Baker Awards Honor Six

An overflow crowd gathered on Saturday night, September 19th, at the historic Riegeldale Tavern in Trion. They came to celebrate special citizens of Chattooga County who were selected for the 2015 Robert S. Baker history awards.

The evening began with a reception in the picturesque sunken gardens that front the 1936 Normandy-style Tavern, designed by architect Clarence Jones at the direction of Benjamin D. Riegel, and constructed in less than six weeks under construction engineer Sadd Dalton. Guests enjoyed lemonade and the music of Dr. David Snow and the “Long Hollow Boys” before moving inside. Once seated, thanks to Sam Kohler, they were able to view a 25-minute video of photos of historic sites of the county.

Mr. Baker was there, along with his wife of 67 years, Claire, and in his brief remarks, expressed his hope that the event would continue to grow and would engage the interest of more people with regard to the history of the county and the support of the Chattooga County Historical Society.

The tavern was resplendent with beautiful table settings and the arrangements of roses created by Nell Farrar, Ella Cox, Brenda Lanier and Reba Welch. Master of Ceremonies for the evening was the group’s president, Gene McGinnis. He introduced the keynote speaker, Judge John R. Dennis, whose remarks focused heavily on his memories of growing up in the Pennville Community in the 1960s and 70s.

Remembering Johnson, Myers and Stubbs

The awards ceremony began with a very special tribute. The Historical Society honored the late Lucy Burnett Johnson (1840-1924) for her 1923 history of Summerville comprised of memories of her 1840s girlhood. Reba Phillips Welch gave a brief biography of Mrs. Johnson and shared a few delightful extracts from her history, originally published in The Summerville News. Her 90-year-old step-granddaughter, Virginia Johnson Barkley, was on hand with other family connections. Mrs. Barkley, who was born the year after Lucy died, shared memories passed down to her and thanked the Historical Society “for not forgetting dear Miss Lucy.”

Arch Farrar, Jr. gave a warm tribute to his late friend, Agnew Myers. The two had shared a lifelong friendship and had been blessed with two lovely daughters each in the same time period. He talked about the years of devotion Myers invested in the Chattooga County Historical Society. Mary Myers Searels gave a brief but moving response following Farrar’s tribute. She emphasized the pride that Agnew had felt in spearheading the establishment of Overlook Park on Taylor Ridge, the naming of the Juliette Gordon Low Highway in Cloudland, and the rescue and restoration of the Couey House in Dowdy Park.

Steve Strickland paid tribute to his late friend, Jean Thomas Stubbs. Strickland remembered her as a “warm personality, with a devout faith and a great concern for the less fortunate around her.” He recalled a few anecdotes from his many years of transcribing forgotten cemeteries in the county with Mrs. Stubbs and the late Martha Moore Eleam. John Thornton Stubbs III was on hand to accept the tribute to his mother. This was followed by a video response from Ann Stubbs Maddux, his sister, who emphasized the joy her mother felt in being able to help researchers learn more about their Chattooga County ancestors.

Honoring Espy, Black and Barker

Gene McGinnis next announced the award to his lifelong friend, Gene Espy. He paid homage to the many years of service the Espy family has devoted to keeping the people of Chattooga County informed and particularly how Gene has consistently supported the publishing of information about the history of the county. In typically self-effacing fashion, Espy talked briefly about the contributions of his three late brothers (Bill, Donnie and David) who purchased the News with him from their father in late December 1966. He talked about his pride in the next generation of Espys, his son and nephews, and how they would carry on in years to come. That said, Gene still enjoys his work as editor and publisher of the News and shows little sign of slowing down.

Mayor Harry Harvey came to the podium next to honor Mrs. Clemmie Adams Black, one of Chattooga County’s finest educators and most extraordinary volunteers. Mrs. Black is noted for her work in preserving the history of the African American community in Chattooga County. Since her retirement from the classroom in 1982, Mrs. Black has helped organizations too numerous to list here. Harvey closed his remarks by quoting Mrs. Black espousing her own mother’s philosophy, “God didn’t bless me not to bless somebody else.” The response from Mrs. Black combined her sharp wit with words of encouragement to others to get involved and to help those in need.

The next honoree was Bill Barker. Arch Farrar talked about all Bill’s work in preserving the history of various parts of the county, particularly the work he has done in researching the history of the Cherokee people who lived here prior to the 1838 Removal and Trail of Tears. Barker’s extensive research on the creation of the Cherokee Syllabary prompted Farrar to comment that he was sure we were going to learn that Bill was actually a great-great-grandson of the great Sequoyah! Barker made a very gracious acceptance speech and vowed to keep working on Trail of Tears related activities in the county.

Espy Historic Prints Featured

Each of the honorees received a print of the beautiful pen and ink drawing of the Chattooga County Courthouse by local artist Linda Espy. The dome of the courthouse is featured in the logo of the awards program.

Young Historians and Upcoming Programs

Before the evening was over, Reba Welch announced that the first set of winners in the Robert S. Baker Young Historians awards had been selected and that they would be honored at the regular Historical Society meeting on October 18th at Depot in Summerville.