Habersham County History

Habersham County History


Mrs. Julia Wales Erwin Wilson, Sister to W. S. Erwin

Habersham county was organized in 1819. The first white man to settle in the area was Mr. Sutton, uncle of the late Judge C. H. Sutton. Most of the county was settled by the sturdy Scotch-Irish people who came first to Pennsylvania, then came further south to the mountains of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and East Tennessee. These Scotch-Irish people have always been the backbone of our Republic. There were the authors of the Mecklenburg Declaration and many of them had revolutionary lineage. There is an old saying, "Mountaineers are always free". True to this fact, Habersham county, with a voting population of 800, sent to the Southern Confederacy over a thousand men.

The town of Clarkesville dates its beginning from the year 1823. Two men, Chastain and Vaughn, gave land lots No. 2 and 19 as the site for the town. Clarkesville was named in honor of Gen. Elijah Clarke, who was so active in north and east Georgia during the Revolutionary War. The Court House, a small frame building, was located on the Public Square, and a log jail on the lot where Mr. F. L. Asbury's residence now is. When a brick court house was built, in 1832, the old building was moved down to the livery stable lot where it still stands, (The Claud Adams home). Judge John Dooly, the famous Georgia wit, held the first court in Habersham.

At this time, and for a good many years after, much of this country was still in possession of the Indians. I have heard my mother say that when she came to Clarkesville, a bride, in 1838, there were United States Troops here for the purpose of removing the Indians. The young Lieutenant in charge of the troops was J. B. Magruder, afterwards the famous Confederate General.

The discovery of gold in the Nacoochee Valley, and other parts of the country, soon brought to this hitherto unknown section, many seekers for the precious metal. From the first these settlers were of a superior class. Among them may be mentioned the names of Alex Maulden, William Hacket, Thos. Fayetter, Jessie Norris, T. B. Wood, Elihu Barkley, J. R. Wyly, William Hicks, S. H. J. Alley, the Lambert brothers, A. J. Nichols, Hezekiah Dyer, John Fuller, and John S. Dobbins who were the first to settle the town.

Dr. George D. Phillips came in 1829. He was a Virginian, a skillful physician, and a man prominent in the politics of the state. His wife was the daughter of James Patton, the founder of Ashville, N. C. Dr. Phillips built a home at Farm Hill, where Dr. James P. Phillips still lives. Mr. father, Alexander Irwin, a North Carolinian, and a son of a man who, as a boy, fought at King's Mountain, came here in 1829, and with Gen. B. F. Patton, also a North Carolinian, whose home was what is now the Ketron farm, put up a store for the purpose of trading for gold, in the old building that stood where the present court house now stands. My uncle, S. A. Wales, just graduated from the law school at Yale, with his brother-in-law T. H. Trippe, also a lawyer, were two early comers. Col. Wales built the Bleckley House which was burned a few years ago. Col. Trippe built the old Campbell home, now the property of Mrs. W. B. Hill. Col. Trippe sold his home to the town for a academy.

Afterwards it was the home of Rev. R. C. Ketchum, the Presbyterian minister for about twenty years. It subsequently became the summer home of Gen. Robert Toombs, and when it was burned some ten years ago was the home of Judge Logan E. Bleckley, chief justice of Georgia; a pretty good record for one house, I think. Col. Trippe sold his home to Mr. Robert Campbell who occupied it during most of each year for more than thirty years. Judge Garnet Andrews in the reminiscences of an old Georgia layer, gives an amusing account of a Clarkesville lawyer whom he called Col. Stamper. The original of this sketch was Col. Studman who lived in the house now owned by J. B. Erwin. He was a brother-in-law of Judge J. W. H. Underwood and is said to have been quite as interesting character as Judge Andrews pictures him.

John R. Stanford bought much land in and around Clarkesville. He was a merchant, a man of wealth of public spirit. His wife was Miss Charlton, of the well-known Savannah family. He built the beautiful home on the hill, now owned by J. F. Minis, and as Pamona Hall it was for years the center of social life of the town.

A company headed by Jacob and Adam Stroop and in which Hon. John C. Calhoun was a stockholder, put up an iron works plant on the site now occupied by the Habersham Mills. Jarvin Van Buren came out from the north to take charge of it and built the house now occupied by Idus Brewer. Mr. Van Buren was a New York man, a cousin of Martin Van Buren, and looked very much like the picture of the President. He had the distinction of having, as engineer, run the first train ever successfully operated in the United States. It was a short line about forty miles in length, and, I think, ran between Schenectady, NY and Albany, NY.

The first academy of the town as the old Grove House. This afterwards became the home of Mr. William Smith, grandfather of the late Thomas F. Bean and of the Ansleys of Atlanta. It was at one time occupied by Hon. John E. Ward, first minister of the United States to China. Col. Robert McMillian bought this place about 1854.

The old Shade Alley place is probably the oldest place in our town. It was built by a Mr. Brannan, and afterwards was owned by Gen. J. R. Wyley. Mr. Wyley was the grandfather of John Sevier, Gen, in the Revolutionary army, and governor of Tennessee. Mrs. Ruth Erwin comes from the same family.

The little town seems to have had good schools in those early days. My uncle, Rev. Stanhope Erwin, a young Presbyterian minister, taught here while studying for the ministry. Gen. William Phillips was one of his pupils. His wife was Miss Danwoody, cousin of Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt. A man named Blair was imported from Pennsylvania and had a fine school here. Dr. J. T. Phillips, Dr. Rossingnol and Dr. Starr were three of his pupils. Mr. Blair went back to his native state, was later sent to Congress, and became a most violent abolitionist and hater of the south. Later Mr. Round taught here and also Mr. Williams Rogers.


Mrs. Julia Wales Erwin Wilson, Sister to W. S. Erwin

In the early fifties, H. B. Smith had a large and flourishing school here for several years. In 1859, the citizens of the town were much interested in a large school for girls, toward which most of them contributed. Judge William Low gave the site, thirteen acres, to the town, and a large building was erected on "College Hill', now the Martin Place. The school was the Tallulah Female Institute, and Rev. R. C. Ketchum was principal. It flourished and died. Most of what little education I possess was acquired at the Tallulah Female Institute.

The first church was the old Methodist church, 1831, which stood in the cemetery. It was built by all the citizens for the use of all denominations. In 1838 the Episcopalians built their church. The first vestryman, or trustees, were George D. Phillips, B. F. Patton, S. A. Wales, Alex Erwin and John R. Stanford, mostly Presbyterians. Here the convention was held which elected Steven Elliott first Presbyterian Bishop of Georgia. Some years later, 1848, the Presbyterians built their church on a lot of two acres, given in equal shares, by Robert Campbell, Wi8lliam Smith and George D. Phillips. This church was completed in 1848 and dedicated by Dr. Nathan Hoyt, grandfather of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. I have also heard her other grandfather, Rev. I. S. K. Axson, preach there, also her father, Rev. Edward Axson and her uncle, Rev. Dr. Henry Hoyt. I have heard too in this church, Dr. J. R. Wilson, father of the President, and Professor James Woodrow, his uncle.

Clarkesville boasted a bank in these early days, a branch of the Georgia R. Bank of Augusta. Mr. Dugas, uncle of Dr. Henry Rossignol, was the manager. He built the Berry House where Mr. Joe Stewart lived 1910-1918 (now the pastorium). The bank was in the old Sam Lambert house which burned a few years ago.

The hotel which stood where the Mountain View now is was kept for years by Lewis Levy of Augusta, and after him by Mr. Reuben Nash. Mrs. Collier was for many years landlady of the Alleghany House, now the Inn, while Mrs. Fuller had a hotel on the square where is now the Addison house (Foster's store corner).

The little town boasted of a paper called "The Argus" in the early days. The North East Georgian was published later by J. F. Patton.

In the old cemetery lie at least two Revolutionary soldiers, Mr. McCrocky, grandfather of Mrs. Caroline Hunt and Matthew Rhodes. I have a very faint recollection of the latter as a very feeble old man.

The principal physician in Clarkesville for fifty years was Dr. W. J. Rusk, an old bachelor, shy and awkward, but a fine physician and one of the most charitable of men. His old fashioned saddle bags were often full of needed delicacies for those of his patients who were unable to buy them.

There was no dearth of lawyers in Clarkesville in those days. Among them were Elihu Barclay, John H. Jones, M. J. Walker, Calvin J. Hanks, Phillip Martin and Thomas J. Rusk. Calvin Hanks was killed by Dr. L. B. Harris. No doubt many of you have noticed the epitaph on his tomb in the old cemetery, "Ye living men as ye pass by." To my childish mind this was the most wonderful and awe inspiring gem of poetry.

Thomas J. Rusk was a young lawyer of brilliant promise, but was fast ruining himself by dissipation. Dr. George Phillips, one day after a serious talk with him as to his conduct and future, gave him a hundred dollars and told him to go to Texas and make a man of himself. Rusk took the money and advice, went to Texas and rose rapidly to the front rank in his profession and in politics. He was United States senator, with a bright prospect of being president of the United States, but ended his career by suicide while at the height of his fame. While senator he related to Dr. J. P. Phillips in Washington, t is story of Dr. George D. Phillips. (this is verbatim not a typo) The delightful climate of Habersham County, with its cool breezes, bright skies, gushing streams and fine scenery, soon brought many persons from the low country of Georgia and South Carolina to build summer homes in the vicinity of Clarkesville. Among them were many historic homes. Col. R. W. Habersham was the son of Joseph Habersham, Washington's Postmaster General. He built "Azalia," the quaint and lovely old house, now the home of Mr. Joe Erwin. The Alston House a few miles out of town near Turnerville was built by a close relative, son or nephew of Governor Alston of South Carolina, who married Theodosia, the beautiful and ill fated daughter of Aaron Burr. Sailing from Charleston to New York, to visit her father in his disgrace and old age, she was never heard of again. It was reported that the vessel was captured by pirates and Theodosia Alston, with the other passengers, forced to walk the plank. The "Alston" now belongs to the Middleton family of South Carolina, direct descendants of the signer, Arthur Middleton Junior. John MacPhearson, Attorney General under Andrew Jackson had a summer home here. It's rather a singular coincidence that this place was afterwards owned by Amos T. Akerman, who held the same office under President Grant. Rev. W. E. Eppes, the Episcopal minister beloved by all our people, was a great grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Robert Waller is a grandson of President Tyler. Andrew Jackson's mother, when her husband was killed, took refuge with her aunt Mrs. John Wilson, my husband's great grandmother. Andrew Jackson lived with Dr. John McKemie Wilson. These are but a few of the historic names connected with Clarkesville and Habersham County.

Clarkesville has always had a great attraction for all sorts of cranks and oddities, who have drifted here from every quarter, besides having her fair share of the same sort of native production. Did the scope of this paper permit, I could relate many tales of interest both grave and gay. I will speak of one story that used to excite my childish sympathy and interest to the highest degree. Many years ago, a Frenchman, calling himself Eugene Pinard, came to Clarkesville, no one knew for what reason. He was a mysterious character, stern and reserved, saying nothing of his past, except a few vague hints of a dark past of crime and piracy. A chest of rich clothing and silk and velvet seemed to corroborate his story of having been on a pirate ship. He married a pretty country girl living as help in General Wyley's family. He remained with her for perhaps three years, then disappeared as suddenly as he came, taking with him a beautiful little daughter, nearly two years old and leaving not a trace to show where he had gone. The sympathy of the whole town was aroused for the heartbroken mother and every possible effort was put forth to locate the little child. Kind friends wrote to the French consuls in New Orleans, Mobile, New York and other ports. Advertisements were inserted in the papers of the principal cities of this country and in France, but all in vain. The fugitives had disappeared as if swallowed by the earth, and the desolate mother never again heard aught of her child. I remember Mrs. Pinard when I was a child a pale, sad woman who made a modest livelihood by nursing the sick, and sewing in families and who grieved as long as she lived for her Victorine.

I have tried to be accurate in what I have written but have had to depend to a great extent on my memory of what I have heard the old folks say years ago. Dr. Phillips and my brother, Joe Erwin have given me a good deal of history. I love this dear old town where I was born, and where all my children were born, and I thank you for giving me an opportunity of assisting in some slight degree to preserve its memories and traditions. I am proud of my birthplace.



June, 1927


The Clarkesville Baptist church was organized on August 15th, 1888. A few persons, already members of that denomination, assembled in a room over J. W. West's store and constituted a presbytery for organizing a church. Those present were: Rev. J. L. R. Barrett, Rev. W. B. Hawkins, Rev. R. D. Hawkins, and Deacon T. J. Gastley; also a small company of citizens of the town which comprised the congregation.

Rev. R. D. Hawkins preached an appropriate sermon, taking for his text the 19th and 20th verses of the 28th chapter of St. Matthew. After the sermon Rev. J. L. R. Barrett, who had been chosen to act as Moderator, called the meeting to order and stated it was the desire of those who had called the meeting to organize a Baptist church.

Thereupon, letters were presented by the following: W. D. Hill, Mrs. W. D. Dill, G. W. Hill, E. P. West, Mrs. E. P. West, Obediah A. Holloway, Mrs. Obediah A. Holloway, Ezekiel Fuller, Mrs. Ezekiel Fuller, Sandy A. Cash and Miss Cola Cash. Upon the reading of the Articles of Faith and the Church Covenant, the presbytery extended to them the right hand of fellowship, recognizing them as a duly constituted Baptist church.

After the organization the charge upon church duties was delivered by Rev. J. L. Barrett, and prayer was offered by Rev. W. B. Hawkins. The little band comprising the organization then set themselves to the task of organizing a church that would be a church in fact as well as in name. They joined themselves to the Clarkesville Baptist Association and proceeded to build a house in which to worship. "Time were exceedingly hard" in this section at that period, but by privation and persistence, with great faith in Him who provides for the tomorrows, the house was built and ready for service.

Rev. J. L. R. Barrett was chosen as the first paster and he served faithfully from 1888 to 1890, during which time the church prospered. Rev. J. H. Osborn was next called as pastor and served during the year of 1891. He was succeeded by Dr. H. P. Fitch, who served throughout the year 1892. Since that time many able and good preachers have serviced as pastors of the church among who were Revs. R. T. Hawkins, C. T. Brown, John J. Kimsey and several others. Rev. J. W. Farmer is at present the very able and popular pastor of the church. E. P. West, Ezekiel Fuller and W. D. Hill served as Deacons of the church from its organization until 1900.

The present membership of the church is 185.


June, 1927


Away back in the years when Clarkesville was but little more than a settlement of a few scattered houses, but having the dignity of a "county site," there was no church here and no public place suitable for Divine worship. Realizing the need of this, some of the faithful forefathers began to "agitate" the need of a building to be used by members of all or any denomination that might desire to have a building in which to hold meetings.

Local tradition informs us there lived in the vicinity at that time a wholehearted and generous citizen - Col. James Brannon, by name -- who in March, 1831, donated to the few members of the Methodist denomination of the vicinity, a lot of around now the site known as the "old cemetery," on which to erect a church with the stipulation that it be used by all denominations. Citizens John B. Chappell, Reuben Phillips and Turner H. Tripp were chosen a committee to see that the intent of the donor of the lot was complied with.

Generous pioneers lent a helping hand and a building was erected to accommodate the needs of the community. In due time the several Methodists in the vicinity organized a church, among the first members and helpful contributors being John S. Dobbins, Wm. W. Alley, Richard Powell, Col. W. H. Steelman, John J. Chitwood, Judge Turner, Sidney Barr, Dr. W. J. Rusk, James Griggs, John Fuller and several others. We have been unable to secure the names of the early pastors or first officers of the church, but it is stated that long years of patience, labor and sacrifice were necessary on the part of good men and women in those primitive years to establish the organization on a satisfactory basis. However, in due time the church prospered wonderfully and became a great power in the community. Its influence under the powerful preaching of its first pastors and presiding elder was felt, it is said, from Tray mountain to the Tugalo river.

In 1860 a lot was purchased on the main highway, now Washington Street, some three squares distance from the court house, on which a substantial parsonage was built for the paster. During the dark days of the war of 1861-65 the church was ably served by consecrated ministers, and although greatly handicapped, prospered and continued in spiritual growth.

It was found in time that a more commodious house in which to worship was necessary, and in 1881 the present home of the church was erected on the lot adjoining the parsonage. This was during the pastorate of Rev. W. W. Lampkins, and the new building was dedicated in 1882 by Rev. J. H. Baxter. Rev. J. L. Harrison is the present pastor and the church has an enrolled membership of 135.


June, 1927


On March 10, 1832, seven persons associated themselves together for the purpose of organizing a Presbyterian church in the (then) new village of Clarkesville. These persons were Thomas W. A. Sumter, Martha Sumter, Mary A. Sumter, William Thompson, Mary Thompson, Margaret Forbes and Cynthia Forbes. The church was organized by Rev. William Quillian and Thomas W. A. Sumter was elected and ordained Ruling Elder.

The church was taken under the care of Hopewell Presbytery. From this feeble beginning has grown the present Presbyterian Church of Clarkesville which has always been a powerful influence for good in this community. The little church struggled for existence for several years, almost extinct at times, but keeping always a spark of life. About the year 1840 a few ladies connected with the church established a Sunday School -- the first school of its kind in the county of which we have any record. It is a matter of local history that not only the Catechism, but also the Blue Back Speller was taught the children and many grown-up people who found it profitable to attend. For several years after organization of the church, services were held in the Methodist church building, but in 1845 the membership had grown to a number sufficient to have an exclusive building of their own and to have services at more frequent periods.

The church was first incorporated in 1843 under title of "The First Presbyterian Church of Clarkesville," with Robert Campbell, Wm. Smith, G. W. McAllister, Alexander Erwin and George D. Phillips as trustees. Two acres of land was purchased by Robert Campbell, William Smith and George D. Phillips and presented to the church on which to erect the house of worship. The building was completed in 1848 at a cost of $2,275, of which amount $1,050 was contributed by Robert Campbell. The Ladies' Aid Society contributed $220 with which to purchase the sweet-toned bell which has called the congregation to worship for three-quarters of a century.

At the request of presbytery the church was reorganized in 1844 with 17 members, viz: T. W. A. Sumter, Alex Erwin, Catherine M. Erwin, Elizabeth Paxton, Joseph Gailey, Jarvis Van Buren, Eliza K. Van Buren, Cordelia Callier, Matilda Atkinson, Margaret Groves, and Jesse N. Groves. At this time Alexander Erwin was ordained Ruling Elder, which office he held to the time of his death in 1874. The new church was dedicated by Rev. Nathaniel Hoyt in 1848. At that time, and for many years thereafter, it was the only Presbyterian church organization in this part of Georgia. Many of the most influential men of Clarkesville were members of this church, and some of the most prominent of its citizens of the present are loyal and enthusiastic members.

The pulpit of this church has been filled by a line of consecrated ministers -- some of them preachers of unusual ability. The names of them are to the best recollection of the writer: Rev. Richard Getchum, Rev. Paul Norton, Rev. Geo. T. Govetchires, Rev. John B. Norton, Rev. L. M. Wilson, Rev. Archie Simpson, Rev. J. R. McAlpine, (now retired and still living here) and Rev. J. C. Blackburn. The church at the present time is without a pastor.


June, 1927


The Episcopal Church in Clarkesville was organized in the year 1838. From an article published in "The Church in Georgia" in 1920 giving an account of the foundation of this church, we quote the following:

"At a meeting held at the house of Rev. E. B. Kellogg, in Clarkesville, GA., on Wednesday, the 12th of December, 1838, the following persons were present: Rev. E. B. Kellogg, Turner H. Trippe, John R. Stanford, James Brannon, Lewis Levy, Joseph Habersham, R. W. Habersham, Jr., E. S. Barclay and Wm. J. Walker, the Rev. Mr. Kellogg being chosen Moderator, and R. W. Habersham, Jr., Secretary pro tem.

"It was resolved that we do hereby unite ourselves to form a parish to be called 'The Episcopal Parish of Clarkesville.' Resolved that Messers. R. W. Habersham, Sr., and John R. Mathew be the Wardens, and G. D. Phillips, John R. Stanford, Alex Erwin, Samuel A. Wales and R. B. Patton be the Vestrymen of said parish. Resolved that the Rev. Mr. Kellogg be, and is hereby elected Rector of said parish. Resolved that R. W. Habersham, Sr., be, and is hereby elected lay delegate, and C. R. Jessup his substitute to attend the next annual Convention of the Diocese of Georgia. Resolved that this parish do hereby agree to and adopt the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church and the constitution and canons of the Diocese of Georgia."

The article published in "The Church in Georgia" goes on to state that very few of those present at the meeting were Churchmen -- showing that no prejudice existed in the vicinity against the denomination.

On or about June 1, 1839, a lot was purchased for $100, and a contract entered into for the erection of a building for church purposes. A subscription list was circulated and cash, work and materials to the amount of $1,335 was secured. A drought prevailing at the time, saw-mills were unable to operate and lumber could not be procured to finish the building, although the framing timber was in place. Work was greatly delayed and it was many months before the building was completed. The edifice is still standing today and is in fairly good state of preservation.

Although through the mutations of time the membership has been greatly reduced, services are held once each month regularly through the faithful ministrations of the Rev. Thomas Duck, of Atlanta, who has charge of the work in this part of the Diocese.

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