Exploring Northeast Georgia – Soapstone Ridge Stone Wall – Kitty Stratton

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I am drawn to the mystery of ancient stone walls.  My roots are Irish and British and I grew up climbing on stone walls as a child.  I miss the ancient history of Europe but  the Americas  also have  ancient history.  I’m just not so sure that we have our historical timelines correct.

I have visited stonewalls all over Northeast Georgia, Fort Mountain near Ellijay has a very visible stone wall around part of the summit.  There are stone walls in Habersham County and also near Toccoa in Stephens County.  These are the ones I know of and I am sure there are many more.

Native Americans did not traditionally build stone walls, but left magnificent mounds and other artifacts so we could learn more about their way of life and who they were.

Soapstone Ridge

But who built the stone walls and why?  They are usually located on top of a ridge or mountain, maybe as a lookout for strangers or enemies. 

The section of stone wall on Soapstone Ridge is in the Lake Russell Wildlife Management area and not easy to find.  Don’t expect directions or signs, it has basically been ignored by  historians probably because they aren’t able to fit it into our historical timeline. 

A section of the  stone wall on Soapstone Ridge

It is hard to believe that this line of piled rock is accidental, other photos show a distinct line of rock descending down the mountain.  The wall was hard to find and during our hike we passed the location and it was only on our return that I had a strange feeling about the pile of rocks on the side of the barely used path we had followed.  After climbing over the rocks to the edge of the ridge is when we saw a very distinct wall snaking down the mountain. 

Wall descending from the summit of Soapstone Ridge

I like to believe there was a settlement on this ancient ridge and now all we can see is the ruins of a bygone age.   Future generations would appreciate and benefit from understanding our collective ancestry.  How hard could it be to protect this site and supervise  archaeological excavations to see what we could find under this tumble down pile of stones?   We may be amazed! 

Exploring Northeast Georgia – Byron Herbert Reese Farm – Kitty Stratton

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Writing and poetry live long after people have gone.  The Byron Herbert Reese Farm is a beautiful Memorial to the poetry & writing of Byron Herbert Reese.  Reece was born in Union County near Blood Mountain on September 14, 1917, and lived only to the young age of 40.  He was a literary genius and a humble farmer who loved the mountains and valleys of Northeast Georgia. 

His old homeplace lies about a mile north of Vogel State Park and has been lovingly preserved.   It was in 2004   that the family farm was purchased by Union County and leased to the Byron Herbert Reese Society, who over the years created the museum and interpretive center, now  open to the public.

The walking trail that meanders  around the old family farm has beautiful carved rock inscriptions of Reece’s poetry. 

I Know A Valley Green with Corn – Byron Herbert Reece

Not able to linger and read and fully experience the depth of his poetry  I was inspired to purchase the book Mountain  Singer  by Raymond A. Cook  – Poetry and Biography of a Hill Country Genius.

WINTER SOLSTICE

As well as the beautifully engraved stones of Reece’s poetry there is a living history showing examples of the farming life in Northeast Georgia during the early 1900s.   Adults and children alike will enjoy the farm displays and live farm animals.   The farm includes  a chicken house, spring house,  smokehouse, corn crib and restored barns.  While visiting we were able to see sheep, hens, and donkeys. 

Spring House

Before leaving this beautiful place take a moment to visit the gift shop and picnic area.  For events there is a creek side amphitheater, events can be viewed on the website.  http://www.unioncountyga.gov/reecefarm/

Fort Mountain, Georgia

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By Kitty Stratton

Fort Mountain, GA.

By

Kitty Stratton

Long before I hiked the mesmerizingly beautiful trail to the summit of Fort Mountain, I had read about the legends and the disappointing lack of historical evidence regarding the age and builders of the ancient stone wall that zig zags in a serpentine type fashion for 850 ft just below one side of the summit.

So many questions and really no answers!  The information sign near the wall briefly covers the Cherokee legend of the moon eyed people or Prince Madoc of Wales as possible builders. 

Stone Wall information panel at Fort Mountain

When dealing with mysteries I like to look for coincidences or similarities and having grown up in England, the wall did somehow remind me of the rock (or stone walls) of England, Ireland or Wales.  But the question remains, “why?”  Why would a tribe or culture build a wall around a partial side of a summit of a mountain in Northeast Georgia?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Fort Mountain, GA. Section of ancient stone wall.

If they lived behind the wall for protection, it did not seem the ideal place for a winter home, with maximum exposure to the elements of freezing snow or rain & high winds.  I did not see an obvious water source at the top of the mountain or anywhere to grow crops. 

Were they may be protecting the mountain for some reason?  Who was protecting whom from what?  In my limited findings from internet research I did discover that there is a creek called Goldmine Creek in Fort Mtn. State Park.  Placer Gold was panned from this and maybe other creeks on Fort Mountain years ago.  Apparently, there is a reference to a large vein of gold on Fort Mountain by the United States Geological Survey when they visited in 1906. A mine was being worked in 1906 when they visited but just a few years later when they came back the mine was shut down.  Another question looms, why was the mine shut down?

After reading through the  Archaeological survey –  ABORIGINAL STONE CONSTRUCTIONS IN THE SOUTHERN PIEDMONT BY PHILLIP E. SMITH MARCH 1962  https://archaeology.uga.edu/sites/default/files/lab-series/uga_lab_series_4.pdf   some interesting findings stood out.

According to the report  throughout the length of the wall there are 19 pits.  I was excited by this revelation until I read on and discovered that excavations in and around a couple of these pits did not produce any artifacts or burials.  The author of the survey felt that these pits were possibly made by gold diggers or vandals.  At the end of the survey very little conclusion is drawn, except that there is a true similarity to other Stone Forts in the southeastern states.  One of the best preserved stone forts, not mentioned in the survey is the Old Stone Fort  on the Duck River near Manchester, Tennessee.

Regardless of what my explorations of Fort Mountain reveal I am now a dedicated enthusiast of exploring more Stone Forts  and look forward to sharing more articles  on this subject!

Sunflowers from God.

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An uplifting book with a spiritual message with the writer’s own photographs taken in N.E. Georgia.
The writer wanted to share a gift with the world during the 2020 Pandemic that would bring spiritual
solace and peace of mind.

Click on link to purchase Kindle version from Amazon. Thank you

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.