Sunday, November 9, 2014

Red Oak Covered Bridge

The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, November 2, 2014 at the Red Oak Covered Bridge between Woodbury and Gay in the Imlac Community. President Sallie Mabon welcomed members and guests to the special meeting that was held so the club could view the cleanup work that has been done recently around the bridge, view the new picnic tables and to hear how the tours to the bridge went during the Cotton Pickin’ Fair.

Mabon began by thanking those serving as tour guides and docents the weekend of the fair.  John and Ellen McEwen provided space at the fair and the replica of the Red Oak Covered bridge was an attention getter. Bruce O’Neal drove the county bus shuttling guests to the bridge and during the ride O’Neal and docents told about the county and the bridge.

The Together in Meriwether committee encouraged the creation of “rack cards” about the covered bridge, and they are now in welcome and tourist centers around Georgia. New signs along the highway will direct visitors to the bridge.

Mabon explained there were two covered bridges in Meriwether: The Red Oak and the White Oak, with both being built in the 1840s.  Our White Oak Covered Bridge burned some years ago.  Our local American Legion has stepped forward and pledged its support in maintenance in keeping graffiti off the structure as well as protection.

The bridge has earned much interest in the last years as it has been designated as being built by Horace King, a slave from South Carolina who is renowned as a master engineer and builder. Owned by John Godwin who came to the Columbus and Phenix City area to build the 560 foot bridge that first connected the cities, King’s bridge lasted until the Civil War. King went on to build grist mills, warehouses, and many more bridges.

Because Godwin often took stock in construction projects rather than be paid, he found himself with worthless stock and in financial ruin. He was offered $6,000 for Horace King but refused and worked to have King freed by an act of the Alabama legislature in 1846. After John Godwin's death in 1859, King erected a monument over Godwin’s grave in the Godwin cemetery in Phenix City that reads: "This stone was placed here by Horace King, in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude he felt for his lost friend and former master."

King would go on to build numerous bridges for the Confederacy and would serve two terms in the Alabama General Assembly. He moved to LaGrange and lived there until his death in 1885.

King had a diverse genetic background: white, black and Cherokee that led Dr. William H. Green to say of King: "Laborer and legislator, his life was an astonishing symbolic bridge - a bridge not only between states, but between men. Like one of his stately Town lattice bridges, Horace King’s life soars above the murky waters of historical limitations, of human bondage and racial prejudice. He did not change the currents of social history, but he did transcend them and stands as a reminder of our common humanity, the potential of human spirit, the power of human respect."

Our Red Oak Covered Bridge in Meriwether has a 235 foot span making it the longest covered bridge in Georgia although the covered part is 115 feet. Mabon asked members and guests to reflect and share a story about the bridge. A certain prominent orthopedist from Meriwether is known to have stuffed a dummy that was lowered on ropes from the rafters to surprise motorists as they crossed. Shellie Chastain’s husband proposed on the covered bridge. Numerous tales and events were shared.

Bruce O’Neal told about the fish fries and fiddlers and “branch water” that made up a lot of Saturday nights when he was young.  FDR was known to have attended fish fries at Flat Shoals.

One unique historical point O’Neal pointed out was the Indian fish trap upstream of the bridge that is going to be repaired. There were seven traps on White Oak Creek and these Indian traps predate the building of the bridges by hundreds of years.  

Club members thoroughly enjoyed walking through and noting the size of the beams, the 2500 plus wooden pegs and the fall beauty along the creek.  While the meeting was held, a number of cars passed by and photographers were taking graduation photos.  The popular, historic bridge was being well appreciated that day.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

FDR and Cason Callaway

The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 4 pm in the historical society headquarters on Court Square, Greenville. President Sallie Mabon welcomed the crowd that was a tight fit in the quaint old law office, and introduced the speaker, Bob Prater, Mayor of Warm Springs.

Prater, active in Habitat for Humanity and Harmony Church, has often portrayed FDR at the Foundation.  He is currently researching the relationship of FDR and Cason Callaway. Many historical society members have been watching the Ken Burns’ PBS program on the Roosevelts and so Prater’s program was quite timely.

Prater began by pointing out of the five most influential men in the Central West Georgia area: Fuller Callaway, industrialist from LaGrange, Henry Kimbrough, senator, merchant, and banker from Harris County, James Peters, banker and educator from Manchester, Cason Callaway and FDR. While FDR and Cason Callaway were the most influential, Prater said, the other three had laid the groundwork for progress.

Prater pointed out the diverse backgrounds of FDR and Callaway. FDR was born into a wealthy family in January of 1882.  Cason Callaway, born November 1894, was the son of a hardworking, merchant of a mercantile store who created textile mills and would become a leading industrialist, but that came after Cason was raised.

FDR’s education was the finest. He was tutored at home by German and French teachers before being sent to Groten Massachusetts then on to Harvard followed by Columbia law. Cason was educated in the Troup County public schools before attending Bingham Military in North Carolina. He attended the University of Virginia for one year before going to business school in New York.

FDR began a career in law than went into politics as was expected of him, and Callaway went into the Navy. He was assigned to textile procurement in Washington at the same time FDR was appointed assistant Secretary of the Navy. Callaway would say, “Mr. Roosevelt came in the front door, I came in the back door.”

While Prater is not sure when the two met in Warm Springs, he knows FDR began coming to Georgia in October 1924. Callaway was running the mills and Manchester Mill was one of them. FDR bought the 1200 acre Warm Springs property in 1926 and invited Callaway to build a cottage on the property, but Cason replied he had a home at Blue Springs.

Prater pointed out that he has seen that many of FDR’s decisions made in Warm Springs had a Callaway hand in it. FDR did not want the Foundation to be totally a hospital and treatment center but a resort that he called “Meriwether Reserve.” He wanted a golf course on it and Callaway arranged for influential golf course designer Donald Ross to build it as he was building the course in LaGrange for Highland Country Club at the time. The course was designed as an eighteen hole course although only a nine course one was built.

FDR has precise plans for his resort. After a Thanksgiving event in the hotel that packed in three hundred, Roosevelt said the foundation sank three inches. He also said the hotel was a firetrap and too inaccessible for polio patients. After the hotel burned, Cason Callaway partnered with Woolford, a founder of Equifax, to build Georgia Hall.

Prater told a favorite story of FDR’s after he built the Little White House: FDR would say that wherever he lived people would go to parks on weekends to have a holiday, but in the South everyone went to town!

Prater explored many other areas of FDR and Callaway’s friendship from family picnics and meals together to many letters of recommendation Callaway asked FDR to endorse or events at which to intervene. FDR, at Callaway’s behest, helped George Patton IV get an appointment to the military academy. Callaway helped Tap Bennett, whose father was his experimental farm manager, get into the diplomatic corps. FDR’s last time nominated to the democratic ticket in 1944 resulted in Callaway, a convention delegate, calling and informing FDR he had been elected.

Prater passed out photo copies of a 1933 magazine for the Georgia Automobilist about motoring the South and specifically the Georgia BiCentennial Illuminated Highway that contains interesting historical info about our early roads and the Pine Mountain Scenic Highway.

The legacies of the two men, Prater concluded, are myriad.  FDR touched the nation and the world serving in politics and leading our nation during World War II. Cason Callaway developed Callaway Gardens, philanthropic foundations and was devoted to improving agriculture.

Prater’s praised the Hyde Park library for help in his research as well as the Foundation in Warm Springs. He noted society member Mike Shaddix’s name on the credits for the Ken Burn’s documentary. Prater has a first portion of his work due soon but does not anticipate publishing a book for several years.

In other business, the group formed a committee of Sallie Mabon, Diana Norris, Sally Neal, Carla Snider, Betty Clayton, and Mike Shaddix to work on a history day competition focusing on Meriwether County. Shaddix brought to the club’s attention another movie featuring the Institute, Afternoon of a Faun, the story of ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq who contracted polio and could not dance.  It is available through Netflix. In a last note of business the group decided not to do the Honey Baked Ham fundraiser this Thanksgiving.  While a delicious and convenient seller, the fundraiser did not make enough money for the effort done.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Traveling Trunk

The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, April 27, 2014 in the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall beside the historical society headquarters in order to accommodate the larger crowd for the April program.

President Sallie Mabon introduced speaker Terry Manning, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, whose program, The Traveling Trunk - Artifacts of Colonial Lifestyle, gave a wealth of interesting information on household and military artifacts and customs of the Revolutionary Period.

Manning, a retired auditor with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Life Master at bridge, is a member of the Atlanta Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. His hobby of collecting colonial era artifacts and replicas enables him to entertain while teaching in schools to a targeted fourth grade level audience.

Manning began by explaining his uniform, a revolutionary period buff and navy suit that George Washington designed. He explained each colony had its own design and color combination. Many colonists fighting wanted to wear the Daniel Boone style coat and clothing but the political leaders knew the colonists would be fighting alongside the dapper French and the Americans would look like ragamuffins!

Shoes back in that day were made alike-no left vs. right-and you could buy one or two or more. You wore one on the left foot one day and could swap it to the right so that it did not wear permanently. Knee breeches were the norm partly because it was the fashion plus simpler and quicker to wash and dry knee socks than whole trousers.

Manning displayed the contents of a haversack-snacks, spare stockings, light weight tin plate and cup. Water was carried in a canteen often wooden made because England put restrictions and taxes on what could be made and metal canteens were made in England only.

Manning explained about the cat o’ nine tails and punishments.  Soldiers’ punishments were added up and on “Blue Monday” the lashes administered.  The term lobster back came not because of the British red coats but because the men’s backs were raw from whippings.

Muskets and muzzle loaders created a vastly different battle scene from today’s warfare.  If a shooter were good he could get off four shots in a minute. He could make bullets ahead with the powder and bullet wrapped in paper, but because guns needed cleaning and reloading, battles lasted for a few hours or went to fixed bayonet fighting.

Items of entertainment were plentiful in Manning’s traveling trunk, a deck of cards had no colorful top side and numbers were not included as extra ink would have been required. Children had toys like a ball and cup toss, wooden tops, Jacob’s ladders, and whirlybirds-simple carved wooden toys. Manning demonstrated a dancing man toy that tap danced on a bouncing board. Bowling pins were popular and so heavily bet upon that nine pins was outlawed. The colonists simply made it ten pins! The king or lead pin was often painted to look like King George.

Toiletry items were simple and unique.  Sassafras twigs were used to care for the teeth and freshen breath, and a family lucky enough to have a boar bristle brush shared the one toothbrush among the members of the family. Combs were carved from bone or antlers. Mob caps were worn by the ladies to keep bugs and dust away because a soaking bath and shampoo were not done often. 

Sandalwood fans were popular because they could be strategically held to hide disfiguring scars and marks and were perfumed to keep bad smells at bay. The language of fans was a way to communicate with a folded tapped fan meaning “yes” to a request to dance. Soaps were available and made from fat and made in barrels and often sliver were added to water to make a liquid soap mixture like the common washes that are popular today.

Flints were used to start fires but char cloth was often carried to make the tedious process easier. Paper currency was not preferred and when a merchant or seller could not make change for a shilling, coins were cut in half and in half again and called “bits” so hence “two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar.”

Manning showed sugar cones wrapped in indigo dyed paper and sealed with the maker’s wax. Packed and compressed blocks of tea with its maker’s stamp were also displayed.

Manning finished with a display of Indian items like a blowgun and tomahawk.  The Indians appreciated the colonists’ finer tools and weapons and stayed around to trade and acquire the imported goods.

President Mabon thanked Manning for coming. John and Diana Norris had heard him speak at an earlier event and recommended him to the Meriwether club.

 Mabon said she had attended the Sons of the American Revolution Marquis de LaFayette Chapter’s placing of a memorial marker for Dempsey Tyner at the Greenville cemetery on April 26th.  Relatives from Texas, British Columbia, and Florida attended the Tyner event for the Meriwether citizen who fought in the Revolution and settled in our county.  Two proclamations were read, there was the posting of the colors, and a musket salute were impressive parts of the ceremony.

Mabon finished by encouraging the members to attend the May 6th meeting at the courthouse when the state tourism team headed by Commissioner Chris Carr of the Department of Economic Development presents its findings for our county on improving tourism.