Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Visit to Blairsville Around 1934

Believed to be the earliest extant picture of the 1899 Union County Courthouse, the edifice still stands on the square in Blairsville, Georgia. The red bricks were molded in the area. Architects named Golucke and Stewart designed the Romanesque Revival style building and M. B. McCinty received the bid to construct the building for $12,000, which was raised in one year by heavy increases in citizens' taxes.

The photograph was shot from the north view looking south. The old Christopher Hotel is shown on the right in the southwest corner of the square, and a store in the southeast corner to the left of the courthouse became Butt's Drug store later. (Courtesy Union County Historical Society)

What we call “the Old Court House,” now the home of the Union County Historical and Genealogical Society and the Union County Museum has occupied its present site in the center of the town square since 1899. Someone reconstructed a hand-made map of how the square looked one hundred and two years after the founding of Union County, the year 1934. Let’s take a visit this week to the town back then. It will help us get our bearings and appreciate the work and foresight of our forebears who really cared about the appearance and dignity of the county seat’s downtown.

Begin with the old courthouse itself. The modified Romanesque Revival style architecture stands out even today in its restored state as dignified and picturesque. The clock tower catches the eye first, pictured against the blue mountain sky, its arched windows on four sides once revealing the old bell that called attention to special meetings.

When that courthouse building was erected in 1899, these citizens served on the County Board of Commissioners: Jesse W. Souther (11-01-1840 – 03-07-1920) was county commissioner. Serving on the board with him were J. A. Butt, W. W. Ervin, and ordinary, John T. Colwell. Evidently then, commissioner and ordinary were two separate offices. These men put their heads together to try to come up with ways to finance the construction of the courthouse. They proposed bonds, but when the referendum was presented to the voters, it failed miserably.

They even considered a new site, rather than in the middle of the town square, on which to build the new building. After all, the older courthouse which had stood in the same spot, burned. It might be reasonable to find another location. They proposed buying lots diagonally to the courthouse square for $800, but that did not meet the public’s approval.

Mr. Stephen Major of Coosa District was generous and offered free land for the courthouse location if the citizens would but accept it. But again the offer of land, though with no cost attached, was defeated. So the commissioners decided to levy taxes to build a courthouse at the cost of $12,000. What a low price that seems to us in this twenty-first century. But then, the tax burden was heavy and many citizens had to sacrifice needed farm animals and other goods in order to keep their land and pay the accelerated taxes. To say the least, it wasn’t easy, building that grand edifice.

But the glorious old courthouse was built and it has stood, with modifications, for all these years since 1899. The center of court was moved to its new location in the new courthouse northwest of the square and the Historical Society undertook major restoration of the old courthouse. It was successfully placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 18, 1980. Today, persons who want to research family history, examine displays of the county’s past, or enjoy the many cultural and artistic programs offered in the old courtroom have but to visit the old courthouse on the square. Thanks are due the citizens of the seventies and eighties and others since who have worked so unselfishly to maintain and perpetuate this portion of the county’s lofty past. C. R. Collins served as the first president of the Historical Society, and on the board then, during our country’s centennial year, 1976, were Edith Paris, Ronald Davenport, Herbert Dyer, Mary Smith, Ben F. Carr, Jan Devereaux, Bryan Webb, and Harold Nichols.

Now back to the year 1934 and that “in memory” visual trip around the town square and the old courthouse: Entering from the south, on the Gainesville Highway (recall that the Neal Gap Highway (now 129/19) was opened in 1925), a dwelling was on the right, and on the left a garage and another dwelling—this latter one once being the home of Judge Tom S. Candler. Proceeding around the square in 1934, visitors to the town would see a general store and a hotel building, with the jail a short distance behind the hotel. Next would be another dwelling, and on the corner, a general store. Next was a small cafĂ© or lunchroom, a garage with a service station attached, and on the corner of the road leading to Young Harris, a drug store. Beyond that street, continuing around the square, another general store building, with an office building behind it commanded that space. I must mention that the Methodist Church was located just beyond this office building on the road leading to Young Harris. In later years, the location of the Methodist Church was moved just south of the square, and in the twentieth century, to its current Appalachian Development Highway location west of town.

Then continuing around the square, next came the Blairsville post office, an office building and a printing shop. A “lunch stand” was in the corner, and attached to it was a barber shop (Ben Wilson was proprietor and barber in the 1930’s). Next came a hotel (Akins), and then the street leading out of town and toward Murphy and Blue Ridge at the junction farther beyond town. On the southwest corner was a hotel building (Christopher) with another filling station attached, and a general store next door. Maybe someone in the readership can fill in names of people who owned these businesses and dwellings. The year 1934 was far too long ago, and I was too young to remember how the town square looked on some of my first visits to Blairsville from Choestoe to the south. But one thing I know and remember: A fondness for the place, its people and its history grew with each passing year. Here in 2010 I could wish for a time-machine so that I could return to those quieter days of yore when everyone knew his neighbor and all worked together, even to pay taxes that seemed impossible at the time. With a will the stately courthouse on the town square was erected, a substantial building that would be a monument to good government and a solid citizenry.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 25, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beyond the Mountain Haze

Charles Weymon Cook shown with Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison Spiva at her 104th birthday celebration in February, 2009. He read a poem in tribute to her influence upon him as his high school mathematics teacher.

It is seldom that we can read a delightful and revealing story about a mountain family written in poetry, with just enough prose interspersed to make the line quite understandable and appealing.

Charles Weymon Cook who was born to Rufus and Nora Davenport Cook and calls Blairsville his hometown has done just that with his newly-published autobiographical poetry book entitled Beyond the Mountain Haze. Weymon, as he was known growing up in Union, now lives in Macon, Georgia. He is one of those native citizens who has gone out into other places and done well, first as a teacher, and now in his retirement as a writer. In this book paying tribute to his mountain heritage, he has captured in impeccable rhyme and rhythm many aspects of mountain life that are fast passing away under the guise of progress.

What makes the book even more appealing is the fact that its author is what I like to call a “walking miracle.” Charles Weymon Cook underwent heart transplant surgery on September 21, 2000. Not only did he live and do well, but he has been able to write and compile his delightful autobiography in verse and make it available to any who would like to know more about life in the “miracle” dimension of restored health. One way of offering his thanks for the gift of life is this book, well-crafted and pleasing to the eye as well as to the reader. It walks us through woodland paths and family solidarity, helps us meet and greet people significant in his life, and allows us new perspectives on the beauty of nature and the harmony of creation. And with thanks to his beautiful and compassionate wife, a teacher as he, LaVerne Young Cook, and their only child, daughter Christy, who assisted him with manuscript, typesetting and organization for the book, we have for our perusal a volume which I predict the reader will return to again and again.

Charles Weymon Cook’s father was Rufus Cook, “Mr. Ranger,” one of the earlier forest rangers in North Georgia who learned his skills as a forester under the able tutelage of Ranger Arthur Woody. Charles tells us that his father spent 43 years as a U. S. Forest Ranger. Among his skills were certified surveyor, timber-marker, forest-fire fighter, recreational facilities designer and builder, tower radio equipment manager and repairer—whatever the need within the far reaches of the mountain forests, Rufus Cook was there, walking the forests, keeping an eye diligently on the land and its care. Nine of Charles’s poems pay tribute to this giant of a fellow, both in stature and morally and spiritually, who gave him the firm foundation of a solid upbringing. We can sense love in every line in which this poet describes his father. Here’s but a small example from “Mr. Ranger”:

“I thank my God that I was there
To live and love and grow
Amidst the shadow of a giant,
With smiling face aglow.” (p. 65)
His mother, Nora Davenport Cook, has her section in the book. Both parents and their influence are seen throughout the book, but their own sections are especially provocative, leading the reader to recall and appreciate family roots that went deeply into the soil of a developing life and bore fruit in years “beyond the mountain haze.” A descendant of the early Davenport settlers to Union County for whom Davenport Mountain was named, Nora Cook was a stay-at-home mother who worked hard as an avid gardener and a dedicated housewife and mother. She did not tolerate “sassiness,” back-talk, or half-done chores. Her discipline and astuteness to details and homemaking values assured Charles and his siblings that they had a warm loving home where they were taught the principles of life:

“You taught me love with gentle hands,
Encouraging all the way;
You laid the founding cornerstone
By teaching me how to pray.” (p. 54)

I have the recent privilege of being associated with Charles Weymon Cook, teacher, poet, friend, having met him only in recent years through our associations in the Georgia State Poetry Society and the Byron Herbert Reece Society of which we are both members. Occasionally I am able to meet for a meal with him and his wife, LaVerne, or to travel to a meeting together. Having grown up in the same county, Charles and I didn’t know each other back when we were youth. I did know Charles’s older brother, Donald, as we were nearer together in age. The day of Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison Spiva’s 104th birthday celebration in February, 2009, Charles and I were both there and were able to read to her our individual poetic tributes for her profound influence on our lives. She had much to do with each of us choosing and pursuing careers in teaching.

Charles Weymon Cook writes in his “Introduction” to his book, Beyond the Mountain Haze: “My southern style ‘earthy’ verses simply reflect people, places and events that have influenced my life. Some things just tear at the heartstrings and trigger a melody in your soul that you wish to share with friends and neighbors.”

This very modest appraisal by the author of why he had to write the book only goes partially into why he should, indeed, have shared it. He had something to say, and he said it with apparent ease and facility. Find a copy of Beyond the Mountain Haze. My prediction is that you, as I, will return to its pages again and again for inspiration, information and enjoyment. He lifts the haze and allows us to see a miracle heart, restored and ready to give praise to the Creator of all beauty and the Sustainer of life. And this he does in understandable, sensitive and positive poetry. Congratulations, Charles Weymon Cook, mountain lad grown to productive citizen, whose knowledge and appreciation of family, environment and associations shine forth from the pages of your book.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 18, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Georgia's Pioneer Aviator--Micajah Clark Dyer (A Book Review)

Book cover design by Karen Turnage Merrill

A delightful and beautiful book has just come to me via its author, Sylvia Dyer Turnage. This great, great granddaughter of inventor Micajah Clark Dyer has long been interested in what this farmer-inventor accomplished back in the nineteenth century as he worked diligently to invent and improve, and yes, even fly what he called, appropriately, “An Apparatus for Navigating the Air.”

In our Dyer family, we had heard stories of Clark Dyer and his flying machine. Was this invention for real? Did he really make a vehicle that would take to the air and fly? As Sylvia Dyer Turnage and I were growing up in our home community of Choestoe, these tales of her great, great grandfather and my great, great uncle just would not die. Too many people had heard the tales. Two people, at least, in our acquaintance, my Uncle Herschel Dyer and a cousin, John Wimpey, had seen the fabulous machine. And both of them were truthful men. They would not tell a lie.

And so the legend stayed alive, passed down from generation to generation. Many had a share in perpetuating the legend, among whom were Watson Benjamin Dyer who wrote about it in his first edition of “Dyer Family History” published in 1967, and his subsequent edition in 1980.

In 1980, a great, great great grandson of Clark Dyer, Kenneth Akins, did much research on the Dyer legend, and found, with the help of historian Robert Davis, that several credible people whom they interviewed were convinced that the story of Clark Dyer’s flying machine was more than legend, that the flying machine had indeed been invented.

Persistence often results in bringing major rewards. Sylvia Dyer Turnage herself, taken by the story of her ancestor’s exploits, wrote and published in 1994 a book entitled The Legend of Clark Dyer’s Flying Machine. In the book, she told what she then knew of the story. Included was a poem she entitled “Ode to Clark Dyer,” which was set to music and sung by her (and perhaps others) at Dyer family reunions, gatherings and anyplace an interest was shown in this nineteenth century farmer-inventor’s life story.

Finally the breakthrough came that proved a remarkable boon and proof that the legend was indeed fact. In late 2004, two others of Clark Dyer’s descendants, great, great great grandsons Stephen and Joey Dyer, brothers, found a patent online at the US Patent and Copyright Office, Patent No. 154,654, dated September 1, 1874. Entitled “An Apparatus for Navigating the Air,” it was signed by M. C. Dyer! Was this maybe the ancestor whom they had heard invented a plane near Rattlesnake Mountain in the 1870’s?

Indeed it was! In addition to the patent, the young men found copies of newspaper articles from “The St. Louis Globe Democrat” (July 31, 1875) and “The Eagle” (Gainesville, GA, July 31, 1875) that told of M. C. Dyer of Blairsville, who had “been studying the subject of air navigation for thirty years,” and was eager to construct the machine and “board the ship and commit himself to the wind.”

Then, with proof in hand, copies of the patent, and a proposed resolution introduced to the Georgia Legislature by then representative Charles F. Jenkins of Blairsville, a fitting memorial was in order for the mountain genius whose work had predated the Wright brothers. Georgia Highway 180 from US Highway 129/19 to the Brasstown Bald Mountain Spur was named “The Micajah Clark Dyer Parkway” to honor this pioneer aviator who worked so diligently to bring his dream to fruition. In a touching and meaningful ceremony at the Dyer-Souther Heritage Association Reunion on July 15, 2006, before a crowd of more than 300 descendants and interested citizens, the road sign was unveiled and the road dedicated to the inventor. That was an auspicious day, indeed, but it wasn’t the end of the story or the celebration.

Since then, the Clark Dyer Foundation has been formed. His gravesite in Old Choestoe Cemetery has been restored and a more suitable monument erected giving credit to his work as an inventor. Numerous programs have been held to tell “The Clark Dyer Story.”

And in this newest book from author Sylvia Dyer Turnage’s pen, the story from legend to reality, from word-of-mouth to printed proof, from theory to the actual patent, are collected for us to enjoy.

Sylvia’s immediate family all played a vital role in the production of this lovely, “coffee table” quality book. She, being the writer in her family, wrote the manuscript of the book. Her husband, Billy Turnage, a photographer by hobby but also by expertise, made exquisite photographs of the history of bringing to light the real story of Micajah Clark Dyer. These are included in the book, in full color. Her daughter, Karen Dyer Merrill of California designed the book’s cover and assisted in the proofreading and editorial production of the book. Her son, Andrew Turnage, set up and maintains the Micajah Clark Dyer website which any interested persons can access. He also helped to found the Micajah Clark Dyer Foundation, the goals of which are listed in the book on pages 35-36. He also assisted with the production of the book. Yee Yee, Sylvia’s delightful daughter-in-law, and wife of Andrew, who, by carefully reading the description in Clark’s patent, made the first interpretive drawing of the flying machine.

The book, authored by Sylvia Dyer Turnage, poet, author, speaker, accountant (retired), and assisted by her immediate family, has been a labor of love in memory of that beloved great, great grandfather who saw the birds flying over the mountains of Choestoe and wondered, “Why can’t I, too, fly?”

Search out how you might purchase a copy for yourself by checking at your local book store, online at, or contacting Sylvia at her own Turnage Publishing Co., Inc. 805 Low Gap Road, Blairsville, GA 30512.

Congratulations to Sylvia and her family for this addition to the corpus of county history, family history, and history in general. She uses this appropriate quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. on the back cover of her book: “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Micajah Clark Dyer’s mind was indeed “stretched by a new idea.” And look what happened.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 11, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

'Driving: A Right of Passage': A Book Review

A beautiful and accomplished lady named Margaret Harkins Patterson, R. N., retired, who happens to be descended from the Nix and Harkins (and other) early-settler families of Union County, Georgia, has written a delightful book entitled Driving: A Right of Passage.

Margaret Harkins Patterson (on left), author of Driving: A Right of Passage, with her first cousin, Roma Sue Turner Collins at the July 18, 2009, Dyer-Souther Heritage Association Reunion. Both are descendants of the Nix, Dyer, Harkins, Collins, Turner, Souther and other pioneer settlers of Union County, Georgia.

I wish I had owned a copy of the book back when my husband Grover and I (together with help from their high school driving instruction coaches then) were teaching our own children, Keith and Cynthia, how to be safe, responsible teen-age drivers. It would have helped tremendously to have handed them Margaret’s helpful book and said to them: “Read this. And when you know what she teaches you through this book, and when we think you can drive safely, we will take you to get your driver’s license.” But the book wasn’t available then. It was published only in 2008, a gift of Margaret to her five children, her ten grandchildren and her (then) two great-grandchildren (and any more to come!).

Now that such a book is available, may I suggest that, if you who read this and are training teen-age drivers, you should go to and/or maybe the Book Nook bookstore in Blairsville, and preview a copy of this book and think about purchasing it for your own teenage driver. Better still, consider it as a gift to your grandchild who may be about to launch upon “Driving: A Right of Passage.”

First, something about the author herself. She is a descendant of John Grancer Nix, born about 1761 in Edgefield, South Carolina, who lived to be 107 years old and died about 1867 or 1868. I won’t repeat his wonderful descendancy in full here, for I’ve written about him and families in that lineage in previous “Through Mountain Mists” columns when I was writing a series about the Nix families in our midst.

But, closer in Margaret Harkins Patterson’s Nix line, she was a daughter of Maver Nix Harkins and General Pat Harkins. Her grandparents in the Nix line were John Washington Nix and Catherine Clarinda Dyer Nix who had children Harvey; Dora Lou (who married Franklin Hedden Dyer); Nola (Magnola, who married John Jarrett Turner); Mary Elizabeth and Martha L., twins, who died as infants; Joseph Spencer (who married Doris E. Nix and Cathryn Clark Birgel); Roy Walter (who married Idell Nelson); Maver Clarenda (Margaret’s mother, who married General Pat Harkins and second, Edward Collins); Howard Benson (who married Ellen Erwin); Florida Lee (who married Carlos Turner); and Cleo Inez (who married Rouse King). Margaret Harkins Patterson is justifiably proud of her ancestors who number among teachers, housewives, farmers, businessmen, and patriotic citizens, as well as those who have served (and many who are still serving) admirably in various walks of life.

And now, to get to a brief review of her wonderful book, “Driving: A Right of Passage (c2008 Xlibris Corporation), Margaret gives this reason for writing the book:

“My goal is to keep you out of the ditch, out of the tree, the river…and the morgue. Get the picture? I will teach you to drive safely and successfully and you will enjoy the process” (from “Prologue”, p. 9).
Margaret remembers great times with her father, Pat Harkins, who taught her much about cars and driving. From him she learned how an automobile works and how to make minor repairs, how to be a safe and sane driver, and how to respect “the right of passage” from being merely a passenger to being the responsible person behind the wheel. She pays tribute to Pat Harkins, her father: “My father taught me to drive. I began at the tender age of six when the speed limit was 50 or under…We lived in the country—dirt roads—quarter-mile driveway—perfect. I sat on my father’s lap in our ’38 Ford sedan. My job was to steer. He handled the gas, clutch, gears and brake. He never touched the wheel, but would stop the car if I screamed loudly enough. I learned a lot about steering the car. I was driving a tractor at age twelve and I never plowed up a row of corn!...The key word here is ‘practice.’ Practice is essential to ‘knowing your car’ ” (p. 20).

Giving a humorous and very readable account of how a teenager reaches and goes through driving, “the right of passage,” author Margaret Harkins Patterson gives in very personable terms how important driver education is to the teenage driver, a brief history of the automobile, how important it is to know a car—inside and out—under the hood and what to expect from the mechanical operation of a car, driving etiquette, how to handle hazardous driving situations, how to get the best insurance, and how to follow the rules of the road. This is a common-sense manual on driving. She gives her account in such a warm and interesting manner that reading the 90 pages and having the handy index for reference is like having a personal driving manual at your fingertips.

To make her book more appealing, Margaret illustrated it herself with her own art work, complemented with computer images to highlight and emphasize certain vital points of driving and knowing an automobile.

I highly recommend Margaret’s book for those beginning to drive as well as “old pros” who may have driven for half a century or more. She reminds us that automobile accidents are the number one killer of teenagers. We as adults have a responsibility to teach youth how to be safe on the roads, how to maintain a vehicle, and how we can contribute to safety and to the egosystem by knowing how to drive well and keep a vehicle road-worthy and environmentally-safe.

I am glad I know Margaret Harkins Patterson. I am glad that back in our plethora of ancestors our family lines converge, and we can claim some bit of kinship in family, principles and purposes for living. Why don’t you examine Margaret’s book and get a copy for your favorite teenage driver? You’ll be glad you did.

c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 4, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.