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The Story of Washington-Wilkes - part VIII - Modern Times


In the period that followed the World War, Washington experienced little of the spurious prosperity that came so quickly to more industrial sections. Wilkes County remained agricultural, with cotton as its principal cash crop, and, when the boll weevil wrought its destructive path through the region, the plight of the farmers became critical. Many of them, unable to keep their homes, left the county to find more favorable conditions. Business, mercantile, and banking enterprises were seriously affected. Years before the nation-wide depression, many of Washington's citizens had become accustomed to circumstances that later became general.

Newspaper articles published during these years carry a running story of desperate efforts to relieve the farmers and halt the exodus to other regions. The News Reporter donated space for advertisements whenever the farmers had products for sale. In 1921, when the boll weevil reduced the expected cotton yield in Wilkes County by more than seven thousand bales, the Washington Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club initiated a program of crop diversification. The county office of the National Farm Loan Association approved loans amounting to $25,000 for Wilkes County farmers, their part of the $200,000 loan which



Georgia had requested from the national organization. After a study of remedial measures that had been found beneficial elsewhere in the South, Wilkes County farmers were urged to sustain themselves by more intensive production of food crops. In a contest held by the Kiwanis Club, the judges selected for the diversification program this slogan:

"The cow, the hog, the hen, A little cotton now and then."

At the East Georgia Fair held in Washington in 1921, GOVERNOR THOMAS W. HARDWICK won enthusiastic applause by criticizing Georgia's fifty-year-old tax system and suggesting the abolition of state taxes on farms and homes. As a substitute he proposed the law of graduated income tax which was being newly tried in other states.

At the first poultry sale, held in July, 1922, 3,500 head of poultry were sold to a buyer stationed in a box car. The farmers, encouraged by the county agent, brought their fryers and hens to this movable market and received this innovation so favorably that the sale has since been repeated every few months. After the sale the car is taken to a larger city, where the poultry is resold. In 1923, impetus was given to this diversification program when bankers of this section pledged $1,000-fund to lend money to poultrymen who would promise to improve and increase their stock.

Farmers also began to turn more to dairying and sheep raising, to which their grassy pasturelands were well adapted. Hog raising was encouraged; in April, 1923, the White Provision Company of Atlanta, bought two carloads representing 24,680 pounds, which brought $1,690.04 to farmers of the county. For several years the Wilkes County Peanut Growers' Association, formed about this time, urged farmers to plant peanuts as a substitute cash crop on lands formerly planted in cotton and recently left idle because of destruction by the boll weevil. Although peanut



growing was still largely experimental, the proceeds from the crop of 1923 brought a measure of prosperity to the community. Pecans also were raised more extensively. In later years, when the national depression had engendered a system of barter, a Wilkes County woman paid in pecans for a magazine subscription; the following year the publishers sent her an order for nuts valued far in excess of the subscription price.

In order to encourage farmers to grow less cotton and raise more food crops, the women of Washington in co-operation with the county home demonstration agent opened a produce market on Jefferson Street in 1935. An attempt to open such a market in 1922 had resulted in failure because of lack of proper management, but this time operation was put on a sound financial basis. Each Saturday the members of organized rural women's clubs from all sections of Wilkes County bring to market their best fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, canned goods, cakes, and pies. Washington housewives rush to have a choice selection of these products and consider the institution one of the most successful small markets in Georgia. The success of this enterprise to a great extent is due to the work of the county home demonstration agent, who visits the women in their homes and attends the meetings of their clubs, such as those at Rayle and Metasville. Once a month each organized group holds an all-day meeting, during which the women have a program on some chosen topic, dinner at noon, and a demonstration in improved methods of cooking, vegetable canning, preserving, and even needle handicraft. Because the women are interested in learning new processes, they always have a stock of select produce to bring to market.

Many farmers co-operate wholeheartedly with the county agricultural agent, who for thirty years has worked to improve farming practices in Wilkes County. At the present time this agent plans and manages all poultry and hog sales, helps to secure the seed of improved plants, and encourages the farmers to raise more food crops. Working with the various state and Federal agencies,



he helps the farmers with their individual problems of preventing soil erosion and increasing the fertility of the soil. Although the program of the agent has resulted in increased acreage in red clover, field peas, peanuts, alfalfa, and other cover crops as well as in fruit orchards arid garden, produce, the principal money crops are still cotton and corn. Small grain, such as wheat, oats, and rye, is cultivated extensively for home consumption.

As instability in banking conditions became constantly more alarming, public confidence was impaired. The Washington Exchange Bank, which had been established in the 1880's, was the first to fail when it dosed its doors in 1925. Other monetary institutions were also tottering; so, in order to strengthen their financial positions and to increase the public good will, the Citizens National Bank merged with the National Bank of Wilkes. Under the name of the latter, the combined institutions continued to operate until December 23, 1930, when an announcement was made that this bank would no longer be open for business.

The railroads were also in a precarious financial condition. Stockholders suffered in 1931, when receiverships were declared for the small Washington and Lincolnton and the Elberton and Eastern Railroad Companies. The lines were soon afterward junked. Although the construction and operation of these railroads had been uppermost in the minds of many Washington and Wilkes County citizens for more than half a century, they had existed for only a few years. Their failure left only the short branch line of the Georgia Railroad to serve Washington, despite the efforts citizens had made to have the main line of some railway system pass through the town. For the past few years, however, the need for more efficient service has been alleviated to some extent by bus facilities. Washington is now on the route of the Southeastern Stages from Atlanta to Augusta.

Despite widespread distress, numerous civic and social improvements were made. In 1924 the downtown area took on a more modern, appearance when lamp post posts equipped with electric lights



were placed around the square and along one block of the main street. Thus for the first time Washington had a white way. An event of great importance during the same year was the opening of the Washington General Hospital under the supervision of a group of public spirited local physicians. The hospital continued to operate under this system until 1936, when it was taken under municipal control with a board of trustees appointed by council.

The Mary Willis Library, always important in the estimation of Washington, became the center of considerable agitation in 1925 when MRS. HARDEMAN TOOMBS WOOD resigned her post as librarian to go into business for herself. The citizens were well satisfied, however, when the position was accepted by MISS KATHLEEN COLLEY, a great-niece of GENERAL TOOMBS and a citizen who was keenly interested in preserving the history of the section.

Happy excitement prevailed in 1926 when the well-known teacher, writer, and botanist ELIZA FRANCES ANDREWS (1840-1931) was elected to the International Academy of Letters and Science, an honor never before accorded to a woman. MISS ANDREWS, one of the first graduates of La Grange College, had taught for fifteen years at Wesleyan College, had written several novels and a textbook on botany, and had published a diary of her experiences during the War between the States. At that time she was quietly living in Rome, Georgia. Expressing deep appreciation of the honor, she declared that she was too old to go to Naples, Italy, to receive the award. Two years later, when she returned to visit her native Washington, she was honored by a celebration held by local civic and patriotic organizations as well as the public schools. Her former pupils in Washington planted a white oak to her memory on the public school grounds.

In 1927 another Washington citizen was honored for a very different achievement. Young TOM NASH, who had been attending the University of Georgia and playing football, was chosen by the famous sports writer GRANTLAND RICE as All-American end.



The citizens of the town made NASH a gift of a handsome gold watch.

A salient trend of the times was the extension, of the work done by civic bodies, particularly women's organizations. The Washington Woman's Club, organized in 1910, began to take a much more important place in local affairs. In 1927 this group, then established in downtown clubrooms, began serving weekly luncheons at the Kiwanis Club. They held a large reception in 1930 to celebrate the opening of their new clubhouse, the old W. D. ELLINGTON dwelling which they had restored. In the same year an auditorium-armory was erected on the high school grounds, this building to be used not only as a gymnasium and auditorium for the school but also as headquarters and armory for Battery B, local unit of the National Guard.

The Kiwanis Club, directed by the Daffodil Garden Club, took a prominent part in beautification of the city during the following year, when members planted 264 dogwood trees along the principal streets.

Other organizations were active in designating important historic sites in the vicinity, and interest in the history of this section was becoming more widespread. Two important markers were erected in 1930: one, a gift of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was on the NANCY HART Highway in honor of the robust heroine of the Revolution; the other, donated by the Federal Government, indicated the Kettle Creek site of the noted Revolutionary battle. This latter marker was erected on a twelve-acre plot the Kettle Greek Chapter of the D.A.R. had bought in 1900. The Federal Government, also in this year, set up a marker over the grave of SERGEANT LEWIS FLEMISTER, who had been a member of George Washington's bodyguard. BOYCE FICKLEN, SR. (1851-1937) created interest in local history by editing and publishing a column called "Keep History Straight" in his Wilkes County Forum. These newspaper articles served an admirable purpose in correcting mistaken legends frequently accepted as



historical facts. Ficklen was also known for his work as banker, county treasurer, and state legislator.

The News-Reporter, Washington's only surviving newspaper, was organized early in the twentieth century by BOYCE FICKLEN, SR., and called the Reporter. This paper immediately assumed leadership among the local journals, later took over the Gazette- Chronicle, and about 1916 was merged with the News. The combined papers were published bi-weekly as the News-Reporter until depression reduced its publication to once a week. The publication underwent further important changes in 1937, when its editor, JOHN STODDARD, was appointed adjutant-general of the state and CHARLES I. REYNOLDS, JR., took his place with the newspaper. After REYNOLDS' marriage to MARGARET WOODWARD, a gifted young journalist, this couple collaborated in an associate editorship of the paper and in a popular column, "Southern Accent."

In religious activity the period was notable not only for the erection of one new church but for the recognition of the long history of several other churches. In 1930 the recently organized Presbyterian congregation in the near-by village of Ficklen constructed its own building for services; it is now the only church of this denomination in the county outside of Washington. The Fishing Creek Baptist Church, the oldest ecclesiastical organization north of Augusta, was the first to celebrate its long existence when in 1933 the members held services commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of its founding. The Baptists of Phillip's Mill held their ceremonies in 1935, and those of Clarke's Station, Ebenezer, and Sardis in 1938. The Washington churches did not lag far behind. The First Methodist Church held such a celebration also in 1938, and two years later on October 8-9-10, 1940, the members of Washington Presbyterian Church entertained the Synod of Georgia in commemoration of their sesquicentennial anniversary. Memorial exercises were conducted at the poplar where the Reverend John Springer had been ordained one hundred and fifty years before.



Churches and other organizations of this area were united on the question of prohibition; throughout all the many social changes of these two decades an. overwhelming majority of the citizens remained determined to keep the town and county "bone dry." Early in the 1920's the citizens gathered around the courthouse grounds to look triumphantly upon the confiscated whisky distilling equipment captured by diligent revenue officers in their raids. As the years passed there were some voices boldly lifted in favor of repeal, but they were overruled. In the referendum of June 8, 1937, when Georgia voted against repeal, the county did likewise by a majority of two to one. Although local option was permitted to counties by legislative action, on February 3, 1938, Wilkes has remained dry.

The year of 1937 was a memorable one for both the county and town. Farmers of the section switched on their first electric lights in June just after the Rayle REA lines were completed. Especially beneficial to the farmers was the first veterinary hospital in the county, opened in this year by DR. CLYDE SMITH. Concurrent with improvements in agricultural areas came one of Washington's few attempts at industrial development. The Royal Manufacturing Company, the first garment factory in town, now opened and gave employment to numbers of young women of the county. Another important event of this year was the establishment of Washington as district headquarters for the Federal Land Bank. The town was made district headquarters of the newly created State Highway Patrol in 1938. The officers, who occupy one of the numerous ante-bellum columned houses, have co-operated with local policemen in reducing traffic hazards.

Among the developments of the following year was the passage of a zoning law to restrict business from the residential sections of Washington. On August 25, 1938, the Woman's Club acted as sponsor for Homecoming Day, featuring the "Wanderers' Edition" of the News-Reporter and a program in the auditorium- armory. The special issue of the newspaper, containing articles of



local news and historical essays, also carried letters from former residents of Washington and Wilkes County. In order to obtain the letters, the club women made a list of the former citizens and gave their names to friends now living in the county. These old friends then wrote to them in a friendly manner, asking for a reply, and received letters from many states and several foreign countries. Because the Wilkes County people are proud of their heritage and like to hear from those who have moved away, the club women sponsor the "Wanderers' Edition" every few years.

The principal speaker at the homecoming exercise was DR. KERR BOYCE TUPPER, whose reminiscences of his boyhood in Washington delighted many citizens with his memories of past events of outstanding personalities such as ROBERT TOOMBS. Many of the more thoughtful members of the audience drew sober comfort from his evocation of the hardships endured here during the War between the States and Reconstruction. Many felt that Washington, justly proud of an illustrious history, could meet the modern problems with the same high spirit that had animated those who made that history.


Workers of the Writers' Program of the WPA of GA, The Story of Washington-Wilkes
(Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1941) pgs. 87-95

Transcribed by Keith Giddeon. All text is as found in the book, except the deletion of most hyphens
on line breaks, and several instances of italics being deleted.

This file marks the end of this transcription.

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