Thursday, May 25, 2006

Virgil Marion Waldroop, lawyer and merchant

A citizen who was wellrespected in Union County during the last quarter of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century was Virgil Marion Waldroop, lawyer and merchant. His tombstone at the Shady Grove Methodist Church Cemetery shows his birth date as October 28, 1849 and his death date as October 31, 1933. He lived to be 84 years of age.

The surname Waldroop (spelled in various ways-Waldroup, Waldrop, Waldrip) is said to have originated in England and was given to "the keeper of the Royal Wardrobe." The earliest indication of the name was in 1210 in England. There Thomas De La Wardrobe was in charge of the royal dress for the court, but also kept watch over furniture not in use and saw to proper storage of imported confections such as spices and sugar. In Scotland, as well, the keeper of the King's Wardrobe was a royal trade name. The name evolved from Wardrobe to Waldroop and other spellings of the surname.

Virgil Marion Waldroop was a son of Thomas and Mary White Waldroop. At age 16, he joined the North Carolina 69th Infantry, a unit of the Army of Northern Virginia. His father, Thomas, also served in the Civil War.

Virgil learned the trade of tintype photography, and left North Carolina (Macon County) in 1880, following the Cherokee Trail from Asheville to Augusta, Ga., and then to Cleveland, Ga., where he married his first wife, Harriet West. They moved on across the mountain and settled in Union County. To Virgil and Mary were born four children, Arlie Knox, Vasco, Naomi and Nell.

Virgil and Harriet Waldroop made their home in North Choestoe about where "Booger Holler" road leads off from Highway 129. There Virgil established one of several stores, building his reputation as a merchant. Other general stores owned and operated by him were at Coosa near the gold mines, in Gum Log, at Blairsville, the county seat, and at Young Harris (in the Jacksonville community). Harriet died, leaving her husband and four young children.

Virgil Marion Waldroop married, second, Mary Jackson, daughter of Richard LaFayette and Sarah J. Prater Jackson. Mary was born December 22, 1869 and died December 6, 1946. To Virgil and Mary were born five children, Edgar, Ulma, Rouss, Brabson and Jura. Mary was a young bride, being only 13 when she married Virgil Waldroop who was 33 at the time, 20 years her senior.

In addition to his five general stores, Virgil Marion Waldroop found time to study law. He read law under the tutelage of Judge Carl J. Wellborn Sr. and passed the Georgia Bar. Twice he was elected representative from Union County to the Georgia Legislature, first in 1882 and again in 1931. His terms were 50 years apart. Many changes had come in state government between his first and second times at the state capitol.

He was able to get a $60,000 bond issue passed to build a road from Blairsville to Neal Gap. However, the amount was not enough to complete the road the whole distance. Money ran out when road building reached the Waldroop Store at Choestoe. That stretch of road was called "Waldroop's Road." He did live long enough to see the road completed over Neal Gap in 1925. He served for several terms as ordinary of Union County.

One of the famous trials on which Virgil Marion Waldroop served as a lawyer was the murder trial of the Rev. John H. Lance in May 1890. Joined with Lawyer William E. "Buck" Candler, they represented the Lance family against the two Swain brothers, Frank and Newt, indicted for the crime of murdering Rev. Lance on February 17, 1890 and leaving his almost-decapitated body on the bank of Wolf Creek. Frank Swain was found guilty and spent 19 years incarcerated in the Georgia Penitentiary before an appeal gained his release and he went West never to return to Choestoe. Charles E. Hill, author of "Blood Mountain Covenant," (2003, Ivy House Publishers) captures the spirit and compassion of Virgil Waldroop as he traces Jim Lance's determination to gain justice for his father's murderers.

Entrepreneur, lawyer, civil servant, philanthropist, Virgil Marion Waldroop left behind a legacy of good works in Union County and beyond.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 25, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Highlights of aviation history

Thanks to Union County Representative, the Honorable Charles F. Jenkins, Highway 180 will soon be designated the Micajah Clark Dyer Parkway.

The resolution which has passed the Georgia House and Senate will receive Governor Sonny Perdue's signature at a ceremony at the state capitol on May 31. Some of the descendants of the Choestoe inventor will be present for the significant signing.

In this column several months ago, you read how the patent for “An Apparatus for Navigating the Air" was registered with the U. S. Patent Office in 1874. In his workshop near Rattlesnake Mountain at Pine Top in Choestoe District, this farmer-turned-inventor labored away to perfect his flying machine. My Uncle Herschel Dyer told of seeing the machine and so did a grandson of Micajah Clark Dyer, John Wimpey.

His plans for the apparatus were drawn to scale and his description of how to build the machine read like those of a well-educated engineer. For years "Clark Dyer and His Flying Machine" were treated like legend, a story passed from generation to generation for the purpose of claiming some glory from one who had gone before. It has been said that this genius of the mountains secluded himself to work as much as possible on his plans for an airplane. As a recluse, he was considered somewhat eccentric and "different" from his neighbors.

He lived from 1822 through 1891, and got his airship to lift from a take-off runway he had built on the mountain, aiming the vehicle to his cleared field. He died before he had perfected the flying machine. His plans were sold to the Redwine Brothers of Atlanta. It is believed that this company turned the plans over to the Wright Brothers of Kitty Hawk fame, who launched their plane on December 17, 1903.

The scene at Kill Devil Hill on that windy December day in 1903 has been noted as America's initiation into the flight age. Powered by a twelve horse-power engine, the Wright's plane weighed 745 pounds. Although the four trials on the day of its launch were short, the longest being 852 feet in 59 seconds, according to Orville Wright's journal, "The machine started off with its ups and downs, but by the time he (Will) had gone over three or four hundred feet, he had it under much better control, and was traveling on a fairly even course." The day's trial runs and the brisk wind caused the plane to be so broken up that the Wright brothers had to do much mending and improving before their next trial run.

Nowadays, we take air and even space travel for granted. But thinking back on some aspects of flight history, it is amazing that by 1927, 24 years after the Wright brothers' initial flight, and 52 years after Micajah Clark Dyer received the patent for his "Apparatus for Navigating the Air," Charles Augustus Lindbergh had flown solo over the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris.

Lindbergh was an airmail pilot between St. Louis, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois. A group of St Louis businessmen pooled money and offered to sponsor the flight. A $25,000 prize was to be offered the pilot who could successfully complete the trans-Atlantic flight.

Lindbergh purchased a Ryan monoplane in San Diego, California, and set a trans-continental flight speed record by taking the plane to New York. On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field heading east over the Atlantic. The next day, thirty-three and one-half hours later, he set "The Spirit of St. Louis," as the plane was named, down at Le Bourget airfield outside of Paris, France.

An estimated crowd of 100,000 people had gathered outside the fences at Le Bourget, waiting six or seven hours to see the American pilot land. Many doubted that he would complete the trip. Soldiers and guards tried in vain to control the excited crowd. To keep Lindbergh from being crushed in the press, two French aviators, Major Weiss and Sergeant Troyer, rescued him and took him in a Renault car to the commandant's office across the field. The first Frenchmen to "The Spirit of St. Louis" said, "Cete fois ca va!" (This time it is done!"). The tired, disheveled, victorious Charles A. Lindbergh replied, "Well, I made it!"

From Rattlesnake Mountain in Choestoe to Kill Devil Hill at Kitty Hawk, N.C., to Le Bourget Airfield in France is a long way in miles and in mission. These early heroes of aviation saw visions and dreamed dreams. They were willing to forego naysayers to do what they felt impelled to do. Pilot John Gillespie Magee expressed the ecstasy of flying as he flew a test plane in World War II. His poem, "High Flight" ends with these exquisite words: "And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod/The high untresspassed sanctity of space,/Put out my hand and touched the face of God."

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 18, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Salute to Mothers

Women in this present age often wear many "hats"- career, community activist, wife, mother, grandmother. This time of year we set aside a day to salute mothers and give credit where due to the women who have made a difference in the role of child-nurturing.

I recall a time back in 1948 when I had accompanied Rev. Claude Boynton and Mrs. Boynton on a speaking engagement to represent the then new and struggling Truett McConnell College. Rev. Boynton, one of the first trustees of the college, had been very instrumental in calling the first meetings to get the college organized. As a charter student there in September, 1947, and one of the students selected to go on "deputations" in the interest of the college, I had the privilege of going with Rev. and Mrs. Boynton on a speaking engagement to First Baptist Church, Fairburn, Ga.

"How does this relate to Mother's Day?" you ask. No, it was not Mother's Day weekend, but as we approached Atlanta and saw the capitol building's golden dome reflected in the light, I remember Rev. Boynton's observation: "We say the seat of Georgia's state government is within that capitol building. But my contention is that 'the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.'" He then went into a discussion of how much influence good mothers have upon society in general.

I learned later, by using the "Oxford Dictionary of Quotations," that Rev. Boynton's statement on "the hands that rock the cradle" was the only quotation of a little known writer named William Ross Wallace who died in 1881. He made that insightful two-line saying in "John o'London's Treasure Trove." I concluded that Rev. Boynton must have been well-read, indeed, to remember and quote the cradle/ruler adage, and to launch upon a lecture about it. Maybe already he was preparing for his Mother's Day sermon which would not be too many weeks in the future.

The scene of Atlanta, not so busy on a late afternoon in early spring 1948 as it is today, and the quotation made an indelible impression on me. The rest of the way back to college at Cleveland, Georgia, I thought about the importance of mothers and their roles in society.

I also engaged in some self-pity on the remainder of that trip, thinking that my own mother had to make her contribution to the lives of her four children early-on, because she had died on Valentine's Day in 1945. There were so many things I wanted to ask her, to learn from her before I myself was launched out on my particular journey into life. What were her dreams for me? Was I in any way fulfilling them?

Then I thought of many who had stepped in after her demise to be a surrogate mother to me. There were my mother's sisters, Avery and Ethel Collins, spinsters, with no children of their own. Yet they had the "mothering instinct" and spent much time with nieces and nephews, giving them advice, teaching them practical lessons on life and living. From them I learned much about cooking, sewing, ironing and house-keeping, tasks that fell to me in my own home when I was a lass of fourteen. Add another name to my surrogate mother list, Aunt Northa Dyer Collins. She lived in sight of me, and it was but a brief walk to her farmhouse from ours. She was my father's sister and her husband, Uncle Harve, was my mother's brother. From them I learned multiple lessons in living, one of the main ones of which was to have ambition and dreams and to work toward those dreams. I don't think "impossible" was in their vocabulary.

At high school I had experienced the love of teachers who went the second mile and sometimes were in the role of surrogate mothers. I can name several: Mrs. Grapelle Mock who taught me, among many other things, that I could do public speaking without letting stage fright overtake me. Mrs. Elizabeth Elliott, Mrs. Flora Nicholson, and Mrs. Elizabeth Berry taught me the beauty of words and the joy of putting them together in readable, incisive poetry and prose. Mrs. Geneva Hughes, who taught and was librarian as well, planted in me a life-long love for good books. She also invited me to spend nights in her home on Hughes Street within walking distance of the school when I was a character in the school drama and would not have been able to participate because of distance and no transportation. Mrs. Gertrude Shuler, a paragon of patience as well as an excellent teacher, taught me that if we work through problems without making rash decisions the answers will truly come. Mrs. Lucile Cook was my home economics teacher at the time of my mother's death. Her understanding and ability to help me with housekeeping situations I faced at an early age have been invaluable to me throughout life. Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison (now Spiva) was a stunning example of requiring excellent grooming and good deportment from her students, but at the same time she made hard mathematics problems come alive. Like a problem in arithmetic, life problems can be solved with persistence and faith, she taught.

And at college I had other surrogate mothers. Mrs. Staton, English and journalism teacher, nurtured my desire to be a writer by making me editor of the college newspaper and co-editor of the college yearbook. She, too, invited me to her home and made me feel a special part of her life. Dr. Pearl Nix, psychology teacher, knew how to "pour on the work" to her students, but made us realize that there is no limit to our ability to learn except through our own limited desires to accomplish. Miss Edith Sayer was our librarian and taught mathematics, too. She was an example that even with a mild handicap, one's life can be fulfilling and an inspiration to others. Miss Charlotte Sheets lifted my level of appreciation for good music as she led the college chorus to be good enough to be invited to sing at the Georgia Baptist Convention and notable churches throughout Georgia. Miss Lounell Mullis brought history alive for us, but she also had a faculty residence in our dormitory and advised us girls on proper etiquette, life goals, and, yes, even behavior on dates!

As I think back on William Ross Wallace's quotation, "The hand that rocks the cradle/Is the hand that rules the world," I am grateful I heard this when I was eighteen, and that it lingered with me throughout life. Rev. Boynton may not have realized that the quotation would sink itself into his young parishioner's memory. What we say does make a difference.

I am grateful for my mother's influence on my life, and for all of those who stepped in, relatives, teachers, others, to be strong surrogate mothers to me when I needed a helping hand and direction in life. One of the greatest honors that has come to me in this life is not my career as a teacher, but that I was entrusted to be a mother of two wonderful children, a grandmother to seven fine grandchildren, and now, just this April, the great-grandmother to Gavin and Brenna. "The hand(s) that rock the (cradle)s" of these two have heard my evaluation: "They are the most beautiful great grandchildren ever, and they have a significant role in the future!"
Happy Mother's Day! Enjoy your memories. Tell some mother she is special.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 11, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Echoes of camp meetings and evangelist Rev. Elijah Kimsey

The Rev. Elijah Kimsey was a great uncle of the noted Dr. George W. Truett who became one of the outstanding Baptist pastors and denominational leaders of the 20th century. Rev. Kimsey did not travel far from the mountain area where he was born, but his evangelistic zeal and fiery preaching had such an effect on summer camp meetings in the mountains of Western North Carolina, North Georgia and East Tennessee that echoes of his influence still linger on in lives he touched and in legends told about him.

In a biography about Dr. George W. Truett written by that great preacher's son-in-law, Powhattan W. James, Dr. Truett recounts how his "Uncle Lije" Kimsey waked up a floundering Methodist Camp Meeting being held one summer near Hayesville, N.C.

The fact that Rev. Elijah Kimsey was a Baptist minister ordained November 20, 1847 did not deter him from going to the Methodist overseers of the Camp Meeting at Hayesville. He told them that he had prayed all night and the Lord had told him to seek out the arbor meeting gathering and preach there. Rev. Kimsey had a thick lisp to his speech. The Methodist ministers conferred and told the itinerant preacher their services were at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. "When do you want to preach?" they asked Rev. Kimsey.

"Brethren, my thoul ith on fire. I want to preach to these people. The thooner, the better, brethren," Rev. Kimsey replied. "The fire is burning in my thoul," he reiterated.

The ministers told him he could preach at the 8 a.m. service. They rang the bell to gather the people from their wagons and tents, and soon a crowd was under the brush arbor tabernacle. After an introduction by one of the Methodist elders, Rev. Kimsey was given the pulpit.

The story has been passed on for generations about that camp meeting and how the evangelist with a speech impediment began to preach and seemed not to be able to stop. His lisp only added to the interest, because everyone listened carefully to understand every word as Rev. Kimsey expounded the Scriptures and poured out his heart in zealous preaching.

As he preached, and as the services went on, sometimes not even stopping for the usual meals and fellowship, people in the surrounding area heard about the revival. The crowd increased as the Camp Meeting went on with exhorting, testimonies, singing, and preaching. As much as the people enjoyed eating around their campfires, fasting was a natural outgrowth of the spiritual climate and praying. Campers preferred hearing the preacher with a lisp and anointed with the Word of the Lord than to cook and eat.

It has been said that particular meeting marked the beginning of a moral and spiritual awakening of that section of North Carolina, Western Tennessee and North Georgia. Word of the meeting lept over the mountains and sped through the valleys. Hundreds were converted and the people who gathered there went home at the end of the series of meetings with renewed hope and inspired zeal.

Who was this preacher with the gift to move people to spiritual commitment? Elijah Kimsey was born February 4, 1812, a son of Thomas and Nancy McClure Kimsey. His birthplace was old Buncombe County, N.C. His family moved from Buncombe to Haywood County (now Macon) when Elijah was a boy. He and Sallie Bryson married there, but by 1837 the new couple had moved to what was then Union County, Georgia, a county five years into organization. They settled in the Friendship Community which would later be taken in as part of Towns County in 1856.

Elijah Kimsey, despite his pronounced lisp, had a desire to serve through both teaching school and being a preacher. He pastored churches and taught in one-teacher schools in the area of North Carolina and Georgia near where he lived.

Rev. Elijah Kimsey and Rev. John Corn were chosen as representatives of Towns County to go to the secession convention held at the Georgia capitol then at Milledgeville. Both the ministers were pro-union. It is said that they did not protest the right of Georgia to secede from the Union but questioned the wisdom of such a move in their general opposition to war and division in the country. When a large majority voted in favor of secession, the Revs. Kimsey and Corn went on record as accepting the decision to secede.

Rev. Kimsey was too elderly by the time of the War Between the States to serve in the army. However, three of his sons enlisted and fought for the Confederacy.

Rev. Kimsey's beloved companion, Sarah Bryson Kimsey, mother of their nine children (William, Thomas, David, Nancy, Amanda, Josiah, Araminta, Elisha, and Sarah) died September 1, 1886 and was buried in the Burch Cemetery in Towns County. Following Sarah's death, Rev. Kimsey moved to Habersham County. There he married his second wife, Ella, on April 3, 1887. Rev. Elijah Kimsey died May 7, 1896 at age 84 and was buried in the Kimsey Cemetery, Mt. Airy, Ga.

The epitaph on Rev. Kimsey's tombstone is typical of his life: "He went and done what the Lord commanded."

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 4, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.