold, that’s it,” he said. “It was a one-time project for me.” Not surprising, after years of research and planning as well as a complicated approval process.
For example, he was initially told the subdivision was required to have asphalt roads throughout. Determined to find another way, he ended up using recycled concrete from a broken-up landing strip at an old airport about 10 miles down the road.
“It took a while to get through all the red tape but once local officials and the Army Corps of Engineers finally understood what I was doing, that I wasn’t building a commune out here, they were on board,” he said.
The response to Green Bridge Farm has been enthusiastic. Environmentally conscious individuals and families constantly reach out to Michael for more information through the community’s website and Facebook page. And, not surprisingly, the most frequently asked questions relate to tiny houses. This trend toward a simpler and less expensive way of life has grown over the last few years into a movement. An increasing number of people of all ages and economic status are rejecting the notion of sprawling homes and “Mc-mansions” and opting for tiny houses, which are typically 200 to 400 square feet and often on a small trailer.
“The problem with tiny houses is that if they’re less than 400 square feet in size, they’re registered as RVs,” Michael explained. “If more than 400 square feet, then they’re classified as modular houses. However, for a permanent primary residence in Effingham, the minimum square footage is 520.” He’s currently working with local officials to explore all options for Green Bridge and possibly pave the way for building and zoning regulations that accommodate smaller homes.
Even though Michael’s roots are in Effingham and on his mother’s side he’s a Salzburger (thanks to a Conaway marrying a Shearhouse), he actually grew up in Indiana. His father, Carl Maddox, was a WWII veteran originally from Bloomingdale who after the war went to work as an electrician in the construction of nuclear plants. His job took the family up to Ohio and eventually to Franklin, a town just outside of Indianapolis.
Michael said his was a Southern family in the midst of what he describes as a melting pot of ethnic groups. “My mom, Joyce, grew up on the Conaway family land here in Guyton, so she said y’all a lot and cooked traditional Southern food,” he said. “We were the ones that actually ate grits the way they’re supposed to be eaten, with butter, not sugar the way they do up there.” Family vacations with his parents, brother Carl Jr. and sister Sheila would include trips down to Georgia a few weeks each year to visit relatives in Effingham and Bloomingdale.
Michael was a teenager through the war in Vietnam and he said it was during this period that his social conscience was born, most profoundly impacted by the Kent State shootings of unarmed college student protesters. In 1975, he hit the road to Texas, following some friends to attend Sam Houston State. He stayed out there a few years, embarking on his first ecological venture, a farm that he describes as almost self-sustaining. He finally made the move to Effingham in 1983 and not long after inherited the acreage from his mother. His sister, Sheila, lives nearby on Noel C. Conaway Road in the home where their mother grew up, the family home that was built in 1870 by their Conaway great great grandfather.
After working as a landscape supervisor for the City of Savannah 25 years, Michael took early retirement in 2013. His wife, Annette, recently finished nursing school and works at Memorial Hospital. When he’s not farming and developing the Green Bridge community, the admitted hippy spends his free time playing guitar and appreciating nature and his beautiful surroundings, trailed by the couple’s dogs, Momo, Frida and Sylvie.
And as far as Michael is concerned, he lives in paradise. “It’s basically a state park that you can live in,” he said. And on top of that, if you’re interested in your health and nutrition, you’ve got a working organic farm right here. So this place pretty much has it all.”