Historian Bob Baker’s 10 events that shaped Chattooga’s History
Baker’s Top Ten Events in Chattooga History
(From a program in October 2013)
Robert S. Baker, the author of Chattooga: The Story of a County and Its People spoke to the Chattooga County Historical Society about what he thought were the top ten events in Chattooga County history. He said the topic had been assigned to him and that he thought a more difficult one could not have been selected.
At the meeting, the Historical Society presented Baker with recognition of his work and what it has meant to the preservation of Chattooga County history.
“Historical events are somewhat like beauty. It’s all in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “What is important to one individual may not be important to another.”
“You will not hear me mention Mohawk, Best Manufacturing, or Paradise Garden, not because they are not important but because they do not fit within the definition of historical that I use here. I will not be discussing events in any particular order, with one exception.”
Creation of the County
Baker said he felt the creation of Chattooga County would be his exception—because this meeting would not have occurred without this momentous event. “I assume most of you are aware that 2013 marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of Chattooga County (shown misspelled in 1846 map at right). Bill 31 was amended on Friday, December 7, by the Senate and passed by a vote of 61 to 20.”
“I wish I could tell you how and why the original legislation was amended, but this is something we are likely to never know. The amendment should have been attached to the original bill and I had hoped to have a copy of that bill with me today. After a two-hour search by archives personnel, I was told that they could find no original 1830s legislation pertaining to the county.” The Georgia Archives staff then went on to speculate that those files were either lost or destroyed during the Civil War.
The House apparently agreed with the amended Senate version of the bill. The bill to create the county passed by a vote of 80 to 45 on Thursday, December 27. With the governor’s signature, Chattooga County was officially created. The legislation creating the county required that an election be held on the fourth Monday in January (January 29, 1839) to elect county officers.
Among the officers elected in 1839 were five Justices of the Inferior Court. They functioned as a board of commissioners, Ordinary and Treasurer all rolled into one group. “It was their job to get the county up and running and this involved locating a site to build a county courthouse,” Baker explained. “That site was to be designated the county seat.”
Three sites were considered by the Justices: the Henry site, the Wayside site and the Selma site. Four months after the county had been created, a United States post office opened at the site that had been selected as the county seat, and that Post Office was designated Selma, Georgia. Elijah Mosley, one of the original settlers, was named postmaster, which probably means the post office was in his home or in his place of business.
Eleven months after the Selma Post Office was created, the name was changed permanently to Summerville.
He listed manufacturing as another important milestone in the county. Over the years the county has had three cotton mills built, and two closed.
He discussed the Summerville Manufacturing Company, which became a reality in 1907. He told of their trials and tribulations through the great Depression. The mill was reorganized a couple of times but never recovered and was eventually closed.
The Raccoon Manufacturing Company was organized in 1883. By 1903 the mill could no longer pay its employees and was placed in the hands of a receiver. In 1910, the mill was bought by John M. Berry of Rome and Raccoon became Berryton (employees shown in 1915 at left). The name lasted but the mill did not. Labor unrest led to the downfall of the mill. Other attempts were made to make it profitable; however it was eventually closed.
The one bright spot in the manufacturing industry was founded in 1845. Shown at right, with brief interruptions from time to time, the Trion Factory [later Riegel, today Mount Vernon] has been one of, if not the most, the greatest cornerstones on which the economy of Chattooga County is built.
However, in a few short years, it was in danger of being destroyed by an invading army.
War Between the States
“The War Between the States brought misery like the county had never seen before.” He added, “Many homes in the county were left with only a mother and her children, and families sometimes struggled to survive.” Because both armies were scavengers, soldiers returning home found their hogs and cattle killed or stolen, their fields overgrown with weeds and brush and what little equipment they had rusting and unusable.”
“There were really only a couple of things the men would be able to fall back on until they could get their farms back into operation. Some found work at Trion while others made liquor.” A.P. Allgood [shown left] realized the South could not win the war, so he had sided with the North and in doing so saved his factory from being destroyed. When the war ended, he had his factory and also had valuable Yankee dollars rather than worthless Confederate money. This enabled him to pay workers.
“Had Trion Factory not been there following the war, I’m not sure the county itself would have survived,” Baker said. “It was the Trion Factory that provided the economy that helped the county to exist until farms were producing and businesses operating.”
When work in the mill slowed, workers could be transferred to the company farm or the saw mill, the brick yard, the ice plant or the dairy. Later, those who had the skills could work building the glove mill, the dairy and the Trion Inn. When the glove mill was completed in 1931, this added 900 new jobs to the county’s work force.
Following the war, A.P. Allgood and others had begun efforts to bring a railroad to the county. Over the next few years five railroad ideas were conceived for the benefit of Chattooga County. These five railroad companies all had one thing in common—none of them laid a foot of rail during the life of their charters.
It wasn’t until 1888 that the Chattanooga, Rome and Columbus railroad came to the county and it almost missed Summerville. The original line was surveyed from Chattanooga south to Trion, then turned east through a gap in Taylor Ridge to Dirttown valley, then on to Armuchee and Rome.
When John D. Taylor and C.C. Cleghorn learned the line would miss Summerville, they used their influence and were successful in getting the route to pass through Summerville, Raccoon, Lyerly and Holland. In later years, it was the Chattanooga, Rome and Columbus Railroad that shipped hundreds of cars of chert from Chattooga County to such cities as Chattanooga, Rome, Atlanta and Savannah for “paving” streets.
Although there are other chert pits in the county, most of the chert shipped out of the county came from the pit on Menlo Highway, because it was adjacent to the railroad.
The Chattanooga Southern Railroad came to the west side of the county in 1891. It was a 93-mile route from Chattanooga to Gadsden, passing through Menlo. It was constructed primarily for hauling iron ore, timber and coal that came off Lookout Mountain.
In 1911, the railroad had to be reorganized and at that time became the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia Railroad, known locally as the TAG. During the years of operation, this railroad was very valuable to the county for it hauled both freight and passengers.
The Rome and Northern [shown right] Railroad came to the county in 1910. It was built to haul iron ore from mines on the east side of Taylor Ridge to furnaces in Rome and Silver Creek. However, it also offered passenger service. Originally the line was to continue on to Farley, Subligna and Tunnel Hill, where it would connect with the Western and Atlantic Railroad.
The line was actually built only as far as Shackelton, a short-lived miner’s town which had been built near Gore. The Rome and Northern struggled until 1923, constantly losing money, and was finally sold to a group in Rome who petitioned to abandon the road and sold the equipment.
Prior to public schools being established in the county, education was in the hands of either personal tutors, private academies, poor schools, old field schools or home schools. Few could afford the cost of personal tutors. However, several academies managed to exist in the county over the years.
School terms in academies were usually twenty-two weeks in length, and the cost ran anywhere from $7.50 to $20.00 per term, depending on the level of study. Academies usually had some of the better qualified teachers. Ministers made ideal teachers because they were usually fairly well educated, good speakers, of high moral character and most needed to supplement their salaries.
Poor schools were for those children whose parents had not the means to send them to academies. Teachers received a very modest pay from the county based on the number of students and the number of days each attended. The low pay contributed to the fact that many poor school teachers were barely literate.
Bethel Academy had been the first high school in the county. The Bethel School—located at Bethel Church, at left, was eventually consolidated into the Gore School. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, parents realized it was in the best interest of their children to consolidate. The next consolidation came when Gore merged with Summerville. Then, in 1959, Subligna High merged with Summerville, again with parents raising objections.
In 1964 that consolidation became a little ugly. “Both the Lyerly and Menlo Schools were consolidated with Summerville. At that time there was also a considerable amount of objection which seems to have been aimed at the name Summerville. The Board of Education agreed to change the school name from Summerville High to Chattooga High and this seems to have calmed them down.”
“I am aware that the term ‘colored’ is no longer acceptable; however some historical records of the black schools refer to them as ‘colored’ schools.” Baker said.
At one time there were black schools in almost every community in the county, including 19 schools that no longer exist. This is not to say that all 19 existed in the county at one time. “What I remember as the Chattooga Training School at Holland was known by five names over the years—The Coldwater School, Finley Chapel School, Oddfellows School, and the Roswenwald School.”
Apparently, the Finley Chapel School in the Holland Community was the first African American school in the county. It opened sometime in the 1880s, in the Finley Chapel A.M.E. Church.
Unfortunately, the black schools in the county were begun using teacher whose only qualification was their desire to see black children educated.
The Board of Education made an honest effort to find qualified teachers for the black schools. In 1881, the board wrote Atlanta University to inquire about the possibility of engaging “seven to ten colored teachers to take charge of the colored public schools in the county during the coming year.”
Later, Professor A.C. Carter [shown left] created an exceptional school at Summerville Colored School into shape, and the school would eventually be named for him. Mrs. Virginia Shropshire was long associated with the West Side School at Trion.
The U.S. Supreme Court ordered school integration in 1955. In 1965, West Side (Trion’s black school) was integrated into Trion independent system. One year later in 1966, the Chattooga County system integrated its schools—however, this was done over a period of time. Due to consolidation and integration, the ten high schools that once existed in Chattooga County have been reduced to just two—Trion High and Chattooga High.
There have been thirteen different mastheads on county newspapers over the years. That does not, however, mean there have been thirteen different attempts to establish newspapers in the county.
The first newspaper to be established in the county was the “Chattooga Advertiser”, begun in 1871. In 1874, the Advertiser had a news editor—and a new name as it had become “The Summerville Gazette.”
Next came the “Chattooga News”, an 1893 fragment of which is shown at right. However, a 1936 edition of The Summerville News seems to indicate the paper began publishing in 1886, which would have been nine years later. We do know that it was in 1896 that the Chattooga News became The Summerville News.
Today, you and I associate The Summerville News with the Espy family, and well we should. In May of 1900, O.J. Espy, the grandfather and great-grandfather of the current owners, purchased a one-half interest in the paper. The family has now published the paper for well over a century.
The Dickeyville Gazette appeared for a short time in the 1940s, a part of the L.B. Harrell conglomerate. Then in 1959 the Chattooga Democrat made its appearance, only to last 21 months before closing.
Trion has had one newspaper with three different names. It began as the Trion Echo edited by J.J. Burns. He sold the paper to the Trion Company around 1897 and it was apparently at that time that the name was changed to the “Trion Herald.” Then, sometime around 1920, the name was changed to the “Trion Facts.”
Menlo wins the prize for the most newspapers. That town has seen an attempt to establish a paper on four different occasions. In 1895, the “Menlo Hatchet” appeared. One year later, it folded. In 1903, the “Menlo Mirror” appeared. It too lasted only a short time before it ceased publication.
In 1913, the “Chattooga County Times” began publication in Menlo. The Times operated for six months before it too ceased publication. The fourth newspaper in Menlo was “The Messenger” which was a monthly publication, rather than weekly. It too operated for six months before folding.
From the day the county was created, cotton was king as far as agriculture was concerned. In the early 1900s, agricultural agents began trying to get farmers to diversify their crops and depend less on cotton.
In 1895, R.A. McWhorter of Menlo set out 75 acres of peach trees. Two years later, he had expanded his peach orchard to 100 acres and had an additional 25 acres in apples and pears. The fruit industry had come to Chattooga County. It wasn’t long before more county farmers were getting into the fruit business.
6,000 trees were planted on the Hinton farm in Holland. Another 6,000 were planted in Menlo, and 10,000 trees were planted near Raccoon. By 1902, the iron ore mines on Dirtseller Mountain had been closed and 45,000 peach trees and 2,000 apples trees and 2,000 cherry trees had been planted on the mountain.
In 1903, one Chattooga County resident was looking to buy 500 bushels of peach seeds. That same year, it was estimated that there were more than one million peach trees in Chattooga County. Peach orchards became some of the county’s most valuable land. A Chattanooga banker purchased an orchard for $3,200. Three years later, the peach crop off that orchard was sold for $15,000, and the orchard itself was valued at $75,000. [At right, peach pickers and packers at Patten orchards, Menlo]
In 1906 Menlo shipped between 500 and 700 railroad cars of peaches to northern markets and Summerville shipped 350. Iced railway cars had to be used for shipping fruit. In 1906, there were 10,000 crates of peaches at the railroad in Menlo waiting for cars in which to ship them. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 of the 10,000 crates ruined before they were shipped. Unfortunately at the same time Chattooga County farmers were expanding their orchards, growers throughout the country were doing the same thing. By 1912, peach prices had dropped so low many county growers were giving peaches to anyone who would pick them. At least three orchards struggled on for several years before giving up operations.
“I can remember when the Fugazzi Orchard at Menlo, owned by Dr. Hair and Dr. Little, was still growing peaches, as was John Whisnant’s North Georgia Orchard just outside Summerville. Gene Taylor’s Number One orchard at Bolling also continued for years. Gradually, peach growing in the county became a thing of the past. But during its heyday it pumped millions of dollars into the county’s economy.”
Peterborough and Perry decided to experiment with strawberries, planting 30 acres near Menlo. The next year they shipped 1,400 crates of strawberries from the 30-acre field. There were 1,250 acres of strawberries in the Menlo area alone. By then, the Chattanooga, Rome and Southern Railroad was beginning the “Berry Special.” This was a special train that picked up strawberries at Lyerly, leaving there at 2:30 in the afternoon. The train then stopped at Raccoon and picked up berries there, then on to Chattanooga to make connections with a train leaving for Cincinnati and arriving there by 5:30 the next morning with a load of Chattooga County strawberries.
Incidentally, the first labor strike in Chattooga County was in 1901 when strawberry pickers at Menlo walked off the job demanding an increase in pay. The workers demanded the rate of pay for picking strawberries be raised from 1.5 to 2 cents per quart. Unfortunately, after staying out for a short time, they returned to work without a raise.
There was also a decent sized apple industry in the county between 1915 and 1920. In 1918, over 3,000 crates of apples were shipped from Menlo. In 1920, there were fifteen cars of apples shipped from there.
In 1905, power generation came to the county in the form of a generator installed to provide power for machinery in the mill at Trion. That system was later enlarged to provide power for the town. In 1907, a group of businessmen organized a company to provide electrical power in Summerville. But for some reason, it never got off the ground.
In 1916 a group of Summerville businessmen paid for a company to survey the city to ascertain the cost of installing an electrical system. As a result of that survey, the City Light and Power Co. was created to provide power for the Summerville Cotton Mill and limited power for the City of Summerville.
It wasn’t until 1922 that the city granted Georgia Railroad and Power Co. a franchise to provide an electrical distribution system in the town. The first documented long distance phone line was installed by AT&T in 1902. It was connected to a single phone placed in Thompson Hiles Store in Summerville. Anyone wishing to make a call had to go to the store to do so.
In 1904, both Menlo and Summerville installed independent phone systems. Menlo’s system did not work out, and by 1909, the Summerville Telephone Co. was installing poles for a line to Menlo. In 1912, the Farmer’s Telephone Co. was chartered to provide phone service between Lyerly and Menlo.
Over the years, Summerville, Trion, Gore, Lyerly and Menlo all had their own independent phone system. The heart of a phone system was the central device from which the call was routed to the proper location. Only emergency calls could be made after 9 p.m. and on holidays, and subscribers were on the honor system not to attempt a call at those times, except in an emergency.
The natural gas system was organized in 1955 when the cities of Summerville, Trion and LaFayette created the Tri-Cities Gas Company.
Family Wealth and Banks
Baker’s final category was family wealth and banks. It was the Allgoods, Bellahs, Cleghorns, Edmondsons, Espys, Martins, Penns [shown left at home in 1895], Rudicils, Sturdivants and Taylors who opened the mills, the grocery and hardware stores and who influenced the railroad to come to the county.
Because there was so little money in circulation inside the county outside of these families, no one found it necessary to organize a bank in the first 53 years of the county’s existence. The Bank of Commerce was organized in Summerville in 1891. Of the first banks organized in the county, only the Bank of Trion operated without problems. The bank opened in 1912 and continued to operate until 1943 when it voluntarily surrendered its charter and closed.
The Farmers and Merchants Bank was organized in 1925, and just five years later, this bank was experiencing problems. As a result, the cashier resigned and the bank was reorganized and reopened in a couple of weeks. This resulted in the stockholders in the bank losing some money. However, none of the proprietors lost any money, creating ill-will that lasted through the next generation. In July, 2000, Farmers and Merchants Bank became BB&T, ending 75 years of service to the people of Chattooga County.
One other bank—The Commercial Bank—was opened in 1943, located in Dickeyville. It was open only a short time before failing.