Local Places and History

The City of Madison, GA
*this column first appeared in About Covington to Madison in the Summer of 2009

Hello Everybody. Glad to be with you once again. Last month’s journey through Walton Co. was a fun one and I’m grateful for all of the comments and feedback. This month, we’re turning our gaze east—to Morgan County and the beautiful city of Madison .

Morgan County was formed in 1807 and was named in honor of Daniel Morgan who served as a General in the Revolutionary War. Similar to other counties in the area, Morgan found itself at the edge of the Indian frontier early in its history and that led to some problems. In 1813, Creek Indians massacred several residents of the county. The state of Georgia would send in infantry to help the frontiersmen and there would be no more attacks by the “hostiles.” The city of Madison would be incorporated as the county seat in 1809 and named in honor of America ’s fourth president, James Madison. The town would grow quickly and had upwards of 13,000 residents within a decade or so. The city was also a stop on the Seven Islands Stage Road—the same road we discussed in our earlier Jasper County column. As I mentioned then, this was known as one of the oldest roads in America and was the main route that linked Charleston all the way to New Orleans . The town also had the good fortune of being located in a very fertile section of the Georgia Piedmont, making it ideal for growing cotton. All of these factors combined to make Madison a successful city that would see growth and prosperity throughout most of its history.

Every time I drive out to Madison , I am truly amazed at how beautiful of a town it really is. One of my favorite drives is to take Hwy 278 from Covington all the way to Madison . As you enter the historic part of Madison , you’ll run into the main drag—Hwy 441. Swing a left and you will feel as if you’ve stepped back in time with all of the antebellum houses on either side of the road. Turn off on any of the side streets, and you’ll see many more beautiful homes. As you near the square, you’ll notice something a little different. In the middle of the square, there isn’t a courthouse or a park like most southern cites—there’s a U.S. Post Office. Madison sold that land to the Federal Government in 1914 for $5,000. On the southeast corner of the square is where you will find the Morgan County Courthouse. As many of you know who’ve read some of my previous columns—I’m a sucker for Georgia courthouses. And folks, I must say (and with apologies to my hometown of Covington , GA ), I believe that Madison has the best one in Georgia . Built in 1905 with a neoclassic architectural style, it is absolutely wonderful.

One of the most interesting aspects of Madison ’s history occurred during the Civil War. The fact that Madison was smack dab in the middle of Sherman ’s March to the Sea would make someone wonder about all of the antebellum structures that survived. The key to that would be one man—Joshua Hill. Prior to the War Between the States, Mr. Hill was a lawyer and served as a U.S. Senator. He opposed secession but when the war started up, he resigned and moved back to Madison . While in Washington , Hill had struck up a friendship with William Tecumseh Sherman’s brother, John. As the years went by and the war started to take its final direction, Hill’s son was killed in action in north Georgia in 1864. Hill got in touch with William Sherman so his son’s body could be sent back to Madison for burial. During this time, the two met and discussed many things including a desire to see the war end. It is believed that it was at this meeting where Hill asked Sherman to spare his beautiful hometown. In November of 1864, as Sherman and his forces reached Madison , they proceeded to tear up the railroad tracks and burn the train depot, cotton gins, and a few commercial properties but spared the houses of the town. However, as fate would ironically have it, the plantation house and buildings of Mr. Hill’s estate were burned to the ground. It was thought that this was done as revenge by the Yankee soldiers because they weren’t able to pillage and plunder the city itself. Not too surprising considering how ruthless they were in Georgia . But thanks to Mr. Hill, most of the beautiful city of Madison was spared.

These days, Madison is a thriving place where you can shop for antiques, eat at any number of great restaurants, and see several beautiful, antebellum homes. In 2001, Travel Holiday magazine named Madison the number-one small town in America . After you see this town, you’ll understand why it has been called “the town too pretty to burn.”

Walton County & the City of Social Circle
*Published in About Covington to Madison Magazine. Spring 2009

Hey Folks! I hope this column finds everyone well. In our last journey, we explored Jasper County, the city of Monticello, and Seven Islands. I received a lot of feedback and interest about that column and I appreciate it. There is definitely some interesting stuff there and I’m glad that so many of you enjoyed it. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy this one just as much.

Walton County was one of seven counties created on December 15, 1818 by that year’s Lottery Act. It was named for George Walton—a signer of the Declaration of Independence who also served as a U.S. Senator and Governor of Georgia. Walton could be called the Governor capital of Georgia as it can lay claim seven different men who have served in that capacity in addition to Mr. Walton including Howell Cobb, Wilson Lumpkin, and Richard Russell, Jr. The aforementioned Mr. Lumpkin’s daughter was named Martha and it is widely believed that she was the namesake for the town of Marthasville that was also known as Terminus and would eventually be known as Atlanta. Walton is a beautiful county that is rich with interesting history, people, and places.

The county seat of Walton is the city of Monroe. A lovely city indeed, it was incorporated in 1821. Originally simply called Walton Court House, the town’s name was later changed to honor America’s fifth president, James Monroe. And as a fan of Georgia courthouses, I can tell you that Monroe has one of the best in the state. Originally built in 1883, it is truly a sight to see. In addition to Monroe, Walton Co. has several other towns including Loganville, Jersey, Between, Good Hope, Walnut Grove, and Social Circle. All of these towns are very interesting and I wish could cover them all but space will not allow it. So with apologies to the towns I miss, here is a write-up of a few:

From Newton County, Social Circle can be found by jumping on Hwy 11 and heading north. Founded in 1820, the town was located at the crossroads of two major Indian trails (the Cherokee and the Hightower). These days, Hwy 11 pretty much runs the same route as the old Cherokee Rd and the Hightower (Etowah) Trail is still called by that same name. Both of these routes were very important to the Indians and that importance continued for the settlers. The town’s strategic location made it a vital hub and it grew quickly. Many have wondered about the origin of the town’s name. Although no definitive proof exists, many sources share a similar back-story. The story goes that there was a group of men who would meet at the crossroads on a regular basis. Once, a man befriended this group and was so taken with their fellowship and hospitality that he supposedly said, “this is surely a social circle.” Well, the story stuck and so did the name. Early in its history, one of the key components of this town was a well that provided water for this fledgling community. A replica of that original well now stands at the same site right near the intersection of Hwy 11 and Hightower Trail. Social Circle was incorporated as a village in 1832, then as a town in 1869, and finally as a city in 1904. Like so many other towns we have covered in these columns, Social Circle was dependent on “King Cotton.” And like every other town in this part of Georgia, the boll weevil and later the Depression would great hurt it; however, it would survive and experience a resurgence after WWII. Today, people from all over the world come to see the town’s beautiful antebellum homes and historic sites.

Another town in Walton is Between. An unusual name no doubt, it was incorporated in 1908. I found two explanations of the town’s unique name. Some say it was because the town was located in “between” the local towns of Monroe and Loganville. But I also found a reference to the town being right in “between” the major cities of Atlanta and Athens. Both explanations seem to be valid and perhaps both were considered when naming the town. Never a large city, it mainly served as a stop for travelers going back and forth on the main road (Hwy 78). Today, about 150 people call Between home.

Jersey is a quaint little town in the southwest corner of Walton. Originally called Centerville due to its central location from the towns of Covington, Monroe, and Social Circle, the name was changed when it was discovered that another Centerville existed in Georgia. Legend has is it that the town was named after a Jersey bull that had been recently purchased by one the community’s local farmers. It was mainly a farming community and would receive its charter in 1905.

The Hayston Community

The Hayston community can be found on Hwy 213 at the convergence of Macedonia Rd , Hayston Rd , and Greer Lane right by the railroad tracks. As I was researching Hayston, I felt like I just wasn't connecting with the subject material. My trusty research companion, “The History of Newton County,” and some online resources just weren't getting me there. I knew I needed some help so I phoned fellow history enthusiast Judge Virgil Costley who put me in touch with Mr. Fred Greer, Jr. Mr. Greer was kind enough to meet with me. He was most generous with his time and imparted a lot of knowledge and information and even drove me around Hayston pointing out the many things of interest there.
In the first part of the 19th century, a young man from Virginia named George Newton Hayes (he would later drop the “e”) would migrate to Georgia eventually winding up in our neck of the woods. The Hays Cabin over on Woodlawn Rd , built in the early 1800's, was his homeplace and is one of Newton County 's oldest surviving structures. George Hays would end up marrying three times and producing 25 offspring. One of those children was Robert Luther Hays. While George could be called the original patriarch of Hayston, the true founding father would have been Robert Luther. The Presbyterian Church up on the hill off of Hwy 213 is named in his honor. Several of Robert’s brothers and sisters remained in the immediate area. Also, Robert ended up having 18 children himself. Several of the other siblings had large families as well. So over the next couple of generations, the community grew quite a bit and was almost exclusively made up of immediate family.
By the late 1800's, Hayston was a thriving place with multiple stores and businesses, a brickyard, train depot, tannery, gin, and a sawmill. Whereas Mansfield, as we discussed in a previous column, was a town created by completion of the railroad, Hayston was the complete opposite--when the C of G (Central of Georgia) bought the Middle Georgia & Atlantic Railway, it was brought through Hayston precisely because it was already an established town and was right in between Covington and Machen (an important hub as it served as the intersection of the Athens/Macon and Covington/Eatonton lines) and would serve as an ideal spot for a terminal and post office. Back in the days of mules, wagons, and horses, there was a genuine need to have as many things needed as close as possible. Going back a bit—one of the stores in Hayston was built by one of Robert's sons, Alexander Hamilton Stephens Hays. Alexander would be the first postmaster in Hayston and operated the general merchandise store for years until he turned it over to his son, H.S. “Stoney” Hays. Stoney became the city's 2nd Postmaster in 1936 and would serve in that capacity for over 20 years until they discontinued mail service there. Another of Robert Luther's children was a daughter named Mary Jane. In 1861 she married a Preacher by the name of Thomas Hezekiah Greer who was originally from South Carolina . This would start the Greer branch of the Hays line. Some of the Hays clan found their way to Texas where a good number of them still reside, but a good bit of them can still be found in and around the Hayston area. As an interesting aside, I found a McCart girl who married one of the Hays men back in the mid 1800's.
Like a lot of the other places we've covered in this column, the one-two punch of the Boll Weevil and The Great Depression was very tough for Hayston. Predominantly an agrarian community, Hayston was particularly vulnerable to the fortunes of “King Cotton.” The economic struggles of the 1930's also did no favors for the area. Over the next several decades, many of the historic buildings were lost to fire or Mother Nature (tornadoes in particular); however, several buildings dating back to the 19th century still remain. One of those buildings, the aforementioned store built by Alexander Hays, has recently found its way back into the family fold. Mr. Freddie is very excited about getting the building cleaned up and refurbished. There are also plans to start the arduous but rewarding process of getting Hayston added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

The City of Covington

As I mentioned in a previous column, many folks refer to Covington as “C-town.” A friend of mine from Conyers once tried to tell me that Conyers is the original “C-town.” Well...for one thing, Covington is older, and with apologies to anybody who feels otherwise—Covington is the original C-town. Growing up in Covington during the 1980's was pretty cool. Buying G.I. Joe figures at Harper's, getting baseball cards at Leo's, and enjoying vanilla malts at City Pharmacy...it was a good time. The world seemed pretty small and Atlanta seemed like a million miles away. I imagine there are more than a few locals over the age of 40 or 50 who are probably getting a kick out me romantically reminiscing about Covington in the 80's. I'm sure they could tell you how it was in the 50's or 60's or earlier. And I'm sure it was great.

The city of Covington is the county seat of Newton County. For centuries, the Creek Indian nation had ownership of this area. Newton Co. would be made up of land ceded from the Creeks in 1805, 1818 and the treaty of Indian Springs in 1821. On December 24th, 1821—Newton Co. was formed through an act of the Georgia Legislature. The county was named for Revolutionary “war hero” John Newton.
Questions actually exist as to whether or not Mr. Newton was real...his legend seems to come from the writings of M.L. Weems who was responsible for a lot of the romantic and fabricated tales of the early times of American history including the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. If Newton did indeed exist, it seems likely that he was not responsible for the act of heroism that he is credited with and there seems to be evidence that he was considered by some at the the time to be of questionable character and may have actually been referred to as a “thief and a villain.” So, the namesake of Newton Co. may have never existed at all or, if he did, was possibly considered a bit of a no-account.

On April 15th, 1822, the Inferior court designated an area on a hill south of a swampy area by the Dried Indian Creek as the county seat and named it Newtonsborough. The story behind Dried Indian Creek goes like this—a corpse of an Indian was found on the bank of the creek and it was all dried up...it seems doubtful there was any truth to that story. Lots were laid out and sold in May of that year, and the town started to slowly grow. In December of 1822, the state legislature changed the name of the town in honor of Brig. General Leonard Covington who was killed in the War of 1812 and remembered as a hero. Unlike Newton, his legend seems to be legitimate.

The War Between the States
Covington's first direct contact with Union forces occurred in the Summer of 1864 when a cavalry division led by Kenner Garrard was instructed by William Sherman to destroy several of the railroads and bridges in and around Covington. He actually instructed Garrard to avoid any unnecessary molestation of private properties. On July 22nd, war broke out in Covington when an older resident named Presley Jones decided to take on the Yankees by himself. He did manage to kill two of them before he himself was shot and killed. Unfortunately, in order to placate their revenge, the Union forces court-martialed and executed a local man named George Daniel even though he was innocent of any crime.

Despite numerous accounts to the contrary, there seems to be no evidence that Sherman knew anyone in Covington other than the sister of a man he went to West Point with. Actually, there is evidence that Sherman had given strict orders that personal homes were supposed to be off-limits. That only commercial, agricultural, and transportation-related properties were to be destroyed in addition to bridges, trains, and train tracks. Sherman and his troops would live off the land with the actual order being to “forage liberally on the country.” In fact, when Sherman had finally reached Covington himself in November of 1864, he told the Mayor that everything inside of people's houses was off-limits but everything outside was not. While the whole goal of the Georgia campaign was to make the South sick of war, it seems that more times than not, excesses seemed to occur on the flanks or well ahead or behind the main force. At times, the Union forces formed a swath 60-75 miles wide and were picking up stragglers and hangers-on all the while. The most egregious wrongs committed against locals seemed to happen more frequently on the periphery.

After the Civil War, Covington had to deal with Reconstruction. Like the rest of the South, she struggled during that period, but would eventually come through it and grow and prosper.
An interesting and little-known aspect of Covington's history was mentioned in my very first column. By the 1880's, Covington had become somewhat of a “wild west town” and had upwards of a dozen saloons and drinking establishments. Some of these included hotels and general stores, but several were just straight-up whiskey joints where cards could be played and various types of “entertainment” could be found. Liquor could also be bought by the bottle at general stores and druggist shops. The increasing influence of alcohol did start to cause some problems and by 1882, when a man named Will Smith killed two men after drinking and playing cards, the prohibition movement started to pick up some serious steam in Covington and Newton County.

Covington would continue to thrive with the growth of the railroads and would enjoy prosperity for many years. Like every other town we've covered in these columns, the one-two punch of the boll weevil and the Depression were tough. But the town would survive and continue on a path of prosperity. During the 70's, the city would start to attract major industry and with the close proximity of I-20, the town has thrived for the last several decades. Covington is home and I love it. It's a wonderful place.

I believe we have covered most of the towns and counties that this publication covers. So starting with the next column, I'm going to concentrate more on historical people and events rather that geographical areas. Next column, I'm going to write about the tragedy that occurred in 1921 when eleven peons were killed by John Williams.

Porterdale, GA

Porterdale’s roots go all the way back to the early part of the 19th century. Back then it was a community called Cedar Shoals and may have also been referred to as Boston before that. The area would continue to be known as Cedar Shoals until it was incorporated as Porterdale in 1917.

The town was named in honor of Oliver S. Porter who was in many ways the father of this town; however, to backtrack a bit, the grandfather of the town would have been Noah Phillips, a transplanted Connecticut man, who purchased several acres near Cedar Shoals in 1831 in order to start a wool and cotton factory. Over the years different owners and operations would come and go until the aforementioned Mr. Porter took over the Cedar Shoals operation in 1869. Expansions and growth with the company and the city would continue over the next several years.

Just as Oxford had a shared history with Oxford College, so did Porterdale with the factory. In 1898, a Macon outfit, Bibb Manufacturing Co., took over ownership of the Cedar Shoals Mill after having built their own mill about a decade earlier on the other side of the Yellow River.

Back in the earlier days, Oliver Porter married Julia Camp, who had been married to a Charles Camp before he passed away in the mid 1860's. Mr. Camp owned half the shares of the mill at the time that Porter would take over after he wed Julia in 1869. Julia already had a daughter with Camp, and the Porters would go on to have four children of their own. All of the Porter kids (excepting Mary, who died young) would go on to college at Emory and return to their native town in order to help the family business. In particular, their oldest son John was very instrumental in helping to build a school for the town and also to start bringing in medical care for the burgeoning mill village. One of the other sons, O.W., became the manager of the village general store. Both John and O.W. remained very much involved and active with the town through the years.

As mentioned earlier, Bibb MFG Co. out of Macon took over the Cedar Shoals Mills after having built their own on the north side of the river about a decade earlier. At the time, Bibb had mills in
several other cities including Macon and Columbus. In 1920, a newspaper was started up called The Bibb Recorder which served all of the cities that Bibb had mills in. The paper had a 50 year run that ended in 1970. Ask anybody around who lived or was raised in Porterdale back in the day and they'll no doubt tell you how important the Recorder was.

As the operations for Bibb grew through the 1920's and 30's more and more improvements were made to the city. Multiple schools were built in order to better serve the educational needs of the area. The first graduating class of Porterdale High School commenced in 1939. In addition to multiple stores, businesses, social clubs, and other things of the like, Porterdale even had its own hospital during this time. In fact, my wife's mother was born at that hospital as were countless other folks throughout the years. Throughout the 50's & 60's, the Bibb Mills employed upwards of 2500 people. During the early part of the 20th century, the company actually owned most of the quaint houses one will see in Porterdale, but by the 1960's, those houses were starting to be sold to the workers.

Eventually, Bibb closed down their operations and the town fell off a bit; however, over the last decade, Porterdale has had quite a resurgence. At the center of this is the lofts that have been developed at the mill on the north side of the river and the remodeling of the downtown business district. The future looks very bright for Porterdale, GA!