Ludie Simpson’s gift went to good use.
In 1971, “Miss Ludie” Simpson, at the age of 84 and well into her retirement, wanted to make a gift of her family farm, a 220-acre tract of land located along the Chattahoochee River.
She had, no doubt, seen the growth in the Peachtree Corners community and dreamed of giving her family’s farm, which she called "the river farm," to some worthy recipient who wouldn’t parcel out the land her forbearers had lived on since 1820. Her dream was to keep the land intact, as a reminder of how the community started and to the natural beauty of area.
According to local historian Sally Toole, the Simpson family won their farm land in the land lottery of 1820. Eight counties participated in that lottery with lots ranging in size from 220 acres to 490 acres in counties such as Appling, Gwinnett, Habersham and Rabun.
The Simpson family won the 220-acre lot in Gwinnett County and built a small farm close to the river. Before the state’s lottery the land belonged to native Cherokee Indians who lived in the area.
The Simpson family went on to become one of the first families in Norcross, becoming beloved neighbors, trusted merchants and much-admired sports figures. In fact, Simpson Elementary School was named after Ludie Simpson, who was a former teacher in the Atlanta and Gwinnett County school systems.
Miss Ludie first hoped to give her land to the Presbyterian Church but the church could not accept her wish to keep the land intact. Simpson then went to the Methodist Church who accepted her conditions. It took 14 years to develop the Simpson land into “The Lodge at Simpsonwood Conference and Retreat Center” opening in 1985. Seeing it, it is easy to understand her determination that the land stay as unified and pristine as possible.
The Lodge Conference and Retreat Center is composed of four buildings set far back between old pine trees and backed by the Chattahoochee River. It functions as a place for spiritual, corporate or group retreat, although weddings have been held here from time to time.
According to Helen Thomas, director of sales and marketing, there are 25 plus meeting rooms and over 150 guest rooms available. There is on-site catering, athletic fields, pool, tennis court and campsite. The Methodist Church is still active in the area with the North Georgia United Methodist Conference housed on the campus.
The Lodge manages to keep up with their guests’ needs while maintaining a sense of environmental serenity. Hundreds, if not thousands of trees, make the area a suburban oasis. The 40 head of deer that live on the grounds and the close proximity to the river add to the natural splendor as well.
Carrie McBain, a guest wrapping up a seven-day stay says of The Lodge, “The facility is beautifully maintained.” Cheryl Prose, another guest calls the retreat center, “Wonderful.” It is not a strange site to see residents of near-by neighborhoods taking their dogs on extended walks through The Lodge’s walking trails, enjoying the sounds of crickets, the chirping birds, the bounding squirrels and the fresh air.
Sadly, Ludie Simpson died in 1975 never having seen what ultimately became of her family farm. Had she lived there is little doubt that she would have been pleased seeing so many people enjoying her land and appreciating her gift.