Exploring Northeast Georgia The Chestatee River Diving Bell By Kitty Stratton

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Sometimes life can surprise us by placing us in exactly the right place at the right time. The morning of July 4th this year I decided to drive over to Dahlonega and take a look at the Chestatee Ri…

Source: Exploring Northeast Georgia The Chestatee River Diving Bell By Kitty Stratton

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Exploring Northeast Georgia The Chestatee River Diving Bell By Kitty Stratton

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Sometimes life can surprise us by placing us in exactly the right place at the right time. The morning of July 4th this year I decided to drive over to Dahlonega and take a look at the Chestatee River Diving Bell. Walking around Hancock Park in Dahlonega to view this restored submersible craft and taking photographs for this article I somehow found myself in conversation with a couple. Henry Preston Wilkerson Jr., and his wife were not just tourists in Dahlonega for the holiday, in fact Henry was in a photo on one of the displays.

Henry Preston Wilkerson Jr. &  wife  (1)

PHOTO OF HENRY PRESTON WILKERSON JR. & HIS WIFE.

Henry and his wife generously took time to explain to me the part he had played in rescuing and restoring this amazing part of North Georgia history. In 1981 Henry Wilkerson Jr. and John Weingard, described as local gold prospectors on the display board, worked in cooperation with the landowner to lift the bell from the bed of the river. For years people had wondered what the iron cylinder protruding from the Chestatee River belonged to. It was thought to be the smokestack of an old mining ship but the top of the supposed smokestack was sealed. It was not until the bell was lifted from the river bed that they realized the sealed tube was indeed an airlock cylinder attached to the diving bell. The 1981 photograph on the display board shows Wilkerson and Weingard with short-handled shovels found in the diving bell.

History of the Restoration of the Diving Bell

Discovery to Restoration Display Board

In 1833 articles in the Auraria, Georgia newspaper, “The Western Herald”, mention a boat being launched in the Chestatee River with a machine for “raising” grit from the bed of the river. So, who came up with this idea of mining gold from the river using a diving bell? Apparently it was a Judge Jacob Peck from Tennessee, described as a man of science and ingenuity. There is no further recorded information about the 1833 attempt to mine gold from the river.
However, in 1875 Philologous Hawkins Loud began building a steam powered “Monster Boat”. The 50 x 17 foot Chestatee was built to raise and lower the diving bell from a well in the center of the ship’s deck. The diving bell was 14 feet long and six feet wide and eight feet tall, with an airlock eight feet tall. Mr. Loud was the first to descend in the diving bell to ensure that everything was in working order.

Artist's rendering of the Chestatee Diving Bell in use

PHOTO OF ARTIST’S RENDERING OF THE CHESTATEE DIVING BELL

It is not known if the Chestatee River Diving Bell ever successfully mined much gold. During the winter of 1875-1876 shortly after the Bell was put into operation, flooding occurred closing mining operations along Yahoola Creek. There were attempts to repair the boat but the boat had been idle too long. The miners had not been getting paid and there was no evidence of gold being mined by the bell.

Restored Diving Bell nr Dahlonega Square

PHOTO OF RESTORED DIVING BELL IN HANCOCK PARK DAHLONEGA

In October 1876 the diving bell was intentionally and mysteriously sunk. The bell lay abandoned and forgotten on the sands of the Chestatee river bed for over 125 years until by tremendous effort on the part of the Chestatee River Diving Bell Fund Raising Committee, enough funds were raised to preserve the bell for future generations.

Exploring Northeast Georgia Mills – Our Forgotten Industry. Kitty Stratton

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Mills have always fascinated me. I have reason. My father taught Economic History at the University of Manchester in England where I grew up. My childhood is scattered with memories of weekend visits to old mills, where my brothers and I would romp and play in the fields and streams while my parents enjoyed a more historic approach.

My father’s particular interest was Industrial Archaeology, he contributed to several books and authored The Lagan Valley, 1800-50: a local history of the industrial revolution by E.R.R.Green. He grew up in a beautiful rural area of Northern Ireland near Lisburn and his father owned feed mills in Belfast, so his interest in the history of the mills in the area had deep roots in his family heritage.

If my father were alive today he would delight in joining me on my wanderings to discover the history and most especially the history of the mills in the area. I believe I have inherited his eye for detail and depth of interest in things of the past.

I recently visited the old Habersham Mill on the Soque River situated on the Habersham Mills Connector Road. To say that Habersham Mills has played an important part in the history of Habersham County might be an understatement. It was not only the oldest industry but also the location of a mill town.

This important part of Northeast Georgia history all began back in the 1800’s. At first there was Burnt Mill on Minus Shoals on the Soque followed in 1837 by the Habersham Iron Works and Manufacturing Company.

Iron ore was mined near Demorest by the Habersham Mining Company, which was incorporated in 1821. The iron ore was transported to the foundry on the banks of the Soque River. In the 1860’s Habersham Iron Works contributed canons to the Confederacy. Evidence of these canons, with “Habersham Iron Works” stamped on them, can be viewed at Chickamauga National Battleground.

Habersham Iron Works was replaced by Porter Manufacturing in 1882 which replaced the ironworks with a woolen mill. In 1906 the woolen mill was replaced with a cotton mill to produce cotton yarn. S.Y. Stribling Sr., President of Roswell Manufacturing purchased the mill in 1906 for $38,000. Many changes were made at this time. In 1914 the lower power plant was built and in 1925 the upper power plant including a dam and tunnel were built.

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PHOTO OF SOQUE RIVER DAM  NEAR HABERSHAM MILLS

When the cotton mill first went in to operation, cotton bales were received at the Habersham Station on the Tallulah Falls Railroad at the Habersham Mills Road intersection. The cotton bales were transported by wagon to the mill and the manufactured yarn was returned to Habersham Station for shipment.

In 1930 a new mill was built which made the mill twice as large. Before 1914, and the addition of electricity the mill was run by water power created by a water wheel. The workers living in the mill village were provided electricity free of charge by the company. When Roswell Manufacturing purchased the mill from Porter Manufacturing 25 mill houses were included in the purchase. Over a span of many years approximately 75 more houses were added, along with a company store and a one room schoolhouse.

Habersham Mills Company Store

PHOTO OF HABERSHAM MILLS COMPANY STORE

A new school house was built in 1921 for grades one through seven. The company even had its own baseball team and in 1920 the company provided a movie projector for their employees to enjoy movies.

By 1957 the mill was completely modernized.  The mill had many owners over the years.
By 1977 the Mill was purchased and owned by the Russell Corporation of Alabama. Major changes at that time included round-the-clock operation and manufacturing changed from two-ply cotton weaving yarn to single polyester-cotton knitting yarn. In 1999 the mill closed.

Starting around the year 2000 organizations have been seeking ways to preserve the property as an historic site. At the present time an historic marker has been placed near the mill to indicate the importance of this part of Northeast Georgia’s historic past.

Habersham Iron Works Historic Marker

Habersham Iron Works & Mfg. Co.

Exploring Northeast Georgia The Last Carolina Parakeet Kitty Stratton

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When I think of extinction I picture a bird such as the wonderful Dodo bird which became extinct in 1662. The Dodo was a flightless bird and may have weighed twenty to forty pounds. The bird lived on the island of Mauritius and was first spotted by Dutch sailors in 1598. Unfortunately it was hunted to extinction and all we have are illustrations and accounts which may or may not be accurate.

Dodo

Photo of Extinct Dodo Bird

So what does the extinct Dodo bird have to do with the title of my article? Nothing really, except that I recently read information on an extinct species of bird that used to inhabit this area and most of the Southeastern United States. The Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, lived in old forest areas and along rivers. As far as we know the last captive one of its species died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.

Photo of Extinct Carolina Parakeet

Conuropsis Carolinensis became extinct in 1918

The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot species native to the Eastern United States. The Seminole Indians called the bird puzzi la nee meaning “head of yellow” and the Chickasaw Tribe called the parakeet Kelinky. Two Native American tribes inhabited the Jocassee area of South Carolina, the Oconee and the Eastatoe, the Eastatoes were known as the Green Birds and were probably named after the Carolina Parakeet. The last known sighting of the Parakeet was in 1904 in the Eastatoe Valley in South Carolina.

So what did happen to the Carolina Parakeet and why are we no longer delighted by flocks of wild parrots in the Southeastern states of North America? There are many theories and maybe all of them contribute together to the extinction of this beautiful bird. We know that their feathers were much sought after for making ladies hats. The bird’s colorful feathers from the green body, yellow head, and red from the bill area were much admired. But that alone would probably not have contributed to their complete extinction.

Other likely reasons for their extinction were loss of habitat, large areas of forest where the parakeets nested were cut down to make space for farm land. Unfortunately farmers did consider them a pest and many of them were wiped out but the flip side to this is that they actually fed on the very invasive cocklebur weed. Farmers who understood this benefit would allow the birds to nest in the area unharmed. Another behavior that contributed to their extinction was a response that led them to soon return to a place where some of the flock had just been killed. This led to even more being hunted and killed as they gathered close to other wounded and dead parakeets.

One last explanation for the Carolina Parakeet’s extinction is that they may have finally been wiped out by disease such as poultry disease. Unfortunately their very social behavior may have led to their extinction. In the Travels of William Bartram, he states, “they (the Carolina Parakeets) are easily tamed, when they become docile and familiar, but never learn to imitate the human language.”

Last Carolina Parakeet

Carolina Parakeets by John James Audubon and R. Havell from

Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-1838).

The extinction of the Carolina Parakeet was due to the rapid cultivation of North America. Fortunately we have naturalists such as John James Audubon who painted these birds and left us a visual reminder of something we have lost permanently from our natural world.