Thursday, August 28, 2003

A Mill for the Settlement - The Souther Mill (Part 2)

Jesse William Souther, Jr. was a bachelor, age 35, when he moved from Wilkes County, NC to Choestoe, Georgia in 1848. He and his two brothers, Joseph and John established the Souther Mill in that same year. It was a boon for citizens in the settlement.

Jesse Souther began to court beautiful Malinda Nix, a daughter of William and Susanna Stonecypher Nix, who lived near Cleveland, GA. We don’t know the story of their courtship, but maybe Jesse met Malinda on one of his trips across the Logan Turnpike to take goods by covered wagon to Gainesville. It was customary for the wagons to stop for the first night at a campground at Cleveland near the Nix home. Or maybe Jesse and Malinda met at the Frank Collins home. Malinda’s sister, Rutha Nix, had married Collins on January 6, 1841 and moved to Choestoe.

Malinda’s grandfather, John Henry Stonecypher, Jr. of Eastanollee near Toccoa, had figured prominently in the Revolutionary War and also in the Indian Wars. Jesse and Malinda were married January 12, 1851, two months prior to Jesse’s 39th birthday. Malinda was born in 1829 and was sixteen years younger than her husband.

Jesse Souther added to his land holdings by purchasing a tract from Ivan J. Collins, a son of Thompson Collins, first settler on Choestoe. In a note dated May 12, 1862, Jesse gave his bond to pay $125 for the Collins land along Cane Creek that adjoined the property he had secured from his brother, Joseph Souther, before he went west in 1853.

To Jesse and Malinda Nix Souther were born eight children, four sons and four daughters. Fairlena (died in infancy); Nancy Elvira (b. 1853); Joseph G. (b. 1855); John Baptist (b. 1857); Sarah (b. 1861); Mary (b. 1863); William Jesse (b. 1864); and Jeptha Freeman (b. 1865).

It was the last-born, Jeptha, who was to remain on the Souther farm and continue the milling operation started by his father and uncles.

Jesse Souther was a prominent citizen of the Choestoe District. He was official treasurer of the Militia District # 834. In records kept meticulously by him, are these notations: “In 1849, paid W. L. Howard, teacher, $22.16 for 134 children (for the Choestoe School). On January 3, 1860 paid the District Treasurer, Jesse Souther, for teachers in the district, $155.85. Various other allocations were made over the years for teachers. On record are payments to these teachers from the amount allotted to Treasurer Souther: John C. Ballew; William L. Howard; Andrew Young; S. S. Hanshaw; William Neel; F. M. Swain; H. J. Sparks; S. R. Wright; F. S. Hughes; Jacob Butt; William Rich; Davidson Crumley; W. S. Wiley; and Thomas Bull. Some of Jesse’s bookkeeping notations indicate that the teachers were paid on the basis of 4 and 1/6 cents per day per pupil.

A school term was on the average of four months per year, usually in the winter months when no crops demanded work from the pupils. A notation indicated there were, at one time, 182 school children in the district of Choestoe. Treasurer Jesse Souther paid teachers who worked at Choestoe, New Liberty, Old Liberty and Union (Hood’s Chapel) Schools in houses that served as classrooms during the week and churches on Sundays.

His brother, John Souther, served on the County School Board from Choestoe District, and was also one of the earliest teachers in the district, even before Jesse William Souther, Jr. arrived there. The teachers probably went by the Souther Mill to collect their money on days taught and records of pupils served.

The Civil War years were hard on the Jesse Souther family, as well as others in the Choestoe Settlement. So far as we know, the mill kept operating, but probably not on as big a scale as during pre-war years. Jesse’s son, Joseph, was six years old when the Civil War broke out. He wrote in his memoirs: “Thirty men from Choestoe enlisted, one-half of them never returning to once-happy and prosperous homes.” When he was nine, Joseph became a scout for one of the Home Guard units and continued until the year ended in 1865. Knowing what we know now about Home Guard members and their ruffian methods, being a scout was no easy task for a nine-year-old.

Mourning pervaded the house when Jesse William Souther, Jr. died on May 5, 1869. He was laid to rest in the old Choestoe Cemetery not far from the Souther home. His death left an invalid wife, Malinda, seven children, the oldest of whom was Nancy, age 15 at her father’s death, and the youngest, Jeptha Freeman, age four. Joseph states in his memoirs: “Nancy helped with the younger children and the housework, I, at age 13, worked on the farm. With a single old mare who knew more about keeping the rows straight than I. I plowed the rows of corn.” Malinda Nix Souther died in 1894.

Records are somewhat sketchy about the operation of Souther Mill following Jesse’s death. Various millers were employed, probably on shares, to operate the grist mill and sawmill. In his book, Between the Blood and the Bald (Matthew’s Press, 2000), John Paul Souther, grandson of Jesse and son of Jeptha, tells about how his father at a young age became the miller. Jeptha Freeman Souther was naturally skilled in technology and built a millrace thirty feet long, stretching from the millpond at a higher level to turn the turbines at the mill. The millrace, also called the penstock, was made of three-inch thick lumber a foot wide, and had no leaks. A personable and wise miller, Jeptha kept the clients entertained with his stories, his knowledge of world affairs and his ability to relate genealogical ties of the families in Choestoe District.

Edward Shuler in his memoirs, Blood Mountain (Convention Press, 1953) recalls trips to the Souther Mill when he was a child as highlights for learning about the area and its people from the miller, Jeptha Souther.

Three years after his mother’s death, Jeptha married Mintie Iva Ann Dyer in 1897, a daughter of Henderson Dyer. He brought her to the house his father Jesse had built in 1850, and there they reared their five daughters and four sons: Mae, Fannie, Viola, Mary, Eva, Theodore, John Paul and Hubert.

John Paul Souther stated that his father sold the mill in 1919. Some of the operating millers following the sale were Bud Ballew, Martin Jones, Joe Townsend, Bert Watkins, Newt Curtis, Virgil C. Collins, Jimmy Self, and Ivan Collins. Unfortunately, the mill burned in 1943. The Depression years had caused the mill to gradually fall into disrepair. Gristmills were becoming a thing of the past and the glory days of Souther Mill were no more.

On a misty morning in Choestoe, one can almost imagine the gentle splash from the waterwheel and the steady whirling drone as the millstones grind a turn of corn, wheat or rye.

Descendants related in some way to the entrepreneurs who began Souther Mill in 1848 are almost as numerous today as the turns of corn that knew the pressure from the grinding stones of Souther Mill so many years ago.

Life goes on, layer upon layer, with what is good from the past lighting the way into the future.

Note: For sources I am indebted to Watson B. Dyer’s Souther Family History, 1988; John Paul Souther’s Between the Blood and the Bald (2000); Edward Shuler’s Blood Mountain, 1953); my own childhood memories of Souther Mill when my father, J. Marion Dyer, took me there where he had his own corn ground; and an article I wrote in the Autumn, 1993 issue of North Georgia Journal (Legacy Communications) entitled “Memories of the Old Souther Mill.” The photographs are courtesy of John Paul Souther.)

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 28, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

A Mill for the Settlement - The old Souther Mill

All that can be seen of the old Souther Mill today are some of the stones that formed the dam on Cane Creek near the entrance to Souther Mill Estates. The weathered building housing the mill equipment that ground corn, wheat and rye burned to the ground in 1943. But many memories of the old mill that turned out meal and flour for the Choestoe settlement linger on, firmly entrenched in the minds of those who remember it or who have heard about it from ancestors.

A sawmill operated near the grist mill, using the same source of water power. Both mills were important to citizens from the mid-nineteenth century on, entrenched solidly in community life.

Who was the entrepreneur that had the foresight and skill to establish Souther Mill? His name was Jesse William Souther, Jr. (known as Jesse) born in Wilkes County, NC near Old Fort on March 12, 1813. His parents were Jesse and Jane Combs Souther. Jesse, Jr. was the seventh of fourteen children. Some of Jesse’s siblings had migrated to the new county of Union in North Georgia in the mid-1830s. Brothers Joseph (b. 9/12/1801), John (b. 1/19/1803), and Hix (b. 5/7/1815) and sister Kizziah (b. 3/27/1811) who married John Humphries had settled in Choestoe.

Before Jesse, Jr. migrated to Choestoe, he had a job to do. On April 30, 1838, he enrolled in the Third Regiment of the North Carolina Militia, in Captain Hick’s Company, at Franklin. He was engaged in what has been called the “Cherokee War”. His task was to assist in the roundup of the Cherokee and moving them to the reservation in Oklahoma.

Brother Hix Souther died in 1840, before Jesse moved to Choestoe in 1848. Brother John already had his family settled in what was later named the New Liberty section of Choestoe, securing a deed on March 27, 1837 for Land Lot # 150, 1st District, 16th Section.

Brother Joseph Souther paid taxes in 1851 on Lots 160, 161, 162 and 198 in District 16, and on another lot, # 195, District 17, which was later incorporated into Towns County when that county was formed from Union in 1856. Joseph and his wife, Sarah Davis Souther, joined Choestoe Baptist Church as new members on June 6, 1835, where he was ordained as a deacon, serving in that capacity from 1835 until he moved his family west in 1853.

John Souther and his wife, Mary “Polly” Combs Souther, gave an acre of land on which New Liberty Baptist Church, a sort of split-off from Choestoe, was established in 1843. John’s sister, Kizziah and her husband, John Humphries, moved from Choestoe to Monroe County, Tennessee.

In 1848 Jesse Souther, Jr. moved to Choestoe. Coming with him was a sixteen year old boy, James Justice, who was to be his helper in the enterprise Jesse had in mind. In the 1850 Union County census, Jesse Souther’s assets were listed as $850. Evidently he learned how to set up and operate a grist mill as he lived near Hunting Creek in Wilkes County, NC.

Family tradition maintains that the three Souther brothers, Jesse, Jr., Joseph and John, established the Souther Mill on Cane Creek, Choestoe in 1848. Joseph, being the elder of the three, evidently first claimed ownership of the mill, for the census that year shows his assets as $3,500. The brothers got the grist mill and sawmill operating well and both were definite assets to the settlers in the Choestoe District.

By 1853, Joseph and Sarah Souther had decided to go west to Benton County, Arkansas and later on to Stone County, Missouri. Jesse Souther, Jr. bought land and the interest in the mills from his brother Joseph. John also transacted for some of Joseph’s holdings. From 1853 forward, the mill on Cane Creek was known as the Jesse Souther Mill.

The millstones ground out exceedingly fine cornmeal, grist for feeding livestock, and with the finer millstones honed especially for that purpose, flour from wheat and rye flour from that grain. The flour was bolted on the second floor of the two-story millhouse, while corn was ground on the first floor.

Souther Mill was a popular place where neighbors learned the latest news, argued politics, and watched and predicted which way the impending war clouds would turn in the first rumblings of secession prior to the War between the States.

Pictures are compliments of John Paul Souther, Gainesville, GA, the grandson of Jesse William Souther who founded Souther Mill in 1848, and son of Jeptha Freeman Souther who inherited the mill from his father.

The Souther Mill on Cane Creek, Choestoe, Georgia
Built by Jesse William Souther about 1848
Picture from Southern exposure, 1937

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 21, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Souther-Dyer House

“It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home” declared poet Edgar A. Guest. If the roof and walls of the old Souther-Dyer house on Town Creek School Road near New Liberty Church, Choestoe, could speak, quite a story of life and living would unfold.

The house was built in 1850 by John Souther (1803-1889) for his son, John Combs Hayes Souther (1827-1891) who married Nancy Collins (1829-1888) on February 6, 1852, a daughter of Thompson Collins (ca. 1785-1858) and Celia Self Collins (ca. 1787-1880).

Thompson Collins was the first with the Collins last name to settle in the Choestoe District of Union County, coming before the county was formed in 1832. John Souther settled his family there about 1835 or 1836. Both families had migrated from North Carolina in the area of Wilkes and Buncombe Counties, but John Souther had gone to Indiana before finally moving to the North Georgia Mountains where he lived out his life.

John Souther as well as Thompson Collins had large land holdings. John bequeathed 160 acres (land lot # 150) to his son, John Combs Hayes Souther, who went by the name of Jack. It was on some of this land that the log cabin was built with fireplaces and fieldstone chimneys constructed at each end of the house. In the home that Jack and Nancy Collins Souther established, ten children were born, nine of whom reached adulthood.

Their children and spouses were Mary Elizabeth Souther who married Smith Loransey Brown; Celia Souther, named for her grandmother Celia Self Collins, who died at age 16; William Albert Souther who married Elizabeth Caroline “Hon” Dyer; Sarah Evaline Souther who married Bluford Elisha Dyer (a brother to Elizabeth Dyer); Joseph Newton Souther who married Elderada Swain; Nancy Roseanne Souther who married William Hulsey; Catherine Souther who married William Bruce Moore; Martha Souther who married, first, Jasper Todd Hunter, then, upon his death, married his brother, James Hunter; John Padgett Souther who married Martha Clementine Brown; and Ruthie Carolina Souther who married, first, William Sullivan, and, second, James Logan Souther.

JCH “Jack” Souther was a farmer. He had droves of hogs that ranged on the mountains near his home, feeding upon acorns and foraging other food from the wild. The hogs were herded up in the fall and driven to market in Gainesville, Georgia over the Logan Turnpike.

Covered wagons went from Choestoe across Tesnatee Gap into Cleveland, Georgia and on to the markets in Gainesville. John’s wagon, together with those of his neighbors, formed a wagon train. They hauled produce from the farms and woods to barter for items not grown on mountain farms. Chestnuts were plentiful in those days, before the blight killed the trees. These nuts were gathered and used for barter. The trip south took two days, with the first night spent at a wagon train camp near Cleveland. Trading sometimes took two days. Loading wagons with bolts of cloth, store-bought shoes, coffee, sugar and other needed items, the men would begin the trek northward back to Choestoe Valley, again camping near Cleveland.

In the cabin, Nancy Collins Souther carded, spun and wove the wool sheared from the Souther sheep. Cloth for clothes, warm woolen blankets and coverlets came from her loom. She was industrious, and taught her daughters the skills of weaving, knitting, and sewing. They gathered herbs for medicines and dried the fruits and vegetables grown on the farm to preserve them for winter use. Nothing was wasted. The Souther family lived as well as anyone in the valley, due to their industriousness and frugality.

The bottom lands along Town Creek yielded good crops. Life was good in the chinked log cabin where they were cozy in winter when the fierce winds blew and snow covered the landscape.

On February 28, 1875, the fourth child of Jack and Nancy Souther, Sarah Evaline (1857-1959), married Bluford Elisha “Bud” Dyer (1855-1926). At first, Sarah and Bud lived in a cabin near her father and mother, but in 1891, following her father’s death, Bud bought the old Jack Souther homeplace. It was there this couple reared their family, a total of fifteen children in all. Jasper Hayes died at age one, and James Garney died at age 20. The other thirteen grew to adulthood, married and had families. Gatherings at the old house when children, their spouses and the grandchildren returned home for visits were happy (and crowded) occasions.

Children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as well as other kin and friends loved visiting Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer who lacked only three months reaching the vintage age of 102. She died March 4, 1959. She always had entertaining stories about her life in the old house. She told about seeing the glow of Atlanta burning when Sherman’s Army moved through and set fire to houses and businesses.

Her father, John Combs Hayes Souther, objected to the war and hid out in caves in the mountains to escape enlistment and excessive pressure exerted by the Home Guard to join the Confederacy.

Sarah could remember Indians still in the mountains when she was a child, and how they came to the Souther house peddling baskets and other crafts. She still had some of the split-oak baskets to show the grandchildren. One was used to gather eggs and another for freshly-laundered clothes that had soaked up the sun from the lines at the side of the yard.

A son of Sarah Souther Dyer, Franklin Hedden Dyer and his family lived in the house and looked after his aging mother until her death in 1959. He moved sometime after her death to Cleveland, GA.

A few years ago Mr. Bill Duckworth purchased the old Souther-Dyer house. He is in the process of restoring it, peeling off layers of construction added through the years and returning it to the original logs used by John and John Combs Hayes Souther to construct the house in 1850.

For more than 150 years the structure has stood as a monument to the hardiness of early settlers who set the tone of life in the Choestoe Valley.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 7, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.