New Year’s Homework

As we approach the hour of our New Year and hopes of our future surround us; days which have left us in our current state hit the boards of our mind’s center stage, as we think of the good moments and at times dwell on the bad.  Most often during this time our memories fade back to this exact day of our departed youth as we wade into the waters of gone but not forgotten celebrations of another year, another dream.  It has been the fortune of many students in recent generations to enjoy the eve of the next calendar as they pondered whether old acquaintances should be forgot whilst enjoying the celebratory cheer; and with their answer found themselves on the morrow in repose with superstitious cuisine and football dancing on the tube.  However, this same relaxing tradition has not always awaited the scholar, as it seems in years before; School impatiently summoned the learned to immediately grow accustomed to writing the New Year upon their paper as school began on January 1st.

An anecdote of this occurrence came in the 1923 Thomaston Times, as it was reported that R.E. Lee Institute opened for classes on January 1, 1923.  The City School Superintendent, Mark Smith, a World War I Veteran and former principle of R.E. Lee, wrote the article and interestingly enough stated that it was the largest attendance for the Spring term in School history.  Another notation by Mr. Smith, was that this was the first time in many years that all of the teachers returned after the Christmas Holidays.  Surely when the bell tolled midnight, the pupils had wished to be up to celebrate another year of their youth.  Although leather helmets were not colliding on a television, perhaps somewhere on the radio dial USC and Penn State could be heard playing in the Rose Bowl.  Nevertheless, December 31 was a school night and students were required to be in school the next morning.  After all, it is not as if the students could miss school just because it was a new year, as the enacting of a truancy law occurred exactly three years prior.

It is possible that students were not as opposed to this requirement in 1923 as the entertaining events of today were not even a thought in their pre-digital world.  Conceivably, they were anxious to get back to the hijinks of adolescence and to reconnect with friends.  Perhaps they forfeited a free cold day in order to end their School year a little early for a few more days of chances at a pleasant Spring walk with their love among the Dogwoods.  The young are not known for their patient planning but maybe the view of the dead leaves from the warm side of the windowpane bothered them little as they knew of an evening’s nap and a good book at the foot of a blooming azalea.  However, maybe they did not want to go back but their agrarian society mandated it, as the cold fallow days bring forth not fruit but the warm days held ample toil.  Nevertheless, it could be easily surmised that today’s youth are grateful for the lack of academia on the first day of the year, but should appreciate those who came before which knew not the days of idle conveniences, but should have.


Downtown Christmas

At the epicenter of Upson County’s beauty is the gorgeous Courthouse in the center of downtown Thomaston. The Courthouse is beautiful year around and never is there a day its majesty is veiled.  However, at Christmas time the Upson County Courthouse is a little brighter, a little more magnificent.  Adorned with decorations, the citizens of this wonderful community pass by the illuminated beacon of justice with the garland wrapped towered timepiece.  For decades now, Upson County has decorated their most honored building and of course, the tradition continues.  We can go back at least to 1952, perhaps farther, when decorations began to stream from one lofty point to another around the square to brighten the spirits of the Business Section as well as the County Courthouse.  In August of 1952, $3,000 was set aside in the City of Thomaston’s budget for Christmas lights for the downtown Business section.  On December 1, 1952, the courthouse had well over 5,000 lights for all to enjoy as they walked the sidewalks of Thomaston as the early moon met them each night.  However, this was not all that was in store for the citizens; as a Merry Christmas sign stretched across the Courthouse lawn on Gordon Street, a life-sized reindeer pulled sleigh and Santa were suspended in the air from the Courthouse as well as a nativity scene was located on the southwest corner lawn.   By 1956, there were 2 miles of lights, which ran in a luminescent stream all around the square.  As time has passed, the decorations have changed, however; this does not detract from the beauty of one of the most impressive Courthouses in all the land, as each Christmas decoration is impressive in its own way.

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Courthouse circa 1952

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Santa flying from the Courthouse rooftop 1952. Photograph provided by Jacque Nix

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Nativity Scene 1952 on Courthouse lawn. Photograph provided by Jacque Nix

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1961 photograph of Santa and sleigh from the Courthouse Annex to the Courthouse

R.E. Lee State Champions

Today, 25 years ago, was a very special day for the citizens of Thomaston and Upson County.  This was the day the R.E. Lee Rebels were set to play yet again for a State Championship.  They just came up short the year before, but the young men did what most cannot, and they returned to the Championship game once more.  The day was Saturday and instead of traveling outward from their home, this time the Rebels would wait on their opponent, Washington-Wilkes, to enter Matthews Field for the coveted AA State Championship.

As it turns out Washington-Wilkes came prepared for battle and scored on their first possession.  However, the Rebels were also ready for a fight as they too answered the call as Randy Marshall scored on their first possession, leaving the score tied and the fans well entertained.   Both defenses rallied as the rude awakening of the first possessions sent a wakeup call to those named to guard the boundary, which stood at their backs.  As a result, the remaining of the first quarter was scoreless.  However, in the second quarter it was the recently stirred defense which rattled the bones of a Washington-Wilkes punt returner causing him to cough up the ball.  At this point, the Lee crowd let out a joyous eruption, which I am sure, rivaled Krakatoa as Marcus Hollis picked up the ball and blazed a 28-yard trail to the end zone for the lead.  As if engaged in a quid pro quo, the Washington Wilkes Tigers would accept the challenge before them and scored a touchdown on their next possession.  The same could not be said for the Rebel offense conversely, as they failed to score again on their next possession.  Although, the Washington Wilkes offense was in full swing to place points on the score board and make the home crowd endure the scene as they scored a field goal just before the half; making the score 16-14 in their favor.

The third quarter was a lot less eventful as both offenses were foiled and the score remained a two-point lead by the visitors.  The beginning of the fourth quarter seemed a continuation of the third as the scoreboard lay dormant.  However, with only 3:57 left on the clock the Rebels did what their fans knew they could, as the offense came together one last time in the name of their home.  Douglas Stanley primed the arm two more times, as he found Gary Thornton wreaking havoc in the Tigers secondary.  This placed the Rebels in scoring position, yet alas a touch down could not be found and the Rebels were facing fourth down on the tiger one-yard line.  A decision was to be made and it was then, head coach, Tommy Perdue looked down his sideline and gave the nod to his record-breaking field goal kicker.   When Troy Woodard kicked the ball, silence swept through Matthews Field as lifelong dreams were dashed and disappointment would be the company for so many.  However, as 57 seconds were left on the clock it was the Tigers who found their hopes of a championship lonely, as Troy Woodard’s kick was true, and when the Rebels looked down in their clutches was a State Championship in the most competitive football state in the nation.

This prize is one all of the members of this team will cherish all the days of their lives and places them in the very few who have ever achieved such greatness.  The coaches for that year were Allen McCannon, Gary Ward, Doug Mills, Nelson Hall, Bobby Smith, Mike Swaney, Jim Pruett, Burns Pruett and Tommy Perdue.

The above was gathered by using the 1988 R.E. Lee Football Program

In an interesting turn of events, this past weekend, the GHSA once again had a weekend of Championship football held at the Georgia Dome.  25 years after the R.E. Lee Rebels won their State Championship, two members of that team returned to the Championship game.  This time it Coach Mike Swaney who is now the head coach of the Marion County Hawks and Steve Devoursney who was a Junior on the 1988 team which is now the head Coach of the Griffin Bears.  Both teams won their respective games to once again, place the former Rebels in the champions circle.  Congratulations to both of the coaches and teams.

Life in the Past Lane by Carrie Wheeless

The Thomaston Upson Archives is very fortunate to have a wonderful community surrounding us.  One incredible member of this community is Carrie Wheeless.  She is very hardworking and intelligent and has benefited this facility greatly during her tenure.  Below in the first paragraph is a write up by Penny Cliff regarding Carrie’s phenomenal work here and the second paragraph is only a fraction of the remarkable work Carrie has completed.

[Next year’s “The War Between the States and Emancipation bus tour” is being researched by Upson Lee High School senior Carrie Wheeless. Carrie is volunteering with the school’s Work-Based Learning Program.  She is compiling this research in a binder which will be helpful when we create the self-guided tour pamphlet and put together the stops at places of interest.  This is Carrie’s second year volunteering at the Archives.  She is doing a terrific job!  This Life in the Past Lane column focuses on some of history that Carrie has discovered.  General John B. Gordon, who Carrie focuses on, was born in Upson County.]

As I compile my binder, “War Between the States,” I have come across some fascinating information. The binder is full of various topics concerning Thomaston during the War Between the States such as Wilson’s Raid in 1865, Emancipation, Confederate veterans, the mortar shell on the Square, John B. Gordon, and many other topics.  As I was researching John B. Gordon, I came across some intriguing facts.  John B. Gordon was an outstanding man with a lot of his credibility stemming from the war.  He quickly rose through the officers’ rankings until he became a general.  On September 17, 1862, in the Battle of Sharpsburg, he received his first wound. A ball passed straight through the calf of his right leg. Within a few minutes a second ball passed through the same leg, but a little higher up. About an hour later, a third ball went through his left arm. This time it mangled tendons and muscles and severed a small artery. Despite these three wounds, he continued to push his troops on. A fourth ball then went through his left shoulder. This ball left a wad of clothing in the wound as well as the ball’s base. A fifth ball, soon followed the fourth, this ball struck him squarely in the face and passed through his left cheek and out through the jaw. It barely missed the jugular vein. He was still actively involved until the fifth shot. He was knocked unconscious. He fell face first into his hat, and he would have drowned in his own blood had it not been for the hole in his hat that a Yankee had shot. General Gordon was in critical condition for months. His jaw was wired completely shut, and he was out of active duty for about seven months. He returned to duty, March 30, 1863 with his facial wound still unhealed. This is one of the numerous fascinating stories that my binder contains.

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Photo above is Carrie Wheeless, photograph by Penny Cliff.

Upson’s First Library

Irrespective of the subject, we must find the source somewhere and cannot depend on the details to spawn from our very brain.  Therefore, we must depend on those before to speak ways of then, and listen to when they gazed upon the building of the walls on which we now lean.  When searching for such a source, one book is full of voices to tell of the mold which, once created, formed our very existence.  This of course is The Early History of Upson County, Georgia, which was intelligibly written by Evelyn Hannah and Carolyn Walker Nottingham.  Reaching from the beginning of Upson County in 1824 to approximately 1934, the overflow of this book alone can educate even the most enlightened soul, therefore; even the imagination cannot conceive of the intellect to be gathered if one dares go to the depths of this work.  The Preface alone is a masterpiece of literary lore as an Angel of prose must have been present when Evelyn Hannah marked the page on February 20, 1930.  As a result we find an endless list of very interesting topics of Upson County, such as the creation of the first Public Library.

As always, the masses often depend on the wisdom of one who knows the need of the people and the ways to better advance society.  One such person was Emmie Trice Girardeau, which knew the importance of literacy and the necessity for all humankind to have access to literature of both fact and fiction.  As a result, during the autumn of 1927, she began Upson County’s first circulating Library out of her own home.  This was a Readmore Lending Library and the response from the community was overwhelming.  Mrs. Girardeau’s foresight for such an institution and her inspiration of taking on the task herself, led to others in the community to procure space and resources to accommodate the demand.  As a result, the plea of the citizens found a willing County Commission who granted a room in the Court House to use as the Public Library.  This was essentially an experiment to see if the demand in the courthouse would outgrow the room as it did once Mrs. Girardeau opened her home.  This experiment was for one year as the City Council also joined the cause as long as other organizations in the city sponsored the Library.  Once this call was placed to the public the local United Daughters of the Confederacy took the challenge.

The room allocated to this worthy cause was the former Tax Collector’s Office.  Once this room became the Readmore Lending Library the walls were lined with shelving by the County Commissioners to accommodate the books.  Committees were organized to promote the progress of the library as it was intended to “create an equal chance for rural children; Educational opportunities for all ages; Recreation through books for every one”.  The hours for the Library were Tuesdays and Fridays from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., with Mrs. Girardeau serving as the Librarian.  Obviously, the popularity of this idea extended the one-year trial period and in 1930 the City Council, County Commission and the Thomaston Board of Education agreed to combine the public library with the school library at R.E. Lee.  This of course expanded the holdings for the public’s quest for knowledge.  Furthermore, the hours of operation were also extended from Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Mrs. Girardeau would serve as librarian until 1938.  The idea of educating the many grew beyond the welcoming doors of the Girardeau home into the hallowed walls of the courthouse and even beyond the halls of higher education of the R.E. Lee Institute.  As a result we now have a Public Library in a beautiful building of its own as many daily crowd the doors of the Hightower Memorial Library on Gordon Street.

When we learn of the days since gone, we must not keep it to ourselves but rather continue forth with the traditions, as our ends are not yet known; although a look back to our beginnings can better tell us how to go forth with our future.

Arnold Methodist Church: All but Forgotten

Some subjects seem to stay safely in the crevices of time and we can never fully know the intricacies of their wonder.  If a glimpse presents itself in our presence, we must consider ourselves fortunate as the rare instance is not reserved for all.  Therefore, although a plethora of information does not unmask itself; we must cling to all we do find as it is priceless and perhaps all we may ever obtain.   One such subject in Upson County is the Arnold Methodist Church in Yatesville.  The Early History of Upson County, Georgia states that the earliest deed to this Church was signed, on August 2, 1828; by the Trustees of the Church who were Shepherd B. Sanders, Robert Jackson, Thomas J. Sanford, James Smith, E. Robertson and David Askin.  The 100-yard square tract was sold for $5.00.  Although, we find this record for 1828, no other records were found until 1846.  Part of the records include a list of Pastors and early members of the Church.  However, it would seem that the records for this church, although some were found, would remain elusive.  Unfortunately, the church burned in 1920 and this would signal the end of this historic gathering place.  Like the records of old from this house of God, there are no mentions of the destruction of this building in the local papers of the time.  Various families of Yatesville congregated in the dwelling of prayer in the mild climates of equinox as well in the sultry summer and short frigid days of winter.  Some of the members then, who joined to make the Church known, are still the ones found there today to mark the cemetery and remind future generations of the ground once reserved for delight in the Lord.  If one were to walk the small cemetery they will find those resting who once were found sitting in the pews of the Church.  Such names as, Young A. Allen and his wife Elizabeth Chancelor, the Wilson family, the Fowler Family or the Jackson Family and Holloways can be found in the cemetery today.  Of course, other names which made the roll were the Mormand, Castlen, Peacock, Hightower, Crawford and Carlisle families just to name a few.  Interestingly enough, although the Church burned in 1920, the legacy of the Church remained in the hearts of its former members, as Maude Fowler Jackson was the last to be buried there in September of 1962.  Driving through Yatesville on Pleasant Grove Road, one, otherwise not enlightened, may never guess that a Church so prominent ever once took the place of young oaks and pines.  However, it is the small records we cling to that remind us of the glory of a church that saw the pinnacles of the booming town of Yatesville which today seems so far from it all.


Arnold Cemetery

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The above photographs are of the Arnold Methodist Church Cemetery and were provided by Grady Kelley


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First Deed for Arnold Methodist Church found at the Thomaston Upson Archives in Deed book A pg. 470

Verdi and Culture at the Thomaston Upson Archives

The Thomaston Upson Archives is constantly in the midst of incredible educational resources and events.  One cannot exit the doors without being enlightened about various topics of a multitude of subjects.  One event which, overflows with culture and intellect, is the Music Club organized by Vicar Dwain Penn and is held periodically in the Thomaston Upson Archive’s Conference room.  The most recent Music Club meeting was held on October 24, 2013 as the group analyzed the eloquent work of Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi, the Italian Romantic composer, primarily known for his operas. Verdi in the Nineteenth Century, along with Richard Wagner, was the foremost opera composers.  During the meeting, the group listened to and analyzed the work of one of the most talented composers of any generation.  In addition, all who attended were eligible for the drawing for a multiple disk set of the work of Verdi.  The winner was the very astute and knowledgeable Hugh Salter.  We hope anyone interested in the high culture of society; will join Vicar Penn in his next Music Group meeting which we will post so stay tuned.



Photographed above is the winner of the fabulous multi-compilation works of Verdi