Thursday, May 27, 2004

Gold Mining in Union County

“There’s gold in them thar hills!” The cry is not too grammatically correct, but that early pronouncement of prospectors reverberated through the hills and hollows of Union County in the early years. Legend holds that gold was found in the area that became Union County in 1832 long before the gold rush at Duke’s Creek, Dahlonega, Auraria and Lumpkin County. Little actual recorded history of gold deposits and mining operations in Union County has survived the mists of time. However, some of the bits and pieces can be deciphered to authenticate that gold mining was once a promising business here.

The most famous of the gold mines and the one that operated with a business-like setup was known as the Coosa Mine at Coosa Creek. It is reported that more than $2 million dollars in gold was mined there. Another report deals with the pure quality of the gold ore. It is said that the assayers in Washington, D. C. could tell by looking that gold ore was from the Coosa Mines because it was “the yellowest gold” submitted and its brilliant color set it apart.

In addition to the Coosa Mining operations, placer mines were located at Wellborn Mountain, in the Gumlog District, at Bowers Cove and in Owltown. Stories abound about James Bly Nix and his brother John who found a rich vein of gold in the Choestoe District. This latter lode’s location still remains a mystery.

Two brothers, William Franklin (called Frank) and Zed Summerour, mining engineers, played an important role in Union County gold mining operations beginning in the early 1900’s. Some of the mines they plumbed can still be located on land lots 85-87, 93-95, 124, 129 and 130 at Coosa Creek about four miles south of Blairsville. Another operated by the Summerour brothers was at Gold Mine Knob south of Owltown Gap. The miners referred to this location as “Hooter Gap” because of the prevalence of owls whose loud hoots punctuated the nighttime stillness.

Frank Summerour (1876-1940) was proficient as a machinist and builder. He operated a grist mill and sawmill on Coosa Creek. In the early 1930’s he set up a generator system that supplied electricity from water power for his family’s residence. The sawmill provided the lumber needed for shoring up the mines and building the mining camps where men boarded.

The stamp mill Frank Summerour operated at Coosa Creek separated the gold from the ore. Loads of ore were hauled by mule teams from the various placer mines in Coosa, Wellborn Mountain and other outlying mines.

Mining settlements sprang up. A man named Herschel Summerlin built mining camps at Coosa Creek and at Owltown about 1912. The mining settlement had a saloon operated by a woman known as “Ma” Mulkey. She demanded that payment for the spirits purchased be made in gold.

Frank Summerour’s expertise as a machinist helped him to fashion the first steam engine in the county. The steam shovel operated by this engine was used in mining operations.

Mr. Summerour sold the stamp mill in November, 1926 to Mr. J. C. McGeehee. Following his tenure at the Union County gold mines, Mr. Summerour mined at Auraria in Lumpkin County. There in seven days at the Battle Branch Mine, his ore assayed at 22 pounds, 12 and 4/5 ounces.

A meticulous record-keeper and diarist, Mr. Summerour wrote copious notes of his work in gold mining, carpentry and engineering. The wealth of information from his pen was lost to posterity when rats found the papers stored in a shed, chewed them, and made beds of the scraps. Thus was lost some important primary source history of the fabulous era of Union County’s gold mining.

An afterword: In October, 1993, the area of Coosa Mines was opened to visitors. My husband Grover and I toured the site and saw one of the old mines and Coosa Creek where Mr. Summerour’s stamp mill operated. As with all important historical sites, I felt an affinity with the past and to the ingeniousness of an early Union County engineer whose daughter, Kathryn Summerour Batchelor, was a wonderful classmate of mine in the Class of 1947 at Union County High School. “More’s the pity” (to use an old mountain saying) that I did not know then how important her father was to the early industry of Union County.

[Sources: I am indebted to the following sources for information for this column: The Heritage of Union County, 1832-1994, pages 57 and 296; Mountain Relic, Spring, 1980, pages 38-40; and Sketches of Union County History, 1976, page 40.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 27, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

A Mother's Love Defied the Bonds of Death: A Mountain Story

This morning is cloudy and dark. The overcast sky puts me in mind of days in the mountains in my childhood when the clouds hung low and fog rose like a giant shroud hiding the majestic peaks that stood like sentinels over Choestoe Valley.

Then I thought of the tradition of mountain storytelling, and how we were entertained as children by hearing stories that had been passed from generation to generation by our Scots-Irish forebears. My favorite storytellers from my childhood were my first cousin, much older than I, my mother’s nephew, Earl Hood and his wife Allie Winn Hood. This delightful couple had no children of their own, but they seemed to be very pleased when Earl’s nephew and nieces and his young cousins went to spend the night. With no electricity then in that mountain home and the only heat being from an open fireplace, we settled down to a wonderful night of entertainment provided by master storytellers, Earl and Allie Hood.

The recipients of this rich legacy of mountain tales, many of them about ghosts and haints, were Little Ed and Bertha Hood Dyer’s children, our cousins Wilma, Genelle, Harold and Sarah Ruth, and my younger brother, Bluford Dyer and I, Ethelene. We all got permission in advance to go to Allie’s and Earl’s to spend the night on certain Friday nights, and walked the distance from Choestoe Elementary School to their house. It must have been more than three miles, but the anticipation of what we would enjoy once we arrived made us skip along, laughing and talking all the while, with the boys, Harold and Bluford, outstripping the girls and arriving first, boasting that they were stronger than we girls.

After the evening chores of milking and feeding and getting in the wood were finished, Allie served us a wonderful meal of hot cornbread, vegetables and country-cured ham, topped off by dried apple stack cake. We quickly washed the dishes and then settled down for an evening’s entertainment, the likes of which has never been surpassed, even with the advent of television years later.

One ghost tale I remember them telling—and they had a way of making us “see” the scene they laid out before us with their words---was one about a mother’s love for her baby. Allie would warn us that we should not try to match the names in the stories to people, living or dead. This had happened so long ago it would be hard to remember them exactly. The story went something like this:

Years ago, when sawmillers first came to our mountains to cut down the virgin trees and saw them into lumber, there lived far up near Round Top Mountain, a couple named Sexton, Eliza and John. They loved each other dearly. And in the course of time, Eliza had a beautiful baby girl whom they named after her mother but called her Liza. The midwife or “Granny Woman” named Mary had attended little Liza’s birth. Things were going along well until two days after Liza’s birth her mother came down with a raging fever. Granny Woman Mary administered her herbal remedies, but none had any effect on the fever. Eliza grew worse.

John told Granny Mary that he was going to Blairsville, some fourteen miles from his home, to get the doctor. He took off down the rutted mountain road, made worse by the snaking out of the saw logs and the rough treatment from big trucks, just then coming into the mountains, hauling out the sawed lumber. John finally arrived in town in his buggy drawn by his horse. But the doctor was out on a call delivering a baby and was not expected back until the next day. John decided to stay in town and wait for the doctor, because he would have to take the doctor in his buggy back up to his cabin on Round Top. John didn’t get much sleep that night, trying to rest in his buggy. Fortunately, he had brought along a blanket to protect himself from the night’s cold. All he could think about was how sick Eliza was, and even how still the newborn baby seemed in the large basket that was her crib.

About daybreak the doctor came back from his all-night call, tired and sleepy. But he agreed to go with John to examine Eliza and little Liza. After a hot breakfast and coffee which the good doctor’s wife prepared for her husband and for John, the two men got into John’s buggy and took off at a lope, as John urged the horse to a trot.
Finally they arrived at the John Sexton home. Granny Woman Mary met them on the porch. “I’m afraid you’re too late,” she said. “Both Eliza and little Liza died during the night.” John, gripped with deep grief, went inside his cabin where he saw his beautiful Eliza and the little baby laid out for burying. How could this have happened? If only the doctor had been at home, maybe his wife and child could have been saved.
The doctor and Granny Woman Mary tried to console John. Neighbors came, and made a casket. They placed the bodies together in the homemade casket, the baby in Eliza’s arms. They were buried in the cemetery near the little log church called Salem. John, so devastated, did not want his neighbors’ sympathy or their food which they always took with loving concern to the household that had experienced death. John latched his cabin door and told his neighbors he would have to bear his burden of grief alone.
The next morning John’s neighbor, James Collins, went to his barn before daylight to milk his cows. Times were hard in those days, and there were always people on the road dropping by farmhouses and barns to beg for food. James realized someone was in the barn with him. He turned and saw a woman, dressed in black, the sort of finer dress like the women in the community wore to church. She sat a tin cup down on a bale of hay. James knew she wanted it full of milk, so he took the cup and soon filled it with warm rich milk. The woman nodded her thanks but did not say a word. The next morning and the next, the same woman visited James as he was milking, begging with her cup. On the fourth morning, James decided he would follow the woman who would not give him her name. Maybe he could find out where she lived.
He saw her dark form disappear into the woods, but, running, he was able to follow her to the cemetery. Then it was just as though she disappeared into one of the newly heaped graves. This frightened James, but he knew he must do something.
James quickly returned home, got his shovel and ran to his nearest neighbor’s house. He told Lish Hunter what he had seen. “Get your shovel,” James said, “and come with me.” Lish wondered what had come over his neighbor James Collins, but he grabbed his shovel and the two men went in that early, foggy morning to Old Salem Church Cemetery. There they began to dig into the newly-formed grave. Getting down to the casket, they gingerly removed the lid, and there was the woman James had seen four mornings in a row at his barn, rigid and cold in death. There was the cup in her hand. And lying on her breast, gurgling but weak, was a beautiful baby girl, still alive, still breathing.
They removed the baby, and covered the grave. They went to John Sexton’s home. The door was still barred with the grieving husband and father inside. “Open up,” James ordered. “We have a gift for you. Here is little Liza, alive and well.”
John could not believe his eyes or the story James told him about the baby’s rescue. What rejoicing he had as the baby, safe in his arms, began to cry. “Come down to my barn and I’ll give you some milk for the baby,” Jim Collins told John. And he did. Nevermore did James Collins see the woman in a black dress with the tin cup come to his barn begging milk. But you can be assured that he remembered it the rest of his life, and told the story again and again.
Little Liza grew up to be a beautiful young lady. Her daddy, John, married again and had more children. But Liza always held a special place in his heart because she was the miracle baby, his first- born rescued from the grave by his neighbors James and Lish.

“Is that true?” we kids asked Allie and Earl. They only smiled and told us it was time for bed. But every time we climbed the hill to Old Salem Cemetery, we looked at the grave marked with a fieldstone, with no names readable on it. We always remembered the story told to us by Allie and Earl, and wondered about the mother who loved her baby so much she would return from the grave to get warm milk to keep little Liza alive. And as we milked our own cows early on foggy mornings, we were always aware that if a woman with a cup appeared, we were to fill it promptly with warm milk. I think we were a little disappointed that no woman ever came to our barn for us to do this service of love and mercy.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 20, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Mother's Day and Children's Day

Travel back with me through the mists of time to the country church many of you readers attended when you were children and during your growing-up years. Think about how we observed Mother’s Day and Children’s Day in those churches. It seems to me that those events may have occurred on the same day. But memory sometimes has a way of blending events so that they seem in our mind, looking back in retrospect, to come at the same time.

Let’s take a look at Mother’s Day. This past Sunday, May 9, was a day to honor mothers. Mother’s Day as a national observance was made by official announcement of then President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. The proclamation stated that it was to be held each year on the second Sunday in May. The Mother’s Day flower selected was the carnation, so chosen because it represents sweetness, purity and the enduring qualities of a mother’s love.

The custom of wearing a flower, whether carnation or whatever might be blooming the second Sunday in May, became symbolic. If persons wore a white flower, it indicated their mother had died already but was remembered with dignity and respect. If persons wore a red flower, they still had the privilege of their mother being alive.

In the Choestoe Church of my childhood, we had preaching on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. That was well and good for the observance of Mother’s Day, because our pastor would be present at his charge. We could expect to see the ladies and girls wearing spring dresses, whether made from yard goods from the local merchandise store or “feed-sack” dresses made from calico yardage from bags that had held feed for farm animals. The cloth had been laundered carefully, and turned into a comely garment at the hands of seamstress Mother at her treadle Singer sewing machine. Whichever was the source of our new spring finery, we felt well-dressed and in mutual company with cousins and neighbors who were like-wise clad. Even the new shirts the men and boys wore may have been homemade by spouses and mothers in the congregation. And there, on the lapel of shirts or pinned to the dresses would be the white or red flowers—usually early-blooming roses—to honor mothers.

In my memory I recall that the pastor’s sermon was based on verses from that inimitable “Godly Woman” passage found in Proverbs 31:10-31. What better description of mother and industrious woman can be found? The oldest and the youngest mother present were always recognized. All mothers were admonished to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

It was not Mother’s Day, but the day after Valentine’s Day when my own mother’s funeral was held at Choestoe Church. I was only fourteen years of age at the time. But that same pastor, Rev. Claud Boynton, read from Proverbs 31:10-31 and extolled the virtues of a godly woman and good mother. Grieving and young as I was, I had the thought that a great tribute to any woman would be the privilege of having that particular passage read at her funeral.

This past Sunday as you observed Mother’s Day and remembered your own mother, or felt pride in your own privilege of being a mother (and even a grandmother), I trust that you were strengthened in faith because you had a godly mother to emulate.

Then there was the observance of Children’s Day. As I recall, this program, when the children did recitations, sang songs and perhaps did a mini-drama, was sometimes a part of the Mother’s Day celebrations at the church. Our Sunday School teachers worked with us weeks in advance of Children’s Day to insure that we knew our lines and could recite them well. This program was, in itself, a tribute to mothers as they proudly watched their children demonstrating what they had learned of Bible verses memorized, character traits engrained through some little playlet, or songs that taught faith and doctrines. Of course the children were too young to know why these programs were important to their early Christian training. But somehow the experience of participating gave us confidence, instilled in our eager minds the feeling of belonging, and assured us that we were an important part of the church and its training. These memories of Children’s Days at church weave a fabric of appreciation for growing up in the country and having a good church and a good home.

Recall some of your early years. See what facets of your upbringing fashioned your life and made you who you are today. Maybe your own memories of celebrating Mother’s Day and Children’s Day will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside as they did me.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 13, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Salute to a Special Lady - Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison Spiva

It’s not unusual to pick up a Union County newspaper and see a picture of a lovely lady, nearly a centenarian now, judging a Garden Club show, attending a Union County High School Class Reunion, or being involved in a special activity at Choestoe Baptist Church where she has been a faithful member for many years.

You often hear, “Give a lady flowers while she lives,” and that’s exactly what I want to do with this salute, a bouquet of appreciation. I would like to call this a salvo, a simultaneous firing of guns in appreciation for service rendered. The only trouble, I don’t have a firing squad to do the honors. So count this a double-barreled accolade to one who is deserving of our thanks and commendations.

I speak of a beautiful lady, Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison Spiva. Time was when she did not like to admit her age (After all, isn’t that a prerogative of the female gender?). But then she surpassed that promised “three-score and ten” and kept going, four score plus ten, and more! And now, I think it pleases this stately, well-coiffed, well-groomed beautiful lady to hear people comment: “I can’t believe you’re 99, going on 100!” Her looks, alertness, demeanor and involvement are trademarks of one much younger.

Dora Anne Hunter was born February 10, 1905, daughter of James A. Hunter and Martha Lucinda Souther Hunter. She was the older sister of brothers Joe and Dan, and they had half-siblings. Their mother, Martha Lucinda Souther Hunter was married first to Jasper Todd Hunter, a brother to her second husband, Jim. Martha’s first children were J. Esther, William Jesse, Nancy, James Hayes, Homer, Hattie and Grady. The family was reared at the Hunter home, still standing just off the Liberty Church Road, Choestoe.

Dora Anne was educated in the public schools, Choestoe and Old Liberty, and then went to the Academy and Young Harris College where she got a good secondary and two-year college education. Taking what was known as the “Normal Course” for teachers, Miss Hunter, upon graduation, began teaching at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute, a school in her home county that was founded the year prior to her birth, 1904. Her selection as a teacher there speaks well of her acumen as a student. One might say she was a “born teacher.”

The school year 1928-1929 was the last the Collegiate Institute functioned before the Home Mission Board and Notla River Baptist Association released the property and buildings to the Union County Board of Education for a public high school. Dr. J. M. Nicholson became the first principal and Miss Dora Hunter was one of the teachers in the new county high school. She was to continue in a long career of teaching mathematics at Union County High School, touching many lives with her teaching, counseling and example.

She retired in May, 1970 after 40 years as a teacher, 30 of which were in Union County. She also served for a period as principal of Young Cane School. She was a graduate of Young Harris College and the University of Georgia.

On August 28, 1930, Dora Anne Hunter married Frank N. Allison. He was elected to the office of Ordinary for Union County and held that position for several years. He died February 23, 1969. Mrs. Allison’s second marriage was to Daniel G. Spiva. He died January 8, 1985. Both of her husbands were interred in Choestoe Baptist Church Cemetery.

Mrs. Spiva has served in many capacities at Choestoe Baptist Church where she has been a member since childhood. She helped to organize Woman’s Missionary Union and has been a firm supporter and participant in missions for 75 years. She taught Sunday School. She served as Sunday School Superintendent. She has held offices in Notla River Baptist Association and on the Executive Board of Georgia Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union.

In civic organizations her leadership has been especially noteworthy in the Blairsville Garden Club of which she was a charter member and of the Union County Retired Teachers’ Association. In both organizations she has served as president and in other offices.

Truett McConnell College, Cleveland, Georgia has recently announced plans to name the four-year program in education to honor educator Dora Hunter Allison Spiva.

Former students who remember the unique influence of this teacher upon their lives will no doubt want to make contributions in her honor to Truett McConnell’s School of Education. For further information about this campaign, please contact Vice President of Institutional Development, 100 Alumni Drive, Cleveland, GA. 30528. An administrator of the college may be reached at 706-865 -2134, Ext. 119.

For those many of us who love and appreciate our teacher, may we give in a substantive manner so that future generations may benefit from an outstanding department of education named for an extraordinary educator.

When Truett McConnell was founded in 1946 and opened its doors to students in the fall of 1947, Mrs. Allison gave support to the fledgling college as her pastor then, the Rev. Claud C. Boynton, served as one of the founders and first trustees. Now Truett McConnell is gradually progressing from a two-year to a four-year college. Congratulations, Mrs. Spiva, on the signal honor of having a college department named for you. We who remember those hard math lessons and how you guided us through them will be adding this to all the accolades with which we honor you.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 6, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.