Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Post Office in Gum Log called Napoleon and its founder, Napoleon Bonaparte Hill

In the Gum Log District of Union County, a post office by the name of Napoleon was opened June 20, 1881. This northwestern district of the county borders North Carolina, Towns County to the east, Ivy Log District on the west, and a portion of Lower Young Cane and Blairsville Districts to the south.

Why the unusual name Napoleon for this post office? It was given the first name of its first postmaster, Napoleon Bonaparte Hill. When he made application for a post office, he requested the name Reece’s Creek, as the location was on this creek. Evidently the U. S. postmaster general thought Napoleon would be an unusual name, as indeed it was. About two hundred people lived within the vicinity of the post office and would be served by it, according to the statistics given on the application.

Those who served the Napoleon post office were: Napoleon B. Hill (twice), June 20, 1881-March 12, 1883 and October 2, 1884-March 19, 1891. Miss Mary Ursula Hill, his daughter, served from March 12, 1883 until her father took the position again in 1884. The other three postmasters were Miss Callie Lance (3-19-1891), Charles N. Hill (4-22-1897), and Theodosia E. Mauney (5-17-1902) until the post office was discontinued March 30, 1907.

Napoleon Bonaparte Hill led an interesting life. Born to Felix Walker and Elizabeth Cooper Hill in Rutherford County, North Carolina on November 14, 1832, he seemed destined to become a soldier, with a name honoring that of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France and military leader during the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. The name itself shows that the family was familiar with personages in world history.

Napoleon Bonaparte Hill married Mary Arabella Evans in 1860 in Cherokee County, North Carolina. Their first child, Mary Ursula (born September 14, 1861) came after he signed up for service in the Civil War, along with his brothers, Abel and Noah, on June 17, 1861. They served in Company A of the 29th Regiment of the North Carolina Infantry, State Troops, Confederate States of America. Napoleon was promoted to Second Lieutenant on November 4, 1861.

Napoleon saw action in many battles in Tennessee and, Kentucky, Mississippi and back to Tennessee. He was wounded and in a hospital in Atlanta when the infamous siege by Sherman’s Army occurred in August, 1864. Hill was sent back to Cherokee County, North Carolina in October, 1864, with orders to recruit absent, paroled and recently released soldiers of Company A, as well as any others eligible for enlistment. The forty-five men joined as Company H to Major Ben M. Ledford’s Calvary Regiment of North Georgia Troops. They patrolled North Georgia and Western North Carolina for renegades and bushwhackers, the most notorious of whom were the Ray (Rae) Brothers. Napoleon Bonaparte Hill received the rank of major prior to his company’s surrender and release at Kingston, Georgia on May 12, 1865.

In 1865, Napoleon, his wife, Arabella, their daughter Mary Ursula, Napoleon’s parents, Felix Walker and Elizabeth Cooper Hill, and other of the family moved to Reece Creek, Union County, Georgia. The Hills became the third owners of a land grant issued first in 1832.

Napoleon built an imposing two-story house north of Reece Creek on the Blairsville to Murphy, NC road (now Hwy. 129). He farmed the land and opened a general store. It was probably in the store where the Napoleon post office opened in June, 1881. There, as people came to the store and for their mail, they no doubt heard of Napoleon Bonaparte Hill’s experiences in the Civil War.

Napoleon “Poly” Hill served as sheriff of Union County in 1876 and Clerk of Superior Court in the late 1880’s. His brother Charles Hill, had served as sheriff and was killed in the line of duty in 1867.

Besides their firstborn, Mary Ursula, Napoleon and Mary Arabella Hill had these children: America Victoria, Benjamin Harrison, Julia Elizabeth, and Charles Napoleon.

Napoleon Bonaparte Hill died at age 78 on January 17, 1910. His wife died June 22, 1917. Both were interred in the Antioch Baptist Church Cemetery, as were others of the Hill family. Today, many descendants of this hardy family live and work in Union County and have made and continue to make contributions as worthy citizens.

One of the famous quotations attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte of France is: “He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.” This could well be a motto to the life and service of the Emperor’s namesake, Napoleon Bonaparte Hill.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 26, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Finally a Paved Road Across Neel Gap

For many years no paved roads aided traffic in Union County. In 2005 most of the roads are paved, even “country” or “county” roads. At one time, our forebears used the famed Logan Turnpike to transport farm products to markets in Gainesville. The trip to Gainesville took five or more days, two over the Logan Turnpike into Cleveland for the first night and then on into Gainesville the next day.

A day or more at Gainesville was spent in bartering and securing products not grown on the farms in Union County. Two days were spent on the return trip, with wagons loaded heavily with products for country stores and for personal family use. It was not uncommon for wagon trains to form so that neighbors could be together for company and protection on the Logan Turnpike journey. This major throughway was known first as the Union Turnpike. After Major Willis Logan purchased the right to it in 1871 for $3,000, it was named the Logan Turnpike (toll road). From the early 1830’s until 1925, almost 100 years, this road served the people.

Then came the advent of the first paved road across the mountain. A different route was chosen from the Logan Turnpike. An engineer with the Georgia Highway Department, Mr. Warren Rabun Neel, surveyed for the road. He chose as the most likely corridor the old Frogtown Indian Trail. In laying out the road, Mr. Neel had to follow the natural contours of the land. Consequently, many steep grades and sharp curves were in the original plan for the road.

In 1923 work began on the road through Frogtown or Walisiyi Gap. No modern equipment was available then for grading. Citizens were hired as were their teams of mules and horses. Ball wagon dirt movers were used to dig out the roadway. One steam shovel was available, provided by the construction company, C. M. Lyle, who had the contract for building the road. Picks, shovels, wheelbarrows and drag pans pulled by the farmers’ mules were the main tools used to grade the road across Frogtown, in the shadow of towering Blood Mountain. Since the resources for grading were limited, the work moved slowly. Main strength and determination as well as hard manual labor were applied to the task. Besides Mr. Neel, another person from the Georgia Highway Department, Mr. B. C. Milner, supervised the road-building. The falls on the south side of Frogtown Gap bears his name to honor his work.

Some of the men who hired out to work on the road from the Choestoe District was my father, J. Marion Dyer, and his team of mules and a drag pan; Jeptha Souther who fired the boiler for the steam shovel and contracted to erect the guard rails at the curves; Alonzo Allison, Howard Curtis, Tom and Ed Lance, Floyd Berry and Victor Souther were other known workers. John Paul Souther, son of Jeptha, a mere eight years of age at the time the work began, got a job as water boy.

When the road was first opened in the summer of 1925, it was a soil-surfaced road fourteen feet wide. It was named Neel Gap to honor the engineer who had drawn up the plan for the road. In 1926 macadam was applied and paving became a reality for the central nine feet of the roadway. Four feet of crushed stone paved the shoulders, providing passing room on the one-lane road. More improvement came with the years. In 1931 the highway was resurfaced and widened to fourteen feet. Another project in 1950 brought it to its present 20-feet width with some of the sharp curves softened. Now the picturesque mountain roadway has passing lanes and smooth surfacing. It is a boon to tourism and to commuters who live in the mountains and work “below” them in Gainesville or Atlanta.

Fascinated by the work of the steam shovel, John Paul Souther could hardly stay away from the scene of the grading between 1923 and 1925, and when the first macadam surface was laid in 1926. He says, “This was the most exciting thing I had ever seen in my life. That is why I wanted to see the road work.” Now 90 years of age, Mr. Souther still remembers clearly how the road was constructed and how it changed the way of life for farmers in Union County. As he travels up from his Gainesville home to his former Union County birthplace along Highway 129/19, he still sees in his mind’s eye those days of hard work. He recalls how Floyd Berry operated the steam roller with its huge steel rollers that had to be cooled by applying water to the rollers as they smoothed the hot asphalt.

When Jeptha Souther worked to build the railing, or fence, guard rails were not available. Strong locust posts and cyclone fencing twenty-four inches in width were used to make the fence. Local men were glad to be paid for the locust posts they cut and hauled to the sites along the new road. It was a means of making some money when times were hard for mountain farmers.

From a five-day trip to Gainesville by wagon over the Logan Turnpike to the one-day trip by automobile or truck, farmers took their eggs, chickens and mountain cured hams to markets below the hills. Better economy and ease of travel were assets of this first paved road over the mountain.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 19, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

More Post Offices in the Suches Area

Mr. Ira Harkins, who, if not officially the historian of the Canada/Suches area of Union County, should be declared so. I am grateful to him and his articles in “The Heritage of Union County” for information about early post offices in that section “across the mountains” from the county seat of Blairsville.

Last week’s column listed three of these early post offices and the postmasters who worked at Gaddistown, Quebec, and Suches. Several other mail stations were located along the hills and hollows of this mountainous area.

Early settlers along Mulky Creek were the Harkins family and the Shopes family. In 1880 Charles W. O’Kelley made application for a post office which he wished to name Harkinsville. However, the US Postmaster General disapproved that name and Shopes was chosen instead, with Mr. O’Kelley becoming the first postmaster on August 8, 1880. This office was short-lived, with the mail routed to Clemeth near the Toccoa River on March 3, 1883.

However, the people served by Shope didn’t want to give up their post office. William L. Smith applied for approval of Polk, Georgia post office in the vicinity of the former Shope station on January 1, 1882. You will recall that this was the second time the name Polk was approved as a Union County post office. The first was named by postmaster John Butt on February 20, 1884 and changed to Choestoe on September 25, 1881. Evidently Polk had been out of disuse as a post office name in the county long enough to be reactivated in a new location. Some of the people who served Polk were Mr. Smith, James H. Shope (rescinded), Mr. Smith (second time), James H. Cavender, Mary A. Cavender, and Samuel Dixon. The last location of Polk was at Mr. Dixon’s homeplace at present-day Dixon Branch a mile south of Mulky Gap. When this Polk post office closed September 7, 1887, the mail was routed to the Coosa post office.

Joe Lunsford applied for a post office which he wanted to name Mist on April 5, 1903. Mist was not approved as a name and Seabolt was designated. This post office served about 300 people in the area of today’s Cooper’s Creek bridge. Seabolt, too, was short-lived, closing on October 31, 1907 with the mail going to Suches. Seabolt was reopened in 1922 with Frank Seabolt as post master and continued for two years when it was closed in 1924. At that closure, Seabolt’s mail was routed through the Baxter post office.

Baxter was the forty-fifth post office established in Union County. Its founding date was June 16, 1900. David M. Jarrard was the first postmaster. It is believed that the wholesale groceryman, John Cannon, persuaded Mr. Jarrard to apply for a post office permit, and at the same site he would operate a grocery store for the community. Baxter post office was located near a sawmill and grist mill on the Toccoa River. David Jarrard and his wife Essie operated the Baxter post office until they moved to Texas in 1901. The Jarrards were followed by James H. Cavender who served from 1901 through 1903. His sister, Mary Ann Cavender, who got her start in post office work at Polk at Mulky Gap, followed her brother and served as postmaster for thirty-two years. Baxter’s next postmaster was Mary Ann’s sister, Nellie Cavender Grizzle who began work in 1935 and served until her death. Then Mrs. Lillie Gurley was postmaster from January 26, 1944 until the post office was closed April 15, 1953 and the mail routed to Gaddistown. She moved the post office into her home about a mile from the former location of Baxter.

For forty-four years Baxter served its constituents and was a gathering place for those who enjoyed trips to the post office to visit with the postmasters and hear the latest news of the day. The last location of the Baxter post office, in an annex of Mrs. Gurley’s house, was still standing in 1994.

Clemeth post office in the Cooper’s Creek district was approved in 1881 and closed out in 1887. The name was from the first postmaster, Clemeth Cavender. In the short six years of its existence, Clemeth had its founder and the following postmasters: Andrew Campbell, James Cavender, William Jones, William A. Jones (was this the same person?), William F. Cavender and James A. Cavender (for the second time). Gaddistown became the recipient of the mail when Clemeth closed. It is interesting to note that in the application, Clemeth Cavender noted that the location on the Toccoa River was thirteen miles from Blairsville, nineteen miles from Dahlonega, forty-eight miles from Gainesville, and 100 miles from Atlanta. The community of Clemeth had a population of “about 200,” a grist mill and saw mill, a general merchandise store, a school and Baptist and Methodist churches.

Sarah post office began in May, 1899 with John Marr as first postmaster. He was followed by his daughter, Fannie Marr Jarrard , then Marr’s son-in-law, James Jarrard. John Marr and Jim Jarrard also operated a grocery store, one in the “John Cannon” chain of stores. This post office was near Mt. Airy Church on Cooper Gap Road. Sarah operated until May 31, 1955, fifty-six years. The mail was routed through Suches.

Natal began in June, 1901 on the headwaters of Cooper Creek two miles west of Wolf Pen Gap. G. W. Gaddis was the postmaster for almost two months. Others serving at Natal were William P. McGee, Emanuel Burnett, Mrs. Lizzie Burnett, and Miss Mollie Jarrard. Natal closed after thirty-five years of operation and the mail was routed through Suches.

Pilot post office, named after Pilot Mountain and the copperhead snakes called “pilots” prevalent there, opened in December, 1911 with the Reverend William Henry Washington Gurley as applicant. He opened the office in his store, but it was his daughter Mary Gurley who was first postmaster. Operation stayed in the Gurley family, with another daughter, Vennie Gurley Hendrix, serving for eight months, and Ethel Akins Gurley for four years. These were followed by Dollie Grizzle, John F. Seabolt, Dollie Grizzle (for the second time), and Mrs. Bertha Tritt. Pilot closed after twenty-one years and the mail was routed through Suches. These post offices in the Suches area made it easier for residents to have a connection to the world outside their mountain stronghold.

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 12, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

More Early Union County Post Offices

With double emphases in April on Confederate Memorial and History Month and National Poetry Month, I addressed this column to those two subjects for the past four weeks. We will continue with some more early post offices that once operated in Union County, a series I began earlier.

Let me digress here to thank those who attended the Souther Mill Site and Historical Marker Dedication service on Saturday, April 30. Despite the inclement weather, we did not have rain at the time of the meeting in the afternoon. A large crowd gathered to pay tribute to Jesse Willliam Souther, Jr. who founded the grist mill and sawmill. We thank John Paul Souther, grandson of the mill’s founder, and Theodore Thomas, great, great, great grandson, for their hard work in making the program possible and Mr. Thomas, in particular, for building the shelter that houses the historical marker and pictures at the old mill site. Another marker has been placed with the display of turbines from the mill at Union County Museum Annex, the Butt House. If you did not attend the program, you are invited to see the markers and pictures of the mills.

Today Union County has two post offices—Blairsville and Suches. With all the modern means of transporting the mail, it is hard for us to imagine that in post office history since Coosa, the first, was founded in 1833, the year following Union’s founding, the county has had a total of sixty-four named post offices at fifty-nine sites throughout the county.

Oftentimes in pioneer days, the post office was in a store or in a home. And both the post office and the store could have been in a room of the post master’s home.

Several post offices operated in Canada District. The first, according to record, was named Gaddistown to honor early settlers there, a family named Gaddis. The application was approved June 15, 1848 with John D. Cavender as first post master. Mail came to the new post office from Dahlonega. Gaddistown operated for a total of 107 years under the same name but moving to locations within a mile-square area of the first post office. Several men and women were in charge of the post office for its more than a century of operation: John D. Cavender, Newton K. Williams, A. H. Pitner, Lewis W. Gilreath, Squire E. Jones, John C. Cavender, Essie Brookshire, :Lottie Cavender, Arthur Grizzle, Lottie Cavender (second time), Mrs. Alma M. McDougald. The Warren McDougald’s rock dwelling house was the last location of Gaddistown postoffice.

Quebec post office was named as a complement to the name Canada for the district. Quebec was established August 31, 1881 with Eli P. McGee as first postmaster. The next postmaster at Quebec was Grant Woody. He operated the post office in his Service Spring Hotel at Miller Gap. The hotel, more like a boarding house, was the mountain vacation location of wealthy planters from the south. There in the basement of the hotel was a bar dispensing mountain moonshine and also an ingenious water trough reputedly carrying mineral springs water good for health. Later when all signs of the hotel were removed, the new owners of the land found the mineral water gum log water trough containing old iron implements over which the “mineral water” had passed, probably to give the water its “mineral” or iron content. Following hotel owner Grant Woody’s term as postmaster, two more men served at Quebec as postmasters: John Holloway and William E. Burnett. On April 30, 1907, Quebec post office was closed and the mail routed through the Suches station. Quebec had operated almost twenty-six years.

A wholesale grocer of Dahlonega, Georgia had a good idea for increasing his business and making products not grown on the farms of Canada District more available to citizens. John Cannon, Wholesaler, had a line of groceries, dry goods and hardware. It was very likely that John Cannon helped Eli McGee set up the Gaddistown post office and establish a store there. Bill Davis had opened a store and John Cannon persuaded him that he should send application to open a post office in his store. Suches opened March 6, 1886. Suches was the name of an Indian chieftain who once lived in the valley near the Bill Davis store site. Interestingly enough, John Cannon himself was first postmaster listed with the US Post Office Department. It is very likely that the store owner, Bill Davis, did the postal work. On July 20, 1887, Bill Davis was officially made the postmaster. During its one-hundred twenty-one years of operation, a long list of postmasters have served. The office moved several times. The Lunsford Store owners operated the post office.

The present location near the intersection of Highways 180 and 60 has a stately brick building near the Woody Gap School. Rural routes operate from Suches to take the mail to families living in the valleys once ruled over by Indian Chief Suches.

(Next week: More on other Canada District post offices.)

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