CVHS details West Point’s origin

Published 8:35 am Saturday, August 1, 2020

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WEST POINT — The Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society (CVHS) had a two-part program for its quarterly meeting, held Sunday afternoon, July 26 underneath the big pavilion at West Point River Park. In the first portion of the program, Middle Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Director Henry Jacobs talked about Riverkeeper’s continuing efforts to monitor water quality along the Chattahoochee and its tributaries, and to have a cleaner, safer stream to be enjoyed by the public. In the second part of the program, CVHS President Malinda Powers discussed the early history of West Point and the surrounding area.

For at least 12,000 years, the middle portion of the Chattahoochee was inhabited by Native Americans. They were here during the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian periods.

“Paleo Indians lived here during the last Ice Age,” Powers said. “Very little archaeological evidence of this group of nomadic hunters survives. As the climate warmed, their ways of living changed as well, ushering in a period of history known as the Archaic Period.”

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In the early 1980s, an extensive archaeological survey by Halley and Rudolph identified approximately 100 Early Archaic sites near West Point Lake going back as far as 8,000 years.

“These earliest West Pointers were hunter-gatherers,” Powers said. “Their spear points were smaller than those used by their Paleo ancestors who had lived and hunted during the Ice Age. These Archaic Indians invented a spear thrower, called an atl-atl, which was perfect for the smaller animals in the forest. They learned to weave fishing nets from vines and constructed weirs, or fishing dams of rocks placed in a V-shape across the river bed.”

The apex of the V was downstream. As an unfortunate fish swam in, he would wander into a baited trap and could not get out.

Some weirs made of large boulders stacked together still exist in Southeastern rivers.

The Archaic Period transitioned into the Woodland Period around 1,000 B.C. and lasted until around 800 A.D.

“It was characterized by the emergence of small, more permanent villages, where groups would stay in one place for a longer time than before,” Powers said. “Clay pottery replaced soapstone bowl technology. It made use of artistic style and design. There is a tendency toward increasing regionalization and separation between groups in the Southeast during the Woodland Period.”

The final pre-Columbian Period was the Mississippian, or Mound Builder, Period.

“Around 800 A.D., Native Americans began organizing themselves in chiefdoms and enjoyed the height of Native American culture,” Powers said.

Ideal examples of the way these people lived can be seen at such sites as the Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville, Georgia, Ocmulgee National Monument in Maccon, Georgia, Kolomoki Mounds near Blakely, Georgia and the Moundville Archaeological Park near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Powers noted that the first written record about the Native Americans of the Southeast came with the DeSoto Expedition in 1540.

“European diseases such as measles and smallpox followed in DeSoto’s wake, decimating the populations of Native Americans along the way.” she said.

Around 150 years later, English deerskin traders from Charles Town in South Carolina made their way to the middle portion of the Chattahoochee, about two miles north of the present-day location of the City of West Point. West Point Dam and Hardley Creek Park are located today near the site of a Creek village known as Okfuscoochee Tallahassee. Around 1685, the deerskin traders met with the Creeks here to establish trade. The river could be forded rather easily at this site, giving rise to having an English-speaking settlement near here.

“Some of these British traders actually settled in Indian country becoming known as ‘Indian countrymen,’ taking Indian wives, raising children and establishing trading posts and grist mills,” Powers said.

Two examples in Chambers County include Nimrod Doyle, who settled in the place now known as Ward’s Mill in 1816 and William Moore, who had a grist mill, trading post and grog shop on the upper reaches of the stream that’s named for him. He came here in 1820.

“After the Revolution, the new American government was far more interested in acquiring land for the new United States than in developing the Indian trade,” Powers said. “The new state of Georgia, along with other former colonies in the South, claimed all territory westward to the Mississippi River! ‘Manifest Destiny’ might just be a test question in a modern day history classroom, but to these Georgians (and other Americans of that time) it was a God -given right.”

Lots of blood was shed on both sides as the Native Americans were pushed further and further west. Some 20 years before the Creek War of 1813-14, Creeks living north of what’s now West Point and not far from today’s Rocky Point Beach were driven westward. On the morning of Sept. 21, 1793, armed militia surprised the inhabitants of the village of Okfuskenena, killing and scalping six men, taking women and children prisoner and plundering anything of value from the settlement before burning it to the ground. Ever since then, it has been known as the Burnt Village.

Survivors are believed to have made their way to the Okfuskee villages on the Tallapoosa River and may well have been living with the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend when it was attacked in 1814.

The Treaty of Indian Springs in 1825 was an important event for Troup County and the town of West Point. It was signed by Chief William McIntosh, who agreed to give up a vast amount of Creek land in exchange for $400,000 and an equal amount of land in what is now Oklahoma. Other Creeks considered this an act of treason and had McIntosh killed for doing it.

Troup County was one of the new counties created by this highly controversial treaty.

“It originally stretched from the Chattahoochee to the Flint,” Powers said. “Over several years, its boundary changed, eventually becoming the county we know today. The new county was named after the state’s governor at the time, George M. Troup, who was a first cousin on his mother’s side to Chief McIntosh.”

Powers said the land was surveyed and numbered with each land lot having a little more than 200 acres.

Mark Fretwell, a charter member of the CVHS, wrote that most Troup County settlers arrived via the Oakfuskee Trail. They crossed the Flint River at Flat Shoals and passed through what would become the towns of Greenville and Odessadale before getting to what’s now Troup County. The old Indian path crossed Troup County, at one point separating onto a path known as the Broadnax Road, named for Major John H. Broadnax, an early settler of West Point. He opened a store on the town’s east bank in 1829.

By 1831, the new and growing town had approximately 100 residents and was widely known as a trading center.

“Col. Reuben Thornton ran barges and flatboats to and from Standing Peachtree (now Atlanta),” Powers said. “The ferry, now owned by Dr. Clement C. Forbes, was doing a brisk business.”

A log book for that ferry still exists. It indicates that homesteaders from the east were looking at the new town as a place to settle.

“At the end of that year, the town was incorporated by the state of Georgia as the town of Franklin and a charter was approved for Franklin Academy,” Powers said. “Commissioners were appointed. They included Charles R. Pearson, William Atkins, Robert M. Richards, Thomas B. Erwin and John C. Webb.”

A problem quickly arose with the town being named Franklin. The county seat of nearby Heard County also had the same name. It was extremely confusing for the early postal service, which sent mail to the wrong towns. Citizens of Troup County’s town of Franklin decided to rename their new town “West Point” because it was located at the westernmost point of the Chattahoochee River.

Just south of the town, near the present-day location of the Chattahoochee Valley Water Supply District’s water intake, the river bends back east and heads over the fall line toward Columbus. There are places where the river bends back to the west but not as far west as West Point.

In early 1832, the new town had the name West Point, a name that would become well known for a railroad (A&WP), a textile manufacturing giant (West Point Manufacturing and its successors), a major dam and lake and a place where cars are manufactured (KMMG). Half of its name is for a college: Point University. The area’s first newspaper, The Georgia Jeffersonian, was published in West Point in the 1830s.

“In 1835, the state legislature authorized the building of the first wagon bridge across the Chattahoochee in West Point,” Powers said. “A charter was granted for a toll bridge to Abner McGee, John Scott Sr., Francis M. Gilmer,  John C. Webb and Charles R. Pearson. Before work could get under way, a last uprising (known as the Second Creek War) occurred in the summer of 1836, Soon thereafter, the remaining Creeks were forced to leave the area to Fort Mitchell to begin their forced march west. This would be their starting point for the now-infamous Trail of Tears. The Panic of 1837 caused a further delay in building the bridge. It wouldn’t be until the next year that work would get started. When it did, it would be something special. West Point’s first river bridge was built by skilled craftsman Horace King. At the time, he was a slave owned by John Godwin of Columbus, who had been hired to build a truss-type covered bridge for $22,000. Work was finished on it in 1839. The bridge would be burned by Union troops on April 17, 1865, following the Battle of West Point.

“Following some economic hard times in the 1840s, West Point’s future never looked brighter than it did in 1850,” Powers said. “The Montgomery & West Point Railroad finally reached the city in 1851. A Georgia railroad, originally planned to run from Atlanta to LaGrange, changed its plans and extended its tracks to West Point, becoming known as the Atlanta & West Point Railroad. One of the town’s leading citizens, George Winston, hauled the first rock to build the pillars. The wooden trestle was finished in 1854.”

“And then the war came,” Powers said of the bleak era of 1861-65. “It was not until the end of the conflict that the war came to West Point, but its effect was devastating. Most of the rolling stock of the Montgomery & West Point Railroad had been evacuated to our city. The small garrison of defenders at Fort Tyler was no match for the Union army and their repeating rifles. The fort fell late in the day on Easter Sunday afternoon in 1865. The next day, the federal soldiers burned and destroyed all railroad equipment, the railroad trestle and the city’s first Horace King Bridge.”

West Point rose from the ashes to rebuild. A second Horace King bridge was finished in early 1866. A new railroad trestle was built as well. 1866 would be a significant year in more ways than bridge building.

“Within a year after the end of the war, two enterprising groups of local businessmen formed textile mills,” Powers said. “Both were located on the east bank of the river south of West Point. The power of the river would now be harnessed to drive massive turbines, providing energy to run the spinning machines and the looms. By 1880, brothers Lafayette and Ward Crockett Lanier had gained control of the former Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company and began the West Point Manufacturing Company. That company would grow into a world power in the textile industry well into the 20th century and beyond.”