By Dr. Kathleen Thompson
This article is the third in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County. Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research including; archives and library investigation, interviews of local residents and searches of early newspapers. This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance, and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Black communities in Tate and Jasper were quite different, each with their own traits. From the turn of the century to the 1950s, Tate was a “company town.” One lived in a company owned rental house assigned to you by your employer, shopped at the company store and, if you were a kid, your dad worked for Georgia Marble or a business dependent on patronage from company employees. In these ways the Tate experience was no different for Black or White residents. By contrast, Jasper’s Black residents owned their own land and homes and lived in clusters around the town’s neighborhoods. Employment for Jasper’s Black residents included a diversity of jobs.
All housing for Georgia Marble employees, Black and White alike, was rental. Families were assigned homes in specific neighborhoods. As a result, all of the homes in the Black communities in Tate were company owned. Tate’s Black communities began at the Pink Marble Mansion and over time included eight locations, all with specific names.
As was in the village of Tate, these were safe communities. A retired teacher told me that after out of town school trips she would return teen students to their homes late at night in “the Hollow” and other communities with no fear or concern for her or their safety.
These communities and all of Tate thrived from the 1920s to the 1950s. Georgia Marble began to sell off their company houses in 1952 at very reasonable prices to employees. By then, some of the homes in the Black sections were unoccupied. People had moved away to find other work when the marble industry began declining. Houses fell into disrepair and were eventually torn down by the company. When I visited Smoky Hollow in 2009 there were two old abandoned homes. Since then, both have caved in and are no longer visible. Today only Smoky Hollow exists as a Black community.
Black Communities in Tate
• Lonesome City was located off of Highway 53, across the road from the Tate House, and deep in the woods. Families living here predominately carried the last name Patrick. Reverend Bill Patrick was raised here. In the 1910s into the 1930s this was a Black settlement. By the 1950s this had become a White farming area. Due to job losses in the marble industry, Black families had moved away.
• Sandy Bottoms was located just to the right of Lonesome Dove and along the creek. Armstrong was a common family name. Like Lonesome City, Blacks moved away and the area reverted to farming.
• The Rock Cut: At the Tate House turn right. As you turn and near the railroad track you can see that rocks were blasted and cut to allow rail construction. Several homes were located here. In the 1930s the families of employees Jim Roach, Murphy Moore, Tim Echols and Joe Stephens resided at the Rock Cut.
• Mudhead was a White community adjacent to Smoky Hollow and above the Miracle Fellowship Baptist Church (built 1897). Here, seven or eight houses were occupied by the families of White employees. There was a “mud pond” located here, hence the name. Another road led into this settlement from behind the Tate School Gym. Children from Mudhead played with youngsters from Smoky Hollow. Emma Julia Washington’s sister had a friend in Mudhead and the girls would sleep over at each other’s homes.
• Smoky Hollow: Just past the railroad tracks, Smoky Hollow was the oldest and largest of the Black communities and most widely known. A local resident noted, “There were so many people living here and visiting you couldn’t stir them with a stick.” Today, three families live in the Hollow, but in the 1920s and ’30s almost 30 homes were provided by the Company. Additionally a store, “The Stand,” sold goods to White and Black customers.
Of all of the settlements, only Smoky Hollow had a bit of a rough reputation and was considered by some as a less desirable place to raise a family. That reputation was known in the White community. Pickens was a dry county and liquor could be bought in the Hollow. Spirits could also be bought in White sections across Pickens County made by local moonshinners.
The name Smoky Hollow was explained by a resident in an article in the Pickens Progress, “In the winter the smoke from all of the fires settled like a cloud in the hollow. We only had wood and coal to burn and it was a smoky place to live.”
According to Willie Mae Weaver and Stephen Griffeth, in his book The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia, White employees of the Georgia Marble Company lived in the Smoky Hollow community in the 1910s and early 1920s. Mrs. Weaver can remember her mother talking about a short period of time when both Black and White families lived in the Hollow. “According to my mother the people got along well. At one point a young White child died of a disease. The whole community, Black and White, mourned together. At the funeral they cried on each other’s shoulders they were that close. This was when Colonel Sam was in Europe seeking furniture for his mansion (Between 1922-24). Shortly after he returned he began moving the White families into company homes in other sections of Tate which he had recently established.”
• New Town was on the road to today’s Head Start (once the Tri City High School) just before and up from Mt. Calvary Church. There were about five houses. There also was and still is a White neighborhood of beautiful homes in Tate on New Town Street, but that is a different place.
• Upper Whippoorwill (or Wipowill or Wipp-Poor-Will) and Lower Whippoorwill were built after Smoky Hollow at a time when the company was expanding and hiring new employees. Upper Whippoorwill was between New Town, and where the Pickens Training School was located (Now Head Start). The communities were named after the birds that sang sweetly in the afternoons and evenings. Willie Mae Weaver and her husband Howard Haywood Weaver began their family life here in a company home. She recalled that the area was very hilly and residents had to haul their water from “the spout,” a spring in a rock. Colonel Sam Tate had a boarding house built here for the Black teachers in this community which was managed by Homer and Lula Green. Later they moved back to Dahlonega and Ike and Sally Lou Anderson took over management of the facility. The building is still standing.
• Lower Whippoorwill was close to Head Start on the west side and a little way down the hill. It was almost level with the Georgia Marble Company. The homes could be located via a narrow dirt road that started at the Georgia Marble Company. No roads connected the Upper and Lower communities, only walking trails. There was a company boarding house here for Black male employees. It was run by Harrison and Katie Roach Anderson. George and Katie Collins raised their family in a house at this location as did the Welch, Goodmond, Anderson, Davis and Castleberry families.
• Brown Town was not named Brown because of the color of the resident’s skin but for the brown color the houses were painted. This cluster of homes was located just above the quarry and along the creek. Brown Town was surrounded by woods and was about two miles below the White Methodist Church. About eight houses were here, lived in by families with names including Brown, Collins, Anderson and Castleberry.
“The Stand” in
George and Katherine (Kitty) Collins worked for Colonel Sam Tate for many years. George was a stonemason and supervised the building of the Pick Marble Mansion and she was the Tate’s housekeeper. Their son Olin had lung problems ruling out military service as well as a job in the marble quarries or production plants. Because of the close association with the Tate family, Colonel Sam had a store built in Smoky Hollow for George and Katherine’s son Olin. The Stand, as it was called, was located just past Miracle Church on the right. Olin Collins and his wife Julia ran the store together while they were raising their family.
Emma Julia Collins Washington remembers her father’s store in Smoky Holler. She explained that because marble industry employees were expected to shop at the company store, he had more White customers than Black. On Saturday mornings and sometimes Friday night he would pack up orders from area families and deliver their groceries on Saturday. “My father sold meats and produce, canned goods, feed for stock animals, just about anything you needed. There was penny candy for the children and soda pops. You could buy gasoline for your automobile from an old fashioned hand pump. Kerosene could also be bought. On Fridays he would get a shipment of fish which would arrive at the depot. We seldom left our community so having the job of fetching the fish shipment was thrilling. I would walk to the depot with a friend and proudly bring the fish back to my father. ”
In addition to a grocery store there was a room with a juke box where one could dance. Julia Collins ran a cafe in another section of the store. One could get sandwiches, hamburgers, and the like. On Sundays she served a full dinner with biscuits, chickens, greens and more. A barber shop was also included and the barber was Chester Roach.
The Stand was opened in the 1930s and closed in the late 1980s when Mr. Collin’s health precluded continuing working. By then the store’s business had begun to decline because the marble industry was not expanding and people in the Black communities had moving away. Eventually the building deteriorated and was removed by the company. Olin Collins died in 1985.
Nelson had a back community connected to the marble industry. These were also company homes here which were centered around where the water tower stands. Nelson has the distinction of having a county line bisect the town. One part is in Pickens County and the other in Cherokee County. The line bisected the Black community. The natural result would have been that some of the Black children would go to school in Pickens and others in Cherokee. However, the nearest Cherokee County school was an all White school in Ball Ground. There was no school for Black children. As a consequence, the Cherokee County Board of Education paid a fee to the Pickens School System to educate their Black children at the Pickens Training School (later Tri City High School).
In contrast to Tate, Black families in Jasper owned their own homes and land. Clusters of Black families were scattered among White homeowners. Compared to Tate, Jasper’s Black population was much smaller. Emma Julia Washington lived in Tate until she was 15 when her father and mother purchased land in Jasper and moved their family. In explaining the difference, she noted that Tate was a close knit community where everyone knew each other and had the Marble Company in common. Jasper’s Black community was, compared to Tate, more independent. They lived apart and worked at many different jobs making the situation quite different.
Jasper’s Black residents worked at a diversity of jobs. Many of the men were employed in the sawmill industry. Women were employed by well to do professionals as housekeepers and nannies to their children. At the Roper Medical Clinic in Jasper several Black residents were employed by doctors E.A. and C.J. Roper as orderlies and nursing attendants. An early photo shows Aarn McHan, Zillar Barrow (female) and Edward Pitts are seen. Bessie Moore, Charlie Washington and Frances Chapman also worked at the hospital. James Farrow was a school bus driver for the school system.
When speaking to local people, Vonce Farrow is often mentioned with great fondness. Mr. Farrow worked for the Jasper Banking Company for 44 years. A hard working and industrious man he was also employed at a dry cleaning establishment. Today he is 80 years old and happily retired.
The homes in Smoky Hollow and the other Black Tate communities are gone, survived only by good memories and a handful of families still living there. Today people of all races choose where to live with no restrictions, and that is a good thing.
Reference: The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia, Stephen E. Griffeth, 1998; Pickens County, Georgia, Heritage, 1853-1995; unpublished document and chart listing the communities that existed in 1931; interviews Willie Mae Weaver, Emma Julia and Eddie Washington
Special Thanks to Lawton Baggs for his help with the research.
Next installment: Black Churches in Pickens County
Segregation, Local and Regional
Comments, feedback and new information are welcome.