2018-04-19 / Opinions

Skip the by-pass and enjoy all that Washington offers

By LORAN SMITH
columnist

WASHINGTON – This town of just over 4,000 can be a delightful destination, but for most travelers, it is a peaceful community which sits quietly on the south side of the north by-pass, offering to one and all, genuine hospitality along with a litany of historical affiliations that often seem to go unrecognized – except for historian Skeet Willingham and Sparky Newsome, editor of The News-Reporter.

Like many others, during the course of the year, I make frequent trips to Augusta or Aiken or Charleston taking the north by-pass – a pellmell dash past the classic columned homes of Washington, its floral Garden of Eden in the spring and heartwarming autumnal color in the fall.

Washington is laid back like so many small towns with an economy that could use a little energizing. Hospitality and history warm the heart but do little to accommodate the needs for daily bread. However, there is faith among the local gentry that the aforementioned intangibles will attract some company to locate here. Timber is important to Washington, and locals will remind you that it would be a challenge to find better beef than what you find in the pastures of Wilkes County – harboring the Barnett Angus breed and others.

The many “ firsts” for Washington include:

First city in the U.S. to be established in the name of President George Washington.

First Catholic parish in Georgia.

First Baptist church in upper Georgia at Fishing Creek.

First Methodist church in Georgia.

First Episcopal conference not under the Church of England.

A community with such an abundance of historical religious bents would argue that the city – even with today’s liberal mores, especially when it comes to imbibing alcoholic beverages – is not going to hell in a hand basket. In fact, I have enjoyed a couple of lively, free-wheeling cocktail parties here in the past. If The News-Reporter society editor had covered those events, she would have signed off her story with, “A good time was enjoyed by all.”

Eli Whitney perfected and set up the very first cotton gin here in Washington in 1795. There is more.

The first and only Revolutionary War battle won by the patriots in Georgia took place at the Battle of Kettle Creek, February 14, 1779.

The first woman newspaper editor in the U.S. was Sarah Porter Millhouse, a Washingtonian. Then there was Robert Toombs, who is not remembered for being blessed with a savory reputation, but fit for the times as a slave owner who became the Secretary of State for the Confederacy. (An aside – photos of Mr. Toombs makes one think he might have combed his hair with an egg-beater).

About five miles west of town is Callaway Plantation which has a provocative history. The Callaways, according to Skeet Willingham, migrated down to Wilkes County from Virginia. They made the transition from tobacco farming to cotton. The patriarch was Job Callaway, first in a long line of ministers.

They would become the forebears of the textile Callaways in LaGrange and West Georgia. Perhaps, the most famous Callaway descendant was Ely Callaway whose name remains prominent in the golf industry. Many of the top PGA Tour professionals play with Callaway golf clubs and wear Callaway clothing. After golf, they can retreat to the bar and order a glass of Callaway wine.

Ely Callaway hailed from La- Grange and was very successful in textiles, wine, and golf. A couple of years before he died of pancreatic cancer at age 82, I arranged to call on him at his office in Carlsbad, California.

He began a lengthy conversation by noting that he descended from the colony of Callaway ministers who settled in Wilkes County. I knew immediately about the family’s original homestead from driving past the plantation on Highway 78.

We talked about his becoming a wine aficionado. “I just wanted to see my name on a good bottle of wine,” he said proudly. We also talked about how he came up with the name “Big Bertha,” his big headed driver which many say revolutionized the golf industry. He got the name from the German World War II howitzer.

One day soon, my agenda must allow for a tour of the Callaway Plantation, followed by opening of a bottle of Callaway wine and cock an ear to the ruminations of Skeet and Sparky. Maybe the celebrated local chef, Joe Barnett, will barbecue a chicken for us.

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