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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 weeke…
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.
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.
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 & Mfg. Co.
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…
Exploring Northeast Georgia Meaders Family Pottery By Kitty Stratton If you’re interested in Georgia’s geology, then you probably already know that the soils of the Piedmont are a rich red color fo…
Exploring Northeast Georgia
Meaders Family Pottery
If you’re interested in Georgia’s geology, then you probably already know that the soils of the Piedmont are a rich red color for which Georgia is famous. The red coloring is a mixture of kaolinite and halloysite and of iron oxides. This mixture, weathered over time, yields a clay rich soil that has been the foundation for a northeast Georgia tradition of folk pottery.
On a recent warm spring evening, Annette Meaders Boswell & her husband Mike graciously took me on a tour of the land across the road from their home place where a lone chimney and the ruined pottery shop buildings and wood fired kiln are reminders of a rich family history of pottery making. The ruins are located close to where her great grandfather, John Milton Meaders had built his home in 1876.
Ruins of Old Meaders Pottery Shop
Annette shared wonderful stories from her childhood of growing up watching the pottery being fired. Firing the kiln was a big event in the neighborhood. Annette described it as somewhat of a “carnival event” with folks gathering around. The kiln would be fired with slats from local sawmills and the flames would be visible for miles around as they fed the fire to reach the required 2500-degree temperature for firing the pots. Times have changed since then and now more modern methods are used for creating decorative pottery. Back when her great grandfather John and her grandfather Cheever Meaders were making pottery there was a need for the large pots to preserve and store foods, such as beans, kraut, syrup and churns for making butter. This was before modern canning methods and glass jars were available.
A mixture of new and old pots
Although Annette & Mike have not carried on the tradition of making pottery for a living, Mike has constructed a small kiln where they can fire their own pottery. In the photo above on the right is an example of a piece that Annette made with handles and bunches of grapes on the sides. The other pieces in the picture are some old pots that they discovered buried on their property. Annette kindly explained to this “pottery novice” that the old jugs with the two lip handles were for storage, such as pickled beans. The taller jugs with the two ear type handles were for pouring and storing syrup.
Photo of an Old Kiln
Annette took the time to explain to me the labor intensive process they had used to make these large clay jugs. It fascinated me that she can pick up a jug and tell me which one of her family members had made the piece. Close to the old kiln is what looks like an old heap of dirt but as we walked closer Annette began to dig with her hands between the briars and weeds. She would hold up shards of pottery and continue her stories, showing me examples of terms such as “tobacco stain glaze”. For a novice of pottery terms, I leaned many things, including that the jugs had to be glazed before firing so that they would hold liquids.
Annette Meaders Boswell holding shards of pottery
Although the old ways of making pottery have been replaced by more modern methods, the history lives on in documentaries and books. Clay in the Blood: The Meaders Family Folk Pottery Tradition is a DVD featuring footage from the original Smithsonian film documenting Cheever Meader’s traditional way of making North Georgia pottery and the last known taped interview with the late Lanier Meaders. It was produced in 1996. To hear a 2002 interview with Annette about the history and legacy of her family’s generations of pottery making visit youtube.com and follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5JM9343rEI