Friday, April 13, 2018

The Tail End of the Antebellum Trail

Jarrell Plantation

No doubt, you've heard of General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea.  But what about the towns he didn't burn at the close of the Civil War?  Georgia's Antebellum Trail is a 100-mile trek through seven historic towns spread east of Atlanta from Athens to Macon.  The trail is best seen over a series of three or four days, but Tim and I didn't have that much time.  However, we were able to spend a Saturday tracing the tail end of the trail from Milledgeville to Macon.

Governor's Mansion

Upon our arrival in Milledgeville, we caught the Historic Trolley Tour for a guided tour of the town that once served as the capital of Georgia.  It was here that state legislators voted to secede from the Union on January 19, 1861, as Georgia followed the lead of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama into the Confederacy of the United States.

In 1868, the state's government was moved to Atlanta, but prior to that Milledgeville was considered a prize by Sherman who rode into town on Nov. 23, 1864.

Cadets from the Georgia Military College joined the ragged Confederate forces to try to defend the town but their resistance was unsuccessful.  Sherman's officers tipsy with victory took over the legislature and mockingly passed a law placing Georgia back in the Union.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church

Because of the cold late-November temperatures, Union soldiers burned the pews for firewood and stabled their horses inside St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.

Interior of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church

They even poured molasses down the pipes of the church organ before marching on to Savannah.  Despite this, the church survived and still stands today.

Our tour guide on the trolley was a retired professor of organic chemistry at Georgia College in Milledgeville.  He told us about these leading citizens of the town.

Oliver Hardy
Photo courtesy of Hal Roach Studio

Oliver Hardy, the comic partner in the acting duo Laurel & Hardy, attended the Georgia Military College in Milledgeville.

Flannery O'Connor
Photo courtesy of CMacauley at English Wikipedia

Southern author Flannery O'Connor attended Georgia College and returned to Milledgeville to spend the last 13 years of her life at Andalusia Farm now a museum.

Charles Holmes Herty
Photo is in the Public Domain

Charles Holmes Herty was an internationally recognized chemist who used his position to mobilize his profession for participation in World War I, urging American business, government and universities to develop a full-scale chemical industry so that America would not be dependent upon foreign sources for vital materials in the manufacture of munitions, textiles, pharmaceuticals and photographic products.

Congressman Carl Vinson
Photo is in the Public Domain

The Georgia Representative to the U. S. House of Representatives for more than 50 years, Congressman Carl Vinson served on the House Naval Affairs Committee and was called the Father of the Two-Ocean Navy for his pre-World War II warning that the United States needed a strong naval presence in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Saw mill, cotton gin and syrup distillation buildings at Jarrell Plantation

Heading back to Macon, we stopped at the Jarrell Plantation in Jones County, a former cotton plantation owned by a single family for more than 140 years.

Cotton Gin

Over the course of that time, savy descendants diversified their farming interests from growing and ginning cotton to sawmilling wood to pressing sugar cane into syrup.  The plantation was donated to the state of Georgia in 1974 by descendants of the family.

Touring the tail end of the Trail only whetted our appetite to return and follow its route from start to finish.  Perhaps one day we'll do so.

The Champion Trees of Congaree

They might not get the fanfare of their western cousins, the redwoods or the sequoias, but over 25 trees in Congaree National Park can crow that they are champion trees, the tallest individuals of their species in the country.  The video at the park's Visitors Center shows footage of an arborist roped into a harness and perched at the very tip of a tree's canopy as he measures it from top to bottom, not a task I would want to try given my aversion to heights.  But isn't it praiseworthy that someone did?

With the average of its trees over 130 feet tall, Congaree National Park is one of the tallest deciduous forests in the world.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg since many of its tallest trees are still waiting to be numbered.

The best I might do is to run a tape measure along a downed tree, but even then I'm not sure I have a tape in my tool belt that would reach 160 feet, the tallest height found in the park.

The Congaree River that flows through the park gets its name from the Congaree Indians, one of the region's early inhabitants.  One translation of "Congaree" means "dragging the bottom of the boat" which is an appropriate description of the Congaree River's depth most of the time.

However, its floodplain may rise and fall as much as 12 feet during the rainy season.

This bottomland forest has sheltered not only Tim and I but also Hernando DeSoto's 1539-1543 expedition, the "Swamp Fox" (Francis Marion) and his Revolutionary War rebels, runaway slaves intent on gaining their freedom, and loggers who tried to clear cut the land.  Thankfully, the efforts of that last group proved unprofitable, in large part, because the giant cypress trees were too heavy to float downriver to buyers.  One group of people who did find the isolation of Congaree lucrative were the moonshiners who hid their distilling operations there during Prohibition.

Congaree National Park gained its official designation in 2003 after a grassroots campaign begun in 1969.  Harry Hampton, writer and editor for The State newspaper, carried on a virtually one-man crusade to preserve the Congaree River floodplain.  An avid outdoorsman, Hampton spent many hours fishing, hunting and hiking in the floodplain of the Congaree River and fought to save the area so all Americans could do the same.

After checking the mosquito monitor in the visitors center--mild at this time of year but summer's war zone is a different story--Tim and I decided it was safe to venture forth.

Our first objective was to hike the boardwalk, the park's most accessible trail that twists and turns 2.4 miles before it loops back to the visitors center.

Equipped with the informative self-guided boardwalk tour brochure, we watched for

Bald Cypress

Tupelo Trees

Loblolly Pines

Yellow Butterweed



Wildlife such as beavers, raccoons, deer, feral pigs, freshwater turtles and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker were too shy to make their presence known to us.  Yet how thankful I was that we did not cross paths with the venomous snakes that may be found in the park, the cottonmouths or water moccasin snakes.

The elevated boardwalk kept us out of the mud known as Dorovan muck which is eight feet deep, a natural filter for the water that flows through this floodplain.  But later when we veered off the boardwalk to hike around the Weston Lake, we found mud puddles somewhat difficult to avoid.

However, it was totally worth it to reach this overlook of the lake.

"A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature.  It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature." ~ Henry David Thoreau

What good are the knees of bald cypress trees?

No one really knows the function of these although several theories have been floated.  Do they aid the exchange of air and bring oxygen to the tree's roots?  Do they somehow anchor the tree to keep it upright in high winds?  I'm not sure scientists will ever get to the heart of this matter because research on these swampy denizens is difficult and funds to pursue the answer are not easily obtained.

Until that day comes, I'll be charmed with hearts carved by nature.

And I'll wonder if those carved by lovers have stayed true.

At least, there's no doubt about these champion trees.  They are the superstars of their species.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Ghost Hunting In Macon

Tim and I have been hanging out with the ghosts of the Allman Brothers, the Mississippians, and the families of Judge Asa Holt and William Butler Johnston.  At one time all resided in Macon, GA.  Investigating the locations significant to their lives has been an interesting way to see this town of 90,000 residents.

The Big House

One can hardly visit Macon without hearing of the Allman Brothers, the Southern rock group formed in 1969 by Duane and Gregg Allman whose unique blend of blues, jazz, rock and country music drew fans from around the globe.  The brothers, along with other members of the band--their roadies, friends and families--lived in the Big House, a residence on Vineville Avenue and now a museum, as their music took off.

Hanging above our heads is a photo of the Allman Brothers eating at the cafe.

Prior to their fame, the struggling musicians were regular customers at the H & H Cafe, sitting up at the counter to devour the soul food cooking of Inez Hill ("Mama Hill") and "Mama Louise" Hudson.  Ron, a fellow volunteer at our Habitat for Humanity build in Macon, directed Tim and I to the cafe's downtown location where we, too, ordered biscuits, eggs and sausage for breakfast.

Rose Hill Cemetery

Another hangout for the band was Rose Hill Cemetery which inspired one of the band's most famous instrumental songs, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.  According to the web site SongFacts which I quote here: Allmans' guitarist Dickey Betts wrote this song for a girl, but not the one in the title.  Elizabeth Reed Napier (b. November 9, 1845) is buried at the Rose Hill Cemetery where Betts would often write.  He used the name from her headstone as the title because he did not want to reveal who the song was really about: a girl he had an affair with who was Boz Scaggs' girlfriend.

The Allman Brothers' first album

Photos for the Allman Brothers' album covers were taken at various locations around Macon including their first album's cover of the white-columned building that is now home to the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University.

Graves of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley

Sadly, Duane Allman and the band's bass guitarist Berry Oakley were killed in separate motorcycle accidents, Duane on Oct. 29, 1971 and Berry Nov. 11, 1972.  The crash sites are a block over and a block up from one another in Macon.  Both are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery and so is Gregg Allman who died in 2017.

The entrance to Earthlodge

But enough about the Allman Brothers.  There are much older haunts to probe.  Over a period of 10,000 years, Ice Age hunters to Creek Indians lived along the banks of the Ocmulgee River.

The Great Temple Mound

Basketful by basketful, these people collectively called the Mississippians, carted dirt up from the riverbed to make a series of earth mounds important to their societies and religions.  The mounds they created are now preserved at Ocmulgee National Monument, a property of the National Park Service, located on the outskirts of Macon.  But that doesn't mean that Americans have always seen their worth.

Troops dug trench works heedlessly across the area during the Civil War and 19th-century industrialists financed the railroad that cuts through the center of the park.  Still, what does remain--Earthlodge, Cornfield Mound, Funeral Mound and the Great Temple Mound--are well worth a visit.

The Cannonball House

Next in line on our list of Macon must-sees was the Cannonball House, built by Judge Asa Holt in 1853.  The home was struck by a cannon ball from Union General George H. Stoneman's guns during the Battle of Dunlap's Hill on July 30, 1864, when the Union army tried unsuccessfully to take Macon.  The iron ball crashed through one of the home's columns and passed through a parlor before landing in the entrance hallway.  Lucky for Judge Holt's family, it did not explode and no one was injured by its passage.

Hay House

Just up Mulberry Street from the Cannonball House is the Johnston-Felton-Hay House located at the top of Coleman Hill.  William Butler Johnston and his wife Anne Tracy Johnston built and furnished this Palace of the South as it is nicknamed, from 1855-1859 for an astronomical sum that exceeded $200,000.  Mr. Johnston made his fortune as a jeweler in New York and subsequently diversified his money into banking and railroads.  He married Anne who was 20 years his junior in 1851 and the couple took a 3-year honeymoon to Europe.

The dining room is just one of the opulent rooms of the Hay House.

There they purchased many of the home's furnishings which they had shipped back to Macon.  Returning home, they built the 18,000 square foot, 24 rooms home with four levels and three-story cupola, incorporating many technological advances including central heat, an intercom system, hot and cold running water and a French lift similar to an elevator.  The Johnstons' daughter Mary Ellen Felton and her husband lived in the home following the deaths of her parents before selling the property to Parks Lee Hay and his wife Maude. Upon their deaths, the home was turned into a museum and finally transferred to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Easter morning's moonset

Finally, we were in Macon in time to celebrate Easter.  We attended an Easter Sunrise Service at Coleman Hill Park where the sponsoring church had set up a lighted cross.

Easter morning's sunrise

As we watched the full-moon give way to dawn, I meditated upon the great sacrifice of Christ who willingly chose to die on a cross in payment for all my wrongdoings.  Unlike the people I've mentioned above, He rose again that first Easter Sunday so I could claim His promise of eternal life and the gift of His Holy Spirit.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Revitalizing a Neighborhood

The Macon Area Habitat for Humanity affiliate has partnered with the city of Macon, Georgia, to try to revitalize the Lynmore Estates neighborhood, a tract of houses built after World War II for newly urbanized, first-time homebuyers.  During the 1990s, many of the original homeowners died, leaving properties vacant or selling them to absentee landlords.  The most recent census figures reveal a current population of minorities that is predominantly African-American.  Forty-one percent of the adults living here have less than a high school or equivalency diploma.  It is estimated that 35.8 percent live below the poverty line with a median income of $29,500.  This is the pocket of poverty where Tim and I have been working to complete two homes in the final stages of construction.

When finished, these will raise the number of Habitat houses built in the neighborhood to over 30 homes.

This was an unusual build for us because our Care-A-Vanner group was so small.  It was supposed to number three rigs.  However, one couple had to cancel due to health issues.


So that left a work crew composed of Ron, Tim and I.

Alicia and Mike

We were ably supervised by Alicia and Mike, the two MAHFH site managers.

Ron and Tim installed the fascia on the eaves of the two roofs.

Alicia showed me how to construct the stairs leading up to the entrances.  I had little opportunity to snap photographs, so focused were we on getting as much done as possible before the two weeks were up, but our additional tasks were to install the subflooring and doors including the doorknobs and jams.  And my favorite task--painting said doors and doorframes.  More needs to be done, but when we leave Macon tomorrow, we'll do so knowing that two more families will soon have a decent place to live.