Posts Tagged ‘Happy Valley’


Fitzpatrick Hotel

Fitzpatrick Hotel

“Hello, anybody here?”

I walked the halls of a three story Victorian hotel looking for any sign of life. No one. Wandering through the lobby, I happened to see a note on the check in counter: If you need help call Carolyn at 706 …

I turned the phone around and dialed. A woman’s voice on the other end had a question for me.

“Are you the lady who was supposed to be here at noon?”

“Yes ma’am, unfortunately I got a late start …”

“It’s two o’clock.”

“I know ma’am …”

“Well, I just got home. I don’t live in downtown Washington-Wilkes, you know. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Twenty minutes later, Carolyn, checked me in and wasted no time telling me about Daniel.

“Now Daniel will be in and out. If the front door is locked use the Lady’s door. I’ll give you the code. That way you can come and go as you please.”

She was right about Daniel. He was in and out, mostly out. If I could pin him down for a moment, I had a question for this young man, a haunting question.

“Hey Daniel, have you ever seen any ghosts in here?”

His eyes widened a bit as he spoke.

“I’ve never seen a ghost here. No ma’am, nor ever spoken to a guest who has seen a ghost here. But a while back, a ghost hunting crew checked in …”

Looking around at the high ceilings, Oriental rugs and Victorian furniture, I pushed.

“What did they find out?”

“Well, not sure ma’am. They kept to themselves, Ghost Brothers, a TV show coming out soon. Yes ma’am, the Fitzpatrick Hotel and all unseen guests will be on that show, so I hear.”

“So, Ghost Brothers found signs of paranormal activity?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t ask. I did overhear ‘em talkin’ though.”

“What did they say?”

“Oh, something like,” in a slightly Shakespearean tone, Daniel, paraphrased the TV spokesperson, “Thick warm smell of history permeates this 1898 hotel. You can feel where ghosts filter through the muted stained-glass windows. The Fitzpatrick is where the mystics meet majestic grandeur …”

Daniel’s voice trailed off as he let himself out the front door. He turned back to the door long enough to key it locked. And he was gone. I was alone in a locked hotel and the only guest checked in today, at least the only one with a body.

The first night I fell asleep staring at the hall light creeping under the door, mindful of expected dark spots to appear in the shape of shoes or feet. I was ready to scream bloody murder, all the while knowing there was no one to hear.

But the Fitzpatrick Hotel is not the only haunting building of “majestic grandeur” in Washington, Georgia. Historical markers dot the square and roads.

The Robert Toombs Home can be found just minutes from the Washington Square. Toombs was a successful planter, lawyer, U.S. Congressman and Senator, the man from Georgia who shouted to his constituents: “Defend yourselves, the enemy is at your door …”

I toured Toombs’ 7000 square feet home, a home that was elegant, yet warmed cozy by old creaking hardwood floors. I especially enjoyed the garden even in a light misty rain. While photographing the English ivy at the front porch steps, I bumped into a man who introduced himself.

“Since you are a history professor, you’ll want a picture of this.” I said to him.

He gave me a curious look.“

“According to Marcia inside, this ivy came from the garden of Mary Queen of Scots.”

“Well, my dear, you do know Bob Toombs was full of BS?”

Mary Stuart's English Ivy

Mary Stuart’s English Ivy   at Robert Toombs Home

 

“Oh?”

“Oh yes, said he could drink all the blood spilled fighting the Yankees. Little did he know, blood spilled would be of biblical proportions. Blood up to the bridles of horses, even a bit much for Toombs to swallow. Yes, Bob Toombs was full of shit!” He chuckled. “But that ivy could have come from Mary Stuart’s garden. Who knows? Bob was an influential man.”

“What about the gold? Do you know anything about the lost Confederate gold? That’s why I’m here, to gather information to write a short story …”

“That gold was transferred by railway from a bank in Virginia to pay off Confederate debt. The last of the gold was to go to Europe, but it didn’t make it. Robbery occurred somewhere around the Chennault House between Washington and Lincolnton. Some say the Chennault family was tortured, strung up by the thumbs till they passed out. The lady of the house was separated from her nursing child for an extended period. Union soldiers meant business about getting that gold back. The Chennaults apparently did not know. If so, surely one of them would’ve spilled the beans hearing that hungry baby cry. I understand Lincoln offered the Chennault’s an apology. You know Lincoln revealed his true feelings about the South when he said, ‘with malice toward none.'”

“Yes, he did. Back to the lost gold, professor, I heard Jefferson Davis spent the night at the Chennault house disguised as a woman …”

He laughed.

“Davis was running from Union soldiers, hiding at the Chennault’s house. I’ve heard about the woman disguise thing, but don’t believe it. As far as the gold, I believe that gold was taken about three miles from the Chennault’s. Others will swear the robbery took place at the house. It remains a mystery to this day what happened to that gold. By today’s standards it would be worth over a million dollars.”

A group dressed in graduation caps and gowns approached along with a photographer.

“Professor, we’re ready.”

“Okay, looks like my graduating history club is ready to go. Good luck dear on your hunt for the lost gold, but I believe you’re chasing ghosts. Even Margaret Mitchell wrote about that gold in Gone with the Wind. The Union soldiers thought Rhett had it, threatened to hang him. People have been speculating over a hundred and fifty years. Maybe it was taken out west and melted down, who knows? Well, hope your pictures of Mary’s ivy turnout. And hey, I’ll check out your blog! ”

Chasing ghosts was right in more ways than one. I’m really here to finish a book I’m writing, The Ghosts of Lincoln County. This part of Georgia was home to my ancestors back in the 1700s. I am looking for their old home-places with the use of a map and computer printouts. The only way a map could be of use to me, is if it was to jump on my steering wheel and take control of the car. The roads here are long and give new meaning to the term country mile. And there is little evidence of a place found even looking straight at it.

I would know my ancestors better if I could see where they worked, lived and died. But frankly it is like trying to find a needle in a hay stack, much like searching for the lost Confederate gold. I feel so close yet so far away.

Dunns Chapel Cemetery Photo by Tom Poland

Diane at Dunns Chapel Cemetery
Photo by Tom Poland

I have had some luck finding the disappearing trail of my ancestors thanks to writer, Tom Poland. Thanks to him, I have seen the Chennault House, a monument listing the names of my great grandfathers of old, Clarks Hill where my family home-place is now under water, and Dunn’s Chapel, where many of my ancestors are buried, and Liberty Hill School. He also gave me a tour the Lincoln Journal where I met part of the staff, and last but not least, he introduced me to the best fried chicken in Lincoln County.

Mark Twain would be proud!

Liberty Hill School was most meaningful to me, because it is the schoolhouse where my paternal grandparents met as children. It was the place where they fell in love, a love that blessed them with nine children and twenty-six grandchildren. A little schoolhouse that has survived time in Leathersville – Lincoln County.

As far as the Fitzpatrick Hotel, I returned to stay another night only to find my soap gone. I started to call room service, but why bother? I walked down the yesteryear stairway, feeling strangely alone. I found a note on the counter: If you need help call Daniel 706 …

The voice at the other end asked, “Hello, Diane, is that you? Are you still there?”

“Yes, Daniel, I am here and I don’t have any soap.”

“Sure you do, it’s in the basket on the white chest in your bathroom.”

“No I looked. The basket is empty.”

“Room 204 is where I put soap …”

“That’s the room I’m in, and Daniel, no soap.”

“No way, I … Oh well, never mind. Where are you, in the lobby?”

“Yes, front desk.”

“Okay good. Look behind the desk for a shoe box. There should be some soap there.”

“Oh yes found it. Thanks Daniel.”

“So you are staying another night?”

“Yes I love it here, feel right at home!”

“That’s awesome! Have a good night!”

To tell the truth I do feel at home at the Fitzpatrick Hotel, especially when I ascend the staircase from the lobby to the second floor. It is oddly comforting for my hand to slide down the rail as I descend the same steps as my ancestors did. Could my ancestors have come this way? The Fitzpatrick would have been something spectacular at the turn of the century. Surely my folks walked into this hotel. Did Rad Story put his arms around Sallie and give her a twirl on the worn hardwoods in the ballroom? Did his big brother, Fox Huntin’ Sam, stay over for a social? Did Rad’s father, Buck Story, chew the fat about politics and the price of cotton and sugarcane in the lobby? Did Dennis Bentley make a house call to aid someone with an herbal concoction or stay over while supplying Washington with saddles, bridles, and shoes from Leathersville? I wonder about these things as I make my way about this grand place, a place where the silence of yesteryear is deafening.

Deafening silence? Oh yeah.

The Fitzpatrick Hotel is built on the first cemetery in Washington, Georgia. Only the head stones were removed, and there lies the remains of many, including the first (some say second) woman hanged for murder in the State of Georgia, Polly Barclay. Polly was known as a fast beauty with magnetic charms. It’s said she gave her brother $200 to rid her of a problem. Problem? Young Polly married an old man. All seemed well until the day she set eyes on a young farm hand, Mark Mitchum; she wanted him. And, apparently, she could no longer tolerate her husband.

Hmmm, wonder what he did wrong?

Mr. Barclay’s world was perfect, until about supper time. He was the envy of every man in Wilkes county young or old, until that night, about supper time. Yes, his young Polly was a looker. He had given her everything, wealth, good standing in the community and a handsome home with a barn full of cotton, money in the bank so to speak. Where had he gone wrong? Surely these things ran through his mind as he lay in a pool of blood. And another thing, there had been a noise in the barn. He didn’t want to deal with it, but Polly insisted. Did he see his assailants? Did he put two an two together? The old man was found alive, but died within three hours without one word spoken. Why? The ball from the revolver cut his tongue clean off.

Hmmm, I wonder? Anyway why kill the man? Why else? Love and money.

From an old oak tree, Polly hanged on May 13 (Friday 13th), 1806, at the west end of town. Polly’s brother was tried and found not guilty. Mark Mitchum was classified as nolle prosequi. Polly Barclay was the only one convicted and paid the price, not with a rope, but a chain around her neck, wearing her silk wedding reception gown, a glorious sight until the end no doubt. Does Polly roam the halls of the Fitzpatrick searching for Mr. Mitchum? I’d love to happen up on Polly, see her sashaying down the halls of the Fitzpatrick in her fancy gown. I’d have one question for her.

Do you still want him?

One cannot help but be moved by the strong invisible pull of antiquity and imagination at the Fitzpatrick Hotel. I did not hear Polly’s chain rattle at the Fitz as so many do on a foggy dark night, but did hear some knocking while drawing water for a bath in my claw feet tub. While researching Polly Barclay, I came across a place known as the Washington tavern – a room within a hotel, a place that celebrated politics and public events. The watering hole was also called “Gal in the Fountain.” Many rallied within those walls, elite men such as: George Walton – who signed the Declaration of Independence, Oliver Hilhouse, John Dooly, Samuel Davis, William and Gabriel Toombs, Burnett Pope, Benjamin Taliaferro, Gen. David Meriwether, Gen. John Clark – who shot a hole in a hanging portrait of George Washington while socializing at the “Gal,” Col. N. Long, Job and John Callaway, Silas Mercer, John Appling, Dr. Joel Abbot, John H. Walton, Zechariah Lamar, G. Hay, Sanders Walker, and many more.

My eyes widened at the name, Sanders Walker. My great-great-great grandfather, Samuel Gaines Story (born 1776), had a son, Sanders Walker Story (killed at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, during the Civil War). Samuel would have been thirty-eight at the time of Polly Barclay’s hanging. He was a successful planter in the area and apparently was good friends with Sanders Walker. These men were a testament to the high caliber of people in Wilkes County in 1806 who influenced the community of Washington, and no doubt held great debate about Polly Barclay at the “Gal.” Was it possible that my three times great grandfather, Samuel Gaines Story, downed an ale at the “Gal in the Fountain” right here in Washington-Wilkes?

One can only wonder.

Then came my journey’s end. Time to leave room #204. I packed and left historic Washington; time to say goodbye to all ghosts. I drove eastback through Lincoln County to Interstate 20. Left feeling good for coming and knowing I was near to the heart of my ancestors, sad for feeling alone in the fact that I did not find everything I was looking for. After several trips to this area, I decided that it is time to be happy with what I have.

I was in search of answers for my blog, www.tuckerdaysremembered.com. After posting several stories of The Ghosts of Lincoln County, questions and comments poured in from all over, some good, some bad. I am appreciative of all the encouragement received. “Cousin Ann G.’s” email stunned me when stating that I did not know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution. Just for her, I wrote a chapter entitled, Disclosure. Thank you “Cousin Ann G.” And, I am amazed at the people who allude to the fact that I should have a DNA test to prove that I am related to “those” Bentleys. I have no need for DNA for I know who I am. I know because my father, Tom Story, told me, just as his father and mother told him and so forth and so on.

My life has been made rich with stories of old. I am of the least of the many storytellers in my famly.

Now is time to finish The Ghosts of Lincoln County.

As I see the last glimpse of Lincoln County in the rearview mirror of my Mustang, I say goodbye to looking for that needle in the haystack, a needle that is as elusive as the lost Confederate gold. I say goodbye to Little River, Aunt Donn, and to the love of my father’s life, Lincolnton, Georgia.

I am Westbound to Atlanta! Yes, Daddy, I am going home.

A FIN!

Note:

Tom Poland writes about everything Southern, a columnist for the Lincoln Journal. He has also written numerous books, latest entitled, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, the University of South Carolina Press.

Buck Story’s legal name was Henry Allen Story 1838-1913.

Research of Polly Barclay came from, Miss Eliza A. Bowen, who wrote for the Washington Gazette and Chronicles 1886-1897; her manuscripts about the people of Wilkes County was compiled into a book, The Story of Wilkes County. Information also came from Murderpedia. Mr. Barclay is said to be buried on the spot where he fell, covered by two unhewn stones near the old Elberton and Augusta road, a few miles beyond Sandtown.

“Gal in the Fountain” was run by Micajah Williamson in 1806.

A FIN means “to the end,” Gaelic, Story motto, coat of arms. (Pronounced Aw FIN.)

At the time of this writing, www.tuckerdaysremembered.com, has over 300,000 pages viewed. Thank you!

 

Dear Reader:

This is the ending story for The Ghosts of Lincoln County. Scroll down and you will find The Ghosts of Lincoln County Introduction. There will be thirty stories in between. Book coming soon!

 

I have heard of Happy Valley all my childhood from my grandfather, Horace Lawton “Papa Story.” As a child, Papa Story grew up “just down the road a piece” from Happy Valley. He spent many days at Happy Valley playing with the descendants of Revolutionary War soldier, Basil O’Neal. A smile always took over my grandfather’s face when speaking of Happy Valley. This is the story of how Happy Valley was made; a place of happiness by design.

Let’s begin here.

On October 19, 1758, Peter Lamar O’Neal II became the proud father of Basil O’Neal. The place was Prince George’s County, Maryland. Peter and his wife were English immigrants. Basil did not disappoint his father, for he grew into an intelligent and physically strong man who would live to the age of 91, a testimony of this man’s vigor living in a world of uncertainty and war.

When Basil was seventeen, he and his family left Maryland for Virginia. He was on the way to the adventure of a life time.

While in Virginia, he met a pretty girl, Mary Ellen “Milly” Briscoe. She too had English roots; her great grandfather was English Lord Bromfield. Her father was a medical doctor, Dr. Truman Briscoe.

Though Milly’s life was rather cushy compared to Basil, this young lady had an adventurous side. And perhaps that is why they fell in love with each other. She was a part of Colonial society with an itching for adventure, while he was part of the militia, who fought Indians and the British.

They planned to marry on January 17, 1783. The Revolutionary War was winding down and this seemed like a good time to start their lives together.

They married and joined a wagon train. According to the advertising bulletin, one hundred acres of land could be purchased for five dollars. They had each other and purchased almost four hundred acres.

The wagon train was headed across the Appalachians for a colony called Georgia. Georgia was a backwoods home of the black bear, mountain lions and the indigenous people called the Cherokees and Creeks. Georgia was also deep in fertile soil, tall trees, and fast moving water. Some said a man could step into pine straw beds up to his waist. Rumors of tall trees farther than the eye could see were a flurry. Even at high noon if you were deep in a Georgian forest, you could not see the sun. This was the place Basil’s feet wanted to go.

Many on the wagon train carried china, silver and precious antiques such as grandfather clocks and sideboards with them to Georgia. They all took hundreds of pounds of flour and other staples to get by on the trail. Livestock was allowed to follow and the men hunted in the forest along the way.

The wagon train moved at a speed of no more than two miles an hour. They were lucky to move ten miles a day. Basil thought it slow going, but there was safety in numbers. The wagon train was grateful to have Basil, a trained militia with a reputation as an expert marksman.

Basil and Milly rode pack horses along side of the wagon train.  They packed fruit tree seedlings, predominantly apple and peach trees, carefully wrapped by Milly’s own hands. They took precious little besides, pots, plow parts, axes and shovels. Milly worked constantly to keep the seedlings watered and protected from the cold winter.

This was an uneasy time for such a treacherous adventure. Basil was committed to the war.  Basil along with Dr. Truman Briscoe and Dr. John Briscoe signed an oath of allegiance to the independence of the thirteen colonies in Henry County, Virginia on September 20, 1777. It was time for the war to be over so the colonists could get on with their lives. But Basil wondered, would it really ever end?

Basil had served as a private in the Virginia Militia under Captain Daniel Chadwell and Major John Graves; two terms in Virginia and one in Georgia. Surely, the war was ending now. Now was the time for Milly. Now was the time for the journey to Georgia where the indigenous people were more “peaceable.”

The wagon train was thankful to have Basil. The way Basil handled a gun was impressive; he carried two guns; one a six foot long musket that earned the name, Buckaneer. Buckaneer because of how many deer fell under its sites. Basil never shot for sport, only food and running the British back to England. And now he braved new territory with Milly and Buckaneer.

And though this newlywed couple knew that hard times and perhaps more of the war lay ahead, they expected to be successful. They expected to be happy. They hoped for land with hickory trees, for hickory trees were a sure indication of good soil. Basil called their new Georgia home, Happy Valley, while still on the Appalachian Trail. And to their delight, hickory trees grew throughout their lot.

Basil and Milly started their new life without money or slaves. Basil himself cut and hewed logs. He and Milly built a log cabin near a cedar grove. They cultivated land and planted each sapling with care.

Visitors of the O’Neals boasted of the gentile hospitality received at Happy Valley; squirrels for breakfast, apple and peach brandy, bread and honey on the sideboard. Happy Valley thrived.

Great celebration came to Happy Valley in 1787. A neighbor who lived on the land adjacent Happy Valley returned home, and informed Basil and Milly that he had signed the Constitution of the United States of America. His name was William Few.

Basil and Milly had six children; their daughter Eleanor “Nellie” would become (Horace Lawton Story) “Papa Story’s” great grandmother.

In 1828 Milly died and was buried near the cedar grove close to the home they built together when they first came to Happy Valley.

A year after the death of Milly, Basil married Sarah Hull Green. He was seventy years of age and she was thirty. Sarah was the daughter of Captain McKeen Green who served under the command of General Nathaneal Green, whom he was related. Basil and Sarah had six children.

Basil and his two wives are buried at Happy Valley. When signing documents to execute Basil O’Neal’s last will and testament, the O’Neal children signed their name Neal as they were always called. This act legally changed their name to Neal, rather than O’Neal. Dropping the “O” in O’Neal was an act of patriotism.

Much of the original home built by Basil and Milly burned in a fire. The home was located near what is now known as the Sharon Meeting House on Washington Road, Columbia County, Georgia.

A historical marker was placed at the entry of the homesite by the Georgia Historical Association.

Author’ Notes:

Basil is pronounced with a short “a,” as in “as.”

Basil O’Neal’s mother’s name is unknown; perhaps Mary.

Basil O’Neal’s son Basil Llewellyn O’Neal wrote, “A Son of the Revolution.”

The Revolutionary War effort in Georgia ended in Wilkes County, Georgia, when the British realized they could not fight well inland. Wilkes County’s located behind the land called Happy Valley.

In time, William Few returned to New York at the urging of his wife, but still owned his home next to Happy Valley for quite some time. His son and grandson lived there for many years. William Few is number 25 in the famous painting of The Signers of The Constituion of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy.

Nancy Elizabeth Bentley-Story and Horace Lawton Story’s first child, Grace Truman Story-Graves, was named after Dr. Truman Briscoe.