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.