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WILKES COUNTY, GEORGIA

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 The Story of Washington-Wilkes

Compiles and Written by Workers of the Writers'

Program of the Work Projects

Administration

in the State of Georgia

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Submitted by Christina Palmer

 

Contemporary Scene

As a Market center for the farmers of the surrounding middle Georgia countryside, Washington is so important that the town and Wilkes County have become almost interdependent, and the municipality is distinguished from the many other cities of that name by the local appellation of Washington-Wilkes. In recent years this town, one of the oldest settlements in Georgia, has become widely known for beauty and authenticity of its ante-bellum houses. Here may be seen not only numerous fine examples of the columend, porticoed "Southern Colonial" or Greek Revival houses, found frequently enough in other towns of this section, but many earlier, simpler clapboard structures that have more right to be called Colonial-houes that are only a few years younger tha the American Revolution. To the visitor these home have a particular intimate charm because they are not arranged for tourists' inspection but look "lived in." Her is the Old South at its most natural best, sometimes slow-moving and remote but with plenty of assurance and alert strenth beneath its old-fashioned graciousness. In these home old ways are kept up npt as a memorial ceremony but as en energetic habit of daily living. Washington does not live in the past but brings the leisurely and hospitable manners of its heyday into the present.

     The town has been touched but lightly by commerce and scarcely at all by industry. The center of activity is the square, dominated on the north by a grandiose late Victorian courthouse of cream brick and red tile. Shops enclose the other three sides of the square, which is bisected by a long grassy park overlooked by

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the figure of a Confederate soldier standing on a granite shaft. All day from Monday through Friday this area is a scene of quiet activity, but early in the evening the square is deserted except for the movie cowd returning home, the traveling salemen in theirsidewalk rockers before the hotel, and a few grocery clerks dressing their windows for the next days trade. On Saturdays, however, the square and business streets present a scene of bustling movement when farmers come to town to buy their weekly supplies. At this time the area is filled with blue overalls and wide-brimmed "cornfield" hats; with gat Negro laughter; and with the deliberate drawl of farmers with peanuts, bottled drinks, and cartons of ice cream; with trucks, dilapidated automobiles, and a few buggies, and many wagons, their wheels caked with the red clay of country roads. The Negros are especially evident, for Saturday has been their holiday since the time of slavery. Many, in their Suday best, have come from "Sat'day Meeting'" at their rural churches. Standing on corners and gathering to visit with one another, they linger after dark, for on Saturdays the store stay open until eleven.

    Across the southern end of the square, US Highway 78 follows Robert Toombs Avenure, wich, with the parallel Liberty Street and the cross thoroughfares, Spring Street and Alexander Avenue, forms the main residential district of Washington. This section is filled with stately trees, green lawns, and a luxuriant growth of shrubs  and flowers as a foreground for dwellings of divesified architecture. One of the most pleasing types is the compact, green-shuttered whire clapboard cottage of the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, usually built on a high basement with a broad flight of steps leading to a stoop with small round pillars. Larger and more impressive dwellings of the Greek Revival have dentiled cornices and Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian columns across the front. Of still later period are the large brick or frame structures adornes with turrents, cupolas, bay windows, and leaded glass. many of the smaller houses built near

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the turn of the century show scrollsaw ornamentation and banisters, which sometimes have been appended also to the earlier Colonial cottages. In the newer subdivisions of Grandview, Barnett Park, Springdale Circle, and Springdale Park, bungalows of the type that was popular about 1907 predominate, but there are many later houses that follow most of the more conservative modern patterns. Public buildings embody every trend from the fine Colonial simplicity of the white frame Presbyterian Church, with its angulare spire, to the Richardsonian-Romanesque solidity of various red brick structures with broadly arched entrances.

     Despite this architectuaral diversity, the effect of the residental section is harmonious becuase of the blending softness of trees and shrubbery. The coniferous trees are the pine and dark-foliaged cedar, which in ante-bellum times was planted in avenues leading to the columned plantation house. Washington's narrow streets are shaded by the elm, ash, and maple, the talltulip poplar with its streaked yellowish flowers, and oaks of many varieties- the great white oak and red oak, the rugged post oak, and the more delicately fashioned water oak. The weeping willows droops gracefully on many lawns. In autumn the ground is coverend with nuts from the walnut and the yellow-leaved hickory, while small boys numbly climb the pecan trees to shake down the oval, thin-shelled nuts. Spring brings out the flowering trees: dogwood, plum, quince, cherry, and the pink-blossomed Japanese magnolia, which is very unlike the famous magnolia grandiflora whose sweet, waxe white flowers bloom in summer. Also in summer come the feathery fragrant blossoms of the mimosa and somewhat later the heavy pink plmes of crepe myrtle tree. Garden flowers of almost every kind are abundant. Among the most popular are the wild Cherokee Roses that convert fences and trelises into snowy banks, accentuated by occasional planting of the cultivated pink variety. The Cherokee is a favorite, for it was through the efforts of Metta Andrews Green, a Washington citizen, that the flower was adopted by legislature to represent

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the state. Horticulturists have stated that the red clay soil here is particularly favorable to the cultivation of roses.

     In the southwestern part of town a spurline railraod depot is in the center of the scatteren buildings that make up Washington's industrial section. Here the air is thick with smoke and with the acrid smells of the cottonseed oil mills and fertilizer plant. Along the rutted unpaved roads are also cotton warehouses, an ice plant, a creamery, a four and grist mill, and a woddworking plant and planing mills.

     Negros, making up 65 per cent of the total population, are scattered in several segregated areas. After the War between the States many freed slaves continued to live for a time in tenant houses on the property of their former masters, but after a time many of them moved into rented dwellings in town. Atypical settlement is Gulleytown, where a few rows of frame houses are crowded into a gulch behind the courthouse. A majority of Negros, however, now live in the more spacious outlying sections of Feemandville to the west and Baltimore to the Southeast. Here some of the houses are well kept, with neat picket fences, masses of flowers, and vegetable gardens where collards and onions grow all year. Others are ramshackle, with bare yards in which unpenned hoggs, goats, and chickens scamper among the washtubs under the spreading crepe myrtle trees. Sometimes the names of streets, such as Peachtee and Whitehall, are borrowed from more populous cities; but such place names as Vinegar Hill have a strong native flvor. Washington Negros have their own schools, churches, and lodges, and in the business district one block from the courthouse are restaurants, pressing and tailor shops, insurance offices, and undertaking establishements. Lodges and burial societies play a large part in the Negroes' social life; frequently processions are seen, the participants wearing white robes for baptism or black robes for funerals.

    The 288,000 acres of Wilkes County lie in the midst of a highly productive farming country of low red clay hills, dense woodlands,

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and valleys of green pasture lands. Abundant drainage is supplied by Broad and Little Rivers and by Pistol, Upton, Rocky, Cedar, Kettle and Beaverdam Creeks. Cecil clay loam is the predominate soil, but there are also lighter sandy varieties. In the well-watered lowlands, where the soil is black and strong, little commercial fertilizer is required for good crop production. Since large areas have been injured by excessive one-crop planting, the more progressive farmers are making efforts to conserv the land by terracing, strip cropping, planting legumes, and covering the badly eroded hillsides with kudzu, which is locally called the "electric vine" because of its rapid growth.

     Cotton, the principal crop of the region, brings an annual yield of about $550,000. Corn, grain, peanuts, and sugar cane, though bountiful, are used pricipally for home consumption.  Legumes, crimson clover, and truck garden produce, especially green peas for canning, are also important. Since many grassy meadows provide excellent pasturage, dairy products bring$100,000 annually. The town has a co-operative creamery and two cream stations. Poultry and hogs are raised on almost every farm.

    Although the deer and black deer that once abounded in the region have long since given way before  intensive settlement, the rolling wooded terrain affords good hunting for the smaller game. Quail and doves, squirrels and rabbits are plentiful, and often on a summer night the melancholybaying of hounds is heard as the farmers carry on the fox hunt. The Broad and Little Rivers are well stocked with jackfish and bass, bream, perch, channel catfish, and eels. Many fishermen, especially Negroes, prefer the more sluggish fish, such as carp and mud catfish. A number of privately owned lakes and ponds are open for swimming at a small charge. A concrete pool at eh old Washington Country Club is also open to the public at minimum prices.

     The close relation between town and country is shown by such small but significany things as a cotton patch in the midst of a residential section. This closenes shows still more on a county

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election day, when the courthouse grounds are filled with farmers. Municipal government is simple; a mayor and six councilmen are selected every two years. Often these places are filled with no opposition, for there are no local parties or factions. No woman has ever held office here, although women of the commnity show an alert interest in politics, vote regularly, and have an advisory committee that meets at intervals with the city council and had charge of cemeteries, parks, and municipal improvements.

     Although Washington has never been a college town, some of its social and cultural groups resemble those commonly found at a Southern univeristy of long traditions. The public schools have a student enrollment of four hundred and faculty of sixteen; the system is administered in a way similar to that of other Georgia town of like size. An eleven-grade accredited school has three brick buildings: the grammar school, high school, and auditorium-armory. The county schools are maintained under a separate system which provides two accredited senior high schools, four junior high schools, and one grammar school. The modern plan of one-story school construction is shwn in two of the newer buildings. Sixteen buses serve the children of Wilkes County. The Negroes, with an enrollment of 2,205 have 41 county schools, one of which is a Rosenwald institution.

     The church life of Washington is very vigorous. As in most Georgia towns, the Baptist and Methodist denominations have by far the larges numbers. The Presbyterian and Episcopal churches also have active congregations, and the Roman Catholics, seldom numerous in the smaller cities of Georgia, are well represented here. Highly characteristic of a Southern farm community are the revival servives held by the Methodist and Baptist churches of the section in August when crops are "laid by." Hearty singing, protracted preaching, warm hospitality, and abundant food are the order of the day. Another annual religious activity of the summer season it the Daily Vacation Bible School for children, conducted on aninter-denominational basis.

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     Frequently coinciding and co-operating with religious enterprises are carious civic and communtiy projects, which are always in a state of activity. The Woman's Club occupies a particularly prominent position on political and civic affairs. One of its divisions, the Daffodil Garden Club, is constantly busy is beautification of parks and roadsides. The Kettle Creek Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was strongly infulential in arranging for the purchase of several acres of the Kettle Creek battle site in this vicinity and the erection of a monument to commemorate this famous Revolutionary battle. The last Cabinet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Conferacy is so named because President Jefferson Davis held his lasst Confederate cabinate meeting in Washington. This group formerly expended considerable effort toward the welfare of Confederate veterans, but since the number of those old soldiers has so greatly diminished, the chapter now devotes itself largely to the maintenance of the Confederate museum in the courthouse. Recently, through their influence, a chapter of the Children of the Confederacy has been organized.

     The Kiwanis Club is prominent among the men's organizations, meeting weekly for lunch and discussion of plans for community improvement. Other men's groups that are well represented are the Masons, knighs of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Lions, and Woodmen of the World. The American Legion and National Guard also have a full membership.

     From its earliest days, Washington has had its share of artists. Perhaps the best-known painter to live in Washington was Albert Capers Guerry, who painted many portraits in the traditonal academic manner. When he called here in 1885 to portray the likeness of several prominent citizens, he liked the town so well that he decided to remain. Although several of his paintings are hung in Washington houses, his better works, including potraits of Robert Toombs, AndrewPickens, and Grover Cleveland, are found in the state capitols of Georgia and South Carolina, the

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national capital in Washington, D.C., and several Southern colleges. For many years Grace Syson Smith painted here her delicate water colors sketches of landscapes and still-life objects.  She was the teacher of Percy Tazewell Richards, who later studied under William Greason in Detroit and at the Graphic Sketch club in Philadephia. In these two cities he developed a technique moe robust than that of his first teacher and became known for his detailed landscapes in oils.

     The town is the birthplace of on of the most prominent Southern women of Confederate days, Eliza Frances Andrews, the first woman to be elected membership in the International Academy of Literature and Science. Well known during her life as a botanist and educator, Miss Andrews is rememberedd also for her writings about this section during the War between the States. Eliza , who spent her lifer here, was an astronomer and historian who wrote The History of Wilkes County, one of the first county histories in Georgia. Maude Andrews Ohl, a novelist and prominent newspaper woman, was born in this town and spent her early life here. A young poet of national reputation who was born and reated in Washington is Gilbert Maxwell, whose two volumes Look To the Lightning and Stranter's Garment Contain several verses descriptive of this section. Maxwell is less notable for local color in his poetry, however, than for the warm feeling and musical idiom with which he celebrates the emotions common to all mankind.

     Socially, Washington has elements of both the Old South and the New. Its bridge parties, its small informal teas, its bridal "showers," and occassional dances, are similar to thos of other communities. On the other hand, there are many pleasantly old-fashioned gatherings, such as the barbecues held for civic and political rallies. The pork, mutton, veal, chicken, or kid are roasted over glowing hardwood coals and give out appetizing odors in the open air. Brunswick stew, a succulent has made from these meats with additions of tomatoes and corn, simmers

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long in iron pots. The meats and stew are served with cole slaw, potato chips, pickles, bread, and coffee. Few social occasions are so greatly enjoyed here as barbecues.

     To the average newcomer, the charm of Washington lies principally in its more old-fashioned attribures, its handsome old homes and the agreeable decorum of its personal relationships. Here, certainly, is a communtiy where good manners really count. But further acqaintance will show that modern life also has found its place. Washingotn has its aristocracy, but it is determined on the basis on individual merit, in the democratic way  the alert twentieth century.

 

 
 

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