Ledbetter discusses popular West Point history page

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, September 26, 2023

WEST POINT — At Thursday’s noon hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club, Jerry Ledbetter talked about the Historic West Point and the Chattahoochee Valley Facebook page he and Eddie Lanier run. Its purpose is to honor local history by highlighting historic structures, people and events. Ledbetter is a city council member in West Point and pastor of the West Point Presbyterian Church.

Lanier is well-versed in the area’s textile history and is retired after a long career with WestPoint Pepperell and its successor companies.

The Facebook page has been immensely popular with the public. Last month, it received over two million views.

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“The problem when you have that many is that at least one percent of them will be completely insane,” he said. “We have a filter to knock off some people. The amazing thing is that it changes every day. We have so many people looking at it.”

Ledbetter said he would discuss some glimpses of the past he and Lanier have come across since they have been doing the page. One of the best sources of information they have come across is William Davidson’s “Pine Log & Greek Revival.” Published in 1964, this book covers the historic homes and notable people in Troup and Harris County, Georgia and Chambers County, Alabama. It’s very hard to find a copy of it today, and those that are for sale go for at least $500 a copy. Local libraries have copies of it in case anyone wants to look up something in it. Ledbetter said he has a good friend who loans him their copy when he’s looking for information about historic homes and prominent people of the past in the three-county area.

He said he likes coming across newspaper articles from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, for example, West Point was a pretty wild place. Gilmer Street in the downtown area (now West 3rd Avenue) had saloons and bar rooms on just about every corner. “Lewd and lascivious” women could be arrested for walking the streets at night, but that didn’t seem to stop them. The fine could be as much as $50, a fee that no doubt be paid by a john eager to free a favored lady from the jug.

A good source of information about the town’s earliest days is “West Point: The Story of a Georgia Town.” It was written by Mark E. Fretwell, who was the first president of the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society. The local nonprofit was founded in 1953 and is still active today. People are welcome to see their quarterly programs via Zoom.

A historical marker just south of West Point Dam on the State Line Road tells of Ocfuskoochee Tallahassee, a Creek village near Haynes Island not far from where Hardley Creel empties into eh Chattahoochee. It was on an old horse path that led to the Okfuskee villages on the Tallapoosa River, many of whose sites are covered by Lake Martin today.

These villages and their way of life disappeared with the flood of European migration that came this way in the early 1800s. What’s now West Point had its origin in 1828. It was first called Franklin but changed its name to West Point four years later. West Point is the perfect name for the place since it’s located at the westernmost bend of the river. In West Point’s earliest days, newly arrived settlers lived on the east bank of the river and many Creeks were living on the west bank. They traded deer skins that had been dressed and smoked in the traditional Creek manner. “A gun could be bought for 25 skins,” Fretwell writes, “an axe for four, blankets for six. Fourteen was the cost of a red calico petticoat.”

Ledbetter found a newspaper report about the Horace King Covered Bridge, which spanned the river in 1838.

“It was a toll bridge in 1860,” he said. “For $15, you could get a pass that would let you cross it as many times you wanted to for a year.”

That bridge was burned by Union troops the day after the Battle of West Point in 1865. It was replaced by another covered bridge that was washed away in the flood of 1886. There are accounts of people seeing the bridge being carried down the river with its interior lanterns still on.

Ledbetter said the CVHS has an excellent publication of local residents’ remembrances of the Great Depression. Everyone was hit hard by the bad economic times of the 1930s. A teacher named Alma Holliday wrote of the problems caused by what was known as script. This was basically a promissory note from the state government letting you know that they didn’t have the money to pay you right now but would later on. There’s an account by Eloise Gray of a man coming to their door asking for something to eat. She told him to stay right there, and she would fix him a sandwich. When she returned, the man took the sandwich and left. Eloise didn’t notice that he had taken her father’s coat. Her father, a local minister, noticed it missing when he returned. The police were notified, and they found the man walking along wearing the coat.

He was in jail when Eloise’s dad was told to come and identify the coat. He did that and told the authorities he didn’t want to press charges; he just wanted his coat back.

The man later straightened himself out when times got better.

“For years and years, he would always send us a Christmas card thanking my father for not going hard on him,” she wrote.

Ledbetter said he was pleased that West Point Presbyterian had its history documented in a book that was published in 2012. The church was celebrating its 175th anniversary that year.

It was known as Christ Church in its early years. The building straddled the state line, creating the unusual circumstance to the minister speaking from a pulpit located in Alabama to the congregation seated in Georgia. The church building was destroyed by the 1920 tornado and later rebuilt in its present location on West 10th Street, across the street from Point University’s J. Smith Lanier II Academic Center.

Ledbetter said one of his favorite newspaper articles relates the story of a man being put to sleep with ether by a local dentist and what a hard time he had with it. He had to be hauled down some stairs afterward. He would later make good on the bill by giving the dentist a hog he was raising.