HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society honored local military veterans on Saturday, July 14, during an annual heritage ceremony which began in 2014, founded by Historical Society Secretary Betty Phillips.
Phillips – the daughter of a veteran, and the widow of a World War 2 United States Army Staff Sergeant – recalled a conversation with her late husband before the program began. “Richie knew how much I loved history, and one day he made a point of reminding me of how different our history would be without our veterans. He said, ‘Betty, would you have the freedom to preserve history without the veterans?’ His words inspired me,” Phillips said with a smile.
The room in the former recreation center on Main Street, which now serves as a meeting hall for the historical society, quickly filled with veterans and supporters on Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. Historical Society President Sandra Green opened the ceremony, acknowledging the dedicated effort Phillips applied to the project. The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by the National Anthem, sung by Karli Cheeks, and an invocation was offered by Doug Nicholson.
“I am truly blessed and honored to be standing up here because I don’t feel worthy of it, necessarily, because we owe it to those that have served,” Phillips emoted, “Either they were drafted, or they were willing to go and volunteer. We would not have a society like we have today if they had not sacrificed. Now, some people paid the ultimate price, and in Towns County, we have one of the nicest veterans’ parks that you can find anywhere. It’s in a beautiful location. It overlooks Lake Chatuge and the mountains, and most of all, the names of the veterans go on that wall. The other day, I started counting the names. There are over 1300 names on that wall. Now, the ones who paid the ultimate price, they have their own monument, their picture and their plaque.” Phillips noted that in World War 1, there were eight veterans who sacrified their lives for the sake of American freedom, three of which were Phillips’ relatives. During World War 2, thirteen service members paid the ultimate price. The veterans’ memorial is located in front of Towns County School on Highway 76 East.
The keynote speakers were World War 2 veterans James Richard Lewis, 96, and Fronz Goring, 97.
Lewis, reminised on his childhood, and his love for aeronatics; an appreciation which led to serving as a naval mechanic during the second World War. Lewis reenlisted in 1950, and served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. Lewis listed serving under four Commanders-in-Chiefs: Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon. “If the current Commander-in-Chief asked me to join the fight, I’d carry it to the gates of hell for him,” Lewis asserted.
Towns County’s oldest veteran, Goring, recalled his military service, and spoke lovingly of his late wife, Mason L. Goring, also a veteran, whose name is enscribed on the local veterans’ memorial wall. The couple met Thanksgiving Day of 1945, married Jan. 13, 1945, and spent 61 years together. “Right now, I’m stationed at Brasstown Manor Resort,” Goring joked.
A decorated table filled with photographs of local veterans lined a wall, and a touching video clip of an interview of local World War 2 veteran Bud Johnson, 95, who attended Saturday’s ceremony, at the late Governor Zell Miller’s recent memorial service in Young Harris, was shown on a projection screen.
Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales attended the program, offering words of gratitude to the veterans and their families.
Members of Friendship Baptist Church presented certificates of recognition to veterans of different eras, and ensured that the crowd received a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, chips, cookies, and a soft drink at the conclusion of the program.
Towns County Historical Society expressed appreciation to its members, and to Alpha Delta Kappa Sorority, for helping to make the hertiage program possible.
Next year’s ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, 2019.
(Feature Photo: Towns County’s oldest veteran, Fronz Goring, age 97)
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society presented the city of Hiawassee with an artifact Monday, March 26, at the council’s monthly work session: the original 1929 tax digest for the city.
“This is very appropriate since you were just talking about your budget,” Towns County Historian Sandra Green told Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. “This is the 1929 tax digest for the city of Hiawassee. This is the original and we’re presenting it to the city. You’ll love some of these numbers. The Bank of Hiawassee, their city tax was $21.70, but they only paid $20.30, and we aren’t sure why.”
The crowd erupted in laughter.
Penciled beside the typewritten taxes due from the Bank of Hiawassee, the amount paid is scribbled.
The aged list contains the names of citizens and businesses that operated in Hiawassee nearly nine decades ago.
The tax calculations were based on 40 cents per $100 worth of property.
The total amount of taxed property amounted to $46,977, with $187.60 due to Hiawassee.
The highest amount in taxes owed by a citizen was $16.40.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales expressed appreciation to the Towns County Historical Society for the framed document.
The Towns County Historical Society reminded that restoration of the Old Rock Jail will soon be completed with the museum scheduled to open May 19.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Fetch Your News (FYN) correspondent, Robin Webb, was granted an impromptu tour of the Old Rock Jail in Hiawassee on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green approached the site as heavy afternoon rain fell and found the reporter perched on the porch, seeking cover from the storm.
The historian was scheduled to meet an electrician in a continuing effort to restore the jail to its original glory, and kindly offered the curious journalist an opportunity to explore before the workman arrived.
“The floor restoration is our proudest achievement. Coker Custom Floors was able to preserve the original wood,” Ms. Green informed as the pair entered what was once the sheriffs’ living quarters, “and the walls are unique. The style is called grapevine.”
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 to the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The building was renovated in 1980 and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The jail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the future museum on Jan. 27, 2017.
Ms. Green guided the way through the former kitchen where a wood burning stove once stood, winding around into a narrow hallway. “I believe a desk sat there for registering the inmates,” the historian said, pointing to an area beneath the stairwell.
The intrigued reporter glanced toward the steps that lead to the desolate cells above as thunder rumbled outdoors. “Just wait until you see the up there,” the friendly historian chimed, well aware of the writer’s fascination.
The final room toured on the lower level once served as bedrooms for the sheriffs and their families. Green pointed out a marking on the wall where the room was previously separated by a partition. Once the restoration is complete, the area will become the museum’s main display section for rotating historical artifacts, while the living area will be decorated seasonally to reflect and preserve the sheriffs’ dwelling.
The time had arrived to head upstairs to view the jail itself. “Watch your footing,” Ms. Green cautioned as the journalist followed closely behind. “We still need to install a railing.”
The historian swung open a heavy iron door and the duo proceeded inside. The cells were dimly lit and a dampness hung in the air. The skeletons of metal bunk beds surrounded a cage that once housed up to four inmates at any given time. Countless names were scrawled and chiseled into the rock walls by the inhabitants, alongside spray-painted graffiti, an act of vandals after the jail was vacated in 1977.
Across the hall lies what was once a bullpen for additional prisoners. A compact cell with the bars running diagonally lines a corner. “We believe that was the drunk tank,” Ms. Green explained.
The last upstairs room entered was the former sheriff’s office. “That’s why the walls in here are so much cleaner than the others,” the historian quipped as the reporter snapped more photographs. Military memorabilia will be placed on display throughout the jail’s upper level.
Six Towns County Sheriffs once called the Old Rock Jail home, the final being Sheriff Jay V. Chastain Sr. who was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 8, 1974
FYN inquired as to when the site’s final restorations are expected to be complete. A date is unknown at the time of publishing. One thing is for certain, however. It will be a must-see spot for history lovers, both local and tourist alike.
The Old Rock Jail is located next to the Towns County Courthouse, south of Hiawassee Square.
Featured Image: Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green
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