From census, tax and other records we learn the locations and names of merchants in 1881 in Union County. With no railroad near and no adequate roads, it was difficult to get items for the stores. Depending on the location of the stores, the owners had to go by wagon to Gainesville, Murphy, NC, or some went as far away as Atlanta and Augusta to trade items they had bartered in their stores for merchandise they purchased to stock their businesses. It was not unusual for the trip out to market and return with a load of goods to take a week from Blairsville to Gainesville.
In 1881, the county seat town of Blairsville was blessed with ten merchants. Those operating stores, by name, were John Hudgins, William J. Conley, Thomas Butt, James A. Butt, Eugene Butt, Thomas Hughes, Milford Hamby, William Colwell, Henry Carroll, and John England. I do not know where these places of business were located, or how close together they might have been. Blairsville was second in number of stores of the districts listed.
Ivy Log had the most stores of any of the districts. In fact, Ivy Log was described as "a bustling place" in early records. Those who kept the residents supplied with opportunities to purchase store-bought goods were Ruben Deavers, Isaac, Glazier, Napoleon Bonaparte Hill, L. P. King, William Lance, J. Ledford, Larkin Lewis, Henry McBee, Jasper Owen(s)by, Cannon Stephens, Caleb Thompson and James Reed. These twelve merchants were among the outstanding citizens in that section of the county.
Third in number of mercantile places operating was the Choestoe District. There Archibald Collins, Ruth Collins, James M. Dyer, James Nix, John Combs Hayes Souther, T. M. Swain, Willis Twiggs and Joshua Audern had places of trade. Except for Joshua Audern (whose last name may have been spelled wrong by the census taker), the store keepers had descendants who still live in that district today.
Gaddistown District "across the mountain" at Suches had six merchants in 1881. These were James A. Cavender, Charles Davis, John Davis, Henry Gurley, James Gurley and John A. Thomas. There, as in the other districts, last names of these merchants are familiar among citizens who live there today.
Coosa District had four stores operated by William Ledford, C. Nelson, Arthur Owensby and George W. Cavender. Coosa was noted for its gold mines which opened and operated before the Civil War. An estimate is that over two million dollars in gold ore was extracted from the Coosa Mines. The Coosa settlement vied for the county seat to be located there early in the history of the county, but Blairsville won the bid for the location of the courthouse and county government.
Camp Creek settlement had four stores operated by Jesse Low, Thomas M. Lance, John Davenport and J. J. Cobb.
Young Cane had one store owned by James F. Reed.
All the forty-five merchants in 1881 offered needful products such as salt, sugar, coffee and tea. Many had barrels of staples from which they measured dry beans and rice. The barest essentials were main items in these stores. Far from well-stocked with goods, the community stores were noted nonetheless for hospitality, and places where people could learn the latest news. The pot-bellied stove or open fireplace was a place of warmth in winter inviting everyone in to "sit a spell" and visit.
c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published April 30, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.