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Stories saved at historical society meeting

VALLEY — A large gathering at this past Sunday afternoon’s quarterly meeting of the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society enjoyed sharing family stories that had been passed down through the years. It was a means of recapturing the tradition of stories talked about on the front porch on a cool evening or around the fireplace on a cold, winter night.

The meeting took place in the family life center of the Langdale Congregational Christian Church. The participants were seated in a big circle and people took turns recalling stories they remembered from their youth.

Sisters Marilyn Stokes and Bobby Wingo talked about a move their dad and his family made from Standing Rock to Langdale in 1906. “They brought down everything on two wagons,” Stokes said. “There were places where they had to ford creeks in the wagons. My dad said that he’d eat his Smith chair if they couldn’t make it across.”

Now valued antiques, Smith chairs were made in Standing Rock. Mr. Terry worked at the Langdale Power House on the Chattahoochee River when it went into service in 1908.

The plant opened in 1908, when the Langdale Dam was completed.

Carol Wood of West Point talked about her great grandfather, who was a boat captain in Key West, Fla. “He would sail his schooner up and down the east coast,” she said. He also sailed on the USS Maine, before it was blown up in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, an incident that began the Spanish-American War in 1898. “He was very proud of a medal he’d received from the Queen of Spain after saving some Spanish sailors after their ship had sunk in a hurricane.”

Tony Peregoy talked about a five-story mill his family owned in central Virginia during the Civil War. The wheel on the dam was nineteen-and-a-half feet in diameter with a race that was more than 1,000 feet long. When the people of the area heard that Union soldiers were on the way they dumped as much grain as they could in that race. Much of it went over the wheel and settled in the pond below. The soldiers took livestock and anything else of value they could find. When they left, the pond was drained, and they salvaged as much grain as they could, dried it out and milled it.

“They survived because of that,” he said. “Some young girls, who were small enough to crawl to the bottom and scoop it out made the difference.”

Louise Smith of Pine Mountain, Ga. told an interesting story of a family connection she has to early Chambers County settler David Dunlap, whose grave was recently exhumed in the Shawmut community. Dunlap never married and had no known children. He was good friends of the Robinson family, who inherited his estate when he died. “He left everything to the (Robinson) children,” she said.

Dunlap had some living brothers and sisters who challenged the will. Mrs. Smith’s husband, Bill Smith, talked about the court challenge, which was eventually upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court. “The property was valued at $20,000,” he said. “That’s the equivalent to $500,000 today.”

The will started in probate court, went to circuit court, where a change in venue had the case tried in Macon County. “It was very unusual to have a change of venue at that time,” he said. “The Robinsons got the Dunlap property. What happened to the money after that? We don’t know. All I know is that we never got any of it.”

That comment drew some laughter from the crowd.

West Point native George Zachry talked about a soap box derby race that took place near the state line between West Point and Lanett in 1938. It was an amusing story that had everyone smiling. The race took place on the hill between North 18th Street in Lanett and ended on West 10th Street near today’s Point University academic center. “We didn’t know about the rules,” he said. “We thought that if it could roll it was okay.”

He said that he and Julian Beall built a car to run in the race. “We just about wore ourselves out doing it, and at the end of the day I had a piece of a two-by-four sticking out from the back of the car. The race was the next day, and I didn’t feel like sawing it off.”

It’s probably a good thing he didn’t. That long two-by-four helped him win his first heat in the race.

“I got off to a good head start against a faster car,” he said. “He should have gotten around me but couldn’t get around that two-by-four that was sticking out of the back.”

Young George lost the next race to a monster car with wheels “that would fit on a train.”

He and Julian did receive a medal for winning their first race. “That soap box derby was a lot of fun,” Zachry said. “We talked about it for years.”

Durwood Burton said he’ll always remember going to his Uncle Jack’s house when he was 11 years old. The family loved music, and Uncle Jack had bands playing at his house. Some would come from good distances away and sleep in the barn on Saturday nights. The bands that played would have guitarists, a banjo player and a fiddle player.

“When we sit down and tell stories,” said Dr. Mac Holderfield, “we find that we have all kinds of connections in Chambers County. This has been a wonderful experience. I’ve enjoyed hearing these stories today.”

Holderfield said he feels fortunate to have grown up among women and old people. “I’m the way I am today because of that,” he said.