Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hawkinsville, Georgia, My Hometown

Hawkinsville is small by many standards, but the heart that beats beneath the surface of the city by the muddy river is huge.
Most of my life has been spent in or near Hawkinsville. As a matter of fact, when the old Taylor Memorial Hospital was completed in 1938, this writer was born shortly afterwards on the last day of the year—not in the hospital—in our home which was the norm for most babies born during that time period.
This will be the first of a series of articles about our fair city and county.
Around 1830, the larger of the two settlements separated by the Ocmulgee River was the more prosperous, that is, until a plague hit Hartford, a community that lost by one vote in becoming the capital of Georgia. People began to move west across the river into smaller Hawkinsville to escape the illness that had infected the would-be capital of the Peach State.
At that time, travel across the river was by ferry. Almost unbelievable, the Taylor mansion was torn down in Hartford and transported by ferry to Hawkinsville where it was re-built.
The first bridge across the river was a small wooden structure.

The second bridge is the one which is most remembered by people born between 1920 and 1958. (The above picture is leading into Hawkinsville from Hartford. In my lifetime, I witnessed the river lapping te underneath part of the bridge seen here above the river.) It is remembered as the crooked bridge, with the highway from Hartford joining the high structure leading to the scary part over the river before connecting with Hawkinsville. For those of us who walked the bridge on a regular basis—or rode across it on our bicycles—there was a great respect and fear of possible dangerous consequences. First of all, it was narrow, barely enough room for oncoming cars to pass. Meeting large trucks insured that the frightening factor was at a maximum.
There were frequent wrecks on the bridge, and several deadly ones come to mind. On one occasion a car-hauling truck crashed through the concrete barrier and was suspended precariously from the bridge. Far below, a pickup truck which broke free from its chains at the top of the trailer, lay in a crumpled state on the ground. The driver managed to crawl to safety from his cab back onto the bridge.

As people came across the bridge, one of the first structures to come into view was the old cotton mill which sat high up on the banks of the river. The mill was one of the largest sources of employment in its heyday, much the same as it was in most southern towns.

My father and mother worked in the factory when it was known as Superba Mills, and my father continued after it was purchased and renamed Opelika Manufacturing. As was the case with many people who were employed in the hot, dusty conditions of textile work, my mother became ill with chronic asthma brought on by the stifling conditions of cotton mill work. She was forced to quit working in the extreme conditions.

During the days of my youth, trains still included Hawkinsville on some of their routes. Hawkinsville eventually fell victim, deemed to be no longer necessary by the railroad.
One of my childhood memories was a train ride from Hawkinsville to Cochran which included the train trestle, a twin to the crooked bridge of terror. (My first train ride was with my Mother to Cochran and included a scary ride across the trestle scanning the ocmulgee River.)Both the bridge and the trestle met their fate when they were dynamited into oblivion in the late 1950s—changed in a heartbeat, left only in our memories and old photographs.
Many businesses in the next block played a large role in my life. The Hawkinsville Grocery Store where I worked for four years as a grocery clerk during my high school years would lead out in memories. Alton Woodard owned the store when I was a small boy. My mother would send me to the store several times a week to buy necessary items for our meals. In those days, it wasn’t viewed as a threat to the safety of a young child to go to town alone. When I entered the ninth-grade I was hired by new owner, Joe Berryhill, father of Patsy Berryhill Tripp.

(Picture above is the first automobile and gas company. In later years, this building was located near the C & W Hardware Company and just beyond the Hawkinsville Grocery Store, one of which were seven in the two block area.)
Only a couple of doors down was the C & W Hardware Store which was owned by Fussell and Robert Culpepper, brothers, and their partner, Mister Weddington. That store set the pattern for what I would always think a hardware store should be like—employees who knew where all of the thousands of screws and nuts and bolts were located. In addition, they could instruct anyone how to repair anything from plumbing, to building, to electrical repairs. I remember thinking they were the smartest men in the world.
Across the street was the B. C. Moore Store and the manager was a man named Bud Freeney. What a merchant he was! I knew what clothes I needed and he allowed me to pay a dollar a week for them until they were paid in full. What a deal! Only when a giant of a man, with a cigar firmly planted in his mouth, offered me enough reasons to purchase my shoes from his place, called Bohans Shoe Store, did I start to diversify my purchases of foot wear.
Next to Dobkins Store was a drugstore (Second store on left) where I enjoyed an occasional ice cream at a nickel a pop or ten cents for a double dip.

Along that same side of the street was a small restaurant named Shepherd’s Café (Fourth sign on left) which was owned and operated by Billy Shepherd’s parents. It was obvious to me that Mister Shepherd had some sort of crippling disease because he limped badly and his arm was crooked. My mother and father did not go out to eat often because money was very scarce, however on one very vivid occasion, they took me with them to the small café. After they ordered, they turned to me to see what I wanted. I had always had a passion for Oyster Stew, and when I saw the word oysters on the menu, I promptly told them that was what I wanted. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when the waiter came back with a strange-looking dish of fried oysters. I recall being heartbroken that it wasn’t in a bowl of milk with crackers like Mother made. As I recall, Daddy ate the fried oysters and I must have eaten whatever he had ordered.
Journeying on down the sidewalk was Silver’s Clothing Store, Nick’s Grocery Store with more stuff displayed on the sidewalk than most of the other merchants. I vividly recall the great candy counter with all of the great chocolates.
We’ve only made it part way down the sidewalk and have yet to get to Crest’s Five & Dime Store. My home town had so much to offer. Please continue to read as I travel further into my past life.


Anonymous said...

Enjoying it so far, can't wait for the next chapter.(Did you spell check before you sent it in?)
da cropw

Anonymous said...

One of the stores you listed before Goodes Drug store was
"Dobkins", did you mean 'Robbins'?

Ben H. Porter, Jr. said...

Sam, I remember them all. Ben and Minnie Silver, Bohans, Bud Freeney, Dr. Goode, the Barber shop, times were good back then. As I have told You before, I am very fortunate to have been born and raised in Hawkinsville. Sincerely, Ben H. Porter, Jr.

Leon Neal said...

Sam -

You mentioned that you really 'loved' oyster stew. I have not seen oyster stew mentioned very often in stories about Southern cotton mill villages but this dish was certainly one of my famiy's favorite foods. [I grew up in a cotton mill village in Rutherford County, NC.] We always had oyster stew on Christmas eve for supper. We ate our oyster stew in large vegetable bowls - not those puny 'soup bowls'. From my grandfather I learned to add Heinz ketchup to the oyster stew until it was pink and then to crumble soda crackers into the mixture until it was almost dry. In addition I added a lot of pepper. My Mom made the stew using lots of oysters, whole (raw - not pasteurized) milk with lots of cream, lots of butter, and lots of pepper. You could see the butter and pepper floating on the top of the stew in the pan and in your bowl. [Boy was it great!] I never knew the time when my grandfather could not eat a full vegetable bowl of this oyster stew - even if he had just finished his own supper before he walked over to our house (and I apparently inherited this ability).
Today with our concerns about animal fats - we mostly have skimmed milk, or 1% milk, or 2 % milk, or - at most, homogenized milk. My wife loves raw oysters - so she eats about half of the oysters that should go into the stew before making the stew. So I get a very 'weak' version of 'real' oyster stew - but it is still good.
I believe that I could 'deal with the health consequences' if I could just get a large vegetable bowl of that 'old oyster stew' made with real, raw milk with thick cream on top, real butter, lots of oysters, and plenty of pepper.
It is mostly my memories that make me enjoy a supper of oyster stew today.
Leon Neal

Anonymous said...

I suppose that I should admit to this:

Franky Grinstead said...

Sam,enjoy reading your page Ive been here since 1952,yes we have a wonderful place to live by the muddy river as you say!Wonder if they are ever going to finish the old mill renovation in my in my lifetime.Most all the old heads in the Grinstead family,who were mostly raised out on south Jackson st are gone now,guess you knew them growing up.

Norman McDuffie Pate Jr said...

Where is Julie Porter?