Sam Burnham, Curator
College football is back. Those are just delightful words to string together. The sport of football is ingrained into the culture of Georgia and the South in general. It is hard to imagine life here without football.
But that’s exactly what almost happened.
In 1897 the University of Georgia played the University of Virginia in Atlanta. During the course of the game, a young Georgia player from Rome named Von Gammon was seriously injured. He was transported to an Atlanta hospital where he later died from his injuries.
in the aftermath of such a terrible tragedy the state legislature decided to do what governments so often try to do - legislate away the possibility of tragedy. They passed a bill banning the game from the state.
This would be a huge shift in state history. In retrospect we can see there would have never been Bulldogs, particularly Uga. There would be neither Sanford nor Bobby Dodd stadiums. No teams at Georgia Southern, Ft. Valley State, Morehouse, or Wedt Georgia. No Friday Night Lights. All of that would be wiped out before it even started.
But something unpredictable happened. The legislation had already passed the state house and was headed to the governor for his signature, which he had already pledged. That’s when a Southern woman, Rosalind Gammon, mother of Von Gammon lobbied on behalf of the sport her son loved. In an spirited plea to the governor she laid out her case saying “it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause [Von] held so dear injured by his sacrifice,” She also added she said football was “the most cherished object of his life.”
Keeping in mind that Rosalind Gammon would not be legally allowed to vote for over 20 years later when the 19th Amendment secured the vote for women. She had no political weight to throw around. The governor could not be voted out of effectively taken down by a woman. But Mrs Gammon laid out her case eloquently and effectively. The love of a mother and the strength it possesses carried more influence than a lot of powerful men who tried to budge the governor and the assembly.
Governor William Yates Atkinson vetoed the bill. The University of Georgia fielded a football team in 1898 and the rest is history. Rosalind Gammon saved football in Georgia. To this day monuments tell her story in Downtown Rome as well as on the 3rd floor of Butts Mehre in Athens.
If you enjoy football, take a moment to remember this amazing woman, the love she had for her son, and her fight for the game he loved.
Sam Burnham, Curator
It’s a familiar story. Henry Flagler, the co-founder of Standard Oil and railroad tycoon was running his line into Florida. The state was still largely a forested and swampy wilderness. While cracker settlers had tamed places, the Seminole people had disappeared into the vast inner places and evaded the Federal government’s attempts to relocate them. Alligators outnumbered people. In the official 1890 census, Florida reported 391, 422 people.
In 1894 and 1895, hard freezes hit and the ideas of the state becoming a tourist destination were questioned. Flagler was content to end his rail line at Palm Beach. Further down the coast an unincorporated Miami was in its infancy. A woman named Julia Tuttle saw an opportunity. She sent Flagler fresh produce, specifically citrus fruits and fragrant orange blossoms to show him that her home was unaffected by the freeze. With the pleasant climate and gifts of real estate, Flagler was convinced to not only run his railroad south to Miami but also to build his Royal Palm Hotel there.
The rest is history. The area around Biscayne Bay exploded with tourism, commercial, and residential development. South Florida had a massive economic engine that produced growth and progress.
But we know what they say about progress.
If we view the story of Julia Tuttle and Henry Flagler as a chapter of Patrick D. Smith’s A Land Remembered, we can see the whole picture of progress in The Sunshine State.
The progress didn’t stop in Miami. Walt Disney tried to isolate his parks in the Florida swamps, far from development. But I-4 ripped its way across the state, scattering souvenir shops and chain restaurants in its wake. Traffic choked the roads as fast as they could be built. I even found myself in a Walmart built over a former orange grove unable to find even one tangerine that wasn’t grown in California.
Orange blossoms, the state flower, are now rare in the county named for them. The alligator is on the rebound after approaching extinction, and the Seminoles are either assimilated or stored away in some corner of the state.
This is how the general thought came about that Florida isn’t a Southern state. Now, anyone who has been to Williston, Green Cove Springs, Yulee, Vernon, or Yeehaw Junction understands that Florida is still very much a Southern state, if you know where to look. But the coastlines and the I-4 corridor are about as Southern as New Jersey.
Across the region, the survival of Southern culture, and of the land we love, will require a balancing act. Economic development is necessary for our provision. But how do we find a living in this place without destroying it? How do we meet our needs without destroying our home?
Julia Tuttle unleashed a founder of Standard Oil on Biscayne Bay. People in Camden County are building a spaceport. A mining company is looking to dig along the Okefenokee. A capsized vessel still litters the Georgia coast. Metro Atlanta, like The Blob, continues to devour North Georgia. Are the jobs gained, the products made available, and what money really does come in justify the changes that are made?
If you think it can’t happen in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or South Carolina, just hide and watch.
The challenge we face is how we think about progress. Not all economic development is improvement. And the economy shouldn’t be our only motivation. We should consider historic preservation, natural conservation, cultural resiliency, and the ability of families to make a real life.
The sort of development we’ve seen in North Georgia as well as what happened in South Florida brought jobs but it also brought higher housing costs. If a new company brings in workers to take the jobs they create we suffer culturally while reaping little economic benefit. Long time residents struggle to stay afloat as the price of everything rises.
130 years later, Florida’s population is estimated at 25,538,127. The landscape, the economy, and the culture are all very different. Over 130 years, change is to be expected. Progress suggests improvement. Is Florida better off because of the development? Looking at the situation holistically, I can’t say that it is. I firmly believe, as Sol MacIvey did in A Land Remembered, that much of the state has been ruined.
The lesson must be learned. We have to face progress with wisdom. When government and developers stand shoulder to shoulder to tell us how many jobs a project will bring, we need to ask how many of those jobs will go to locals? How much will traffic increase? What is the ecological impact? What do we lose compared to what we gain?
Ask the unpopular questions. Demand the honest answers. Protect this land and culture with vigilance.
Sam Burnham, Curator
It is hard to imagine a more savage and barbaric scene than a track hoe run amok in a historic neighborhood. A dragon with mechanical locomotion and hydraulic jaws ripping timeless craftsmanship to shreds with ease evokes the axiom that great things are difficult to create but can be destroyed in moments. Like the Fourth Beast in the Book of Daniel, nothing beautiful, nothing peaceful, nothing idyllic can survive the onslaught of those iron jaws. Nothing but rubble can remain.
That is precisely what has happened in Athens in recent weeks. The historic Potterytown neighborhood fell under the elongated shadow of progress. Several single family homes were obliterated to make room for a parking deck for the rising tide of apartment buildings. Such development is common in college towns. The market for rental property is quite lucrative. The buildings that come down always seem to have more character and style than the buildings that go up.
It’s important that we keep a proper perspective. The crews doing this work aren’t evil. They’re just doing an honest day’s work. In this economy, who can blame them? The machines aren’t evil. They’re simply tools that can be used to build just as they can be used to mangle. Even the developers can’t be labeled as anathema as they are just following the market pressure they have been taught to follow.
Private property is essential. I dislike the idea of restricting the markets or curtailing the liberty of property owners. The problem is that we have dumbed down the market to its lowest denominator: money. The market is controlled by people who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Every decision is strictly financial. Other important considerations such as history, culture, style, and local uniqueness don’t factor in. That’s an incomplete market.
In my youth I would cringe ever so slightly as Kevn Kinney sang the line “like tearing up your parking lot to build a house, so you’ll just have to park your Volvo somewhere else.” It seemed so unrealistic, even anti-market. Examination and experience have taught me how wrong I was. We shouldn’t pave the entire world just because it’s profitable. We have to live somewhere, eat something, and appreciate our surroundings sometimes. A parking deck accomplishes practically none of this.
When a plea is made for historic preservation there is a common reaction from those beguiled by “progress.” Preservation action is seen as do-gooders trying to prop up some dilapidated building. Time moves on and so should we. You must clear out the old to make room for the new. Unsubstantiated claims of obsolescence can have an appeal to the general public despite the examples of brilliant use of historic properties such as Atlanta's Ponce City Market and Canton's Cotton Mill Exchange. In Canton alone, several historic structures from the textile industry have been converted to commercial and residential use. It’s a wiser and more effective use of resources.
The truth is preserving historic buildings can be quite profitable as the above examples prove. Historic buildings can offer sturdier, more durable construction than many lightweight construction options. Older architecture offers features and details that don't fit modern budgets. We also maintain a diversity of styles and techniques by preserving existing buildings.
When it comes to a neighborhood like Potterytown in Athens, preservation could have maintained single-family residential units with actual yards, mature trees, small scale landscaping, privacy, and a multitude of other benefits that are sacrificed in the communal living of an apartment building. Good fences make good neighbors. The ceiling/floor of an apartment seems to have a different effect..
But neighborhoods also protect the identity of a town like Athens. The Classic City is famous for the university but also for its quirky and eccentric style that gave rise to the music and art that made the town a household name. A tree that owns itself. An abandoned train trestle. Weaver D's. A double-barreled cannon. And until last week, Potterytown. Some of that uniqueness is gone forever. In its place we get some concrete superstructure, some rebar, and of course, dormant Volvos.
What would be wrong in tearing down an old rundown strip mall or some other eyesore for this purpose?
Preserving historic property isn't propping up dilapidated buildings. It is preserving our story. It is preserving our heritage. It is preserving our very identities. Preservation is the work that will keep our entire existence from becoming just another off ramp off just another highway - generic, nameless, faceless, nondescript. We’ve seen this happening across Metro Atlanta for decades now. Formerly small distinct towns have redeveloped to the point they look just like all their neighbors. Apartment buildings. Gas stations. Bradford pears. Cookie cutter commercial buildings.
It comes down to the words of Sir Roger Scruton: "...good things are easily destroyed but not easily created." It took a century for Potterytown to become what it was. It took a few days to become what it now is. And now, it will never be what it could have been. It’s has been lost to time and “progress.”
What piece of our culture and identity will we lose next?
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire