Friday, February 25, 2005

Bonnell H. Stone - "Father of Forestry in Georgia"

Bonnell H. Stone was not a Union County native, but some of the most productive years of his life were spent here. A plaque to honor him was placed at Neal Gap in 1935.

It reads: “June, 1935 Erected to the Memory of BONNELL STONE December 3, 1887 – May 25, 1935 by THE GEORGIA FORESTRY ASSOCIATION of which he was a founder and secretary. His public service as a trained forester merits him the distinction of being THE FATHER OF FORETRY IN GEORGIA He inspired the donation of Vogel State Park”

Many mountains mists have risen and dispersed over the sign that memorializes Stone. Who was he and what significance did his work and leadership have upon Union County?

Bonnell H. Stone was born in Oxford, Georgia on December 3, 1887 and returned there after his retirement to become the town’s mayor. He died in his native Oxford on May 25, 1935. But most of his working years were spent in Union County. His accomplishments read like a merit sheet of a hero.

He received his education from Emory-at-Oxford and the University of Georgia where he majored in forestry. He took a job with the U. S. Forest Service and worked with that government entity until he took a job with the Phister and Vogel Land Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As advisor to this land company with large holdings here in the mountains, and as their forest ranger, he managed thousands of acres owned by the company from 1913 through 1931. It was while he worked for Phister and Vogel that he inspired the donation of land that was to become Vogel State Park and Lake Trahlyta, one of Georgia’s most popular state parks.

In addition to assisting in the establishment of Vogel State Park, Stone worked to get Highway 129 built across Neal Gap. This road opened in 1925. It replaced the Old Logan Turnpike across Tesnatee Gap and into Cleveland, Georgia. Highway 129 connected Gainesville and Atlanta in the south to Blairsville and points northward. Stone wrote of the road: “The highway is not only a main truck line between Atlanta, Ga., Asheville, NC, and Knoxville, Tenn., but as an agricultural and market road it will be unsurpassed in importance to the State of Georgia, opening up as it does the vast possibilities and resources of Union County and her highly flavored fruits, vegetables and berries, her poultry, livestock and small grain. Not only will Georgia establish her claim to this territory on the north side of the Blue Ridge when the highway is formally opened through Neal Gap, but the counties of Clay and Cherokee in North Carolina will then be more closely identified with Atlanta and other Georgia centers than with Asheville or Knoxville or other cities further to the north.” (article written by Stone Nov. 30, 1924).

In the fall of 1915 the Union County Good Roads Association was organized in Blairsville with Bonnell H. Stone as first president. He was able to get Dr. C. M. Strahn of the University of Georgia to speak to the newly-formed association. Col. Pat Haralson, attorney and representative, was active in the association and worked hand-in-hand with Stone to get the road across the mountain.

A bond issue was voted on and passed. Union County was among the first counties in the state to vote the limit in road bonds. The vote was 9 to 1 to pass the bond issue and the amount was $80,000. Citizens proved the slogan, “In Union there is strength.” Dr. Strahn, the speaker in 1915 at the Union County Good Roads Association, became the first chairman of the Georgia Highway Commission. Stone stated: “The hand of Providence placed Dr. Strahn at the head (of the GHC).”

In his work other than forestry and road building, Bonnell H. Stone served as chairman of the Blairsville Pubic Schools Board, president of the Union County Chamber of Commerce, was active and served as an officer in the Appalachian Scenic Highway Association, was president of the Union County Good Roads Association and the Southern Good Roads Association. He was also a member of the National Council of Outdoor Recreation and the National Conference of State Parks. He was a founding member of the Georgia Forestry Association and served on the state forestry board. Moreover, he had two terms in the Georgia Legislature from Union County, 1925-1926 and 1929-1931. As representative, he worked for the interests of the area.

A conservationist, a visionary, a hard worker, Bonnell H. Stone is listed in volumes of “Who’s Who” and “Hall of Fame” as one whose dedicated service benefited his and future generations. Blairsville and Union County are richer because he lived and worked here.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 25, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Watson Benjamin Dyer - 103 and ½ years of life


He was born July 27, 1901 in Choestoe, Union County, Georgia. He died February 13, 2005 in Redmond Hospital, Rome, Georgia. In his life that spanned over a century, he completed a lot of living. This centenarian-plus was Watson Benjamin Dyer, noted genealogist, researcher, compiler, publisher, keeper of the records of related families in early Union County and since, covering Dyer, Souther, Collins, Jackson, Ingram, Vandiver and related lines. As a matter of fact, Mr. Dyer’s works in genealogy have been the major sources of much of the information you have read in “Through Mountain Mists” for more than a year and a half. I pay tribute to him and thank him for what he has taught me of those who went before us.

When this column is published February 17, 2005, we will be attending the funeral of Watson Benjamin Dyer in Cedartown, Georgia at 1:00 p. m. Cousins and friends will gather prior to the funeral at the Litesey Funeral Home Chapel and greet each other, telling how Watson touched their lives and how we thought, even though he had reached 103 in July, 2004, we somehow expected him to gain another year, to be indomitable, to keep on being our mentor and storehouse of information. We will hear his life in review given in his eulogy and we will identify with what we know of this unusual man. At Aragon Cemetery where his beloved wife Jewel was laid to rest in September, 1990, we will stand at attention as the military honor guard gives its salute and the music of taps fills the air. We will return to our respective homes, thinking about how Watson Benjamin Dyer touched our lives for good.

He was the first of four children born to Joseph Albert Dyer (1877-1962) and Nina Idaho Collins Dyer (1881-1962). His father served as postmaster of the Choestoe post office for several years. His siblings, still living, are Desma Frances Dyer Fry of Demorest, Georgia and Odell Bluford Dyer of Gainesville, Georgia. A twin to Odell, Sarah Grapelle Dyer Hood, died April 16, 2001.

Watson Dyer attended grammar school at Choestoe. He was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Blairsville Collegiate Institute where he and his young uncle, Vernon Patrick Dyer (January 22, 1900-October 24, 1974), boarded together. Following his terms at the Institute, Watson helped his Uncle, Herschel Arthur Dyer, teach at New Liberty School where more than eighty pupils were enrolled. Watson also taught at Pine Top School and Asbestos School in White County. Then he went to Fairburn, Georgia where his uncle, Mauney Douglas Collins, who would later serve for twenty-five years as Georgia’s State School Superintendent, lived and was principal of the high school there. At age 19, Watson Benjamin Dyer graduated from the Fairburn High School. He taught a year at the Stonewall School in Fairburn.

Watson was too young to enter World War I. His teaching experience in small schools for five years helped him to see he did not really want teaching as his major career.

He got a job working at the Candler Warehouse in Atlanta following World War I. Then he began some years of traveling. For a short period he got a job working in insurance in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He returned to Georgia and enrolled in the Draughon’s Business College in Atlanta. Following his course of study there, he got a job as a bookkeeper in Atlanta. Then he went to Detroit, Michigan and worked for a period in the automobile industry.

The Great Depression hit America and jobs were hard to find. Prior to the Depression, his parents had bought farmland near Demorest in Habersham County, Georgia. He returned to Georgia and lived with them and helped his father on the farm. Watson’s uncle, Norman Vester Dyer, who had served as President of the Blairsville Collegiate Institute, was in Cornelia at the time, and he and Watson opened a print shop. That little shop gave Watson a love for printer’s ink and led him into the profession he followed for the rest of his life.

His next move was far away from Georgia, in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where he worked for a newspaper in advertising. From this assignment he moved to Columbia, Missouri. He apprenticed to a noted engraver there, Elvin Brown, and expanded his knowledge of printing and publishing, and learned photography as well.

Then came World War II. He enlisted in the U. S. Navy. His assignment on the USS Bushnell Submarine Tender gave him action in the Pacific Theater of war. He had the position of ship’s photographer. As submarines came to the Bushnell for supplies and repairs, the young recruits found out a photographer was aboard the Bushnell. Watson made many pictures of these young men which they sent home to families. For some of them, Watson’s picture was the last taken of them before they met their deaths. Watson reached the rank of seaman first class. His service time was without injury. Watson’s brother, Odell, served during World War II in the US Army Air Force and earned a purple heart for his bravery in the South Pacific. After his discharge, Watson lost his sea bag on his way home, with valuable photographs, commendations and medals earned. It was in 2003 through the efforts of Chief Quartermaster Michael Wood, career Navy man and son of one of Watson’s caretakers, Roberta Wood, that his medals were reissued. These included the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal.

Following World War II, Watson got a job at the Cave Spring, Georgia School for the Deaf as director of the printing shop, teacher of typesetting and printing, and adult sponsor for the student newspaper, “The Georgia School for the Deaf Standard News.”

Jewel James was librarian at the School for the Deaf. They had been sweethearts years before. This was their reintroduction. They were married in Atlanta on November 26, 1953 by Watson’s uncle, the Rev. Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, then State Superintendent of Schools. Watson and Jewel continued to work at the School for the Deaf . Their next move was to Atlanta where Watson became manager of the Georgia Department of Education’s printing operations and Jewel was appointed head of the Georgia Library for the Blind.

While still living in Atlanta, Watson began his work in genealogy, visiting often the Georgia Department of Archives and History to do research on branches of his family. He and Jewel became active members of the Georgia Genealogical and Historical Society.

Upon retirement in 1961, they moved to Rome, Georgia and helped to organize the Northwest Georgia Genealogical and Historical Society. Watson served as president for sixteen years and he and Jewel published the quarterly bulletin for the organization. Their travels took them to many states where they researched records in courthouses and archives. He began the publication of family history books. From 1965 through 1988 he published five volumes: “The Original Dyer-Souther Settlers of Choestoe District, Union County, GA, 1832-1965”; “Collins-Jackson Family History” (1975); “Dyer Family History” (1980); “Dyer Family History, Revised” (1986); and “Souther Family History” (1988). People beat a path to his door as they lived in Rome, in Cedartown, and in his widowerhood, in Cave Spring, to seek information about family connections from this walking history buff.

Jewel died September 18, 1990, and life was never the same for Watson. But he lived one of his goals, and that was to remain at home. Thanks to excellent caregivers, he was able to do so except for the last several days of his life when he was hospitalized at Redmond in Rome.

From July 27, 1901 through February 13, 2005, Watson lived through terms of nineteen presidents, William McKinley through George W. Bush. From the horse and buggy days to space stations and communication satellites, he has experienced over ten decades of history. Watson lived history and related to the various periods of decline, invention, war, depression, revamping and progress. Thanks seems too small a word to express our appreciation to this tall man who loved his heritage and wanted to leave us a record of it. May there be those in subsequent generations who will keep the torch aflame.

[Note: For those who would like to make a memorial gift, contributions to the New Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery Fund, Dyer-Souther Heritage Association, may be sent to Marie C. Knight, 1000 Knight’s Mountain Drive, Blairsville, GA 30512.]

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 17, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Union County Native John Joseph Vandiver Makes His Way in the West

John Joseph and Lula May Estee Vandiver and children
Ada Margaret and John Henry Yakima, Washington, 1918

The memoirs of John Joseph Vandiver give insights into how hard families who left their familiar homeland of Choestoe, Union County, and moved west had to work in order to make a living. Going west was not an easy landfall for jobs or security.

John Joseph remained in Drake’s Creek, Arkansas from 1895 until 1898 where his father had a farm and John Joseph worked an extra job cutting railroad ties. When he was twenty, he boarded the train in Arkansas to travel to Greeley, Colorado where his older brother, William J. (known as Bill) had moved. The young men worked on the Charles Robinson farm for $20 per month. But when the harvests were in, the jobs were out.

They heard jobs might be available in Laramie, Wyoming. Checking into the Custer Hotel there, they learned that a Mr. Thornton at Rock River sixty miles west of Laramie was looking for ranch hands. The two Vandiver brothers boarded a train westward to Lookout and then walked twelve miles to the Thornton Ranch. They were hired to feed the stock and herd sheep. For about a year they worked on the Thornton and the William Taylor Ranches near Rock Creek.

During the rough winter of 1899, the Vandiver lads worked with the survey crew for the Union Pacific Railroad. Things were not going so well with John Joseph and Bill’s parents down in Arkansas. John Floyd Edward Vandiver and his wife, Rhoda Lucinda Souther, loaded up the family remaining at home and in the spring of 1899 joined the two older boys at Rock Creek. In May of 1900 they relocated to Little Medicine, Wyoming, to the John J. Burnett Ranch.

John Joseph writes of this period: “It was hard going in those times. About all the work available was herding sheep. I spent two winters making railroad ties in southern Wyoming near the Colorado line in three feet of snow. I went on the tie (railroad ties) drive down the Medicine Bow River in the spring of 1902.”

John Joseph’s next move was to Seattle, Washington in June, 1902. There he got what work he could at various labor, among which was in a brick yard, at a sawmill, at a logging camp, driving a meat wagon for a packing house, and working on the Bear Ranch. It was not that he was inept at any of these jobs and was fired only to have to find another. Jobs were scarce. His determination to make his own way always seemed to land him in another job.

His parents followed John Joseph’s lead. In the fall of 1903, J. F. E. and Rhoda Vandiver sold what stock they had at Little Medicine, Wyoming and moved to Okanogan, Washington, where the elder Vandiver paid $800 for a lease on some land that had a log cabin and a school house between Okanogan and Malott at a site called Pleasant Valley. It was a good move, as the children still at home—Sarah, Nell, Hartwell, Calla and Jess—had a place to attend school. Older brother Bill joined them at Pleasant Valley. Bill and John Joseph worked about ten miles from home at the Last Chance Mine during the winter months, cutting firewood for the mine workers, batching in an old log cabin and doing their own cooking. In the summers of 1904 and 1905, they helped their father with the ranch work at Pleasant Valley.

With some earlier experience on a survey team, John Joseph went to Seattle, Washington in the early spring of 1906, where he worked with the Oregon and Washington Survey Crew, working on the line that paralleled the Northern Pacific from Portland to Seattle. That job was finished in the fall. His next employment was surveying for a rail line and terminal at Catalla, Alaska. Seven feet of snow were on the ground when he arrived there in March, 1907. With that job finished, he returned to Yakima, Washington where he got work with the Reclamation Service surveying for canals: the Tieton and Ellensburg.

He decided to further his education. He took a three-month course in the Seattle YMCA School and following that was admitted to the University of Washington in February, 1910. He wrote of the keen competition with younger, better-prepared students. His education helped him to gain better employment with the Reclamation Service where he oversaw various engineering projects in the Tieton Canyon, on Rimrock Dam and elsewhere.

While he was a student at the University, he met and fell in love with Lula Mae Estee of Gibson City, Illinois. They were married in Yakima on May 23, 1914. To them were born two children, Ada Margaret (1915) and John Henry (1916).

When World War I stopped progress on the Reclamation Service dam and canal projects, John Joseph Vandiver started work as a carpenter, with little experience in this field. However, with his determination and willingness to work, he was able to progress and provide for his family.

Sometimes we put an aura on the idea to “go west, young man,” as if the adventure will be laced with success and prosperity. The life story of John Joseph Vandiver and his family who migrated from the Choestoe Valley in 1895 to find their way in Arkansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington state shows that it was not an easy road but one requiring hard work, ingenuity and adaptability. These characteristics he had learned early in life as he worked on the farm settled by his grandfather J. John Souther in the shadow of Bald Mountain. They did not disappear in mountain mists but remained as guiding principles throughout Vandiver’s life.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 10, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

John Joseph Vandiver Writes of His Life

John Joseph Vandiver with sisters Sarah Vandiver and Della Vandiver.
All three made the trip west with their parents about 1895 to settle there.

John Joseph Vandiver was the fourth of thirteen children born to John Floyd Eugene Vandiver and Rhoda Lucinda Souther Vandiver. John Joseph was born January 1, 1878 at his grandfather J. John Souther’s house near New Liberty Church, Choestoe District. In 1959 he wrote an autobiographical sketch of his life from his home in Yakima, Washington. The account gives insights into how life was for him in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This great grandson of the famed Adam Poole Vandiver continues the saga of the Vandiver family.

John Joseph Vandiver remembered his grandparents, John Souther, who died February 2, 1889 when this grandson was eleven, and his grandmother, Mary “Polly” Combs Souther who died May 1, 1894 when he was sixteen. John Joseph stated: Grandfather and Grandmother Souther taught me many things as a child. Grandmother would tell me about going to muster with her parents in 1812 when they were collecting our army for the War of 1812 against England. She must have been about five years old at the time, as she was born in 1807 and Grandfather in 1803.” The elder Southers were laid to rest in the Old Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery on land willed by John Souther for a church and cemetery.

He recalled that the old homeplace was willed to his mother. Consulting the last will and testament of J. John Souther, this item indicates the behest: “And behoof—8th: I give bequeath and devise to my daughter Rhoda L. Vandiver, to wit – Lot of Land No. 161 in the 16th District and 1st Sec., valued at one thousand and fifty dollars; it is my will that this be deeded to the Church of No. 161 one acre of land where the Church House now sits – with the privilege of wood to lands belonging to the estate to have and to hold the same to her own benefit and behoof—“. J. John Souther’s will was signed January 24, 1889, about a week before his death. Rhoda lived with and looked after her parents until their deaths.

In his memoirs, John Joseph Vandiver recalls life at the Souther place. “Our living was meager. We had to grow all that we had to eat on the farm.” Their industry and prudence taught them to put up food for winter use: barrels of kraut and pickled beans and corn; potatoes and cabbage buried in pits in the ground to protect them from freezing; apples, green beans (called leather britches), shelled beans and peas and pumpkin were dried for winter use.

With such a large family of children to provide for, his mother, Rhoda Lucinda Vandiver, was kept busy knitting socks and weaving cloth for clothes from the wool sheared from their sheep.

About his early school days he wrote: “We usually had about six months of school in the winter with poor teachers who were paid about $25.00 per month. A farmer and a Methodist preacher, John Twiggs, was the best teacher we had, and taught us many things. When I was about five, the New Liberty School was built.”

His parents continued to live on Land Lot 161 until after his grandmother’s death in 1894. Then, in 1895, his mother sold the house and land to Elisha Townsend, father-in-law of John Joseph’s sister Cordelia Jane, called Delia, who had married Andrew Jackson Townsend on March 2, 1893.

Unfortunately, John Joseph Vandiver’s memoirs do not include how his family packed up belongings and moved west. By 1895, train service was available from Gainesville or from Blue Ridge, Georgia or Cleveland, Tennessee. We can only imagine that they moved by covered wagon over the Logan Turnpike, probably to the more familiar Gainesville depot. There they probably sold the mules and wagon and loaded whatever household and personal goods they took to be shipped by freight westward. Then the parents and nine children boarded the train for their destination, Drake’s Creek, Arkansas.

John Joseph wrote: “In 1895 there was a depression similar to the one of 1929, and we had to work hard to live. Father bought the old Lollard farm on Lollard’s Creek about six miles from Drake’s Creek for $1,500.00. As a lad of 18 or 19, I sometimes earned a dollar a day making railroad ties. I would take them eight miles across the mountain for another $1.10.”

Those moving to Drakes’s Creek, Arkansas with John Floyd Eugene Vandiver and his wife, Rhoda Lucinda Souther Vandiver were children John Joseph, 17 at the time of the move; James Harley, age 15; Frances Rosanna, age 13; Marion Thomas, age 11; Della Lucinda, age 9; Sarah Evelyn, age 8; Nellie Mae, age 5; Hartwell Franklin, age 4; and Callie Buenaulsta, age 2. Two years after they settled at Drake’s Creek, Arkansas, Rhoda Lucinda Souther gave birth to her thirteenth and last child, another son, Jesse Edward Vandiver born in 1897. They had left behind in Georgia married children Mary A. Vandiver Smith, William Joshua Vandiver who married Ida Hilderbrand; and Cordelia Jane Vandiver who married Andrew Jackson Townsend.

Death claimed the young Andrew Jackson Townsend on November 27, 1897 and he was buried at Old Liberty. Delia joined her parents in Arkansas, with her two young children, Mary Margaret Townsend (b. February 1, 1894) and Andrew Jackson Townsend, Jr. (born December 1, 1896).

Note: Rhoda Lucinda Souther (August 21, 1853 - June 24, 1947) married on January 9, 1872 to John Floyd Edward Vandiver (October 3, 1849 – September 26, 1923) in Union County, Georgia, with Charles Crumley, Minister of the Gospel, performing the ceremony. Both were interred in Riverton Heights Memorial Cemetery, Seattle, Washington.

[Next: Another migration of the Vandivers from Drake’s Creek westward. Sources for this article: Memoirs of John Joseph Vandiver written in 1959; will of J. John Souther; and “Souther Family History” by Watson B. Dyer, 1988, pages 241-268.]

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published February 3, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.