Friday, March 27, 2015

WILLIAM B. KENT


The Savior of Georgia Football

You may have never heard of Richard Von Gammon.  But, when he died one hundred and ten years ago today, football in Georgia was nearly forced out of existence by the bereaved legislature of this state.  Throughout Georgia and across the nation, a congregation of ministers cried out for the abolition of this most violent and vicious  game.  Without the aid of Von Gammon's mother and Bulldog captain William B. Kent, football in Georgia may have ended, if only for a little while.

It was a typical fall day on the 30th day of October 1897.  The bleachers and sidelines of Atlanta's Brisbine Park were crammed with spectators to see if the undefeated Georgia Bulldogs, inspired by a trouncing of Georgia Tech the week before, could defeat the powerful Cavaliers of Virginia in a contest for superiority of southern football.  Georgia  had just completed  the team's first perfect season, albeit they only played four games and won them all.  

Richard Van Gammon, a well-liked fraternity fellow and outstanding quarterback from Rome, Georgia, kicked off to Virginia to open the contest.  In the second half with Virginia in command of the game, Van Gammon, playing  defensive back, sprinted toward a Virginia runner.  Before he could make the tackle, the helmetless Bulldog was overrun by a wall of blockers, said to have been joined in a flying wedge formation with arms locked and bearing down upon him with all the force of an equine stampede.

Van Gammon dove to tackle the Cavalier runner and struck the ground headfirst.  The Virginians trampled over his motionless body.  For several excruciating minutes, players and coaches vainly attempted to revive the fallen star.  At first it appeared as if Von Gammon was completely paralyzed, his eyes gazing blindly into the autumn sky.  Eventually he was revived and helped to the sidelines, where he was examined by physicians who were attending the game.  The doctors decided to transport Von Gammon to Grady Hospital for further examination and diagnosis.  After he arrived at the hospital, Richard's temperature  soared up toward 109 degrees.  With his brain swollen to intolerable limits, Von Gammon never regained consciousness and died.

Just days after the fallen footballer's funeral, mass hysteria swept throughout the Georgia legislature.  Fueled by intense lobbying by a host of ministers and a nationwide cry against the barbaric deaths that football had caused across the country, the lawmakers adopted a near unanimous ban on football in the state.  The bill was sent to Georgia governor W.Y. Atkinson for his signature.

It was then when Van Gammon's mother and Bulldog captain William Kent issued an appeal for the governor not to sign the ban.  The people of Athens, most of the university's faculty and even some Georgia players thought it was best to put an end to football at Georgia forever.  Mrs. Von Gammon wrote a letter to Governor Atkinson pleading to him not to allow her son's death to end the game he so dearly loved.  Aided by a poignant and stern letter from renowned Georgia professor and the team's first coach, Dr. Charles Herty, who advocated the necessity of sports to promote physical health, and the persistence of Captain Kent, the governor never signed the bill.  Though football ended for the 1897 season after three games - they only played four or five games anyway - the games would resume the following year.

William B. Kent was born in Montgomery County, Georgia on January 30, 1870.  This son of William Kent and Martha Beckwith Kent entered Mercer University as a freshman at the ripe old age of twenty-three in 1893.  After playing football at the Baptist college for a single season, Kent transferred to Athens for the 1894 season, where he played guard.  In 1896, William was moved to right tackle by Georgia coach Pop Warner, who went on to iconic status as the coach of Jim Thorpe of the Carlisle Indians, as well as successful stints at Pittsburgh and Stanford.  Kent, at five feet eleven inches in height and weighing in at 185 pounds, was one of the strongest men at the college.  In his junior season at Georgia in 1896, Kent was named president of the Athletic Association and captain of the football team for his senior  year.     As president of the Athletic Association, Kent led the organization out of its bankrupt position onto solid financial ground. 

Off the field Kent excelled as an editor of the Pandora, the university's yearbook, as well as serving with highest honor of the Demosthenian Literary Society and as a commissioned officer in the military department.  Considered one of the most popular men on campus - there were very few, if any, women enrolled as students in those days - William was known to have been a man of high moral character and a leader in the Young Men's Christian Association and his Sunday school class at the Baptist Church in Athens.   During his semesters at Georgia, Kent served as president of eight organizations.

Kent, a self-made man, studied law, literature and bookkeeping.  To pay for his studies, he taught  school and even sold lightning rods one summer.  

While he was in Athens, William met and married Miss Senie Griffith, daughter of Clarke County state representative F.P. Griffeth.  Following her death, Kent married Lallie Calhoun, a member of one of Montgomery County's oldest and most prominent families.

After his graduation from Georgia, Kent was admitted to the bar, beginning his practice in that portion of Montgomery County, which would later become Wheeler County in 1912.  In addition to his duties as an attorney, Kent served as both solicitor and judge of the City Court of Mt. Vernon, a state court assigned to handle misdemeanor offenses and minor civil claims.

In 1910, Kent, the former football hero, was elected to represent Montgomery County in the Georgia legislature.  While in the House of Representatives, Kent introduced a bill to carve out that portion of his county lying on the western side of the Oconee to form a new county, purportedly to be named Kent County, not in his own honor, but in honor of his father, an early settler of the area.  The name of the new county was Wheeler instead, named in honor of Confederate cavalry general Joseph Wheeler.    Kent was chosen to serve as the first judge of the Wheeler County Court of Ordinary, or as it is today known, the Probate Court. 

William B. Kent died on November 21, 1949.  He is buried in Oconee Cemetery in Athens, Georgia in a town where football is king on autumn Saturdays.  Perhaps the epitaph on his tombstone should read, "here lies William B. Kent,  the Savior of Georgia football."  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

ALL ABOARD!


The Return of the SAM Railroad

Once they wove a web across the land, running north to south, east to west and all directions in between.   The wails of "choo-choo" and the rings of "clang clang" are few now.  The great "Iron Horse" no longer dominates the landscape of the Georgia countryside, but down in South Georgia, you can step back in time more than a half century and climb aboard a real life -  sure enough choo-choo train.  It is the SAM Shortline and its tri-city ride will propel you backwards in time to a day when life was a little slower and travel a little less comfortable, but oh so much more exciting.  

The origin of the SAM railroad grew out ouf Samuel Hawkins disdain for monopolistic railroad rates of the South Western Railroad in the years following the Civil War.  Hawkins, an Americus lawyer and financier,   suggested statewide regulation of railroads, a position which resulted in the name of Americus being removed from regulation railroad maps.    First known as the AP & L (Americus, Preston and Lumpkin) Railroad, the line was expanded after two years in 1886 to Abbeville on the western banks of the Ocmulgee River.    The railroad established an inland port at Abbeville, shipping goods downstream to Darien on the Atlantic coast.  When the railroad was extended to Savannah as its eastern terminus and Montgomery, Alabama at its western most point, the railroad changed its name to reflect the main cities along its line to Savannah, Americus and Montgomery, and the name of its founder, or SAM for short. From Abbeville, the SAM Railroad ran through Rhine, Milan, Helena, Alamo, Mt. Vernon,  Vidalia and Lyons, giving the shippers and passengers from the lower end of the Oconee & Ocmulgee regions their first direct route to the port city of Savannah.

The coming of the 21st Century saw the rebirth of the SAM Railroad.  Now known as the S.A.M. Shortline, the state owned railroad is actually a rolling state park.  The Georgia Legislature created the Southwest Georgia Railroad Excursion Authority to operate a passenger train from Cordele to Plains, where the rail line got very influential support from President Jimmy Carter.

A few weekends ago, I got the opportunity to ride the SAM with a group of Dubliners.  We were there to explore the possibility of bringing the train and its entire crew to Dublin next winter for a train excursion to Macon.    We arrived more than the requisite 15 minutes early, only to find long lines of passengers anxious to get aboard.   After a brief stop at the ticket booth in the visitor's center in Cordele, we boarded the train.  Boarding from the front of the train, we got to see nearly the entire train.  Each car is dedicated to stops along the route.  Especially attractive was the Georgia Veteran's State Park car, which was decorated in a style reminiscent of a train during the years of World War II.  

Near the end of the regular passenger cars is the commissary car.  It is a place where you can get something highly sweet or highly fattening, but oh so good, to eat.  Plenty of candy, pop corn, drinks and an assortment of goodies are served by a friendly crew.  Behind the commissary car are the premium seating cars.  The first car, a more modern vintage of rail car has tables and chairs for eating, sitting or a game of cards.  If you don't bring your own deck, there are cards available in the commissary.

The most gorgeous of all of the cars in the "Samuel H. Hawkins."  Located in the rear of the train on the first leg of the trip and at the front on the return trip, this 1939 vintage car was built as a tavern-observation car for the Florida East Coast Railroad.   Known formerly as "The Bay Biscyane," the wood paneled car features Art Deco sconce lights between the windows and wooden tables and chairs.  There are plans to restore the car to its original state during this fall and winter.  If you are lucky enough, it is best place on the train, when the train's second engine is not attached, giving the passenger a panoramic view of the countryside. 

Once we left Cordele, the train ran along tracks surrounded by kudzu, morning glory and a wide variety of wild flowers, interrupted by groves of pines, oaky swamps, and fields of sorghum, peanuts and cotton.  One cotton field seemed to radiate a mile or more in every direction from the train track.  As we passed through intersections, the occupants of the cars waved and smiled, knowing that we were spending our dollars in the community and that every day hence there would be more of us coming. 

Our first stop was at Georgia Veteran's State Park, where the train sleeps at night.  The Park on the shores of Lake Blackshear features a museum saluting the men and women of Georgia who have served in the military.  After crossing the picturesque lake where cypress trees grow right out of the edge of the water, we came to the town of Leslie.  We didn't stop on this day and missed the world's largest rural telephone museum.  

Our first layover came in Americus.   We had to take a side track to get closer to the downtown area.  We hopped aboard a shuttle and road through the downtown area.  You can eat at a variety of fine restaurants or chose to eat in the luxurious Windsor Hotel, a national historic site and a certified haunted hotel.  The 1892 hotel features a three story atrium adorned by beautiful wooden columns, rails and beams.  In the grand dining room, we feasted on a diet of roast beef, fried and baked chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens, banana pudding, apple cobbler, coconut and chocolate cake.  For the dieters in the crowd, there is a fine salad bar.

We hurried back to the train for the ride to the second stop of the day, the town of Plains, Georgia.  The site of the home of former President Jimmy Carter, Plains still retains a touch of the atmosphere of those days in the 1970s when the sleepy little town became the focus of the presidential campaign.  While in town, you can visit antique shops, a caf‚ and a department store, where you can treat your self to fried peanuts, peanut ice cream, peanut brittle and all sorts of peanut butter, including that ever popular Cajun peanut butter.  If you hustle or just stay over for a while, you can walk to Plains High School, where the President attended in the late 1930s.  

The last leg of the trip took us to Archery, the boyhood home of President Carter.  There you can see and walk through the president's former home.  The outbuildings and grounds have been re-created to give the visitor some idea of how the farm may have looked  during the twenty one years it was occupied by the Carter family.  Of special interest is the restored commissary store, which the Carter's operated to make extra money.  There's even a piece of half shucked corn and unpicked peanuts hanging on the fence, just to show the Yankee's how they look before they are cooked.

I highly recommend the trip and hope we can bring the train to Dublin very soon.  I especially want to thank the volunteers who gave their time to make the trip a pleasant one.  If you are lucky, you might get the knowledgeable and affable Tom Nicholson, a native of Dodge County and hotel manager, to be your car host.  Then there's Bill Byrd, an Americus hospital administrator, who serves as the trainman.  Byrd insures that everything on the train operates smoothly and efficiently.  And finally, you'll get your ticket punched by Al Mills, a friendly and witty  guy whose uniform makes him look he was born to be a ticket taker.

Friday, March 20, 2015

MOUNT CARMEL BAPTIST CHURCH


Celebrating 150 Years

During this year of 2007, the members of Mount Carmel Baptist Church are celebrating the church's Sesquicentennial anniversary.  The history of Mt. Carmel, the seventh oldest Baptist Church in Laurens County, is like all other churches, the history of a people, and not just a history of buildings.  An attempt to chronicle the entire 150-year history of Mt. Carmel within the confines of this column would result in an entire book, a project which is nearing completion as you read these words.   So, instead of compiling a litany of one fact after another, I will attempt to tell you some of the more interesting pieces of the early years of the church's history.

Mt. Carmel Baptist Church was constituted on March 15, 1857.   The church was named for Mount Carmel, a small mountain range located in northern Israel and the West Bank and a sacred location in the ancient culture of the Canaanite.   

One might wonder why would a church be founded far away from any town.  At the time of its founding, the closest town was in Dublin, some 15 miles away.  Even the current nearby  counties of Dodge and Bleckley did not exist and were actually a part of Pulaski County, even more distant from Dublin.  Despite its remote location, the land  around Dexter was highly sought after by farmers.  Much of the area was owned by the non-resident timber companies and northern investors and availability of squattable land was too much to resist  for the rightful occupants of the fertile farms which surround Mt. Carmel.

Ironically it took a war between the states over the issue of state rights and slavery to desegregate our local churches.  Before the Civil War, white and black churchgoers attended services together.  Although slaves were not treated to the same status as their fellow white members, they were accepted into the church as children of God.  On the very  first day of church, the members of Mt. Carmel took turns in subscribing their names to a covenant to give themselves to one another and receive one another in the Lord.  Joining the Alligoods, Hobbs, Hills, Witheringtons, Shepards, Fountains and Grimsleys was Sealy, a woman of color, who was the property of Hardy Alligood, the first deacon of Mt. Carmel.
On the 1st day of August, 1857, Gilbert, a black brother belonging to Francis Clark, was received by experience into the church.  According to the minutes of the church, no new black members joined the church until April 1862, when Patty, another slave of Francis Clark, was received into the church.  By the fall of 1864 when six colored sisters joined the church on one day, seventeen of the worshipers at Mt. Carmel were slaves.  After they received their official freedom, the former slaves established their own churches.  Calvin Hoover was the last former slave to leave the church in November 1866.

The Civil War also had a profound impact on the life of the church and its members.  On the first Sunday in November in the fall of 1861, the members resolved to excuse the absences of John Hobbs, William A. Witherington and Mathew L. Alligood, who three months  earlier had enlisted in Co. C of the 2nd Regiment of the 1st Brigade of the Georgia State Troops, later the 57th Georgia Infantry Regiment.    The following spring, the church's two Davids, Alligood and Hobbs, joined local companies of the 49th and 57th Georgia regiments. Only 5th Corporal Witherington, who lived to the ripe old age of eighty, would return to the sanctuary of Mt. Carmel.   Although church clerk Berry Hobbs was reported to have "gone to war," he may not have been involved in combat.   Private Mathew Alligood died of disease in Lexington, Kentucky in 1862.    2nd Sergeant John Hobbs  was wounded in the shoulder at Baker's Creek in 1863 and was killed at Jonesboro on the last day in August 1864, during the Confederate army's retreat out of Atlanta.  David Alligood was severely wounded in his breast and captured at Gettysburg.  He was released two months later, only to be killed by an enrolling officer on November 18, 1864.  David Hobbs may have been wounded at Baker's Creek or during the siege of Vicksburg.  He died at Point Clear, Alabama in July 1863.   After the end of the hostilities, Hardy Blankenship, George W. McDaniel and James Robert Shepard left the ranks of the army and joined the ranks of the church.

With many of the male members serving their newly created country, church services took on a more somber tone.  A special Thanksgiving service was held on the 4th Thursday in November 1861 to "fast and pray for the peace and prosperity of our nation."  The state of Georgia began assembling even more companies of young men and boys in an all determined effort to win the war in 1862.  In compliance with a proclamation issued by the governing body of Laurens County, it was agreed that the members of Mt. Carmel would join their fellow Christians on March 7 for a day of "humiliation, fasting and prayer which was set apart by us that God divert his judgment from our land and nation, that he would aid us in the present strife of Union that is upon us."  When the war began for real in May, the members resolved to write the soldiers once a month and to gather together on the 4th Sunday of each month to emplore upon the mercies of God for their protection and the comfort of their loved ones.  Before the members of the 49th and 57th left to live out their destiny in  hills of Virginia and the fields of Mississippi, Rev. Larry Hobbs prayed for the safety of their souls. 

It may have only stood for twelve and one half years, but the story of the third church  building at Mt. Carmel may have been one for the record books.  On December 3, 1916, the proud members of the church held a dedicatory service for their new house of worship.   Erected out of green lumber fashioned from trees from the area and kiln dried at the mill in Dublin,  the $2500.00 church was completed in a record seven weeks.    Deacons W.A. Witherington, F.R. Faircloth and F.R.  Witherington saw to the needs of the church including in their design ten Sunday school rooms and a 30 foot by 50 foot auditorium, a facility unparalleled in any country church in the county.
On April 25, 1929 a horrific tornado came up from the direction of Cochran.  Turning more to the north than northeast, the storm  headed straight for the Mt. Carmel community.  Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, one of the most modern and best equipped church buildings in the county, was totally destroyed.   The Mt. Carmel School and the teacherage, located across the road from the church, were amazingly untouched.  Several homes in the community were destroyed.  The J.D. McClelland home and that of Mrs. W.A. Witherington were destroyed. No one in the McLelland family was harmed, but Mrs. Witherington, her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Milton Witherington, and infant grandchild  were seriously injured.  Jim Dawkins lost his house and most of its contents.  Thankfully and most mercifully, his wife and five children only suffered minor injuries.  Calvin Patisaul's house was destroyed.  Almost  all of his large family suffered some type of injury, though none too serious.   Lee Floyd's wife was badly injured when their house was destroyed.  One vacant tenant house and the vacant old Dave Fountain home were torn to pieces. Tornados don't distinguish between occupied and unoccupied houses. 

In the aftermath of the storm, two children, a nine-year old daughter of W.J. Southerland and a baby daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Knight, lay dead among the rubble of the cyclone, most likely the only known fatalities from a tornado in Laurens County. 

These are only a few of the thousands of stories which make up the heritage of Mt. Carmel Church.  This Sunday, October 6th, the church and its members, guests and friends will belatedly celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of one of the county's oldest and most historic churches.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

PETER FRED LARSEN


Voyage on The Ships of Death


Soldiers are killed in wars.  Whether through the rage of combat, the explosion of artillery, or the wrath of communicable diseases, men die.  What is often too hard to endure is death proximately caused by a total lack of human decency.  Sixty years ago today, the last remaining elements of the American bastion at Bataan in  the Philippine Islands fell into the hands of the Japanese army.  The unspeakable atrocities against Americans, unprecedented in the history of our country, were about to begin.  One of those Americans, Lt. Peter Fred Larsen of Dublin, Georgia, was destined to become a mortal victim of one of a series of the most devastating acts of friendly fire in the history of the United States military. However he would not be killed before he and thousands like him suffered through the brutal mistreatment of beatings, malnutrition, and starvation in the prisoner of war camps of the Japanese military  in World War II.

Peter Fred Larsen was born in Dublin in 1916,  in the same year his father William W. Larsen was first elected to represent the 12th  District of Georgia in the Congress of the United States. He attended schools in Dublin until he left for boarding school at Young Harris College in 1928, following the death of his mother Dovie Strange Larsen.  After graduation in the mid 1930s, Peter Fred set out to see the world aboard a merchant ship, no doubt from the prodding  of his older brother Jens.  Jens was an engineering officer aboard a merchant vessel and named his son Peter Fred Larsen, the current Assistant District Attorney of the Dublin Judicial Circuit, for his younger brother.  Peter Fred had a passion for aviation, a love not uncommon for young men of his generation and especially among the young men and boys of Dublin in the 1930s.

In 1940, Peter Fred Larsen enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  His sights and his dreams were focused in the sky.   In  May of 1941, he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant Peter Fred Larsen.  After a month of leave, Lt. Larsen shipped off to Manilla via San Francisco.  After a brief stint flying planes out of Clark Field, Larsen’s squadron was transferred to Nichols Field, near Manilla.    Just as the Japanese Air Force had destroyed the American base at Pearl Harbor, the fields and planes of the American Air Force were virtually wiped out in the first few days of World War II.  The Americans retreated to Bataan by the end of the year to make a stand, while waiting on reinforcements.    The pilots, flight and ground crews, and even the cooks were re-organized into a front line infantry unit and re-named the Provisional Air Corps Infantry Regiment.
     
Larsen’s regiment learned combat tactics on the job.  The promised supplies and reinforcements  never came.  First there were half rations.  Later, rations were cut in half once again.  The men had only what they had carried with them to Bataan.  For two months, the unit, the only American unit on the front lines, held Japanese forces to a stalemate.  The Japanese, freshly supplied with replacements of men and material, launched a second offensive on Good Friday, April 3, 1942.  The defenders held out until April 9th, when the Americans, under the command of General Edward P. King, surrendered to the Japanese.  Bataan had fallen.  Larsen and thousands of others were taken as prisoners of war.  

The conquered troops were sheparded  into columns and force marched for sixty five miles to Camp O’Donnell.  Thousands died along the way, some from starvation, some from exhaustion, and some were simply killed by their captors.  As long as there are those who talk about war, they will always talk about the death and dying known as “The Bataan Death March.”  Conditions in Japanese prisoner of war camps were indescribable.  As terribly hot as it was in Andersonville, as brutally cold as it was in Elmira, New York, there are not enough words to describe how really bad it really was.  Sometimes, there are things worst than death.

By mid 1944, it became readily apparent to Japanese officials that the American forces, under the command of General Douglas McArthur, would retake the Philippines, just as McArthur had promised.  American planes and submarines were dominating the skies and the seas.  A decision was made to evacuate all of the American prisoners from the islands to the main islands of Japan.  On October 24th, the Asian Maru, a transport ship - unmarked to show its cargo of eighteen hundred and two prisoners - was steaming toward Japan when an American submarine attacked the ship, killing all but eight of the American prisoners aboard.  Those POWs remaining in the Philippines were herded into Bilibid Prison in Manilla for the next shipment of prisoners.  

On December 13, 1944, sixteen hundred and nineteen prisoners, were crammed into the holds of the Oryoku Maru.  Deaths from suffocation began almost immediately.  It would be the last prison ship to leave Manilla.  As the Oryoku Maru was crossing Manila Bay the next day, fighter planes from the U.S.S. Hornet attacked and damaged the ship.  Ten days before Christmas, the Hornet’s fighters returned to sink the Oryoku Maru.  They succeeded.  Peter Fred and those who could make it swam to shore and safety, but not to freedom, their escape foiled by Japanese machine gun positions along the shoreline.  Those who made it were corralled into a tennis court, where many died.  Slightly more than three hundred men never made it to the court.  Fifteen of the sickest men were promised treatment at a hospital.  They were put in trucks, taken to a cemetery, and decapitated on the spot.  

On Christmas morning, Larsen arrived at Lingayen Gulf.  Larsen and more than a thousand others were stuffed into the holds of the Enoura Maru for a short trip to Takao, Formosa, where they arrived on New Year’s Day.  Those who died on the way were thrown overboard.    All of the remaining prisoners were compacted into the Enoura Maru on January 6th.  Three days later as McArthur was returning to the Philippines, attack fighters in advance of the invasion relentlessly attacked any Japanese vessel in sight. 

Bombs struck the forward hold of the Enoura Maru.  Peter Fred and several hundred others never had a chance.  Their bodies were left where they lay.  Those who survived were treated with the crudest of first aid supplies, dirty shirts, bloody towels - anything which could be used as a bandage.  There were no medicines.  It was two days later when the first Japanese corpsmen arrived, only to treat the minor wounds with useless doses of Mercurochrome.  Dead bodies were stacked.  Survivors were forced to eat their scant meals while sitting on the bodies of their dead comrades.  The bodies were stripped of their clothes by the survivors, many of whom had the same clothes they were wearing two years before when they were first captured.  The dead were hoisted to boats and buried in a mass grave at Takao, although there is some credible evidence that the dead were cremated. Nine hundred of the original sixteen hundred were still alive, but barely.  

Of those 1,619 prisoners aboard the Oryoku Maru, which left Manilla on December 13, 1944,  approximately 1,187 were killed or died along the way.  Shortly after their arrival in Moji, Japan on January 30, 1945, 161 more died, making a total of 1,348 deaths or eighty-three percent of the original group.

When you ride by the courthouse lawn, stop and get out of your car.  Walk up to the monument to those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country.  Look down the list of our heroes for the name of  Lt. Peter Fred Larsen.  Always remember his story and his voyage on the ships of death.

  (Special thanks to Wash Larsen, nephew of Lt. Larsen, for providing the information for this article.)

IZOLA WARE CURRY

A Troubled Woman


Izola Ware Curry led a troubled life. Born into a meager existence in Adrian, Georgia in 1916, Izola’s life was a series of troubles. Her marriage was troubled. Her life was troubled. Her mind was troubled. Her mind in turmoil, her reasoning gone, she took a letter opener and plunged it into to the breast of Dr. Martin Luther King. She almost changed the face of America forever.

Izola Ware married James Curry. The couple lived in Savannah until the late thirties when they separated. Izola moved to New York City. She lived on the top floor of a tenement house at 121 W. 122nd Street in Harlem. She worked as a domestic, but in the fall of 1958, she was unemployed.

Izola’s mind, clouded with thoughts of fear, fear of a false enemy, began fail her. For five years, Izola feared the N.A.A.C.P.. She believed that the members of the organization were all Communists. She believed that they were conspiring to keep her from getting and keeping a job. “ They were making scurrilous remarks
about me,” she confessed. She couldn’t point to any specific person, but she was sure that they were after her. Izola moved from place to place to avoid what she saw as persecution. She believe that the N.A.A.C.P. and Dr. King were watching her every move. When the fear became unbearable, she bought a gun.

Izola left her apartment on Friday night to go to the movies. As she approached the intersection of 125th Street and 7th Avenue, Izola noticed a large crowd, which she described as a mob. She walked around them. She heard a band playing music. Someone in the crowd told her it was “this King man.” She didn’t  even know his first name: “Arthur or Lucer or something like that.” Izola continued on to the theater. She saw a Tarzan movie that night. Before returning home, Izola stopped by to see a friend she called “Smittie.” Despite telling police officers that she had known him for twenty years, Izola couldn’t remember his last name or very little about him.

Just before three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, September 20, 1958, Izola left her home. She went out to do some shopping. She wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just window shopping. She went inside Blumstein’s Department Store in Harlem, about four blocks from her home. She looked around for a while. Then she saw a crowd gathered around Dr. King, who was doing a book signing at Blumstein’s. His book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” was his account of the boycott he led of the Montgomery, Alabama bus system. Dr. King had been arrested seventeen days before the book signing for failing to obey a police officer. He was released a day later, when his fine was paid by the police commissioner.

Izola told District Attorney Howard Jones, “ I walked up to him and I said to him, you have been annoying me a long time trying to get this children. I have no objection of you getting them in the schools at all, but why torture me? Why torture me? I’m no help to him by killing me. Don’t mean after all Congress is signing
anything. By torturing me, don’t mean Congress is going to sign. I can still get a blood clot from this aggravation today. After that day, Congress isn’t going to sign anything, and I’m just dead.” Her remarks reveal the irrational thoughts running through her mind. When the D.A. asked Izola what Dr. King’s response was, she responded, “ I was drunk in my head, and I don’t know what he said.”

Dr. King remembered Izola asking “Are you Martin Luther King?” “ I answered yes. I was looking down writing and the next minute I felt something sharp forcefully into my chest,” he recalled. Izola reached in her bag, took out a letter opener, closed her eyes, and plunged the opener into Dr. King’s chest. When  asked why, she told the D.A. “because after all if it wasn’t him, it would have been me. He was going to kill me,” Izola maintained.

Police officers grabbed Izola. Her bag and its contents fell out into the floor. Besides the usual contents of her purse, Izola also had a white bone handle automatic Italian pistol. She bought the gun in Daytona a year before for twenty-six dollars. She bought it, loaded it, and never took the gun out of her home until that
day. When asked why she took it out that day, Izola told the investigators, “I haven’t got a job and what in world I’m going to do for a living, with their pulling me off the job every day and I’m trying to work and they’re trying to force me to make me drop my head to drink either become a prostitute, and I’m not either one. I was going to protect myself if some of these members attack me. Because I know his members
are you know, following him.” She figured there would be trouble that day, that King or his followers would bother her as they had done before. Mrs. Curry told investigators that she had been to the police precinct on six occasions and had reported her concerns to the F.B.I. and President Eisenhower. She sought restraining orders against people whom she thought were out to get her.

Dr. Theodore Weiss and Dr. John H. Cassity, both qualified psychiatrists, examined Izola. They found her to be a paranoid schizophrenic and consequently incapable of understanding the charges pending against her. Most disturbing to the doctors were signs of confusion, giving irrelevant answers to direct questions. The
doctors reported that the patient fluctuated between occasional fairly logical thinking and very confused illogical thinking.

Dr. King was rushed to Harlem Hospital. From his hospital room three days after he was stabbed, Dr. King issued a statement which harbored no ill will against Mrs. Curry. He hoped that she would get help. He thanked government officials, church leaders, and the thousands of people who sent flowers, cards, and letters.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recovering in a hospital after an attack on his life.


King saw the event not as an attack on one man, but as an attack of hatred. Before doctors could remove the letter opener could be removed, surgeons studied their options. The dagger had stopped on the surface of King’s aorta. Doctor’s decided to open King’s chest to remove the weapon. Any sneeze may have caused a cut in the aorta and endangered his life. The operation was successful.

Dr. King recovered and went on the lead the Civil Rights Movement for nearly a decade. Invariably the question arises: “What if?” What if Izola had used her loaded pistol? What if Izola had thrust her dagger a little harder? What if Dr. King had died? There would have no March on Washington, no “I Have a Dream” speech, no Selma to Montgomery march. The speculations can be mind boggling. Even Dr. King reflected back on the events of the day and wondered what might have not happened. Izola Curry was committed to the Mattewaan Hospital for the criminally insane for the rest of her life.

To this day few people, if any, know of the whereabouts of Izola Curry, of even if she is alive.   Surprisingly, the entire event never happened in the eyes of curious journalists who would have ordinarily cover the case in great detail.  Few, if any, photographs of Izola Ware Curry exist.

Photos @ Jet Magazine



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

ANNE EVERLY

The First Lady of the St. Patrick’s Festival


On this 50th Saint Patrick’s Day of Dublin, Georgia’s 50th Saint Patrick’s Festival it is only fitting and proper that we take time to salute the First Lady of the Saint Patrick’s Festival. Although she was deservedly recognized by the Order of the Blarney Stone in 1978, this four-decade-long festival volunteer was never recognized as the Woman of the Year nor as the Senior Citizen of the Year.  As you will see, Anne Everly was the epitome of the old maxim, “Behind any great man, there is a great woman.”  

Anne Middlebrooks Everly’s immeasurable contributions to the Saint Patrick’s Festival began as a matter of coincidence.  Everly had just moved back home to Dublin to raise three small children.  Early in her career at radio station WMLT, a conversation about a Saint Patrick’s Festival began around the coffee table at the station.   

“Right from the beginning, she wanted to be a part of it,” said son Richy Everly.  “Mom was drawn to the idea, desperately wanting to be a part of community endeavors in her hometown.  She was even elected the historian of the festival before it started,” Everly recalled.

In explaining how the festival began, Anne Everly wrote, “The festival was born of a casual conversation in the coffee room of WMLT radio station.  The town’s name - Dublin - was a natural for a Saint Patrick’s festival.  The staff of WMLT set out to structure a festival that would bring fun to everyone, young and old - store up happy childhood memories - and give an identity to our town and county.”

WMLT approached Herschel Lovett, Bill Lovett and W.H. Champion of The Dublin Courier Herald to combine their media resources to found and fund a festival until the community itself could take over.

“The first two years of the festival stayed under the wings of its founders and all expenses incurred were paid by the founders.  Any monies made by clubs and groups sponsoring events stayed in the clubs’ and groups’ treasuries. The first festival’s twenty events were scheduled in the official ‘Calendar of Events,’ wrote Anne Everly.

The festival gave the hardworking single mother an outlet for social activities, including her favorite pastime, bridge. 

Daughter Kay Everly Braddy recalled, “For as long as I can remember, St. Patrick's Day and all of its festivities were a part of her life. She truly loved Dublin and wanted to give back to her community.”

Described as a determined woman, Kay stated that her mother, as one of the founding members of the St. Pat’s committee, was determined to do everything she could to make it the best it could be.

“The festival was her baby.  We used to tease her about all of the St. Patrick’s stuff she kept under her bed. Every March, she would drag it out and start working on it,” Richy fondly recalled.  

Everly asserted, “Based on what she did and what I witnessed, Mom dug into it and was all into what she did.”

In speaking of his mother, who served as a judge in many of the early parades and pageants,” Richly concluded by saying, “She loved all aspects of the festival and would be so proud to see how it has evolved over the last 50 years.”

Not one to claim the credit for herself, Anne wrote in her own history of the festival, “It would not be possible to mention all of the names of the many people who  have contributed to the success of the Dublin/Laurens Saint Patrick’s Festival over the past 32 years.  But there is one name we can’t leave out - Richard “Dick” Killebrew, Dick was WMLT’s news director and Morning Wake Up Man.”  

“Because of Dick, and the many others who have worked to support the Festival, we are still merry making and wearing the green,” she proclaimed.

Anne once wrote, “There is no other event in Laurens County that is as large and as far reaching in community involvement nor is there any other event that has been promoted with such success in a spirit of unity.”
In recalling her service to the festival, Kay Braddy said of her mom, “Many long hours were spent for many, many years as a member of the Order of the Blarney Stone to being in charge of the professional parade floats to serving as the historian. She enjoyed every minute she devoted to the festival and was determined to help make it better and better year after year. I'm sure one of her proudest moments was when Richy was crowned Little Mr. Dublin.” 

For four decades Anne Everly saved every scrap of paper related to the festival.  She was the Historian of the St. Patrick’s Festival from the very first day.  Those treasures were preserved by the Everly family, who donated them to the Laurens County Historical Society. 
Everly’s collection contains several large boxes of clippings, programs, photos, tickets and all sorts of ephemera of all that is Irish about Dublin.  The cataloging of the Anne M. Everly Saint Patrick’s Festival Collection has begun and any and all volunteers who wish to continue Ann’s project are asked to contact the Laurens County Historical Society at (478) 272-9242 or visit the museum at 702 Bellevue Avenue in Dublin.

In 1987, Anne Everly compiled a comprehensive history of the festival during its first thirty-two years.  It is published in the second volume of the History of Laurens County, Georgia.   

And on this Saint Patrick’s Day, daughter Kay can close her eyes and see her mom, who died in 2007,  as “she proudly dons her green blazer as she walks the pearly streets of heaven and shares stories of her hometown, Dublin.”

So on this day when everyone is Irish, it is my turn to salute my fellow historian.  Anne, along with Joann DiFazio,  was one of the first of the women who took little or no credit for the enduring success of the festival.  She was the first of the women who worked tirelessly behind the scenes while the founding fathers were lauded with plaques and awards.  She was Anne M. Everly, “the First Lady of the Dublin Saint Patrick’s Festival.” 

Friday, March 13, 2015

BILL PADGETT

BILL PADGETT
Patriot

The members of Post 17 of the American Legion honored Bill Padgett and Jake Webb last Saturday by naming their post, founded in 1919, in honor of these two friends and fellow members of the 4th Division, which landed ashore at Utah Beach on June 6, 1944.  I have written about Jake Webb in the past.  Now thanks to Mac Fowler and his interviews of World War II veterans, here is the story of Bill Padgett in his own words of his experiences around D-Day, the story of Bill Padgett, patriot:

I was on guard duty up at Fort Benning, Georgia on December 7, 1941. I enlisted into the Army, January 1940 down at Ft. Screven, on Tybee Island, Georgia. Immediately after Pearl Harbor was attacked, we moved to Ft. Gordon, GA.  I was in the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Gordon.  This training was done mostly at night. was extremely helpful later on in combat especially in directing the artillery. I lacked one year on my three-year tour before I would have discharged when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and all discharges were frozen.

After about a year at Fort Gordon, we went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where “We had chemical warfare training at Ft. Dix learning about all types of chemicals that we might possibly encounter during the war.”

We knew when we got to England that this was a staging area. We didn't know where or when but we knew there was something big in the making. We continued to train doing more obstacle courses and getting use to the climate. It was cold when we arrived there.

I was in a machine gun outfit, the 1st Battalion, 8th Inf. Reg., and 4th Division, Company D. We would go out in the landing craft about fifteen miles, the ones that would be used in the D-Day Invasion.  It seemed like we were already in combat.

General Dwight Eisenhower came out to each unit, no matter how large or small. I was in charge of quarters the day he came to speak to our unit. The OD told me to go ahead to the meeting. General Eisenhower told us at the meeting we were the best-dressed, best fed and best equipped and highest paid soldiers in the world, barring none. He built up our moral so high that no one could stop us when we hit the beaches. He had us to take our headdress off, I never understood why he wanted us to do this, but I found out later he wanted to see if anyone was a bald as he was.

We were on our ships waiting to invade three or four days due mainly to weather conditions. A storm moved in on June 2 and 3rd and the meteorologist thought there would be an opening on the 5th and 6th. We were riding those white caps, it was very choppy.

We were on a troop ship. We had to climb down a net ladder (like six stories long) to the landing barges. The rough waters caused the ship to rock and the net ladder would swing away from the ship and then come back and slam you against the ship. With our heavy backpack and other equipment, it was difficult to hold on to the ladder. My 1st Sgt. was getting a little age on him and really shouldn't have been on the operation. He was going down the ladder, his helmet came off and the chinstrap was choking him causing him to fall into the boat. It hurt his back so they had to hoist him back on the ship. We didn't see him for about two months up on the front.

On June 6th at 6:o'clock in the morning, we hit Utah Beach. Our Assistant Division Commander, General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. the former President's son got permission to go ashore with the first wave of men with his walking cane and a revolver. He looked like he was surveying a parcel of land to buy. He wouldn't take cover, but a German Artillery shell knocked him down and covered him up with sand. He would crawl out and brush himself off and lost his walking cane one time. Someone had to find it for him. He would walk back and forth from the sea walls to the beaches like he was directing traffic. He only lived about ninety days after the invasion due to exposure related to his arthritis.

Just beyond that sea wall, there was barbed wire obstruction put there by the Germans that looked like it was about fifty feet wide. I had this bangalo torpedo which was about six feet pipe about three inches in diameter. This torpedo was loaded with TNT and Nitro-starch.

I was the point man to these other six guys, which had six feet of pipe each. These pipes were designed to lock together end to end. We were receiving fire from the Germans and we were afraid to stick our heads up. When you lit those waterproof fuses, you only had a few seconds to find a shell hole to get in for protection, you had to be on your all fours and open your mouth it would be so loud. I had a headache for three weeks, especially when I would eat, you would taste that powder.

General Roosevelt had flesh wounds all up and down his arms. It was unusual to see the high brass on the point like he was. They are usually in the back with the maps and telephones where it is safer. The flame-throwers went ahead of us and did a great job in clearing things out. The guys with satchel chargers would run up there and throw them in the bunkers to clean out the bunkers. The 82nd Airborne was suppose to drop ten miles ahead of us. But they got scattered. Some were ten, some fifteen miles. We cleared out everything out on the beach there. Two P51's came in from the sun, I thought they were German planes because they had planes that looked a lot like them. Everyone hit the dirt, we thought we were being bombed. But what they dropped was five hundred pounds tanks of flame-thrower fuel that went skidding across the Bermuda grass there. For a big invasion like this, everything went about as good as you could ask for.

We came to a lake and was somewhat trapped. If the Germans had been there, they could have wiped us out. We carried some small pump-up boats but luckily we didn't have to use them because the planes had pushed the Germans back further and we were able to go across the causeway. We advanced through those hedgerows about seven and half miles that first day. We found out after the war that two of our four battlewagons should have been at Omaha Beach. That's why we were so fortunate. It was the difference of losing three hundred men against five thousand.

We met up with the paratroopers about six that afternoon, some of those 82nd Airborne. Kelso Horne (of Dublin) was part of the 82nd and it was some of those boys that we met up with.

Our first objective was to go to Cherbourg Peninsula, south of Normandy Beach. We thought we would take it faster than we did. They were well fortified down there. As we took Cherbourg, we had some help from another outfit. I've forgotten who it was. We came back to Cartan and St. Lo, France where we were stalled. The Germans had a semi-circle of heavy tanks and we were dug-in elbow to elbow with plenty of everything. General Patton gave a speech that we were going to go through the Germans like "crap through a goose". He talked kinda rough! I thought he was going to spear head with tanks, but he spearheaded with 1500 bombers.  We had to jerk up our machine guns and run back three hundred yards. All we could see was roots and rocks. However, the visibility that morning was such that you thought you could see for ten miles. But in three hours time all that chemical and dust made it seem cloudy for two weeks. We knocked out a hole there about ten miles wide and forty miles deep and before we jumped off some of our own men got killed. The bombs were so close that even some of the tankers were killed. St. Lo was a hot spot; they call it the "break-out" at that time of the war. We went straight toward Paris and the Germans threw a couple of armored divisions in front there. You couldn't write home and tell anyone where you were, so General Patton called back and said he was "somewhere in France".

Padgett and his unit kept moving inland, fighting through crumbling villages and impenetrable hedgerows  until he and his fellow soldiers were cut off by German forces and captured.  Padgett was wounded in the hand and held prisoner until the first days of May 1945 before the final German surrender on May 7, 1945.

Bill Padgett, who grew up on a farm in Vidalia, Georgia and lived for many years in Laurens County, received a Purple Heart, an Oak Cluster and other combat medals.  He and his wife, Joyce Kight, had three sons, Russell Lamar, Jimmy B., and Joseph Craig.

For more information on Bill Padgett & Jake Webb and other hometown heroes, go to www.dublinlaurenshometownheroes.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

CAROLYN JAMES


The Top Secretary of the Army

Carolyn James, of Adrian, Georgia, wasn't the first woman to join the Women's Army Corps during World War II, nor was she the first Georgian out of the some 150,000 women who volunteered to help the war effort in uniform.  But it was this patriotic granddaughter of the founder of Adrian, who made U.S. Military history twice in her 20-year career.

Carolyn Hauser James, a daughter of Thomas Jefferson James II and Inez E. Hauser, was born in Adrian, Georgia on January 21, 1910.  Her grandfather, Thomas J. "Capt. T.J." James, founded the town of Adrian in the 1890s as a base for his railroad, the Wadley & Mt. Vernon, and his massive farming interests.  Not long after her grandfather's death, the James family fell on hard times.  During the years before the Great Depression, Miss James and her family moved to the Miami-Dade County area, where Carolyn took a job as a stenographer in a law office and later in a hotel.
As a divorced mother of a son James Richard Owen, 14, Carolyn decided it was time for her to join the war effort officially.  So at the age of 35, Carolyn enlisted in the Women's Army Corps on March 23, 1945 in Miami.  In the late 1940s, Carolyn worked at Oliver General Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.
The Women's Army Corps provided valuable service to the Army in times of war and peace.  General Douglas MacArthur proclaimed that the WACs "are my best soldiers."  The general added, "They work harder, complain less, and were better disciplined than men." Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable."

As the country returned to war in 1950 in Korea, Carolyn and other stenographers saw an increased work load.  Carolyn was assigned to Tokyo, where she was given the task of devising a system to organize and file correspondence related to the truce meetings which were held in hopes of ending the war quickly.

In her position as administrative assistant to the G-1, Carolyn received the Brown Star Medal for meritorious service to the Far East Command headquarters.  The citation for the medal read in part," for devising an ingenious system of processing and filing high priority correspondence and expedient cross-indexing providing a chronological history relevant to the cease-fire armistice negotiations in Korea."

In the week before Christmas, 1952, James' meritorious achievements led her assignment by General James A. Van Fleet to his 8th Army headquarters in Korea.   Master Sergeant James, the first ever master sergeant in the United States  Women's Army Corps, was joined by Corporal Louise M. Farrell, of Billings, Montana as the first two members of the WACs to be permanently assigned to duty in Korea.

Carolyn James once told her family friends  that while in Korea, she was scheduled to receive the Bronze Star from General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.  She related that she wore her best uniform to headquarters.  Just as she was to enter the building, however, a bird left its droppings all over her uniform, leaving her with a dilemma - see the General in that state, or go back and change and risk being late.  She chose the former, which is perhaps why I never saw a photo of the ceremony, although her uniform blouse shows she wore the medal.

Carolyn, in a January 1953 letter to her cousins, Anne Laura Hauser and Melville Schmidt ,  wrote, "I was transferred to Korea on 18 December, after the Far East Command had made a thorough search for a WAC to fill the position of personal secretary to General Van Fleet, and finally decided I had the desired qualifications - although my tour was about up.  However, when they approached me, I volunteered to extend for six months.  Since there are no other WACs in Korea, Eighth Army recommended that I bring another for company, so I chose a girl who had court reporting experience.  We had the honor of being the first two WACs to ever be permanently assigned to Korea's combat area." 

"Of course, everything considered,  Public Information Office and the other publicity media decided it was good material for WAC recruiting purposes, so for one week prior to our departure, we were constantly being photographed - motion and still; televised, and radio interviewed   Then we were flown over in a special mission B-17, " James continued.

"We were cordially received by all in headquarters here.  They have really done everything to make us comfortable and happy.  We're billeted in a senior officers' billets , which had a portion of the second floor allotted to female personnel - Red Cross workers, the Chief Nurse of the Eighth Army, and us.  We eat our meals here in headquarters in a little spot right outside the kitchen of the Army Commander's mess," the revered sergeant said. 

Sergeant James stated, "My duty hours are quite long -- from 0800 to 2100 and sometimes 2200 (9:00 and 10:00) at night.  However, movements are so restricted and the working conditions are so pleasant, it isn't too bad.  We have a little Korean house girl who takes care of our clothes, which gives us added freedom from outside chores."

With fond remembrances, the Adrian native recorded, "I have certainly enjoyed my short tenure as General Van Fleet's secretary, for he is without doubt one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  He is a superior field commander, American and humanitarian, and is respected and admired by everyone - Koreans included." 

In summarizing her war experience, Sergeant James stated, "The devastation and misery in this country as the result of this war is indeed heart-rending, but there is much evidence that our government and its people are doing everything possible to alleviate much of the suffering.  Aside from the many government-sponsored welfare organizations, every military unit (including the front-line units) has its own welfare program in the form of aid to orphanages, hospitals, etc.  It certainly increases one's pride in his country and its people to see such a genuine display of generosity toward those less fortunate." 

Carolyn's time in Korea was short as an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, although a 1963 Colorado Springs Gazette article stated that M. Sgt. James has gone to Korea six months before hostilities began in 1950. 

James was assigned as Chief Clerk of the General Staff office at  ARADCOM Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado in the summer of 1956.  In her seventh and last year at ARADCOM, James served as Administrative Officer of the Training Branch, G-3.

With the passage of The Military Pay Bill of 1958, Congress added pay grades of E-8 and E-9. With the new law in effect.  Carolyn H. James became the first in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) promoted to grade E-8, making her the first WAC promoted to master sergeant (or first sergeant).  It was during her tenure in Colorado Springs when Master Sgt. James was promoted to Sergeant Major (E-9) making her the first woman in the history of the United States Army to hold that esteemed enlisted man's rank.  

In 1963, Sergeant Major James was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a second Army Commendation Medal.  She was assigned to the Women's Army Corps School at Fort McClellan, Alabama.  A second Oak Leaf Cluster was awarded to before her April 1965 retirement ceremony.   

Carolyn James lived for nearly two and one half decades in Colorado Springs following her retiriement after twenty years of service to the Army.   Sergeant Major James died on May 8, 1991 in local hospice.  

And thus the story of the determined and patriotic lady from Adrian, Georgia, who grew up to serve the country as the top secretary in the Army. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

CHAPPELL'S MILL


Ye Ancient Landmark

There is no more ancient local landmark, at least of the man-made variety, than Chappell's Mill situated at the northern extremity of Laurens County.   This grist mill, once a part of a widespread network of dozens of such mills, is the last of a once thriving commercial operations which served to convert the farmer's grains into the daily bread of life.

No one can tell exactly when the mill first was constructed.  The old story goes that it was a Mr. Gilbert that built the first mill on a branch of Big Sandy Creek, known as South Sandy Creek, about the year 1811.    It is likely that the builder of the original mill was either John or Thomas Gilbert, who owned land in the area in the early years of Laurens County. 
  
Though the exact date is not known, James Stanley II purchased the mill and more than two thousand acres surrounding it.      The hilly regions of northern Laurens County provided an ideal location for a mill.  Grist mills were often the commercial centers of the rural areas of the county.  They were similar to today's convenience stores and often sold other products in addition to ground corn and wheat.  Stanley formed a mercantile concern named for two of his sons, H.B.  and Ira Stanley, to capitalize on the rich resources of the area.

James Stanley died in 1841 and ownership of the mill passed to his sons.    Ira Stanley  was a man of high education. He married Janet McCall, daughter of Thomas McCall and Elizabeth Smith.  Though he owned in excess  of sixty slaves, Stanley refused to sell his excess slaves and kept families intact on his large plantations.   A starch opponent of the liquor trade, Stanley served as sheriff of Laurens County (1825-26) and state representative (1834-35.)    Stanley was a close friend of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America.    Family members relate the story of the time when Stephens stopped in for a visit with Stanley, who informed him that he was contemplating building a new home.  Stephens requested a pen and drew a sketch of his home, which Stanley duplicated as nearly as possible. 

During the War Between the States, the mill became a purported target of Sherman's  cavalry soldiers as they patrolled the flanks of the right wing of the Union army as it approached the Oconee River at Ball's Ferry.  Major James B. Duggan, a Confederate officer at home on leave, learned of the plot.   With no comrades available, Duggan dashed off to the nearby bridge over Big Sandy Creek, known as the "Lightwood Knot Bridge."    The legendary story tells that Duggan enlisted the aid of an elderly slave woman to deceive a Union cavalry patrol into believing that they were a squad of Confederate  general Joseph's Wheeler's cavalry coming up to block their crossing.  It has been told for decades that Duggan and the woman set the bridge afire and caused the Yankees to scurry off in mortal fear.

After the war, the local economy was in a shambles.  Nearly all of the men in the family had been actively involved in the war.  Rollin and Benjamin Stanley were officers, as well as James Chappell and Peyton Douglas.   The continued operation of the mill was important, perhaps more important than ever before.  The sons and sons in law of Ira Stanley entered into an agreement in September of 1868 to settle Stanley's estate.  James W. Chappell (husband 0f Harriett Stanley) , Peyton W. Douglas (husband of Georgia Stanley) and Ira E. Stanley purchased the interest of John F. Burney (husband of Margaret Stanley), Rollin A. Stanley and Benjamin F. Stanley for the sum of $4000.00.   The purchase included all mill rights and the rights to flood the pond to a sufficient level to operate the mill.  Also included in the conveyance of "Stanley Mills" included "all lumber on hand," possibly indicating that a saw mill was located on the premises.

From that point on, the mill became known as Chappell's Mill.   Ira Stanley Chappell, the eldest son of James T. and Harriet S. Chappell, died in 1931.  He was the last member of the Chappell family to own the mill.   Before his death, Chappell sold the property to Allen J. Dixon, who operated it for a quarter of a century.  Dixon advertised an auction for the sale of the mill, including the 50-acre pond, seven acres of land and three dwellings.  Dixon also offered more land at the set price of $10.00 per acre.  Don't we all wish had been there on December 18, 1942 with a pocket full of money?.   Dr. T. J. Blackshear was the high bidder.  He maintained the property until it was purchased by James and Forrest Townsend, grandsons of Allen Dixon.  

Charles Fordham,  Alton Carr, George Fordham, Carl Robinson and many others  kept the mill going for many years.  Production often went above 15,000 bushels a year and grossed more than $100.000.00 annually.   Once the grains of corn were ground, the meal was carefully sifted and poured in paper bags bearing the name of the mill and a generic conception of a southern grist mill.  The fine meal was sold to grocery stores around the state.  The mill was operated on water power until about 1950, when the more dependable electric power motors were installed.    Despite the dependability of electric turbines, the Townsends always wanted to restore the water power because it was free.   James Townsend always proclaimed that the slow grinding process was superior to the rapid factory processes.  

In 1997, after one hundred and eighty six years of continuous operation, the last batch of corn was ground.   The closure was not the result of the dastardly Yankees, a disastrous fire or an untimely death of the operators.  The death of our county's most ancient landmark came at the hands of indifferent government bureaucrats, who insisted that the Townsends install modern and prohibitively expensive equipment to keep the mill in operation.  

 The first mill house was located  on the northern side of the pond, but was washed in a flood and moved to the other side of the dam to protect it against floods.     The 1840s mill house still stands as a vivid reminder of the distant past.  Over the years, it has been modified to accommodate modern conveniences, but when you see it, you will be transported back in time to an era when life was a little slower and a lot gentler.  


Thursday, February 26, 2015

TRAVELS IN TIME: A RIVER CRUISE

TRAVELS IN TIME
A River Cruise


I often think if I had a time machine,  the dial would be set first to the mid 1890s, location Dublin, Georgia, at the wharves along the banks of the Oconee River.  The intention of my adventure would be a ride down the Oconee and Altamaha Rivers to Darien on the Atlantic coast.  A warm winter's day, or perhaps a crisp autumn one when the crimson and gold leaves of the sweet gum and the oak would adorn my prolonged trek to the sea, would be my first choices. 

I stepped inside the strange contraption and set the dial for November 13, 1893.    All of a sudden, the cylindrical sphere began to wildly rotate.  The centrifugal force flung me against the wall.  When the spinning subsided,  the time dial indicated May 15, 1894.  It was a typical mid spring day, kind of warm, but at least it wasn't raining.  Though the number of houses and buildings were scant, I did manage to recognize the lay of the land.  Toward the east, I spotted what appeared to be the heart of the town, glowing in the rays of the setting sun.   A place to sleep and a good meal were the first order of my itinerary.  

Upon the crest of a small hill I  saw what I believed to be "Liberty Hall," the residence of Col. John M. Stubbs.  Stubbs was a well known and highly skilled attorney, but was also known as one of the men who brought river boating and the railroads to Dublin some dozen or fifteen years prior.  Col. Stubbs, as I surmised he would be, was in his study going over plans for his gardens and orchards, another of the things he was most famous for.  I introduced myself as a fellow Maconite, who was looking to chronicle a ride on a river boat down to Darien.  He smiled and said, "son, you are in luck.  There's a boat leaving before sunup in the morning.  I am supposed to be aboard, but I have a trial in Eastman in two days and the judge refuses to grant me a continuance.    Go up to the hotel across from the courthouse and Mr. Hooks will take care of you."  

All around me were new residences going up.  When I reached the bottom of the hill, I could see the main business district.  Off to my left was a new brick church for the Methodists  coming up from the sandy ground.    As the sun sank behind the trees, Jackson Street fell into near complete darkness.  I forgot, the electric light bulb hadn't come to Dublin yet.  Everyone I met was friendly, overly friendly.  It seemed as if they were having a contest to see who could be the friendliest to the new stranger in town.  

As I approached the center of town, I could make out the outline of a two-story wooden structure on what I knew to have been on the courthouse square.  Though I had seen photographs of it after it had been removed to another location, it seemed smaller than I thought it was.  Across the street was a handsome hotel building, not the typical home modified to accommodate itinerant travelers, but a substantial two-story brick structure with towers on each side of its front edifice.  I walked in and found Mr. Gabriel S.  Hooks, the innkeeper, behind the desk, just where the Colonel told me he would be.  I told the affable young gentleman that Col. Stubbs had sent me to his establishment.  Mr. Hooks replied, "yes, I know, Mr. Stubbs sent his servant the back way and your accommodations are ready for you."

At Mr. Hooks insistence, I sat down at a large table in a much brighter adjoining room.  Before I knew it, Mrs. Hooks was bringing out a large blue plate.  More like a platter, there were several meats and a half-dozen servings of vegetables heaped on it.  The charming lady brought out a tray with a large piping hot loaf of bread wrapped inside a red and white checkered cloth.  I ate what I could and just a bite or two more.

Not wanting to miss a chance on getting in on a little history research, I began to interrogate Mr. Hooks on the doings in Dublin.  He told me that there were plans to build a new courthouse, a large brick one, sometime next year.  Hooks and all of Dublin were extremely proud of the new artesian well on the courthouse square.    

We discussed river boats.  He said, "young man, Dublin's  got three boats in service now and we're going to have two fine new ones very soon."  "We've got three railroads in town and more on the way," the innkeeper added.    Hooks told me that I would be riding with members of the Forest and Stream Club.  This group of forty-five  men formed a club to hunt and fish along the shores and swamps of the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers.  

The group hired  Capt. J.W. Miller of Dublin  to supervise the construction of the Gypsy,  a river boat with forty state rooms and pilot the boat down the river from the club's headquarters in Dublin to Darien on the Georgia coast.   Each of the Gypsy's  state rooms were outfitted with all of the necessary appurtenances and accouterments for the hunter and the fisherman.   Among the club's charter members from Dublin were Col. John M. Stubbs, Blanton Nance, J.T. Wright and E.M. Whitehead.  Judge Emory Speer of Macon, Dudley Hughes of Danville and E.L. Dennard of Houston County were among the most erudite members of the club.  The group's membership extended to members as far away as Birmingham, Chicago, Kansas City and Topeka.  

The Gypsy was constructed in Savannah under the careful scrutinizing eye of Capt. Miller.    The captain hired his old friend W.T. Walton to serve as the boat's engineer.   J.W. Grantham, the Gypsy's master machinist, was the best of his kind in the state.  Norman McCall, an experienced river pilot and an African Baptist minister, took the helm.  McCall, a man of enormous proportions, once saved his cargo by swimming with fifty-pound sacks of fertilizer under his arms and carrying them to the river banks.  

The hour was late and I was desperately trying to memorize every utterance I could remember.    "You better go on to bed.  You'll need to be down at the river by four o'clock in the morning," Mr. Hooks warned me.  Despite the comfortable bed,  solemn slumber was not in order that night.  Just in case I did fall asleep, I asked for a early morning "wake up knock" on my door.

And though my room was more like a Pullman railroad compartment, I didn't mind it all.  The  brilliance of a waxing gibbous moon illuminated my room through a small, yet well placed, window overlooking the quiescent courthouse square.   I thought I saw an army of apparitions drifting across the lawn.  “Old Bill, a kind black man who came in earlier to clean up my room,  told me the place was haunted.  “Yas, sir!.  This place is got ghosts.   There’s folks buried under the north tower of this here hotel,” he said as he shook  and studdered to get out his words.   I questioned Bill if he seen any ghosts.  “I’s afraid of ghosts sir.  I once saw two of them in front of Mr. Maddox’s hardware store over yonder.  It must be old man Sam Coleman’s grand daddy.  He’s buried right under the store,” the old servant added.    I scanned the landscape and saw no ghosts that night, but I did see nine gaping holes in the ground where “Old Bill” said some important rich folks was buried. 

Beside my somewhat comfortable bed, I found the most recent issue of the "Dublin Post," edited by Lucien Quincy Stubbs, a brilliant man of many talents and a credit to his father, and my new friend, Col. J.M. Stubbs.  I tried to read the  news of the town with the additional aid of an oil burning lamp, but decided to pack it away to analyze every word  during the quiet moments of the ride down the river.

Right on schedule at four o'clock on the dot, "Big Norman" tugged the whistle of the "Gypsy" and interrupted a most  tranquil morning.   Fireman Hardy Perry stoked the boiler.   I purchased my ticket for a three quarters of a dollar and walked timidly along a wobbling plank to the safety of the floor of the river steamer.  Despite the early hour, the boat was filled with passengers, all seeking a pleasureful cruise down the river. 

Around daylight we reached Berryhill's Bluff in what we know now as Treutlen County.  That's when it happened again.  Dutiful black servants began to bring out the bounty of the land, the best that farms, forests and streams could render.  I met Capt. Isaac Hardeman and Joseph Miller, who was headed toward his home in Montgomery County.  Sam Yopp, E.J. Willingham and E.J. Dupree boarded the boat after a more than successful hunting trip.  The morning air was delightfully cool and made the breakfast one of the most satisfactory I have ever experienced.  Some of the passengers expressed a desire to have delayed their feast until the fresh game could be added to the serving table.

The day passed pleasantly, but all too quickly.  The few women on the boat congregated in the stern area as far away from the bow, where the men were comparing their marksmanship skills.  Any bird, whether perched or airborne, was marked for instant death.  All eyes scanned the banks for a the glimpse of the prize victim of the day, the villainous alligator. 

The crew dropped the Gypsy's anchor at the Devil's Elbow, a bend in the river which was hailed as the best resort for hunting and fishing anywhere on the Oconee River and situated just three miles above the confluence of the Oconee and the Ocmulgee and a mere ten crow-fly  miles from Lumber City.  The lakes there were the most beautiful I had ever seen.  My yells echoed throughout the lush forest.  The bream and trout jumped so freely and often, I thought they were going to jump into my hands.

After a fulfilling feast of the hunter's bounty, we enjoyed an convivial evening of vocal entertainment and several games of whist and euchre.    Around 11:00 o'clock, the sound of a small gong  reverberated throughout the boat.  It was time to retire to our staterooms.
  
The enticing aroma of coffee and biscuits holding real cow butter inside them brought me springing out of my bed.  While the men alighted from the boat for more hunting thrills, I remained behind and partook of another half dozen or so of the best biscuits I ever ate.  Remember, I am still unborn and calories don't count yet.    The hunters returned around nine for the real breakfast of the morning replete with fish and game.  They had to eat their meats alone, because the biscuits were gone.  I did manage to part with a few of them, dividing them among seven starving servants.  I also shared a couple of them and a day- long delightful conversation with Mrs. Mary and Miss Hennilu Hughes, the wife and daughter of Dudley M Hughes.   He doesn't know it yet, but in twenty years, Col. Hughes will become one of Georgia's leading congressmen and co-author a bill to establish vocational education in public schools of the United States.  

Some time later, Capt. Miller hoisted a forty-four star flag and ordered the anchor raised.   As pilot McCall began to guide the boat downstream, some of the hunters appeared to be missing.  But, the Gypsy kept on gliding through the smooth as silk waters.  Coming to a stop in a grove of willows, the Captain patiently waited for the exasperated malingerers to catch up in their rowboats.    Everyone laughed at the men, tired and exhausted from their trip, everyone except me.  If there hadn't been any biscuits left, I would have gone along on the hunt, just to see what the fuss was all about.  

On the 18th of May at high noon, the Gypsy reached it first milestone destination, the confluence of the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, which is the beginning of the Altamaha River.   Though we had heard the boasts before, "The Forks" had boundless numbers of turkey and deer, just waiting for the hunters to come and place them on their dinner tables.  The boat headed to Bell's Ferry, one of the first ferries ever established in that part of Georgia.  William Chambers, who was about to enter his twenty fourth year as the ferryman, kindled  a fire and began to fry a fine mess of fish.  I took a small bream and a bowl full of hushpuppies over by a cool spring shaded by a virescent canopy of virgin pines.  I sat there and soaked in the aura of the ancient landmark.  By seven o'clock in the evening, we had arrived at White Bluff near the confluence of the Altamaha and the Great Ohoopee River, some one hundred miles distant from our departure point in Dublin. 

After a brief pause, the Gypsy moved down river to the Seven Sisters, a series of bluffs  crowned by large magnolia trees in full bloom.  With nothing alive to shoot, the itchy trigger fingered riflemen began firing at the fragrant blossoms, which exploded upon contact with their bullets.    The evening cruise continued until we reached Gypsy Lake.  Named by the club members in honor of their club boat, the six-mile-long lake was teeming with wild game.  Some of the men managed to capture two broods of young turkeys, but decided to release them hoping that soon they would be  hefty toms and hens.  Here we spent three days of feasting and more feasting, interspersed with hunting and merrymaking.  The camp ground was enveloped by a rim of oak, ash and elm carpeted with a blanket of snowy white sand.  

We traveled a half day until we reached London Bluff, where Col. Dudley M. Hughes, his wife and his daughter, along with Messers Dupree, Oliphant, Budd, Yopp and Shannon left our company for a rail trip back to their homes.  A trip of five more miles down the rapidly rising river found us at Doctor Town.  For the first time I observed the magnificent 800 yard long iron bridge,  one of a few of its kind over the Altamaha.  Fifteen miles from Darien, we found another one where the Florida Central trains crossed the mighty river on their route from Florida to the land where the Yankees used to live nearly year round.  Once again the Winchesters were pulled from their cases, much to the dismay of the gators along the banks.             

Captain Miller slowed the pace as the water was wide, but way too shallow to allow rapid passage.  On the 29th of May, some thirteen days after we left the docks in Dublin, the Gypsy pulled into Darien.   One of Georgia's most ancient towns, Darien was populated by some four thousand people; three-fourths of them were black, descendants of an honorable people who farmed the coastal granges for more than a quarter of a millennium.  I saw one large live oak which, I was told, shaded an entire acre of the sandy ground.  

After all the passengers debarked, Capt. Miller and his crew turned the boat around for the return trip to Dublin.   Many of the party lingered along the coast for a few more weeks of relaxation and revelry.   Captain Miller invited me to return the following October for another trip.  Hospitably acknowledging my thanks for a wonderful trip, but owing to the fact that I had other places to visit, I politely declined his offer.  T.C. Keenan, Isaac Hardeman, E.J. Willingham and I were driven through the countryside to Barington, where we boarded a Florida Central northbound train.   On the last day of the month in the mid afternoon I returned to Macon, ready for another adventure.  While there I decided I might as well  hang around for a year or so to see my great grandparents meet, fall in love and get married.  
Note: This is the first column written in a new style.  The story which you have just read is nearly all true.  Of course, I didn't really get in a time machine, but I certainly would if I could.   In future columns I hope to inform and entertain you with first person eyewitness accounts of more pieces of our past.