Chester Martin Remembers Harrisburg, Ga.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - by Chester Martin
Map listing Harrisburg, Ga.
Map listing Harrisburg, Ga.

It was the new TAG Railroad of 1890 that created Harrisburg, Georgia, a small station that was very near where my father, Woodfin Ballenger Martin, was born in 1884. As a 6-year-old boy his farming father, George Leander Martin, was able to make a few dollars in CASH (rather than produce) to help sustain the family, as farmers were always short of greenback dollars. Memories of these events from 1890 were burned into my dad's memory for all the rest of his 92 years! The new railroad ran across a corner of my great-grandfather, Enos Martin's, farm, and am certain he was well compensated for it.

Would love to know how much he got paid for it, but to my then six-year-old dad such information would have been meaningless, and was forgotten if he ever knew it.

Before the railroad went through, the area had no real definable name save for "Duck Creek",  possibly, as shown on old maps, but that designation applied better to a small area just north of the newer Harrisburg. Dad told me that the new name, Harrisburg, came from the city of that name in "Pennsylvany" - his pronunciation being the same as that of other country people of his day. Why that name was chosen for a new railroad stop in (very) rural northwest Georgia is still a mystery to me. Before Harrisburg appeared with its dependable railroad connections to Chattanooga, the Valley Store post office on Broomtown Road (now known as Ga. Hwy. 337) was the nearest. Valley Store appears on early maps of Chattooga County, variously known as Tapp's Store and Valley Store. (It was later used as a headquarters for both Northern and Southern armies during the Civil War - though supposedly at different times!)

I am aware that the "TAG" name of this new railroad was not the first, but I prefer to use it throughout my story as it became locally famous as, "The TAG", standing for "Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia", while the earlier names were largely forgotten. This new railroad was begun chiefly to carry ore of different types which appeared in significant deposits along its route close to Pigeon Mountain in  northwest Georgia and on into Alabama. John Wilson's book on Chattanooga Railroads depicts some of these deposit areas, and I personally know of a bauxite deposit directly beside the TAG tracks at a place known in railroad jargon as, "Hawkins 36". The number "36" designated the number of miles from Chattanooga's Union Station, TAG headquarters. Harrisburg was the next stop south of Hawkins, which would have been at about mile-marker 37, though I do not believe it was ever designated that way. Anyhow, Harrisburg had a small passenger station while Hawkins did not.

The little community which already existed there soon grew larger and attracted the interest of some businessmen, as described later. A few people became well-off, if not rich, as a result. There was the story my dad used to tell of someone in the community who began hauling crossties for the TAG Railroad, and later talked his way into receiving a royalty for every crosstie all the way to Nashville along the L & N Railroad tracks! At least two competing stores sprang up at the new Harrisburg: one offered "credit" to the farmers, and survived, while the other, which demanded "cash" did not. There was even a small post office in one of the stores, and I have several old letters bearing the Harrisburg postmark. One of them  has a letterhead showing "Harrisburg, Georgia" as the return address. Letter is signed by John Thurman, an uncle-by-marriage of my dad. Temporarily lost, I will publish them here when they come to light. I do not know if the photo shown in this article was the successful store or the failure, only that the picture printed here is of my dad (at left), with his brother, George Linton Martin - 22 years dad's junior. (Linton never knew his father, and my dad was designated Linton's caregiver till reaching his Majority), leading me to believe this picture was made about 1925). Anyway, the picture is known to have been made at Harrisburg, and  you can see an ancient gas-pump on the left border, and the words, "Post Office" on the sign above.

This entire Harrisburg (or Duck Creek) area had apparently been highly attractive to the Native American people, as my dad used to tell how arrowheads turned up in great numbers as he plowed the Martin lands - some of them very ornate and of superior workmanship. Reading information discovered online I have found that early settlers in the area believed that this was a sacred area for the Cherokee - possibly the site for yearly gatherings, competitions, or etc. (All Native American peoples were highly skilled in the sport of "Chungke", sometimes called, "Indian Ball" - as demonstrated still at Cherokee, NC). Truth is that this is an area that has fascinated me all my life - and that the well-off modern occupiers of the land do not want to talk about. A nearby prominent declivity in Pigeon Mountain leads over into McLemore's Cove at the lower end of Chattanooga Valley. My "original settler" ancestors told stories of going there on trading excursions, and an early writing about the area - only recently discovered on the Internet - says that the main Cherokee chief in the area had his home in that mountain pass.

Hawkins and Harrisburg both lie west of Georgia Highway 337 - still known locally as the "Broomtown Road". "The Broom" was a Native American chief who lived at the time of Andrew Jackson. He was chief of his then-famous town, hence the name "Broom's Town", later shortened to "Broomtown". That road led directly to "Brainerd's Mission", so it also appears on original maps of Walker and Chattooga Counties as "Brainerd's Road". "The Broom" was killed at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, fighting for Andrew Jackson. The Broom's daughter married into a white Hicks family, and Ancestry says I am remotely related to them.

Harrisburg today only barely exists, as I can only find that name in two places:  there is only the name "Harrisburg Church", and a road sign which designates, "Harrisburg Road". Nothing more! Old timers like myself can still make out some landmarks in the area, but even the path of the TAG Railroad has been obscured by Time. All I see there today is the truly beautiful rolling landscape of Shinbone Ridge, ideal subject matter for artists, and fine new homes on spacious lands which exist near well-maintained pre-Civil War structures. The names shown on the oldest maps have long vanished, such as "Tap's Store" (Tapp was a distant relative of mine), and "Trinity Methodist Church" for which my great-grandfather, Enos Martin, signed  the deed. "Center Post" is still barely marked on Ga. Hwy. 337 as it is the turn-off to Harrisburg.  In my youth there was a small general store there on the northwest side and several fine Victorian homes nearby - all now disappeared. My elderly cousin - long deceased - Mary Martin Gilmer, said the name Center Post referred to a military compound that once stood there (about half-way between LaFayette and Menlo) and was used during the 1838 Indian Removal - starting point, locally, for the "Trail of Tears". My "original settler" g-g-grandfather, Joshua Martin, a veteran of the War of 1812,  had arrived in Walker county in either 1836 or '37 in anticipation of that Removal. (Today we believe he received the Walker County land as payment for his service in 1812). That Josh Martin put down firm roots in the area, and a portrait of one of his sons still hangs in the LaFayette, Ga. Court House, where he held a high position. Other close kin of his still live in local houses now rapidly approaching 200 years of age.

All around Center Post prosperity ruled! It was so well-off and self-sufficient that only the one tiny general store could exist - and there was only one other such store, much further south, toward Menlo, in Chattooga County. (The Harrisburg stores were from an earlier time, and very tiny compared to these 2 stores along the highway 337).   Local farmers kept cattle, hogs, and to a lesser degree, sheep and goats. There were always rich crops in the fields, though an occasional drought could destroy half a year's work for the farmers. Corn and cotton dominated, later soy beans. Mr. Joe Clarkson always had his fields planted with corn so attractive to passers-by that he spent many a night hidden behind a monument in Trinity Cemetery across the road to catch thieves!  (A childless couple, Clarksons served their community as school bus drivers and church workers for many years). Near Center Post were gristmills which were kept seasonally busy and served as great places for the local menfolk to gather and share information. Only one trace of these mills remains that I am aware of: "Hammond's Mill Road".  Many churches dotted the sides of Broomtown Road back then - a total of FIVE Methodist churches in the 20 miles from LaFayette to Menlo, with all other major Protestant denominations represented.

This writing is definitely NOT a lament for a "lost past", as I am modern enough to realize the world is in a constant state of change. The Broomtown Road, for example, only 20 years before my father's time, had seen both Union and Confederate armies on the march. It was so dangerous that Mr. McConnell, a very prominent and respected farmer,  had sent his wife and daughters to Nashville for safety while his house was turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers! That fine old brick house later passed into my grandmother Harper's family, and, much restored today to its authentic ante-bellum beauty, remains an attractive local landmark.

No, not a lament for a "lost past", but rather to applaud the area's successful transition into the 21st Century!   Roads that once were so muddy as to be impassable between the main highway and Harrisburg, for example, are now wonderfully paved, making those formerly remote places desirable property for the well-off class of "gentlemen farmers" who now seem to have discovered it.

Other old communities still barely exist along the TAG, such as Bronco, Chelsea, Teloga Creek, Cassandra, Alpine, etc., - some of which names seem more English than Georgian - but I know nothing about them. I have heard people much older than me speak of them, but they always seemed to ring of a forgotten "Neverland" from the deep past:   Harrisburg, Center Post, and Valley Store were all my father's legacy - and have somehow become part of my own.

The little map shows Chattooga County, Georgia, as the pink area at left, and with careful looking you can see Harrisburg just inside the county line with Walker. The black line it sits on indicates the route of the TAG Railroad. The name "Martindale" at upper right has no connection with "my" Martin name.

* * *

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

 

Father of Chester Martin with his brother, George Linton Martin, at Harrisburg, Ga.
Father of Chester Martin with his brother, George Linton Martin, at Harrisburg, Ga.

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