Friday, July 06, 2018


I have enjoyed walking Rome's wonderful Riverwalk since before it had that name. Back in1991 as I walked the paved walking trail that traces the old River Road along the Oostanaula from downtown Rome to Riverside, something I had not noticed before caught my eye. There, embedded in the sandy silt and brambles between the walkway and the river were some large engraved building stones. They were hidden in vegetation near the new landing created for the Roman Holiday pontoon boat at Ridge Ferry Park. I crawled all around them trying to figure out what the inscriptions were as I dodged the stinging nettle plants that surrounded them.
The first stone was a large keystone engraved "No.2" over "AIN" and a second stone had "CITY" carved on one surface. I could see no engravings on the other stones. They had to have come from some important building. Maybe I could find a picture in Battey's history, or the Illustarted History of Rome, or the Roger Aycock book.
I couldn't wait to get home to check. I was surprised to find a picture of the stones quickly, right there in an engraving pictured on a postcard Dr. C.J. Wyatt had loaned me for publication in the Northwest Georgia Genealogical & Historical Quarterly.   It was tiny but readable on the front of the handsome "new" City Hall building on Fourth Avenue between Broad Street and the river: "No.2 Mountain City." It was also visible on page 51 of the illustrated history. It turns out the Mountain City volunteer fire company was headquartered in City Hall. The older Rainbow fire company (No. 1) had its HQ farther up Broad Street.

I contacted Jim Dixon, our assistant city manager at that time and he was thrilled to know they were there. He suggested they could be used in a display there at Ridge Ferry Park, or perhaps elsewhere. Somehow the Rome News found out and I took photographer Paul O'Mara out to see them and talked with David Monroe about finding them. That resulted in the photo and story in the Rome News that accompanies this post.  Sheila found the clipping while going through a box of odds and ends this week. 

These clippings are from the June 23, 1991, Rome News-Tribune.

Later, while I was editor of the Northwest Georgia Historical and Genealogical Society Quarterly, I wrote about the find and published some pictures in that publication.

I continued to check on the stones regularly as we walked the trail. One day, a dozen years later or more,  I noticed sone brightly colored tags attached to them. Soon another article appeared in the Rome News of the stones "discovery".  I suppose Jim had retired by that time and folks had forgotten about the stones again. This time around the stones were actually extracted from the silt by the city workers. I called the city and found that they had been transferred for safe keeping to the city public works facility on North Avenue near the present Animal Control center. I drove over to the lot to see them. Plans had begun for a tribute monument to Rome firefighters and this would be a natural exhibit to include there.
Now, after three decades, it looks like the stones will finally be displayed as part of that new fire fighters memorial being built behind the city auditorium. I think that is wonderful. Here's the most recent story and pictures from the Rome News:

And just for the record, I didn't really think the stones floated to Ridge Ferry Park. Everyone knows: that's upstream!

Update: The stones were erected yesterday! Yay!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Granshaw Letter One

April 12, 2018

To my darling Clementine,

What a determined girl you have already shown yourself to be. For 27 hours you struggled, pushing and pulling and stretching to enter the world . How bravely your mother labored with you all that time.

And Granshaw? I was blissfully unaware, going about my business in the ridges and valleys of Northwest Georgia, bragging to anyone who allowed small-talk that I would soon greet my granddaughter. I had no name for you and didn’t know when to expect you beyond the general window of “around April 8.”  How I wish I could have been there to hold your mother’s hand, or run an errand, or been of some kind of use.
You gave us a real scare, you know. And even now, two days later, as Granny and I cross the continent many thousands of feet above the border between Louisiana and Texas, on our way to meet you for the first time, I know you are lying with tubes helping you breathe and feed, and straps pressing sensors to your skin to monitor your vital functions. Your wonderful parents are close by you, aching to get their hands on you, to hug you, to feel your tiny hands grasping fingers or hair. So are your Carlin grandparents and Aunts Sarah and Lillian, Uncle Jim and others. We are confident of your strength now, and know the day will come soon when we each will get that sqeeze. But, oh, how we long for it.

I wrote to your Mom when she was only an infant. I told her that I knew that she was a person of great strength. I don’t know how I knew it, but I did. And I was right. She is a person of character, and determination, and deep love. I have watched her with your Dad and see the love they share, and I see those same traits in my son-in-law, and now in you. You had a great struggle getting here, you persevered, and I know that those traits will carry you through the hard times and enrich the good times. I look forward to getting to see some of those times myself. 

My father was named Granshaw by your cousin Joey. He said something about his grandfather and his Dad asked, “Do you mean Granddaddy Johnston?” “No,” Joey responded, “You know, Gran..Shaw!” Well my Daddy has been gone since 1986. When my sister Carol and Debi and Joan were sitting with me and my Mother and your Granny recently, they asked what I’d want you to call me. One suggested Granshaw. I wondered  if I had a right to that name! My sisters seemed to like the idea, so I guess that will be it, unless, of course, you exercise every granddaughter's prerogative and give me a name of your own choosing.

I hope I get lots of chances to talk with you. but at 71 I suppose it is practical, if also a little morbid, to suppose I ought to be as proactive as possible, just in case. I want you to know a little about me, and Granny, and my parents, and theirs.... all the wonderful people who made me who I am, and who would love you just as much as I do.  But I want to know all about you too! Your questions, and dreams, and wonders.

So this is Granshaw Letter One of, I hope, many. One of these days, I hope you will begin to respond yourself. Maybe till then your Mom and Dad will keep us abreast of all your doings across the continent.
I promise you this, for all the spins of this big globe, across all the miles between us, through every joy and deep into every sorrow, at the apex of every triumph and into the depths of every dispair, I will love you to the moon and back. That’s a promise.

So you can always look up at that old moon and imagine my love in an endless stream of kisses banking off its shining face from wherever I am and down to wherever you are, Clementine Georgia Carlin, my eldest granddaughter. I love you.



April 19, 2019
Clementine Georgia Carlin on Day One and Day Eight

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Please Don't Murder Papa!

Storytelling is a tradition and an artform that deserves preservation and encouragement. That’s why a group of us organized the Ridge and Valley Storytelling Guild. Our mission is simply to promote storytelling and storytellers in our area. And we think of our area as the land between Lookout Mountain on the West, the Piedmont  Plateau on the South, the Blue Ridge on the East, and Tennessee on the North. If you live in the Great Valley of Georgia or the Armuchee Ridges of Georgia, you live in Georgia’s Ridge and Valley Province, and those are the ridges and valleys where we want to promote storytelling!

I’ve been listening to, and telling stories all my life.

I remember sitting on a bed with several sisters while my Mama told or read Bible stories or Uncle Remus stories before bedtime.

Daddy had converted a small outbuilding behind the parsonage at 333 South Ninth Street into a study, where he could try to escape a house full of kids and prepare his sermons. But Daddy was an easy mark for us. We’d tap on the door and beg him to tell us stories. As often as not he’d give in and Carol and Debbie and I, and maybe even Beth as she grew out of toddlerhood, would crowd around his feet, and seated in a wooden revolving desk chair, sometimes with Beth or Debbie in his arms he’d transport us back to the nineteen twenties and early thirties and the narrow gauge tracks of the Dinky, the little railroad from Milstead to Conyers, or the old first Barber Shop Daddy Shaw had owned on the hill near the water tower, or the banks of the Yellow River, or the dirt roads between Milstead and Porterdale when he was courting our mother.

Donald Davis, dean of American storytelling.

You know the dean of American Storytelling would pretty much have to be Donald Davis.  How many of you have heard him tell? He writes wonderful stories. My children grew up listening to tapes of Donald like “Listening for the Crack of Dawn” and “Rainy Weather” Donald is almost as famous for his storytelling workshops as he is for his tales. One of the workshops he does is titled: “How to Kill Grandma”. In it he contends that the best way to kill off your grandparents, in a permanent sense, is to quit telling their stories.

The title of this post is in response to Donald, “Please Don’t Murder Papa!”

All four of my grandparents are dear to me. Four very different people. Each loving in their own way. And each has had an important impact on my life, and the lives of my siblings, and cousins, and their whole extended family.

Mama Shaw

Now I loved my Mama Shaw. She lived to be in her nineties and I loved to sit with her at the dinner table -- after we’d help clear it and had washed and scalded and dried and put away the supper dishes -- she’d leaf through those three family picture albums and tell me all about those strange looking men and women and children.

Nathan Wood my Great-great-grandfather who lied about his age and enlisted in the First Georgia Cavalry at 16 during the War Between the States. from "The Shaw Family" album.

She has a Wilkerson Family album of her parents and their family, a Shaw Family album of Daddy Shaw’s parents and their family, and an Our Family album full of pictures of my daddy and his four brothers at all ages, as well as cousins, and later wives. She had stories about them all. As she turned slowly through those albums with me by her side I learned about her dapper Uncle Jim, her chubby and cheerful Aunt Lou Annie; her beautiful young mother who died at 29, and her Grandpaw Wilkerson with his old hounddog’s head resting on his knee.

A family dinner at Mama Shaw's house.

My Mama Shaw was longest with us and so perhaps I knew her best. What a slave driver! That woman! During my pre-teen years I lived in anticipation of the glorious week of summer when I’d get to spend the week in Mama Shaw’s house. And it WAS Mama Shaw’s house. Dady Shaw lived there, but it was her house. And she kept it immaculately clean. Maybe it was because of her loss of her mother to disease as a ten-year-old that she had very real concerns about dirt and germs. The dishes were washed in water so hot I worried it’d remove skin, and then as they drained by the sink she boiled a big pot of water on the stove and scalded the dishes with it. 

Mama Shaw was, indeed, an assertive woman. Her grandchildren, and for that matter her sons and husband, were her household servants. When we were in her house we worked. Besides the dishes, she had us sweeping, hanging out laundry on the line, scrubbing the tub and toilet, and raking the front yard. Those huge water oaks out front had buckled the sidewalk and even the curb and road, and completely shaded out grass underneath. So the little front yard was dirt covered by water oak leaves. We raked ‘em. But Mama Shaw had methods. And we were required to follow them carefully. The yard needed to be completely cleared of leaves and the earth beneath should be raked so that neat parallel tine lines would run exactly perpendicular to the sidewalk.

If I could sneak into Jack’s little room in the back corner of the house, there was a treasure trove that could occupy me for hours. Next to his cot was a small desk and a little bookcase neatly stacked with a hundred or more comic books! There were Little Lulu , Archie and Jughead, Casper the Friendly Ghost for light reading, but I preferred the meatier Superman, Batman, the Green Lantern, or my favorite, Superboy. At that age I preferred the teenage superhero and his adventures to those of the grown-up.

Daddy Shaw

But even better than Jack’s comics was slipping out the front and walking down Milstead’s lovely divided and shaded Main Street, just a few doors down, to the Callaway Mills Community Center. I’d jump off the rockwall next to the sidewalk into the sandy yard of the community center climb the steps onto that huge full length front porch, turn right and walk all the way to the end and the last door with its barber pole and the full width sign above it with big Coca-Cola emblems on both ends and Grady’s Barber Shop in black block letters in between. Inside was a wooden chair with turned spindle back and legs bolted atop a cabinet with cast-iron foot rests and a couple of drawers  filled with shoe polish, brushes, blacking for the sole edges, and polishing rags. Around the walls on both sides were chairs. At the back was a wall of black and white glass front shelves with lots of big mirrors. A just in front of the mirrors two Black leather, white enamel, and shiny chrome barber chairs with strops hanging from one side and a white enameled lever for hiking the chair up and down on the other.

Daddy Shaw in front of his barber shop in the community center at Milstead, Georgia.

Against the wall beside the chair on the left was a chest-type red Coke machine. To the right of the door was a big heavy cast-iron hat rack with a hat or two and a couple of jackets hanging on it. To the left was the Tom’s peanut machine and the door to the stairs that led to the showers in the basement.

There had been a second barber for that chair on the left at one time, but during all of my childhood, Daddy Shaw stood behind the one on the right, and the left one was usually my perch. I loved that chair. It was a beautiful mechanical wonder. It could be modified --- pushed, pulled, or cranked to various heights and degrees of leisurely reclining. In it I was close to the storytelling that my grandfather and his customers emitted so endlessly. With luck one of the guys would need a shine while he waited. It was an easy dime for me and I became fairly expert at whisking the shoes with a brush and whipping them with the polishing cloths.

And with that dime... or maybe two, the possibilities we’re inspiring. I could swap that dime after a two-minute walk to the drug store lunch counter for two scoops of ice cream on a cone, I usually chose cherry. If I had that second dime it’d get me a new comic book to take back to the shop. On the other hand I could just ask Daddy Shaw to change the dime for two nickels. One would go into the Coke machine. I’d grab a six-ounce bottle by its cap and pull and push it this way and that to get it around the maze inside the chest and pull it out. I’d hold it up to the light to see if it had those much prized ice flecks floating about. I'd remove the cap with the built-in bottle opener on the side, then take the other nickel over to the Tom’s peanut machine. Opening the little cellophane envelope of peanuts I’d carefully empty them into the Coke bottle.

Back in the spare barber chair I’d listen as Daddy Shaw told stories on himself.
Like the time he’d been working in Atlanta all day, probably selling Knapp Shoes door-to door, or Kirby vacuum cleaners. When it came time to catch the train home he was so tired  he went to sleep about the time the train started pulling out of  Terminal Staion. Jerking of the car woke him a some point later and as he glanced out the window, he decided suddenly that he’d slept through the whole trip and the kudzu outside the window was beside the tracks in Conyers. He grabbed his belongings and ran toward the rear of the car and jumped off as the train was picking up steam leaving the station. 
Looking around from beside the tracks he looked up at the sign hanging from the station platform: Decatur! He’d only slept a few minutes. He was sixteen miles from home with only his two tired legs for transport.

Or out of Mama Shaw’s hearing, he might tell of the time he tried to teach “Li’yun” to drive, but thought better of it when she reacted to an approching vehicle in an intersection by throwing up her hands from the steering wheel and screaming.

Mama Baird

I remember snuggled up on the porch swing at my Mama Baird’s house listening to her and her sisters Cora and Molly, the oldest living creatures I could imagine, giggling like little girls as they told about the odd antics of that Confederate cousin of theirs who came back from the war shell-shocked.
Mama Baird kept a wooden bread bowl of flour out all the time covered with a dish towel and ready to be used to mix up --- you must do it with very clean bare hands! --- the best biscuits ever created. And my Aunt Mary, who still lived in her mother’s house, often made homemade divinity and fudge. There was also a tin of clove candy sticks always available there. And flowers! She kept a flower bed out front and used old windows against the high crawl space at the back of the house for a bit of a hot house there for her plants early in the spring. Now I know its an invasive species, but the huge Chinaberry Tree at the back steps was wonderfully climbable and offered a great rampart from which to bombard sisters with those hard yellow berries.

Mama Baird with my brother, David.

Late in my life, even as a young married man, I loved to see the look of pure joy on her face when I showed up at her door, and her effort at good influence when she’d press a few coins into my palm as I was leaving, wanting me to mail it for her to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.


My maternal grandfather was just called Papa by most of my relatives. He too influenced my life and his stories bring me encouragement and wisdom. Benjamin Wilson Baird’s name has come down through several cousins and a nephew, Benjamin. He was a farmer and a very devout Christian. Every day ended in the farmhouse in Newton County with the family gathered around for “family devotions” which included Bible reading, and Bible stories, and prayer. More than once the family was interrupted by a neighbor riding up: “Mr. Baird can you come over and preach over our father. He died today." B.W. Baird was not an ordained exhorter like his wife’s granddaddy, but he was a lay preacher, and he sometimes filled in when the circuit preacher wasn’t around.

My much older cousin, Aubry, told about the day my grandfather sat at the neighboring farm of his cousin, Aubry’s father, Jason. “Jay,” my grandfather said, “I believe I’m going to go over to Porterdale  and get a job at Bibb Manufacturing.” The boll weevil had about done in cotton farming and times were tough. Jay shook his head and sighed and replied, “Wilse, I believe I’d go to sharecropping before I’d raise my children in a mill town."

Well, both my parents can trace their ancestry back to some pretty well-connected folks on both sides of the Atlantic, but they are also "lintheads" from milltowns, and they both did OK. Wilson Baird moved his nine living children into a mill house in Porterdale and began working there. When another of Jason’s boys, Howard, decided to answer the call to preach, he came to Porterdale to talk with his Uncle Wilson. My Grandfather gave him this advice, that I think maybe influenced several preachers I know. He said, “Howard, you cant scare folks into the Kingdom, you’ve got to love them into it."

Soon his eleventh child, my mother, was born. And then disaster struck as the baby and little Leon, only four, came down with the measles. Ruth recovered, but Leon's infection moved into his lungs and he died. 

On his own death bed Papa told my Uncle Tom that he hoped one of his sons would be called into the ministry. Well, that wish didn’t come true but his youngest child, my mother, married a minister, and later answered the call to become a pastor herself. She still occasionally preaches at 95.

And now, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story. Please don’t murder the Papas who have been important in your life. I think my family is a good object lesson in that. I was influenced by all four of my grandparents, three of them directly, but one, Papa, only through the stories! The stories passed down through Aubrey and Howard and Uncle Tom and my mother and others have given me my maternal grandfather.

Benjamin Wilson Baird is on the 1860 United States census of Georgia at three-twelfths of a year old. And even though he has been very influential in my life, I never met him in person. He died when my mother was nine and fifteen years before I was born.

As far as I know this is the only picture of Benjamin Wilson Baird. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Free Hour

I have never been busier than during the five years since I retired in 2013.

Today was a typical hectic day. I showed off gray and green treefrogs to kindergarteners in four classes at Pepperell Primary School and got to tell them Pete Seeger's story "The Foolish Frog".  I've been telling that story for over fifty years. I finished up there at 1:30 and had exactly an hour to get to Naomi Elementary School in Walker County to lead a YoungTales Storytelling session there. So, with the pedal to the metal I took off on this beautiful daffodil-spangled February day through Lindale, Rome, Mt. Berry, Armuchee, Gore, Subligna and arrived at Naomi exactly on time.

Wow. No buses lined up out front. The usual bumper to bumper queue of parent cars is missing. There are a few cars though. I make my way to the upstairs room where we meet. No one there. A teacher is working in the room next door. She is the one who let's me know; Walker County Schools are on their winter break.

Some might be angry or frustrated or pouty in that situation. Actually I would not be surprised to learn that I was told about this and somehow managed not to get it on the calendar. I do hate to miss a session with that great group of kids, as they prepare to compete in the Debby Brown Storytelling Competition.

But on a day like today? I had just been given a free hour.

I drove toward Villanow, stopping to read the historical markers then taking the gorgeous Pocket Road toward Everett Springs.

I thought about stopping at the spot where the Pinhoti Trail crosses that road and maybe hiking a ways along that, but instead pulled onto the gravel National Forest Road to Keown Falls. on the east side of John's Mountain. There were two other vehilcles in the parking lot when I reached it.

I'd only climbed a little ways along the trail when I decided to check my fitbit --- already 11 flights of stairs.

I heard the little stream before I saw the evening sun skipping across the water as it bounced around the stones cascading down the side of John's Mountain.

The path makes an exaggerated zigzag up the long ridge. There are no blooms of any kind except a lonely bluet I found near the top. But the leafless trees allow for more expansive views as you climb the ridge.... 

... and a clearer appreciation for the "lay of the land," ....

....long wrinkles in the earth's surface called the Armuchee Ridges..... 

.... pushed up between the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Plateau.

Near the top I suddenly came upon four nice young fellows out for an afternoon hike and the picturesque little Keown Falls tumbling over a roch shelf. Steep steps carved into the rock face lead to the top.

Resurrection Fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) finds a foothold in crevices of the rock steps. 

From a wooden overlook platform you can witness a great view of the valley....

.... and this overhead view of the falls.

Here near the top of the falls several trails cross, including the long Pinhoti Trail which begins in Alabama near Cheaha Mountain and crosses the Northwest corner of Georgia to join the Benton McKay Trail in the Cohuttas, which in turn leads to the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain near Amicalola Falls and, of course, from there you can walk to Maine, if you have the time.

The quiet scene above is the little stream calmly trickling along the ridge with no idea that just beyond the fence it will tumble over the brow of a deep recess in the mountain's face.

Standing against the back wall of the cool recess you can view the Pocket of Horn Mountain though the small free fall shower of Keown Falls.

Crossing under the falls the path follows the base of the seeping rock face, marred occasionally with graffiti...

...and another falls, perhaps just a wet weather one.

Just before juice ran out on my iPhone I snapped this bit of color, lichens and mosses along the trail....

I wish I could have captured the beauty of the mass of these organisms ...

....making a lustrous green border for this section of the trail.

The walk down the mountain is harder on the feet and ankles. As I finally see my vehicle again I meet a young couple just beginning their ascent with a beautiful spotted dog that must have been part Dalmation.

From there to Arrowhead was another ten miles of memories past the Pocket Recreation Area, the DNR check-in station (and thoughts of the big rallies we had there to battle the Reagan administration and preserve our National Forests) along John's Creek, through beautiful farmland, past Camp Misty Mountain, Camp Sidney Dew, Camp Gazelle Dew, Wint Barton's old homeplace, Everett Springs, and Floyd Springs.

I was sorry to miss my storytelling session, but what a glorious afternoon I had.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

A Woods Colt

Columbus Turner Shaw

Meet my great grandfather Columbus Turner Shaw, and his fiddle. This is a scan right out of my grandmother’s “The Shaw Family” album. She had two others: “The Wilkerson Family” and “Our Family”. Almost every time I visited her for years and years, she and I would get out those three small albums, and we would pour over the pictures as she told me about the relatives I’d never known and  we’d talk about  the much younger images of those I did know.

Every family has scandalous and sad stories that are told quietly and privately as well as the funny ones, and touching ones, and proud ones. As long as my grandfather lived, Mama Shaw was kinda forgetful about Lum’s daddy and his people.

“What was Louisa’s father’s name?” I asked.
“David,” she replied.
“David what?”
“David Shaw.”
"His last name was Shaw?!"
“Were she and her husband cousins?”
(pause) "I don’t know?”

After Daddy Shaw was no longer there to overhear, she was willing to spill the beans. Or maybe at sixteen, she thought I was old enough to know.

Lum Shaw has been gone for 60 years and the “shame” is 130 years old or so. Now it’s just a human interest story, so I’ll spill the beans, too.  Y'all are old enough to know.

Lum was part of his father’s “other” family.  He was what we euphemistically might call a “woods colt.” Louisa, the sharecropper’s young daughter had borne several children for a well-to-do landowner.

John Treadwell kept his second family well-housed. Over the years he gave Louisa at least three houses. During our drives around Conyers and Lithonia Mama Shaw pointed all three out to me, but I could show you only one of them now. Before the depression Louisa’s little family owned a fair amount of land right where I-20 crosses from Rockdale to DeKalb County.  His “legitimate” family never recognized the connection. The descendants of the illegal union have spread around the world. At least two have worked in the White House advising presidents. And I can't be too upset about them since I owe my very existence to their misbehavior.

My grandmother said that Lum was embarrassed when he had to fill out some paperwork (was it draft papers?) because he had to admit that he was "illegitimate."

Columbus Turner Shaw kept his father’s picture on the mantle, even after his marriage, but his stubborn beloved, Minnie Ziporah Wood Shaw, would turn it to the wall whenever he left the house.

John Treadwell  (I may have inherited his hairline.)

They were a musical bunch. As you see, Lum played the violin. His daughter Lillie Maud (Named, I suppose after Minnie’s twin sister Maudie) was an expert pianist and the youngest boys, Alton and Alvin played guitar. The eldest of his sons, my grandfather Grady, played trombone.

Minnie and Columbus Shaw with their elder three children, 
(l-r) Lewis, Curtis and Grady (my grandfather)

Besides his musical skills Lum was also an expert cabinet-maker and is said to have built furniture for lots of the upper crust folks in Atlanta including at least one governor.

He had a stroke and was an invalid for several years before his death in his seventies. His was the first funeral I ever attended and I remember it vaguely. Minnie lived to 97, but dealt with dementia for a decade or so. She was a small and beautiful old lady, always tidy and with gleaming white well-coifed hair. I sat with her on our back porch in Rome trying to coax some family stories from her. My brother David running in and out of the house kept interrupting us. Each time he did, time and again, Granny Shaw would grin wide and ask with complete innocence and delight, “And who is THIS!”

Louisa Shaw's grave, Shaw Family cemetery, between Lithonia and Conyers, GA:

Louisa Shaw
Born Aug. 31, 1842
Died Feb 26, 1932
She was a kind and affectionate wife, a fond mother, and a friend to all.

I've written about this before here:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Hundred Year Eyes: The Best Christmas Present Ever

It feels like a miracle.  But it wasn’t. 

Like most civic victories it took the blood, sweat, and tears of many over many years.

First I apologize for those I will leave out. Hundreds of people helped in one way or another. What did they have in common? They used their hundred-year-eyes. 

It goes back to folks like Phillip and Mildred Greear, Charlie and Betty Patterson, Ted Touchstone, and MANY more who said “NO!” to those who said we should sell off the Chattahoochee National Forest in northern Floyd County in the eighties. It goes back to MacLean Marshall, Terry Dollar, Elizabeth Neal, Margie Harbin, Wilson Hall, Lewis Lipps and many more who said an undisturbed forest within the city limits is a treasure worth preserving. It goes back to many of those same folks and Jerry Brown, Mary Lucchese and many others who got Coosa River Basin Initiative going. Later Mitch Lawson, Katie Owens and others pitched in raising the awareness of the value of our wetlands and watersheds and flood plains.

And then one day developers decided to go after 80 acres of greenspace in downtown Rome surrounding Burwell Creek, the potential connective tissue between our wonderful Jackson Hill Trails and Ridge Ferry Park and our magnificent Riverwalk. They would, they proposed, bulldoze it, haul in thousands of dumploads of fill, and cover it with parking lots, apartments, and a strip mall. All the commissioners seemed to favor the development except for one articulate opponent, Sue Hamler Lee. 

CRBI got busy. They researched. They consulted. They asked questions. They told the community and they educated the city commission and city staff. Joe Cook, Amos Tuck, and many others began to raise the idea that instead of parking lots and strip malls, this land would be better used as the parkland the WPA thought it would be when they built those rock walls, culverts and bridges on Jackson Hill, that our city officials and parks and recreation workers thought it would be when they built and rebuilt the duck pond, that the Celanese (or was it Tubize) folks thought when they donated that land to the city.

As a result many of us signed petitions, wrote letters, and attended meetings and meetings and meetings. During those years Sue Lee found an ally in opposing the project in new Commissioner Wendy Davis. Wendy knows how to do homework.

But still the 80-acre greenspace was slated for a big apartment complex and a strip mall. The plan was secured by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) from the commission and repeated extensions of that MOU as deadlines approached and tenants hadn't been found.

Then with only a few weeks to go before the 2015 City Commission election, a few of us decided we needed to “get political” if things were going to change. So we organized the Save Rome’s Central Park committee. We jumped through the hoops necessary to register with the state as a frankly political organization. We held a small meeting at my house and tried to think of some strategy that could make plain to the city commission the unpopularity of burying the duck pond, encroaching on the Burwell Creek wetland, and destroying the Burwell woods.

Qualifying was over. There were four candidates for Ward One and four candidates for Ward Three. We noticed something interesting. All of the commissioners up for re-election supported the development. Two of the challengers opposed the project and another had reservations and was determined not to extend the MOU again.

That’s when we came up with one of the wildest political ideas ever. We decided to endorse ALL THREE challengers, Sundai Stevenson, Craig McDaniel, and even the young, earnest but inexperienced and, frankly, strangely-named Abeed Bawa, and to actively oppose ALL incumbents.

We knew we were mathematically condemned to failure in a way. There would be six winners no matter what, and we were supporting only three candidates. But we felt IF we could elect one or two (maybe in our wildest dreams even Abeed would win, but no one expected that) and IF we could obviously suppress the vote of the incumbents it would send the clear message of what we knew from our talks with folks all over town: The people did NOT want this 80 acres sold!

We walked neighborhoods and made phone calls in the Town Rome precinct, but with only a short time to campaign we mostly conducted a FaceBook campaign. Our Save Rome’s Central Park page grew to nearly 2000 followers in a matter of days. We produced dozens of graphics showing the map of the property with diagrams of possible ways to incorporate it into a Central Park. We made amateur videos of real Romans talking about why they loved this property and their dreams for it and their history with it. We took pictures to illustrate the beauty and the biological diversity of the space and its vital role in preserving water quality. And we shared them and shared them and shared them.

AND we elected two challengers and managed a thousand votes for Abeed. (In Town Rome where we actually had  a ground campaign he came in third!) We defeated the most outspoken supporter of the project, and we held the incumbents who were re-elected to much smaller margins than the two newly-elected challengers. In the process, in an off year election when there was NOTHING else on the ballot, we had double the turnout of surrounding counties. The message was sent.

In our first major impact from the election, the apartment complex was removed from the project.

Meanwhile the CRBI leaders were busy trying to work out modifications that would lessen the impact of the remaining parts of the project if they could not be stopped. That resulted in another major victory. The developers agreed to put the bulk of the property in a land trust and allow trails and boardwalks to be built across it.

Still they intended to bulldoze and fill the Duck Pond area and find tenants for commercial development of those seven or eight acres. We fought tooth and nail to retain that last slice for the people of Rome as well, but the compromise was passed.

That is where we have stood for a year. We celebrated our victory but still could not help but mourn the loss of the last bit of greenspace right on our major thoroughfare and the much loved Duck Pond.

But developers evidently discovered during 2017 that this project, so obviously unpopular with Rome’s people, is also unpopular with prospective tenants. We had said the property was worth much more than the $600,000 the city was paid for it, and sure enough, when that remnant seven or or eight acres were assessed, they were declared, I have heard from one source, to be worth about a million dollars an acre. Another source says the $7 million was for 57 acres. Either way, $600,000 for those 80 acres was an incredible bargain. Except. Maybe not. Without sufficient tenants and with the prospects of paying taxes yearly on such expensive property, the developers made the decision announced last night.


If I understand rightly:
• the city keeps the $600K
• the property is returned, all 80+ acres, to the ownership of the people of Rome.
• the approximately $100K of property tax owed by the developers is forgiven.
• the property must be used as parkland.

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Well, we have some very pleasant challenges before us. But we also have a half million dollars that, I believe, should be spent on integrating this marvelous re-gifted 80 acres with our other Central Park components: the RiverWalk, Ridge Ferry Park, the ECO Center, Jackson Hill, the Amphitheatre/Civic Center complex, and Blossom Hill.

This is a tremendous victory, not for seventy-year-olds like me, but for Romans unborn who will enjoy beautiful trails, protected natural areas, wildlife viewing stations right in the heart of the much larger Rome of 2117 and who, just maybe will read somewhere, that Romans a hundred years before decided to pass this treasure forward to them.

Thank you to the Ledbetter family for your action last night in bringing, when we had thought part of it was gone forever, Rome’s "Central Park" closer to the whole that we have dreamed of. It was the best business decision, I'm sure, but it was also the right civic decision.

And, though I dare not begin to name more names, thank you to all the volunteers of "Save Rome's Central Park" and CRBI and Marshall Forest and INFO (Individuals for National Forest Outcry!) and their predecessors ... those of the last three years, and of the last fifty years, and of even the last over-150 years. You looked beyond the present and worked to leave an ever more beautiful Rome to posterity.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Taking a Knee, Respectfully.

I have come around on the Take A Knee thing. I might choose a different way to protest but I especially appreciate those who take a knee while placing a hand on their heart. To me that is a solemn statement of sad recognition that we are not living up to the sacrifices of those revered heroes who have gone before:
• when people are killed because of the color of their skin,
• when a president condemns Americans who stand or kneel for their beliefs but laughs with and downright grovels toward Russians who tried (and succeeded IMO) in subverting our republic.

Taking a knee with hand (or cap) on heart, is opposite of disrespectful it seems to me. How can that be read as disrepectful? It is peaceful. It is quiet. It is, in fact, respectful in every way. It seems a cry of sorrow that our nation is not living up to its heritage, to our noble founding tenets. Anyone who considers "Taking A Knee" as being disrespectful to our "..flag... and the republic for which it stands" isn't paying attention. And I like that the second player, not comfortable with kneeling himself, places his hand on his teammates shoulder to support the right of his friend to express his beliefs.

Given the controversy, I'd prefer these folks find a different way to protest. But I also realize that this brings great attention to their cause, and it is an issue that needs great attention.

CPR for my out-dated iPhone...

Please excuse my rant:

I have been aggravated about my iPhone for weeks. It has slowly discharged and inconsistently charged. At times, do what I would, it would not charge. I lost service altogether for hours. I tried every charging option I have access to with inconsistent results.

When I took it to the Verison store where I bought it, the guy expressed shock that I still tried to get by with an old model (iPhone 6plus) and tried to sell me a new one. Sorry, but I expect my phone to last longer than two years. I even suggested that maybe the port just needed cleaning? He said I needed to wipe the memory and restore the phone to its original settings.

Today I took it to CPR (Cell Phone Repair) on Shorter Ave at Elizabeth St. The guy took about 30 seconds to diagnose the problem and returned it to proper order within a minute or so and charged me absolutely nothing. It is charging as we speak at full tilt.

The problem: pocket lint in the port.

Granted, you'd think at 70 I'd have enough common sense to keep a can of compressed air and blow out the dadgum port myself every now and then. But give me a break, Verison. You are so intent on selling new phones you can't check for lint in the port before you recommend trashing the phone and upgrading?

So: I highly commend for your consideration CPR for cellphone repair. Verison? Not so much.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Yes to Development

A year ago we were in a battle to preserve a full 80 acres of city-owned parkland.

I lead a group of children and parents on a tour of the wetlands and the "Duck Pond."

One child marches through what was, till the recent drought, a beaver pond.

These kids fought with us adults to save the beloved "Duck Pond" area from development. 

We gathered for the walk at the city amphitheater directly across little Dogwood Road from the area slated for a strip mall.

In that fight we had to fend off accusations of being "tree-huggers" who oppose all development. That has never been true. Barring an international disaster, Rome WILL be further developed. Everyone knows that. The question is whether that development will be haphazard and led by profiteers or led by city leaders with eyes for posterity, what I like to call "Hundred Year Eyes".

These wildflowers will be buried under many feet of fill material needed to raise the "Duck Pond" area slated to be completely filled to bring it to the level of Riverside Parkway.

Well, we lost the "Duck Pond" but we managed to preserve 70 acres of the property for our kids and grandkids under a permanent land bank agreement. Eventually that greenspace will be crossed with trails and boardwalks connecting our Jackson Hill Park with our Ridge Ferry Park and making, at least de facto, the Central Park we have dreamed of.

The children examine the hoof prints of deer in the dried mud of the "Duck Pond". This area will be buried under 20 feet or more of fill.

Now we have an opportunity to put our votes behind some sensible development. The 2017 Splost and E-Splost votes deserve your support. They do NOT infringe significantly on floodplain, but instead provide city and county support to responsible development AND preservation.

Walking through the beaver pond area.

For an example: the North Fifth Avenue section of downtown is , let's face it, in real need of a facelift. By the city extending the Streetscape from the river to Avenue A will make that biut of downtown much more attractive for citizens and visitors, and encourage responsible and attractive business growth.

The dried up "Duck Pond".

In a hundred years, when our eyes are closed, our foresight will be recognised by the cititizens of a much larger Rome. Like we praise the Nobles for building that controversial City Clocktower, and Daniel Mitchell for making our center thoroughfare TWO chains wide earing it the right to be a truly Broad Street", and Max Meyerhardt and others for planting a big library in the heart of town, and Casey Hine and others for reviving a "ghost town" downtown with the Streetscape program.

The idea of what the Fifth Avenue enhancements might look like.

The whole group.

One of the entrances to the beaver lodge.