"A boy never gets over his boyhood, and never can change those subtle influences which have become a part of him, that were bred into him when he was a child.” —Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Augusta, Georgia, in the summer is hot when compared with the mountain breezes coming off Groundhog Mountain in The Hollow, present day Ararat, Virginia. Every summer as a youth, I made a sojourn to the Peach State to spend two weeks with my maternal grandparents Floyd Thomas and Elizabeth Prescott Hobbs. They lived at 1815 Fenwick Street.
Today getting to the home of “tradition like no other. The Masters on CBS” is easy straight down I-77 to I-20 and before five hours are up you arrive at the Savannah River. Augusta is one of the oldest urban areas in Georgia and is full of history.
Getting to my grandparent’s home involved crossing a two-lane bridge over the Savannah River, which terrified me as a young boy. (My fear of heights came from my paternal Uncle Buddy throwing me in the air.) After crossing the river, we made our way up Walton Way named for George Walton, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He along with Lyman Hall and Button Gwinett signed from Georgia.
Next was a right turn onto Crawford Avenue. The street, named for George Crawford, an Attorney General and Governor of Georgia, who served as Secretary of War under President Zachary Taylor 1849-50 was bricks or cobblestones. Crawford voted for secession and lived until 1872. To arrive at my grandparent’s home you drove across Crawford Avenue for a couple of blocks bouncing on the cobblestones. Bricks in the street were unheard of in Ararat. In fact, pavement on the roads was almost unheard of in the western end of the county in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Civil War dominates Georgia whether it is Gone With The Wind or the many fine homes of Washington just northwest of Augusta. The state of my mother’s birth was where I first came into an awareness of the conflict that nearly tore our nation apart and the source should not surprise anyone who knows my mother or me.
My grandmother Elizabeth “Momma Lizzie” worked at Bailey’s framing shop at the corner of 8th and Ellis or Greene Street. One of my favorite memories of her is riding with her on the bus to downtown where she worked. I remember getting to pull the cord on the bus that signaled the driver to stop and let us off. We would get off the bus near the Presbyterian Church and manse, where young Thomas Woodrow Wilson experienced the War Between the States first hand in Augusta. As his father was pastor of the church Wilson spent his youth in Augusta and Columbia, South Carolina, after being born in Staunton, Virginia.
Wilson’s boyhood home is now a museum that I visit every time I go to Augusta. Authors and the City of Augusta document its Civil War history very well. The Arsenal, now Augusta State University and gunpowder factories from the American Revolution and Civil War still sit beside the Augusta Canal. The grave of E. Porter Alexander, the best writer of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia is in the city.
“Momma Lizzie” always left me presents in a special drawer the mirrored chest of her guest room where I slept during my visits. Elizabeth Hobbs and her history are still with me. Today that chest sits in my bedroom with the bed. Her love seat and my grandfather’s writing desk and lamp are in my office area where I work on my historical research. Their guest room faced the street where I can remember the streetlights shining in the room at night and sound of trains in the middle of the night rumbling into Georgia’s “Garden City.”
The making of chicken and dumplings was a work of art when my grandmother did it. She left the dumplings out over night. She often spoke to me about her family history while needing the dough with her youngest grandchild. Her favorite topic was the War Between the States and William Sherman was a dirty word to this devout Baptist woman. She attended Crawford Avenue Baptist Church just around the corner from her home.
On our trips downtown we would often pass the First Baptist Church where my parents were married on December 22, 1957, a good year for Chevrolets. My father stationed in the United States Army in Stuttgart, Germany, won a football contest in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper. The prize included a trip home. Erie Meredith Perry came home and married my mother Betty Jane Hobbs in Augusta. He continues to pick winner in newspaper football contests along with every other member of our family including the cats whose names appear from time to time on forms. My mother has often had to pretend to be a cat when picking up my father’s ill-gotten gains from the Mount Airy News.
My grandfather Floyd Thomas Hobbs grew up outside Augusta. He worked in the shipyards of Savannah and Wilmington, North Carolina, during World War II. He worked as a mechanic after the war and hurt his neck when a car struck him on Broad Street. One story about him I remember was the embarrassment he felt after running a red light and the resulting police officer pulling him over with his grandson in the car. He had a green thumb growing roses and azaleas around his small house on Fenwick Street that are also growing around his daughter’s home in Ararat, Virginia.
Just around the corner was my grandmother’s sister Pearl, who married Restie
Usry. She had a 1965 purple Ford Galaxy 500 that had plastic on the seats. She parked it behind the house in a garage, where my mother’s sister Kathryn now lives near Walton Way. Her son James Randall Usry died of leukemia and was the first person to receive a complete blood transfusion at the Medical College of Georgia.
Augusta is home to The Masters golf tournament, which I have visited on practice rounds many times in my life. Now you have to be in a lottery to get tickets. During my youth, you could walk up to the gate with ten bucks and walk in. Another ten dollars would allow you to eat and even buy a small souvenir. Many people talk about the snobbery around the Augusta National Golf Club not letting women in as members, but that golf tournament is the best run event I ever saw. I have seen Jack Nicklaus, my golf hero, in person play the course he won on six times. I saw him skull a shot once in a practice round when arrived late for a practice round with Arnold Palmer, who won four times and Greg Norman, who should have won it that many times.
The Savannah River separates the city from North Augusta, South Carolina. My mother’s brother Ed Hobbs and his wife Cleopatra lived near Edgefield. Pat worked at the top-secret Savannah River Plant, where she worked on “secret” things that I think involved radiation and probably contributed her health problems later in life. They were great to me. They were fond of their dogs. They had Chinese Pugs: Sam, Sissy, and Samantha among others. Edgefield was home to Strom Thurmond and Confederate General James Longstreet, whose birthplace we pass going to visit my aunt and uncle. They also had a trailer up on Clark Hill Lake on the river north of town, where I spent many pleasant days and my wedding night.
President Wilson was not the only occupant of the White House with an Augusta connection. Dwight David Eisenhower, the hero of World War II, played golf at the Augusta National Golf Club and attended Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church on Walton Way.
Like another Augusta resident, soulful singer James Brown, the city makes me “feel good” by bringing back many good memories. This is my personal history.
Woodrow Wilson as a young man saw Confederate President Jefferson F. Davis brought through the city in chains after his capture and Robert E. Lee after waiting several hours during the former’s visit after the war. Wilson once said, “The only place in the country, the only place in the world, where nothing has to be explained to me, is in the South”
Augusta first visited by the Spanish explorer DeSoto, George Washington, and me at the end of The Great Wagon Road that ends along the Savannah River after starting on Market Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a place that history is alive. The Great Wagon Road crosses the far eastern border of Patrick County, Virginia.
Patrick County, Virginia, has many good people and much interesting history. This book is my attempt to share some of the stories from my monthly email newsletter in five hundred word stories about the people and history. There are chapters from men who shared their interest in particular subjects such as Clarence Hall on the World War II plane crash on Bull Mountain. There are several of my speeches included from topics varying from the American Revolution to the Civil War. I present these to the reader not because I know everything about the history of my home county. I believe that the history of the county would be a great way to promote the county, but most of all I believe in sharing this history and not hording it for some future unknown reason that will never happen. That is my story and I am sticking to it.
Patrick County History began for me with the Virginia historical marker written by Douglas Southall Freeman and placed at the Laurel Hill Farm in the 1932 to mark James Ewell Brown Stuart’s one-hundredth birthday. An article in the Mount Airy Times from that year stated, ‘The marker, which is beautiful in its simple way, marks a spot near Mount Airy that should be of universal interest to residents of this section. The effort to commemorate the birth of Stuart in this section is one worthy of commendation.’ This marker became the obsession of life and fueled my interest in Jeb Stuart and history.
It is my hope that by sharing this information, history will pass to visitors and those involved in the future preservation of the many faceted heritages it represents. By sharing this history across the region, I hope that man made boundaries of state or county will not keep people from realize that Laurel Hill and Civil War history can be a great magnet for visitors and those in the region who love history. For me history began with cobblestones of Crawford Avenue.
This is the Foreword to my newly revised Notes From The Free State Of Patrick available today at www.amazon.com and soon to be around the region. I will be speaking at the Mount Airy Museum on February 28 at 3 p.m. on Makers of History: African-Americans in the Civil War, which is a chapter in this newly revised version of collection of articles, speeches, blogs, and ideas about Patrick County, Virginia, and Regional History. You can order this book from Amazon here.
I like to blog occasionally on the history of my mother’s hometown, Augusta, Georgia, and the history around it and that I have come face to face with. Taking a cue from The Masters golf tournament I call them Sundays at Augusta as I blog about it on Sundays.
Here is a link to the Table of Contents and Indes for Notes From The Free State Of Patrick.