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He Viewed the Town with 'Horror'
by Violet Moore
The Macon News, Wed., July 9, 1975

Generously contributed by Lisa Holliday Sunderman

Article describes the reaction of Dave Fitzgerald to the changes and people of Abbeville, early pioneers and enterprises.

Surnames: Baker, Cannon, Cook, Davis, Fitzgerald, Keen, Keene, McDuffie, Roberts, Statham, Wheat, Wilkinson

Please click on the article for a larger view

The Macon News, Wed., July 9, 1975
He Viewed Town with 'Horror'
By Violet Moore
News Correspondent

     ABBEVILLE - Dave Fitzgerald was a Wilcox county pioneer whose thinking would fit in very well with those of the return-to-the-land persuasion today. He had no patience with what his neighbors were calling "progress". It made him downright nervous.
     As the owner of vast acreages in newly formed Wilcox County, Fitzgerald, before 1860, had given to the county authorities 50 acres of land on which to locate a county seat. A wooden courthouse was erected and dwellings and shops started to spring up. People began to talk about Abbeville, which was named for Abba, the wife of the county organizer, Norman McDuffie, becoming a flourishing "city" of a thousand souls!
     Fitzgerald was appalled at this circumstance of his own making. According to an account printed in "Our Heritage" (1975) a paperback collection of Wilcox county lore compiled by Reuviel Newman Roberts and Lula Keen Cook, " Fitzgerald was a man of the forest, desiring only land to graze his cattle and log cabins to house his people. The idea of cultivating land and growing cotton did not 'run up his ally.' This was too much work. All he wanted was a pony to ride on after his cattle and a shade to drowse under while watched his herds. Visualizing Abbeville's growth with horror, he sold his lands in that area and moved to the Western part of the country where he could graze his thousands of cattles on thousands of acres of forest land without being bothered with courthouses and people who wanted  to build a 'city.' And so, the man who gave so generously of land on which to build Abbeville disappeared quietly from public view." The interesting little saga was written by the late Corinne Wilkinson.
     As the Bicentennial approaches more and more small towns are taking a look back at their beginnings, but Wilcox county and Abbeville started its observance three years ago with Heritage Day celebrations, including the performance of a pageant written for the occasion by Gladys D. Cannon. This year's festival was held on May 10.

     Older citizens must have looked between the pages of family Bibles, in yellowing newspaper files and among the records of onetime Confederate soldiers for the anecdotes printed in "Our Heritage." Samples include: the late Josiah Keene, aged 16, who was on his way to the mill with corn when a group of Yankee soldiers stopped him to ask if he had seen the escaping Jefferson Davis... T.H. Wheat, who fired the first shot on Fort Sumter, moving from Floyd to Wilcox county and relating how he went unscathed throughout the War, his only wound occurring from a falling brick during a bombardment... how Abbeville looked in 1917, the iceman, millinery shop, soda fount, blacksmith shop and mill, written by Irene Cannon Warren... memories of a move by train and mule-wagon from Alabama to Wilcox county, by William Marvin Baker Sr. ... "Uncle Norman and Aunt Molly," a sensitive portrait of an old black couple of genteel dignity... turpentine still...steamboat days ... church records.
     More absorbing than many a "historical" novel is the portrait included of Norman Statham, who died nearby Rochelle in 1933 at the age of 107, having fought Indians and Yankees, been a woodsman, riverman and soldier of fortune.
     It was Statham, who is 1878, contracted with an emissary of Germany's Bismarck to provide 100 pine masts, 107 feet tall, from Georgia pine forests. He cut the timber, floated it down the river to Darien, saw in aboard a German navy vessel, put $10,000 in his pocket, and accompanied by one of his black woodsmen, walked back home. In 1888 he furnished 40 masts of similar stature to the French navy. Good timber was getting scarce and only an experienced woodsman could find that many virgin pines, even then.
     When a sawmill company wanted to move two large stationary boilers and found the existing roads too soft, Statham offered to move them for $250. He plugged the holes in the boilers and ROLLED them to the river bank. Then, as the whole county gathered along the banks of the Ocmulgee to hoot at his mad plan, the boilers floated easily off and were towed to their point of destination.

     Interesting to old house buffs is the relation by Dr. Leadford Williams (named for his father's prized cap and ball Leadford rifle) of how a landowner went about building a farm house before the War.

     "It took three years to prepare the timbers. My old father went out into his forest and felled straight, beautiful white oak tress and with his own hands, and only a poll and broad ax and a marking line, hewed and shapped the silly. Then he cut and shaped pines, six by eight, proper length, for his corners, door and window posts and his plates. He and his sons dammed up the branch and erected a sawmill on which the sawed out all the boards needed for flooring, weatherboarding and ceiling ... he had his own blacksmith shop and a man making all the cut nails needed to nail on the boards ... in the framing they used not a single nail ... they opened a rock quarry and quarried out the granite needed for the pillars and chimneys... The only store-bought material this this old arm home was the window panes, the locks and the doors hinges ..."

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