WHAT IS SOCIAL CIRCLE?
The uniqueness of the name plus a beautiful old yellow brick mansion which houses a wildly popular restaurant named for its dinner ware added to a community filled with Southern history, ante-bellum homes and an old well makes this tiny town special in not only our area but across Georgia.
After being questioned in December by my coffee club group if I was familiar with a place called "Social Circle" and The Blue Willow Inn, I admitted I grew up not far from the small hamlet and had enjoyed many meals at The Blue Willow but didn’t know much about the town’s history. For me, Social Circle had always been there and was a part of my home county. Thinking it would make for an enjoyable road trip, the group made a pilgrimage to the city and restaurant in January to enjoy some Southern cuisine and ramble around the town.
After generous helpings of food and finally forcing ourselves away from the table after big helpings of peach cobbler & ice cream, we took off to explore downtown Social Circle.
As we walked off a portion of our lunch up and down Main Street, I was only able to point out one or two places that looked vaguely familiar from my childhood memories. I promised to dig out the information I had on the town and report back to them on how the town came to be and given the name "Social Circle".
After researching Anita Sams’ "Wayfarers in Walton", articles from The Walton Tribune and material from Suzanne Smith Forte, I assembled the following information.
The legend surrounding the name seems to come from the comment of a visitor to the town. There was said to have been a community well and watering place at the settlement’s main junction of paths and trails where pioneers gathered and traded with each other. A stranger possibly following the Indian trail which later formed the bed of the Georgia Railroad to Augusta, stopped to rest and get a drink of water. Being cordially received by those who had formed a circle around the well, the stranger made the comment, "This is sure a social circle." Before the group dispersed several agreed they would meet again at the circle and therefore the town became known as "Social Circle".
In the early 1800’s, the settlement which would become Social Circle was located at the junction of two old Creek Indian paths, known today as Cherokee Road and Hightower Trail. These two paths were originally used by the Creek Indians for transporting furs east and south to Augusta. Once the area became more inhabited log cabins began to appear along the crossroads.
Joel Strickland of Tattnall County learned he had drawn Lot Number 96, First District of Walton County, in the 1820 lottery. He and his wife, Elizabeth discussed this winning and decided not to keep the property. He was quickly offered $118 for the 250 acres and signed the warranty deed making three other men owners of the tract in southern Walton County where Social Circle would soon to exist. The second co-owner ran into debt and in 1824 sold his third interest which was purchased by John P. Blackmon, one of the original purchasers for $11. Mr. Blackmon was later able to buy the remaining one third share, giving him sole ownership. He built a log building at the junction of the two Creek Indian paths and donated a parcel of the land for the site of a Methodist Church. In quick succession, a shop, meeting house and storehouse were added and the small settlement was fast becoming a village. Mr. Blackmon went on to become Social Circle’s first postmaster in 1826. In 1829 the bulk of his land was sold to William Cabiness for $1170, about fifteen times the cost of the entire original tract as Mr. Cabiness was interested in founding a town.
Social Circle was incorporated in 1832 and as historian George White wrote in in his "History of Georgia" was inhabited by kind and enterprising people. In 1832 Samuel Catlin granted Joseph Peoples, Wilson Whatley, Elisha Henderson, Abraham I. Hill, John Y. Williams, trustees of the Social Circle Academy, five acres of land for the purpose of building a male & female academy. In 1834 through the cooperation of the WPA, a gymnasium was built on the school’s campus In 1836 John Dally opened a grocery store in the city limits.
During 1845, the Georgia Railroad reached the community as it advanced westward, which was one of the most influent events in the city’s history and marked the city as the county’s first rail center. Along with the railroad, a stage coach route connected Social Circle with Athens via Monroe, High Shoals and Watkinsville, providing access to Monroe, the county seat.
The Civil War crippled much of Social Circle but the residents, ever resilient, continued to pursue with their businesses and grew rapidly becoming one of the best known towns in this section of the state.
In 1869 Social Circle was incorporated as a town and limits extended to one-half mile from the center of town in all directions. Commissioners were A.M. C0lon, C.H. Shipp, J. T. Eckles, DeKalb Reynolds and G. W. Garrett. The town ordinance of 1869 decreed that all merchants close their business at 10:00 p.m., and any person found on the streets after that time had to give a satisfactory account of himself or wind up in the guard house. Playing marbles on Sundays was prohibited along with the sale of liquor on election days. Fines were given out for cock fighting, fastening horses to shade trees or fences and for riding horses in a disorderly manner.
Walton County’s first paper, the "Walton Journal", was issued at Social Circle on November 6, 1869. In the early months of 1877 John M. Brown established the Walton County’s "Vidette" at Social Circle. Some years later in 1891, A. B. Johnston, as editor and publisher, began the Social Circle "Sentry" with four pages which had quite a few illustrations. 1893 saw the publication of the "Jug Tavern" being edited and published by Albert Lamar.
Ebb Pharr built an ante-bellum home to be known as the "Butler Place", which was an example of the prosperity resulting from the railroad business. Mr. Pharr was also credited with having brought the first sawmill to the area and profited by sawing timbers for the road, not only as cross-ties, but for the rails themselves made with wood and a superimposed metal strip.
With the advent of the railroad lines came places for visitors to eat. The first, the Spencer House, was built alongside the tracks soon after the Civil War, where travelers could get a good meal as they continued their travels. When stopping for meals was discontinued the Spencer House became a hotel for traveling salesmen and others who wanted to stay and visit the area.
A second hotel, The Eckles House, was built on the site of a former bank building. A fire in 1894 destroyed the structure. A more recent building was the George Stanton Hotel which was quite well-known when operated by Miss Lizzie Eckles. The building remained until 1956 when it was dismantled and the material used to construct a warehouse on the same site.
According to the late Mrs. Emory S. Herndon, longtime Tribune correspondent for Social Circle, she said in a brief glimpse of the city: "During the intervening years nearest thing to a hotel was the columned home of the late P.A. Stanton, whose widow, Annie Gunter Stanton, rented rooms to transients shortly before her death in 1965. The house which originally stood at the site of the Stanton home, near the town’s main intersection, was the old Will Akridge home, said to have been built more than 100 years ago and now at Maple and Clarke Streets behind the First Baptist Church and near Social Circle High School."
Mrs. Herndon continued with her memories sharing that: "For recreation in the early days was swimming in Spencer’s Pond where many boys ‘hung their clothes on a hickory limb’ and bicycling which reached a peak in popularity in the 1890’s."
Many new citizens began moving to town after the war. The Colt family from New Jersey along with the Vallance family from New York and began helping develop and enhance the community. Mr. Colt’s home became the Wiley property and Mr. Vallance brought the first thoroughbred Jersey cattle to the community and helped develop the pasture lands for the cattle
One of Social Circle’s most prominent businessmen in 1882 was William Tyndall Knox. He and his brother, George Edward Knox, in 1887 opened the mercantile firm of W.T. & G. E. Knox. This same year a large cotton seed mill was built in town but was destroyed by fire in 1920.
Social Circle was home to many early notable citizens, one being Mell Anderson Knox, born May 3, 1886, who was beloved and admired as a former teacher and principal at the Social Circle School.
Mr. Know, whose grandfather started a tannery and shoemaking business in Social Circle before the Civil War, recalled the town and street lamps (kerosene fixtures on poles) during his childhood. They were installed in the 1870’s and one of the duties of the night policemen was the lighting and snuffing out of the lamps.
Another early citizen was Edward L. Almand, who opened in 1898 the Almand Hardware Company. In the rear of the store was a side business, which served the town as the local funeral parlor. In 1923 Mr. Almand moved to Monroe opening The E. L. Almand Company Funeral Directors, while still maintaining the Social Circle branch. The Depression of 1929 caused Mr. Almand to lose his hardware company but he retained the funeral business remodeling the old hardware location and reopening as a funeral home.
The Bank of Social Circle, founded about eight years before the turn of the century, was well established by 1907 with E. L. Newton as president, George E. Knox, vice president and J. L. Newton as cashier. Other local firms of that day were E. T. & W. F. Mayo, John T. Snow, grocer; Robinson Company, Dr. I.N.B. Spence’s Drug Store; Shepherd Brothers, Rosenberg’s, H.H. Herndon, and W. B. Spearman’s Soda Fountain and Cigar Store.
That same year the city council authorized a $16,000 bond issue for the purpose of installing an electric light plant.
With the advent of moving pictures in the early 1900’s C.E. Almand opened the Evelyn Theater in 1914.
In 1904, Social Circle surrendered her 1869 charter and was incorporated as a city. Limits were one mile from the public well at the intersection of Monroe, Madison, Covington and Gibbs Streets.
Other interesting tidbits of history surrounding Social Circle are the following taken from a 1978 Tribune article:
Methodist Bishop Warren A. Candler was ordained as a minister of the gospel in Social Circle.
Social Circle once had three schools: Methodist at the site of the present Methodist Church, inter-denominational at the site of the present public school and Miss Hammond’s school on a lot owned by the late George Spearman.
Daniel Whitehead Hicky, the well-known Georgia poet, was born in the Gresham home on Madison Street.
James Biggers, son-n-law of Mrs. Eula Herndon, owned the first radio in Social Circle. Clyde Watkins made a radio for himself and for Benson Davis in 1921. Hillyer Herndon made a radio for Dr. W. D. Spearman while the first business to have a radio was Social Circle Drug Store.
For a small town, Social Circle is rich in history as well as folk lore. There are many names I recall from my youth who were prominent in the founding, building and business endeavors of the city. Names such as: Spearman, Tribble, Stanton, Duval, Malcom, Dally, Flowers, Pannell, Stephens, Sigman, Crawley, Brown, Upshaw, Herndon are all well-known and appreciated for their many contributions made not only to Social Circle but Walton County as well.
Learning the background history about my neighboring community gave me a new appreciation about what it takes to develop a town and how, with just the smallest of gestures or thought, a town can be named in an instant!