2017-09-14 / Opinions

ACROSS THE SAVANNAH

Remembering Danburg
By TOM POLAND
a southern writer

(Author’s Note: The day after Thanksgiving 2012, my mom and I drove up to the Beulah and Danburg communities and she guided me from place to place recalling her childhood. It was maybe the best time we ever spent together. The original column, Remembering Danburg, now abridged appears in a new book, Georgialina: A Southland As We Knew It, published by the USC Press. Below is its dedication.)

For Mom, who faithfully clipped and saved every column even the ones she didn’t like.

E cologists love remnant habitat where time has yet to ruin what nature so carefully assembles. We can thank isolation for pockets of remnant habitat. The modern world passes them by and forgets they exist. Here and there you can also find remnant habitat for man: communities of the past. Danburg is such a place. Glance at the map and you see that Danburg sits off the beaten path. If you pass through Danburg you are lost or go there for a reason.

One bright November afternoon Mom and I drove to Danburg, Georgia, to see places she knew as a girl. That drive transported us to a time when Danburg was far more than a country crossroads. It was a place where people prospered. It lives in isolation today with reminders of former glory and family here and there.

Many times Mom’s mentioned this spot in the road that’s more than a spot in the road. “Historic hamlet” comes to mind. The Confederate gold train came through here. Along that road, Highway 44, sits an old home referred to as the Matthews Farm Place. Th is ci r ca 1910 Victorian home is no ordinary home. The doctor who delivered Mom, Dr. McNeil, lived there at the time she was born. Down its driveway he went to bring my mother into the world. And now we both were back remembering those long ago days.

Dr. McNeil would have passed the Pink Anderson House, a place mom remembers well though she never went inside. This stately home on the National Register of Historic Places is a Greek Revival home. It most likely incorporates an earlier building Dr. W.D. Quinn erected in the 1790s. So says the research. John Anderson later built the home as it appears today. The home’s columns came from Savannah, the mirrors and cornices from England. New York and Chicago provided the home’s fine furniture and curtains. A 24 x 35 foot banquet room and stone kitchen stood in a separate building connected to the main home by a breezeway.

The last Anderson to live in the home was Miss Pink Anderson, thus my mom’s reference to the place as the Pink Anderson home. Miss Pink lived there during the Great Depression. Money was beyond tight and the formal gardens and fountain vanished as vines and undergrowth took over.

The home sat empty for many years until 1962 when mom’s Uncle Ernest Walker bought it and remodeled it. The roof of the old kitchen and dining room had fallen in, leaving the walls standing. Down they came, demolished.

Richard Simms bought the home in 1972, adding a porch in the back. Research says too that Vinnie and Roderick Dowling now own this old home. It’s beautiful. A large holly and magnolia contest contend for space and both conspire to hide one of the columns gracing the home. A classic white picket fence fronts the building, which faces Highway 44.

Danburg is quaint and, it turns out, difficult to research. Stymied and a bit frustrated I received some suggestions and phone numbers. I made a few calls. One led to Robert “Skeet” Willingham who’s written the history of Wilkes County. We had a lively talk about Danburg, a unique monument, and two old stores.

“Those old stores shut down 25-30 years ago,” said Skeet. The two abandoned stores face each other at a slight angle near the Pink Anderson House. An old gas pump graces one store that sits on stacks of bricks. Its old Erie pump, eaten up with rust, last rung up gas at 31 cents a gallon. “Mr. Major operated that store,” said Skeet. In the window of the other store is an old advertisement for Winston Super Kings. Strangely enough sunlight has not faded the ad. It appears as if were printed yesterday.

Close by the store stands a monolith, but no ordinary monument. Each side of the monolith pays tribute to a group of people, some of whom were in direct conflict. One side honors veterans of World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. “Our debts to these veterans are equally vast, for their sacrifices were too often undervalued by the public at the very time they were made.” Another side honors “black citizens of the village.” Carved into the blue granite are these words: “Entrapped involuntarily in a system of servitude until 1865. They were thereafter entangled with the white citizens in a system of cotton-tenant-farming that exploited both through 1945 for the advantage of northern industrial capitalism. Both bondages were born by the black citizens with incredible fortitude, patience and humor.”

Another side honors the memory of antebellum and Confederate leaders. “If their ideal of slavery was undoubtedly unjust, the quality of their public service was superb.” The monolith’s slanting desk-like top honors the families who settled near Danburg. ” A final side is dedicated to the memory of the vanquished British loyalists of 1776.

Skeet said Danburg native John Boyd directed the creation of this monument, which was chiseled from Elbert County blue granite. “Boyd was a top executive of an insurance company in Jacksonville,” said Skeet. “He loves history and wanted to record and honor it.”

Danburg was a well-educated and sophisticated community that took its name from New Englander, Samuel Danforth, the town’s first postmaster. The original spelling was “Danburgh” but the “h” was dropped. The first name for the community was New Ford as in nearby New Ford Creek. An aside— my Granddad Walker said he had heard the Confederate gold had been buried in New Ford Creek, yet another twist to this tale of lost gold, yet another thread of history in the tapestry that is Danburg’s.

Beyond the monolith sits the Danburg Baptist Church. Mom and I walked through its cemetery. We found the grave of cousin Clara Rhodes Blackmon who died in 1989. She was born in 1897, which would make her close to 60 by the time I was old enough to be a smart aleck. I don’t recall the lady but Mom said she liked to be firm with misbehaving children and she always got in the last word. The story goes that I, having been in a blackberry patch, had picked up some chiggers. And chiggers, being the irritating critters they are, were giving me a hard time you know where. Being a mere boy, I did what boys do. I had my hand down there scratching away. Cousin Clara upon seeing my shameful behavior reprimanded me.

“Boy, just what do you think you are doing!”

Without missing a beat I responded, “I have a little bird here that goes tweet, tweet, tweet. Do you want to see it?”

Mortified, Cousin Clara said not one word. Looking at her stone I thought about that day and I recalled a stout lady. I could see her with her hand over her mouth stunned into silence.

Farther down from the Danburg Baptist Church sits the original New Ford Baptist Church. “An architectural treasure,” said Skeet. He explained that it has an early Victorian porch construction, which renders it less modest than most churches.

As day wore on the brilliant blue November sky darkened. As blue shadows crept over fields and roadways we turned toward Beulah Church where we walked its cemetery.

Later as we drove into Lincolnton, I spotted classmate Dwain Moss and his wife Pat raking leaves in the yard of Miss Azalean Wansley’s old home. Miss Wansley taught me in the fifth grade and I clearly could see her old mint green Chevrolet in the yard where we stood. ’Twas the only car she owned. We turned around and chatted with Dwain and Pat. Much of our talk centered on how sad it was that so many of the county’s historic buildings have been lost.

Dwain writes about Lincoln County’s history and talking with him provided a fitting end to an afternoon devoted to the past. Contemporary life easily deflects us times gone by but the past is patient and it waits for those few souls willing to visit it. I was glad to have such a fine day with mom.

Connecting with the past isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon. In fact it’s a great way to better understand what our parents and grandparents experienced in their youth. We are all just passing through and we’ll be gone far longer than we are here. It’s comforting to think that someday when we are long gone our descendants will pay us a visit and for a fleeting moment memories thought lost will awaken. Other Danburgs are out there. Let’s hope our children don’t forget that they exist.

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