Baker Awards Honor Local Historians Cook, Farrar, West, McCollum and Weesner

The Historic Riegeldale Tavern in Trion was packed-out for the first-ever Robert S. Baker History Awards banquet on Saturday evening, September 30, 2014. The event, sponsored by the Chattooga County Historical Society, honored Baker, who wrote the landmark Chattooga: The Story of a County and Its People. The awards will be given annually to persons devoted to preservation, education and promotion of Chattooga County’s historical resources.

Historical Society president, Gene McGinnis, was Master of Ceremonies and Janet Farrar Byington, daughter of an honoree, gave the invocation. The program featured two videos. The first, a 25-minute program highlighting historic sites in the county, was played during the dinner catered by Sweet P’s. Another video outlined Mr. Baker’s oral history collection, now in the care of the Historical Society, and featured audio clips from several now-deceased county residents Baker interviewed in the early 1980s. Attendees heard samples from the interviews of Roy Force Cook, Ann McWhorter Stubbs, Mary Sturdivant Tookes, Evelyn Kellett Stephenson, Ernest Lee Pless and Emeline Holland Strawn.

Cook Reflects on County’s History

The keynote speaker for the evening was renowned local attorney Bobby Lee Cook. Mr. Cook’s warm remarks were enjoyed by all in attendance. He gave high praise to all the honorees, recounting his interactions with each of them. He talked about many of the long-gone businesses in Summerville and Chattooga County, mentioning the names of many of the key players in commerce revered in earlier times—whose descendants were well-represented in the room. His remarks received a hearty ovation and set the perfect tone for the rest of the evening.

Posthumous Awards

The first award was given by McGinnis to honor the late John Homer Cook. An educator who lived in Chattooga County in the 1930s, Cook wrote a county history to satisfy the requirements for his Master’s thesis at Mercer University. Writing in the years prior to the internet, his research was labor-intensive. He combed courthouse records and interviewed pioneers. Interestingly, years before his own painstaking writing effort, Bob Baker maintained a friendship with John Cook when the two were state employees in Atlanta. John Cook, by then a resident of Floyd County, died in 1977.  Posthumous award winners’ families received framed prints of local artist Linda Espy’s beautiful drawing of the Chattooga County Courthouse.

McGinnis announced the second posthumous designee, Emily Nixon Farrar. Mrs. Farrar was the wife of local attorney, Arch Farrar Sr., and was a much beloved kindergarten teacher and dedicated volunteer. A native of Floyd County, Mrs. Farrar was also proud of her deep Chattooga County roots. Her ancestors, Edward and Tabitha Adams, arrived in the county prior to the Cherokee removal. Several speakers emphasized Mrs. Farrar’s concern for the education of Chattooga’s young people. In 1962, she authored a concise history of the county which, for several years, was a part of the history curriculum for eighth graders in Chattooga County. Her enthusiasm for family history was infectious and she was often asked to speak to Chattooga students on this subject. Her death in 2009 was an enormous loss to our community. Arch Farrar Jr. and Janet Farrar Byington accepted the award in memory of their mother.

Living Historians

Three living historians received crystal paperweights with an etching of the Baker Award insignia. The first of these honorees was Maxine Mosley West, local retired educator and amateur historian. Ms. West has been collecting, organizing and preserving the African American history of Chattooga County for many years. Steve Strickland, a past president of the Historical Society, talked about Maxine’s high standards and recounted an adventure with her (and her cousin Wayne Mosley) searching for and finding the Shropshiretown Cemetery, one of the oldest African American cemeteries in the county. She is deeply involved in maintaining the history of the A.C. Carter School in Summerville. Maxine is actively engaged at the Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church and serves as an at-large member of the board of the Historical Society. She is a frequent contributor to its publications.

Louise McCollum was honored with the second Living Historian award. Reba Phillips Welch announced the award and paid tribute to Ms. McCollum’s integrity and dedication to diverse good causes. Throughout her varied career—as a secretary/bookkeeper, telephone company employee, real estate broker and church musician—Louise has exemplified the highest standards. Numerous audience members remembered Louise’s years as the number one reporter on local radio station, WGTA. Her great joy was her years as director of the local Training Center for the Mentally Disabled. She has dedicated decades to preserving the history of the Gore area and its churches, schools and families.

Thomas W. Weesner of Atlanta received the final Living Historian award of the evening. Strickland paid tribute to the massive amount of information Weesner has collected, cataloged and shared regarding Dirt Town Valley. His gift for organization and his then-recent retirement made him the perfect person to coordinate a mid-1990s project at the Georgia Archives sorting, cataloging and microfilming various loose records of Chattooga County held by the Archives. Weesner has lived in Atlanta since World War II but has returned home often and maintained close ties to family and friends here. A few months away from his 90th birthday and still actively engaged in writing, Weesner was unable to attend. The award was accepted by his nephew, Larry Weesner of Lyerly.

Baker Response Expresses Hope

Historian Bob Baker spoke briefly before Melvin Mosley, brother of an honoree, prayed the benediction. Baker expressed gratitude to Mr. Cook for his remarks and to the Chattooga County Historical Society for organizing the banquet. He expressed his hopes that, through this program, his efforts and those of the Baker Award winners might serve as inspiration to young Chattooga countians.

The event was a sold-out affair and saw the old tavern packed wall-to-wall. As mentioned, the Historical Society plans to make this an annual affair. While commemorative activities will go on through year-end, the Awards Banquet marks the pinnacle of the 175th Anniversary celebration. If you have names you would like to place in nomination for awards, contact the Historical Society at P.O. Box 626, Summerville, Georgia.