Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to Albany and beyond - Memorable Encounters

Throughout our journey around western Georgia, the Good Girls ran across fascinating stories about remarkable people. Here are a few we won’t forget.

Miss Rutha sang for us in the church where her singing career began.

Miss Rutha Harris: Freedom Singer founder

History lives in Miss Rutha’s voice. It soars, pure in tone, strong as espresso, flavored in turn with pain, sorrow, hope, belief, determination, exultation, gratitude and glory. It defies listeners to ignore the chills down their backs.

Albany Civil Rights Institute.
There’s a lot of history to tell as we learned when we met her at the Albany Civil Rights Institute. We had toured the small but complete story of the Albany civil rights movement when Miss Rutha arrived.

She lives in the house where she grew up, daughter of a teacher and a Baptist minister who shielded her from the ugliness between the races. She had just returned home after her freshman year at Florida A & M University when stopped on the street by a man who asked did she want to help end segregation. Miss Rutha asked what that was.

She soon found out and joined the effort to gain voting rights, teaching a man in his 90s to write so he could sign his name when he registered, turning the family home into a “freedom house” where Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee workers stayed. When the Albany movement began in 1961, fewer than 100 of the city’s 20,000 black residents were registered to vote.

Miss Rutha was never beaten but she was jailed three times in Albany.

Reference point: Barack Obama was in diapers when Miss Rutha was in that jail which was, according to Martin Luther King Jr., the worst he’d ever been in.

Miss Rutha never returned to Florida A&M but used her voice training as a founding member of the Freedom Singers quartet at age 21, entertaining crowds during large meetings in Albany.

Folk singer Pete Seeger suggested they could raise more money and awareness for the movement by singing around the country. “ Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife, organized our first tour,” said Miss Rutha.

Travel they did. Over a nine-month period, the Freedom Singers visited 48 states, putting 50,000+ miles on their vehicle and performing at the 1963 March on Washington. One of those stops was at the Newport Folk Festival, in Newport, R. I., a night I’ll never forget.

She returned to Albany in 1967, finished her education and taught special education. In 2010 she sang in the White House, one of many engagements at major venues across the country. You can spot her in the film The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington; she’s in the second row of the choir.

Now 72, she’s hardly taking it easy, still singing around the country and at home with her own Freedom Singers. The group of eight performs in her father’s Mount Zion Church, now part of the Albany Civil Rights Institute, 1-3 p.m., every second Saturday.

“The Lord, He blessed me with a voice and I used it.”


                                                                                  -- JW

Horace King

We frequently came across the skills of Horace King, the most respected bridge builder in Georgia, Alabama and northeast Mississippi of the 19th century.

Born a slave in South Carolina on Sept. 8, 1807, his father was a mulatto, his mother half Catawba Indian, half black. When their owner died in 1829, mother and son became the property of South Carolina bridge contractor and house builder John Godwin.  

In 1832 Godwin moved to what is now known as Phenix City, Alabama, across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, GA, to build first public bridge connecting Georgia and Alabama. It was 900 feet long and covered earning master and slave reputations as master bridge builders and engineers.

It was King’s first project and it is probable that Godwin made the contacts and won the bid while King planned the construction and directed the slaves who built it. This was a pattern the two followed, working more as partners than master and slave. However, whenever King asked to buy his freedom, Godwin refused, saying he couldn’t afford to lose him.

In the early 1840s King designed and supervised construction of bridges at Wetumpka, AL, and Columbus, GA, on his own. Finally in 1859, beset by creditors and afraid they would end up owning King, Godwin petitioned the Alabama General Assembly for King’s release from slavery. On Feb. 3, 1846, Horace King became a free man.

In 1858, King was hired by Albany, GA, founder Colonel Nelson Tift to build a covered bridge across the Flint River as well as a Bridge House to serve as a gateway to his new town.

Both were completed that year ahead of schedule, perhaps because of a disagreement over a bridge near Milledgeville. He had cut the timbers for a bridge across the Oconee River  when a disagreement over terms occurred and when no resolution was found, King shipped the timbers by rail to Albany, becoming perhaps the first builder in the South to prefabricate a major structure.

Welcome Center, Albany, GA.
The bridge was later destroyed by flood but the Bridge House still stands, now serving as the Visitor Center for Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When his former master died in poverty in 1859, King paid for his burial and for a $600 Masonic monument to be erected that read,

John Godwin
Born Oct. 17, 1798. Died Feb. 26, 1859.
This stone was placed here by Horace King,
in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude
he felt for his lost friend and former master.

Moreover, King supported Godwin’s family, educated the children and tried to keep his former master’s business afloat. Godwin’s son served as an artillery captain in the Confederate army.

King’s own children, four sons and a daughter, all joined him in the business which became known as the King Brothers Bridge Company.

In 1872 the family moved to LaGrange where King and his sons built bridges, stores, houses and college buildings until his death May 28, 1885. King is buried in LaGrange and it was said that when his body was carried through the town “the men – and the ladies too – came out of the shops and stores and stood with their arms folded over their hearts.”

His five children continued his work building bridges and various other structures in LaGrange, Atlanta and east Alabama.

In 2004 the Horace King Overlook, a deck attached to the historic Bridge House at RiverFront Park in Albany, was dedicated in King’s honor.
                                                                                          - JW

Julia Compton Moore

We encountered this U. S. Army daughter, wife and mother on the walls of the Infantry Museum in Columbus, GA, married to Lt. Col. Hal Moore

In November 1965, some 450 men of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, commanded by her husband, Lt. Hal Moore, dropped by helicopter into la Drang Valley where they were surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The days that ensued were the first major ground involvement of U. S. forces in that war.

Overwhelmed by death notices, the Army sent them via Western Union telegrams that were then given to taxi drivers to deliver to survivors.

When one came to Mrs. Moore’s house where she lived with their five small children, it took her a long time to open the door. The driver had the wrong house, apologized and asked for directions. Mrs. Moore followed that taxi and others to bring what comfort she could to other wives and their children.

Then she got mad and addressed her concerns to the Pentagon about the heartless practice. Within two weeks of her prodding, the Army established a new policy: from then on, an officer and a chaplain would personally deliver the notices.

Mrs. Moore continued to visit the small houses and trailer homes around Columbus, GA, to offer sympathy and support to the new widows.

It was the first step in what became a new effort on behalf of the Army to support its soldiers’ families. Mrs. Moore’s continuing work helped in establishing the Army Community Services organization.

Mrs. Moore died at age 75, April 18, 2004. She is buried near her parents at Fort Benning, Ga, just outside Columbus.

In 2005, Ben Franklin Global Forum established the Julia Compton Moore Award given annually to recognize the civilian spouse of a soldier for outstanding contributions to the U. S. Army.

Never underestimate the power of one woman.
                                                                              -- JW 

John Wisdom: The Paul Revere of the South

John H. Wisdom

John H. Wisdom is known as the Paul Revere of the South because of a famous ride he took on horseback. His ride covered 76 miles and wore out five horses and one mule, compared to Revere's nine-mile ride. He rode through dark, hilly country for 11 hours to save Rome, Georgia, the town of his birth where his mother still lived, from destruction during the Civil War ... at least for a short period of time.

According to

He [Wisdom, a mail carrier] left Gadsden at 3:30 in the afternoon by buggy and after 22 miles at Gnatville his horse was completely exhausted. A widow Hanks at that place owned the only horse- a lame pony- which she loaned to Wisdom. The pony only lasted five miles until he came to Goshen. Here he was able to get a fresh and stronger horse which carried him to Spring Garden where he was able to get two horses. At a point about one mile south of Cave Spring, Georgia, his mount was exhausted and darkness had come.
Farmers were reluctant to loan their animals nevertheless he walked on and even used a mule for several miles until he was able to get two good mounts in Vann's Valley in succession and raced into Rome after midnight.
Rome’s citizens were quick to act once they were alerted.
The covered wooden bridge over which the Union troops would be forced to move was barricaded with bales of cotton and the bridge floor covered waist deep with hay soaked in oil which was to be set afire in the event the invaders could not be stopped by other measures.
The engineers of the Rome Railroad made trips into the countryside warning the people and bringing the planters who responded to the call to arms. They brought their squirrel rifles, muskets, and muzzle loading shotguns.

Wisdom received $400 and a silver service for his basically unknown ride. Somehow that seems fitting as Paul Revere was a silversmith! 

Who's the Hero?

            Paul Revere                                            John H. Wisdom

Date:                   April 19, 1776                                May 2, 1863
War:                    Revolutionary                                Civil
Started:              Charleston, Mass.                         Gadsden, Ala.
Destination:       Lexington, Mass.                           Rome, Ga.
Distance:           9 miles                                           67 miles 
Time:                  2 hours, 15 minutes                      11 hours (8 1/2 riding)
MPH:                   4                                                   8
Travel ed by:      Horseback                                    Buggy, horseback
Objective:          Save Lexington and Concord        Save Rome, Ga.
Start of ride:      11:45 p.m.                                      3:30 p.m.
End of ride:        2 a.m.                                            2:30 a.m.
Horses used:     1                                                    5 (one mule)
Road condition: Fair                                               Rough
Riding by dark:  2 hours, 15 minutes                      7 hours 
Riding by light:  None                                             4 hours
Country:             Undulating                                     Hilly

                                                                                  -- DL

Rosalind Gammon:  The Woman Who Saved College Football

 College football is hugely popular  in the South and it's hard for some to imagine life without the game. But, back in 1896, a boy named Von Gammon from Rome, GA,  played for University of Georgia.  He had been quarterback in 1896, but was moved to the fullback position. On October 30th, in a game against the University of Virginia, he suffered a severe head injury and died the next day.

Von Gammon
That day, a move began in the state that would make football illegal. The Georgia Legislature was called into session and passed a bill to put an end to the game.  However, Rosalind Gammon, Von's mother, was upset that a game so loved by her son was being abolished in his name.  She sent an impassioned letter for the Governor asking him to veto the bill.  She signed the letter "Von Gammon's Mother."

The bill was vetoed and a bronze plaque was dedicated to her at the University  as "the Woman Who Saved Football in Georgia,"  but there seems to be no photograph of her.

Sadly, three years later, her other son, Will, died following a baseball game when he lost his balance and fell beneath a train. 
                                                -- DL

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bad Happenings for the Good Girls

Beautiful Blue Ridge and Mercier Orchards
Photo@ Debi Lander

Lynda Thompson in front of her coffee shop, L & L Beanery. 

The next to last morning of our trip began as usual, this time with a divine breakfast at L & L Beanery, a cutesy renovated bank building complete with vault and the most fabulous scones. We sipped cappuccinos' with owner, Lynda Thompson, as she recounted her tale of moving to Blue Ridge.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad Engine

Then we walked over to the 1905 Depot before boarding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. We browsed around and were up to our typical antics -- posing in engineer and conductor hats. We met the real conductor and an adorable little boy dressed up for his ride on the rails.

Good Girls wear hats.

Judy had been having trouble with swelling in her recently recovered (but formerly broken foot), so once on the train we extended out feet up on the side of the railcar like a lot of other folks.  Except... when Judy's leg slipped down, it popped her hip replacement out of place!  Ouch- she was in trouble, real trouble.

An ambulance had to be called and Judy was assisted off the train. She was in amazingly good spirits throughout the ordeal. Goodness! Off she went to the hospital and I tried not to worry.  I knew she was in expert hands, but this event wasn't on our carefully planned itinerary. We had not included a visit to a hospital.

Decisions were made that I would still ride the train and would catch up with Judy later.

Detour: View from the gurney

EMT's help Judy off the train and to a waiting ambulance. 

Trouble is putting it lightly. Pain too. However, the folks of Blue Ridge Scenic Railway were great as were the EMTs who arrived. Between them, they carried me off the train in a chair and onto the gurney with care.

As they wheeled me along the track to the street, I looked up and saw a full train worth of people hanging out the windows on one side to see what was happening to the woman who had been carried off. It’s a wonder the train didn’t just dump over. It didn’t, though, so I managed a queen wave and rolled on.

A short drive later, I was in the emergency room at Fannin Regional Hospital. X-rays, IV, anesthesia and a lot of TLC later, I came to with no pain and hip back in place. When enough of the meds had worn off, I was allowed to stand up and walk around then leave.

Imagine, two hours after being in agony and unable to stand on both legs I was walking and on my way to lunch at Mercier. Truly miraculous. Consequences could be dealt with later but for now I was back on the road. Hooray.

Back aboard the train

Conductor and Helper
The engine began the chug down 13-miles of rails, a project started by volunteers in 1998. The 45-minute (each way) excursion becomes a generation-bonding adventure. I chose to ride in an open air car along with many grandparents and kids, but could have picked a vintage climate controlled car.
Scenic Views along the train ride. 

Each year more than 70,000 passengers ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway alongside the Toccoa River peeking at the waterway and people swimming and drifting along in tubes. The train stops in the twin border towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee. Copperhill/McCaysville is one town with two names because it is split by the Georgia/Tennessee State Line. Naturally, I had to have a photo snapped with one foot in each state. Funny how our Georgia road trip ventured into bordering Alabama and Tennessee, too.
Open air car is enjoyed by children- and photographers. 

Most riders spend the two-hour layover eating lunch, shopping for crafts and antiques, snacking on ice cream, or walking around. But, I was met by Jode Hanson from the Convention and Visitor's Bureau and driven to Mercier Orchards for lunch at their restaurant and a tour.
Debi in both Georgia and Tennessee.

Once I was in range of a cell tower, I was relieved to find a text message stating that Judy's hip had been popped back into place- hooray- and she was going to be able to rejoin me. Simply amazing.

Into the Hills and Apple Orchards

Mercier (Mur-SEAR) Orchards was started back in 1943 by Bill and Adele Mercier, and the business is now celebrating its 70th harvest.

Note: Sadly, shortly after our visit, matriarch Miss Adele passed away.

Beyond apples and fresh produce, their onsite store serves up a variety of farm fresh items like jellies and jams, sauces and salsas, kitchen and home paraphernalia, cider, fruit wine, meat and cheese. The bakery, in my opinion, is the best part -- renown for selling over a million and a half of fried hand pies. You can choose among 27 varieties, but I picked a traditional apple pie that tasted like a donut with pie filling in the middle. Too darn good for words!  They also sell a lot of cider donuts.

Fried Hand Pies from Mercier Orchard Bakery

Judy says fresh peaches were used in the outstanding fried peach pie.

After lunch I met up with Tim Mercier, the second generation and current owner, who gave me a jeep tour. Tim explained that he must keep up with the latest methods and technology to produce the best apples and remain competitive. Mercier is now able to grow 1,200 dwarf apple trees per acre. This methodology promotes the most efficient use of sunlight and water, employing trickle tube irrigation when needed.

The farm covers about 300 acres and approximately 200 of those acres are used for fruit production.  About 90 percent of the crop is apples including more than 50 varieties, but their individual picking times vary.  All apples are picked by hand, so it helps that some varieties don't mature until late fall or December.
Tim Mercier in his orchards

I was introduced to the Ginger Gold variety, the first apple of the season. This particular apple is non-browning.  How amazing is that? You can cut them up for pies or applesauce and they won't brown.

The fall is the busiest time of year with "U Pick" your own fruit being a favorite activity.  Busloads of visitors fill the parking lots in October. However, during the spring customers can pick their own strawberries, then cherries or blueberries.

Fruit Wines & Cider
Be sure to visit the farm winery tasting room. Tim explained, “We are now a farm winery and make a hard cider with alcohol content about 5-7 percent. Being a farm winery we can do all kinds of fruit wines like peach wine, blueberry wine and different varieties of apples.

“We also make a sparkling cider. We entered it into ‘The Flavors of Georgia’ contest and won in our category.  We made 150,000 gallons of private-label cider last year."

Picturesque Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, Georgia
Photo@Debi Lander

Lots of apples and lots of fun around this family owned operation in the mountains.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Blue Ridge - Rediscovering a mountain getaway

Old homestead on Aska Road along the Toccoa River. Photo © by Judy Wells.
I had been to Blue Ridge, population 1,209, many times, thanks to a cousin who lives there, and thought I knew the area with its peaceful views of mountains, rivers, streams and waterfalls.

Not quite. I knew the area and had seen its growth (double the number of vacation homes in 10 years), but hadn't explored downtown for many years.

West Main Street, Blue Ridge. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Won't make that mistake again because it's hopping. A world famous bamboo fly rod maker and school, a jewelry designer whose work is worn by Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, an olive oil and balsamic vinegar store, prize-winning cupcake bakers and innovative restauranteurs have joined the familiar line of art galleries and gift shops.
Vinegars at Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company. Photo © by Debi Lander.

After checking out Tank Town just down the road, we began our Blue Ridge visit at the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, meeting our hosts, Jan Hackett and Jode Hanson, and getting an overview of the town. Turned out to be a smart stop for any traveler with good free maps and a variety of self-guided driving, hiking and history tours.

Start with food

Driving tanks is hungry work so lunch was first on the agenda. Lucky us, it was at Blue Ridge Grocery, one of many projects of former editor and food writer Michelle Moran and her husband, Chef Danny Mellman.

Michelle Moran and Danny Mellman. Photo © by Judy Wells.
This creative couple have created two restaurants, a one-acre downtown farm where they created the Kids Farm to Table Camp and took an old downtown building and revamped the upstairs into urban cabin-style bedroom rentals.
Kale salad. Food photos © by Debi Lander.

Peaches-n-Cream pie.
Looking and sniffing around the aromatic Grocery with its made-in-house with local produce fare, we realized it was going to be tough to decide on just one thing. Lucky us again. Michelle had sampler plates brought out. Great kale salad, yummy sandwiches and, thanks to baker Heather MacLeod, a delicious peaches and cream pie.

Get the stories
Having sampled ourselves into satiety, we met with blonde and bubbly former Atlantan Lynn Kemp, who turned her jewelry making hobby into Gawdy Bobbles.
Bobbles. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Lynn Kemp. Photo © by Judy Wells.

What began with light-weight bangles in school colors has turned into an international business selling custom-crafted earrings, bracelets and necklaces for women - and men! - through boutiques, the internet and her small store in Blue Ridge.

Making Bobbles in Blue Ridge. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Sports Illustrated bathing suit models have worn her creations for the last two years and her jewelry has been singled out by CBS Atlanta and Parents Magazine.

It was singled out by us, too; we each left with a "starter set" of bangles.

Fashion tip for spring 2014 from Lynn: Look for natural and tribal tones.

 Just around the corner from Lynn's workshop is Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods, otherwise known as nirvana for fly fishing devotees. Bill Oyster is renowned for his rods, each one made and engraved by his hand. Ninety rods a year is the output; most are custom made, but the few "standards" that slip out are quickly snatched up despite price tags that start at $2,390 and go up well into five figures (averages $4,000-$6,000 vs. $900 for best graphite rod).

Bill and his wife, Shannen, were out of town so we talked to Oyster's apprentice Riley Gudakunst. He told us the story of how Bill was a professional cyclist until  forced to retire following a bad crash. He liked to fly fish, but when wife Shannen found out how expensive bamboo fly rods were, she had a suggestion, "Learn how to make your own."
Riley, our Oyster guide. Photo © by Debi Lander.

He did and the rest is angling history, countless magazine stories and a devoted following that includes Pres. Jimmy Carter.

Oyster etching. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Bill is still the only professional rod-maker who does all of the hand engraving himself.

Evidently, that etched silver, gold or brass cap at the end is quite important to rod owners. One of Bill's makes the rod an heirloom piece.

Common area at Oyster Cast and Blast Inn. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Riley showed us through the workroom where the magic happens then told us about their school where anglers can make their own custom bamboo rod over a six day period; cost $1,570. After that it was up to the second floor to see The Oyster Cast and Blast Inn, four en suite bedrooms with common space that can be rented.

Like so many people you meet in Blue Ridge, the Oysters left the city for the quality of life and slower pace (and in their case, trout fishing) here, and started innovative businesses that are growing like kudzu.

Cupcake Wars winners. Photo © by Debi Lander.
We cruised some of the galleries and shops, including The Sweet Shoppe   where we picked up some of Nikki Gribble and Susan Catron's Cupcake Wars winning delights for snacks, then decided to catch a little natural beauty. There was just time before dinner at Chef Danny Melman's Harvest on Main to drive out and see Fall Branch Falls.
Fall Branch Falls. Photo © by Debi Lander.

It was a lovely interlude but our table awaited at the rustic lodge-like eatery with the fine cuisine.
Harvest on Main. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Considering how much we had left to see - not to mention eat - the Good Girls put Blue Ridge atop of their list for a return visit. Next time we rent a cabin, sit back and relax like everyone else who falls in love with this hideaway.
Fall Branch Falls. Photo © by Debi Lander.