Chester Martin Remembers Broomtown Valley

Monday, July 31, 2017 - by Chester Martin
Charlie Harper poses in front of house at Broomtown Valley built in 1841
Charlie Harper poses in front of house at Broomtown Valley built in 1841

For our purposes Broomtown Valley begins at Menlo, Georgia, and runs NORTH to LaFayette, Georgia. If Hollywood were trying to find a place in the Southeast to glorify in a movie as a "true" American place it could not do better than choose Broomtown Valley. All of the genuine American ingredients lie here, bristling with Romance and Intrigue, War and Peace, and American history in general.

The modern Georgia Highway 337, whisks you through the landscape so fast that you are totally unmindful of all the rich history along its 22.7-mile stretch. Someone - perhaps either a state or county agency -has levelled the terrain in places, and historic old buildings have been removed, either physically, by man, to new locations, by being torn down, or by acts of Nature. A few places of great beauty and character do remain, however. The Valley Store Post Office, long demolished, stood there at the corner of York Road. It had been a Civil War headquarters for BOTH the North and South, though at different times. Both Confederate and Northern armies marched along our Broomtown Road at one time or another. The name York Road is in honor of a family of singers, several of whom were disabled. They made a portion of their living by appearing at church-related events.

That entire area of both Chattooga and Walker Counties was still in "Indian Territory" when this story begins, as all the old maps show, until 1838, when the Native Americans were removed to Oklahoma. And many of these had claimed this area as home since time immemorial. Cherokee and Creek had both vied for the this fertile land teeming with wildlife of all varieties - both flora and fauna, plus reliable year-round water supplies. White squatters were also beginning to creep onto those lands - illegally - to push the Native Americans ever further into increasingly remote areas.

One outstanding Cherokee leader - chief of his village - was called "The Broom". He and his fellow villagers were forced by both the Creek tribe and the burgeoning number of white settlers to remove into what is now northeastern Alabama, where they set up their new village called "Broomstown", frequently shortened to "Broomtown". We cannot be certain if it is the precise site of the original village, but there IS a place designated as "Broomtown" that can be located on Google Earth. It is south of Menlo, Georgia, and some miles into Alabama. The Broom's Cherokee name was "TachI", which the white men anglicized to "Dutch". Sequoyah, the great inventor of a Cherokee syllabary, still used, is known to have lived in the vicinity of Menlo, in or near Broomtown.

History books tell us only that Chief Broom had a daughter named Nancy Elizabeth who married a white Scotsman, Nathan Hicks, whose family figures big in Cherokee history of that day. We have proof that Chief Broom was summoned to Tellico Blockhouse south of Knoxville, Tn, in 1804 to sign (by his "X" mark) the second Treaty of Tellico. This fact gives evidence that he was a chief of some importance - possibly representing the southernmost village of Cherokee possession. Chief Broom, however, went on to fight the Creeks alongside General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama, where he lost his life in 1814. I am using that event, plus the consideration that he had a married daughter, to judge his age to be about 40 when he was killed. If so, then he would have been born about 1774 - slightly before the American Revolution, and most likely acculturated to the white man's ways. (The Cherokee were especially good at adopting the white man's ways when they would improve Cherokee life).

And that is pretty much all we know about the great chief - except that he left his name geographically as the name of a valley - and a road. The road has more recently been re-named, "Georgia Highway 337", for modern purposes, but the old name still persists. My father, Woodfin B. Martin, was born in Broomtown Valley, Georgia. Old U.S. Census records show the name "Broomtown Valley" over and over. Sometimes his more immediate neighborhood was referred to as "Teloga", or "Duck Creek". (After the TAG Railroad was built the new station was called, "Harrisburg" , (and I DO know that "the TAG" was not its original name).

Three years after The Broom's death at Horseshoe Bend, a Christian Mission was established in Chattanooga by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. It was named for David Brainerd, an early New England missionary to Native American peoples. Brainerd was already long deceased before the opening of the new mission, but it was named in his honor exactly 200 years ago, in 1817. The new Brainerd Mission soon gained great renown as a seat of learning throughout the region, attracting students to its self-supporting way of life from all directions - including Broomtown. The ancient trail that led from Menlo to LaFayette then became known as "Brainerd's Road", and is shown as such on early maps. At LaFayette it joined with the present U.S. Highway 27 for the next stage north - probably passing through the Indian Spring settlement on South Chickamauga Creek. South Chickamauga Creek then led directy to Brainerd Mission.

Twenty two years after the mission opened, the documents had been signed - which then-President Andrew Jackson had long desired - to remove the Native American population to a new place west of the Mississippi River. My original Martin settler in Walker County, Joshua, was waiting to assume ownership of his lot, drawn as payment for service in the War of 1812. (This was in one of the several Cherokee Land Lotteries). He and his small family had arrived in 1836 as squatters, waiting for the act of Removal to be carried out. Joshua's son, Enos Martin (my great-grandfather), was about 17 years old when that act took place. He rode his horse over to the government compound at Center Post beside Broomtown Road where the Native Americans had been assembled. He arrived in time to hear the Indian Agent give the command, "Get on your horse, Chenowee". And so began, "The Trail Where They Cried". These Native Americans from Broomtown Valley were marched north to LaFayette where they were placed in the Montgomery detention stockade, near the present LaFayetter water-works.Their next move was possibly to Ross's Landing in Chattanooga, as it was a known point of departure for the great Removal to the west. However, there existed optional routes as well. Most direct route would have been due west, across Pigeon mountain, so the easier route from LaFayette to Ross's Landing seems more plausible.

Georgia developed, like all the other colonies, from the Atlantic Ocean inward; from the port of Savannah, pressing ever northward and westward to avoid Spain's claim to Florida in the south. Those like my Martin forebears had come south from Maryland through North Carolina, until settling in Greene County, Ga. There they got caught, virtually trapped, by the War of 1812, when the ports of both Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., were blockaded by English gunships. All commerce stopped - to the extent that the people had to rely on peddlers from Connecticut to supply them with manufactured items! Anxious to get away from the deplorable conditions of Greene County (described in a vintage book as, "the poorest county in Georgia"), Joshua Martin took his family away and went to their newfound home. Old records have them arriving in 1836 - two years before removal of the Native Americans. How they survived for those two years I do not know - but they were not alone, as many other settlers also came as squatters. Chattooga and Walker Counties must have seemed like a dream come true for these original settlers!

Young Enos Martin, very savvy for a 17-year-old boy, remembered many of those happenings and details of their earliest days in the new region, transmitting some of them to his granddaughter, Mary Martin Gilmer (of Rock Spring, Ga). Her memories then were passed down to my mother and me.

The Native Americans who left from Center Post - a tiny community which still barely exists - left a rich legacy of artifacts, lore, and Culture behind, which has been studied in recent years by Archeologists from a major Georgia university. One important find on the former Martin farm was some kind of sacred place of Native American origin which has been carefully studied and recorded by scholars. I am not at liberty to discuss either the exact location or the findings here.

Enos Martin married a pretty young lady from a nearby farm named Eliza Neal. Eliza's father was Adam Neal whose house stood at the foot of Pigeon Mountain, below a gap in the mountain which takes its name from the family: Neal's Gap. It was at this gap where Civil War General Tecumseh Sherman's troops marched downhill after leaving Chattanooga via the crest of Lookout Mountain. Where the two mountains divide, Sherman followed the eastern branch, called Pigeon Mountain, which would put them closer to Atlanta. But word of Sherman's intentions soon got around and his army found Neals Gap Road blocked impassably with newly cut trees! One of the Neal women was on hand to witness this obstacle and yelled out a few choice words at the Yankee soldiers. Incensed, they took a few pot-shots at her with their rifles as she ran into the house unhurt - and my father used to tell about the bullet scars he saw in the chimney as a boy, signatures of the Civil War.

At least two fine brick houses along the Broomtown Road have dates of 1841 and 1876, respectively, scratched into bricks near their front entrances. Those dates were added while the bricks were still just slabs of wet clay before being firing. One of those old brick houses is depicted in one of John Wilson's books - the older one dated 1841, and described as a "mansion". It began its life as a farmhouse, however, and I am planning to focus my attentions on that house before long, as it once belonged to my dad's Aunt Jessie Harper - and I got to visit there before any modernizing was done. Actually - and fortunately - subsequent owners have been preservationists, and so have not destroyed any of the more interesting old elements which made it unique. (There were many curious inscriptions pencilled on the original un-papered walls and will be described in a story planned for the near future. Cousins Charlie and Minnie Harper allowed me to make Polaroid shots of several of these). Builder of that house was William McConnell, whose family survived the Civil War, and sent his women-folk away for the duration of that war. In my future story I will tell you more about those events.

There were many other features to Broomtown Valley which I can only skim through rapidly: a major geological feature is Shinbone Ridge, which cut through my family's old farm. There were FIVE Methodist churches along a 22-mile stretch of the road - only one of which still remains - Trinity UMC. (It has recently been closed as a meeting house, and is in great peril of demolition). The second, Macedonia UMC, a wooden structure, was removed years ago to Camp Hamby, south and east of its original site, to be used as the camp's chapel. Both those churches had cemeteries with some interesting burials. Macedonia cemetery used to have a good number of slave interments - marked with un-lettered medium-size boulders. All but ONE of those stones has disappeared through the years. Extremely fine hand lettering appears on many of the oldest stones, hinting of a certain elegance in the community...and before the days of sand-blasted lettering. (Hand lettered stones are incised with a "V" shaped incision, while sand-blasting results in a "U" shape).

In my father's boyhood days that area was still rich in Native American artifacts and stories. When he plowed the fields (using mule-power), it was unbelievable the number of arrowheads he reportedly turned up. Many of them had beautifully-worked serrated edges, were very sharp...and sad to say, not a single one of them ever came down to ME! Year-round supplies of water from Duck Creek (in South Walker County), and nearby springs and large ponds (now on private property) made life pleasant for them and they must have enjoyed that location for centuries. Aside from the "sacred site", mentioned above, there are some tantalizing whispers of Native American "gold treasure" which have been heard in that area. (Don't get excited, folks, for those stories remain just whispers!). It IS true, though, that a mysterious and secretive Native American man came to stay a while with my dad's family - and who appeared to always be looking for something in the distance. (This would have been about 52 years after Removal). He never disclosed his business, or what he was looking for, though in spite of his secretive demeanor, was welcomed into my grandparent's home. Another story, found on the Internet, could possibly relate THAT Native American to another one who suddenly appeared, apparently to watch over the construction of the new TA&G Railroad; the date would fit - about 1890. My dad would have been about six years old - and he remembered the event his entire life. That second Native American is reported to have stood on a pinnacle of Pigeon Mountain to watch construction of the railroad, but when it was finished simply went away, never to be seen again. Could those two apparently separate stories actually be two parts of the same story? We may never know!

An historic landmark of the Center Post community has long been the Clarkson home - a very picturesque brick farmhouse with its "perfect" barn - both buildings being ready made for the landscape painter. (It is the house dated 1876). Mr. Clarkson kept his inherited farm in immaculate condition, changing no detail of his grandfather's original grounds. Unfortunately the younger Clarkson died several years ago, and his widow has only recently passed away. They left no heirs to their farm, which has subsequently been sold. People who are sensitive to local history (like me!) always hold our breath when the fate of some old relic hangs in the balance. At this moment I can only tell you that there is some extremely good news to report, but you must "stay tuned" to find out about it, as it is not my story to divulge without permission.

Another important geological landmark in the area west of the Center Post community is a declivity in Pigeon Mountain that leads overhill, further west, into McLemore's Cove, beautiful location of Mountain Cove Farm. That farm marks the southernmost end of Chattanooga Valley. There is supposedly still an ancient Native American trail to take you there - which was used by my ancestors for trading purposes 175 years ago!

As executor of my grandparents' estate, my dad's greatest (and saddest) responsibility was to sell off the last remaining portions of the original Martin farm. This farm included a rather large wooded area, known to be virgin forest. It was exactly as the Native Americans had left it 100 years before, and was entirely of huge ancient oak and other deciduous growth. I was only taken into those stately woods one time - when about 10 or 11 years old - and it was to see the "turkey tree", where Native Americans had incised the outline of a turkey sometime before 1838. I personally would not have recognized the image as being a turkey without help from my cousin, who still lived on the farm. But with some pointing and explaining, I was at last able to see the turkey! THAT was one of my greatest memories from childhood. At that moment I felt a definite connection to that soil where all my forebears had stood at one time or another! Those pristine woods were so dense, and the crowns of those giant trees so thick that not even the tiniest shaft of sunlight penetrated through. Plenty bright enough to see clearly, there was no direct shaft of sunlight. Sadly, only a very few years later, my dad decided to sell all that ancient stand of trees to help pay taxes - and he sold the entire remaining portion of the Martin farm as well.

"My" Martin family farm lay on both the north and south sides of the Chattooga and Walker County lines. Just barely north of that line was the "Capt. Napier house" which my dad used to talk about on occasion. It was/is a two-story dwelling which always attracted my attention as we passed in the car, because its windows were very tall - reaching from porch floor to porch ceiling! That feature contributed to a feeling of comfort and spaciousness not common to very many farm houses.Those windows could easily have been converted into doors. Dad remembered how Capt. Napier had been the very first person in the entire community to get phone service - possibly by paying to have the wires strung all the way from LaFayette. Anyway, Napier was known to be a very wealthy farmer, and he wanted access to the markets at Rome, Ga. By buying his own private line, he was able to make the very first long distance calls in that entire area - to Rome - through the LaFayette telephone company. (Rome had all the local market information). Captain Napier also got the county line changed to favor his holdings

There were churches of many denominations along Broomtown Road - including the five Methodist churches on that 22.7 mile stretch of road. Trinity Methodist Church welcomed people of all races, although the seating was segregated. Many former slave families took the names of their former owners and remained in the area, attending that church. My great-grandfather, Enos, signed the deed for Trinity church as he was a Justice of the Peace, and actively involved in church-work. My dad's grade school was in a frame structure built to be a church: the "Lookout Hall Church of Christ". Church was held downstairs while upstairs was the Sunday School which doubled as a grade school during the week, and as a Lodge hall on designated evenings. Lookout Hall Church of Christ is now in a much newer brick building and in its original location.

Crops were many during my early years, and there were large fields of cotton, corn, soybeans - and both cotton gins and gristmills were strung out along the highway. Broomtown Road was a thriving area at that time. Sorry my dad is not here anymore to give you a better picture of the farming scene; he could identify every planted crop at any stage of its growth - not just its mature appearance. Maybe the crops were so plentiful, and the farmers knew how to barter so well that few grocery stores were needed. The main store, "Center Post Grocery", was on the northwest corner of Harrisburg Road and Hwy. 337. South of there, at the corner of York Road and 337, someone opened an egg business in the former "Valley Store and Post Office" building of my father's day. And I remember only one other small general store between there and Menlo.

Earliest names along Broomtown Road (and sideroads) were McConnell, Agnew, Bohannon, Hammond, McWhorter, Hise, Mitchell, Napier, Clarkson, Boyles, Harper, Neal, Shields, Martin. Principal cemeteries were Trinity, opposite Trinity Methodist Church at Center Post, and Macedonia, (almost) opposite Macedonia Methodist Church (now removed). Trinity church's fate is currently in the balance also, as its last member has only recently died. (The bricks have been designated "for sale"). Much closer to Menlo, there is a Harper family cemetery that is in conjunction with a church. Although my grandmother was one of those Harpers I have never been to it. (She is buried with my Grandfather Martin at Macedonia).

If you can imagine Shinbone Ridge extending a short distance north of LaFayette, you come to Gordon Chapel Cemetery where that "original settler" of mine, Joshua Martin, 1794 - 1874, is buried. He even has a new tombstone, placed there by a modern Veterans organization for his service in the War of 1812. That is fortunate, as it replaces his original stone which was broken. (Unfortunately, however, his wife's name is missing from the new stone; the old one included all her data). Not far away - on the NW corner of Ga. Hwy 136 (the road to Trenton) and U.S. 27 is the site of the former Warren School, a log structure, used by some of my Martin kinspeople 'way back in the horse-and buggy age! When I find my one slide of it I promise to post it here! It was a genuine one-room schoolhouse.

The picture accompanying this story shows my dad's first cousin, Charles (Charlie) Harper, a Georgian by birth. As a young man - and with his wife, Minnie - he left for Texas to be a cattleman. After a successful career of "riding the range" he returned to Georgia years later to claim his mother's house (depicted). A brick near the front door is inscribed 1841, indicating it was one of the first houses constructed on Broomtown Road after Cherokee Removal. A tiny log cabin (still standing) provided the family shelter while the newer brick house was being built. William McConnell was the original builder. Changed in appearance now, you would never recognize this interesting landmark building from the photo, and I plan to write a new story featuring this house and its history.

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Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net.


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