Monday, May 7, 2012

The Forgotten Town of Campbellton




Map of Campbell County, Georgia....1830

 Yesterday was one of those nice lazy days spent with family and friends that you want to bookmark and remember for a very long time.  We sat at my sister’s house under her lovely portico and watched a steady stream of traffic coming and going from the Cotton Pickin' Fair down at Gay, Georgia   Like many along the route Dear Sister had filled her front yard with several odds and ends in hope that the fair goers would stop and load up on some new found treasures.

We never actually made it down to the fair……

Who really needed to go all the way down to Gay when both sides of the road in Dear Sister’s little crossroads of a community was filled to capacity with crafts, odds and ends, signs that exclaimed boiled peanuts and funnel cakes as well as any other item that could be sold.    Seriously, if you could conceive it you would have found it on the side of the road meandering south from Fayetteville towards Gay, Georgia.

Of course, the draw for me wasn’t yard sale after yard sale.  It had something to do with my niece being town, something to do with getting to see the newest edition to the family as well…..a sweet little baby boy.  Then there was the promises of the grilled feast my brother-in-law can produce….sitting around with friends….and enjoying the down home locale where my sister and her husband now make their home. 

And what a home it is…...    I have to admit I’m drawn to Dear Sister’s home….a turn of the century house with lots of character and hints of history that we have yet to discover.  No, it’s not hard for me to  cross the Chattahoochee River and head south at all when that invite is extended.

Our route home was lit by the Supermoon.  I swear we could have turned off the headlights and still could have made our way home.  

Wasn’t the moon beautiful….so big and bright?   

We headed back into Douglas County along State Route 92, and as we approached the four way crossing at Charlie’s Market I couldn’t help but notice how bright the remaining features of the town of Campbellton were…..the Methodist Church on my left with its old graves , the old Baptist Church cemetery up the hill on my right along with Campbellton Lodge No. 76 F & AM which dates to 1848. 

I made a silent wish I could look up on that hill and see the old Campbell County Courthouse with the moonlight bouncing off the window panes, but no matter how hard we wish sometimes…..they just can’t come true.   The old courthouse was torn down many years ago.

As we zoomed across the river I turned back towards Campbellton and noticed how the moonbeams lit up the river making a path right through the middle of the water.   I was overcome with sadness at that moment….mourning the town that had been along the banks of the Chattahoochee River , and I recalled a description Atlanta’s esteemed historian Franklin Garrett had penned in his book Atlanta and Its Environs.  

Garrett said, Old Campbellton, upon its eminence overlooking the Chattahoochee with its brick courthouse, masonic hall, academy, and ante-bellum homes gleaming through the avenues of magnolia, myrtle, or cedar, were doomed.  Most of its old families drifted off to other places, including the newer railroad towns of Fairburn and Palmetto.   Weeds rioted and choked neglected flower gardens.   Rows of comfortable homes, once housing a population of some 1200, fell into decay.  The Masonic Lodge Hall was deserted.  For two decades the red brick courthouse stood dark and silent the habitation of owls, bats, and ghostly memories of better days, until it was mercifully dismantled.   The names upon mossy tombstones in the Methodist churchyard and the old Baptist cemetery are the only remainder of the once flourishing and beautiful town, the site of which, since 1932, has been in Fulton County.

So, how did Campbellton basically become a ghost town of sorts?   Here’s a little regarding how it all played out……

Campbell Count was named for Colonel Duncan G. Campbell.   Part of Campbell’s claim to fame is he helped to negotiate the Treaty of Indian Springs – the treaty where the Creek Nation ceded a portion of their land including the land that would become Campbell County.

If an initial settler in the area – Judge Walter T. Colquitt – had gotten his way the county seat for Campbell County would have been established on his property at Pumpkintown eight miles south down the river, but an online publication by the Chattahoochee Hills Historical Society states another judge – Francis Irwin – offered his eight acres of undeveloped land [along the river]….with an added incentive for free lots for prospective builders and inhabitants….

By 1829, establishment of the county government began in earnest with the creation of a judicial system and the appointment of James Black, Jesse Harris, Robert O. Beavers, Thomas Moore, and Littleberry Watts as electoral commissioners and county organizers….and by 1835, streets and lots in Campbellton were surveyed and [ready for construction].

Eventually, the town would have a courthouse, doctor’s office and pharmacy, academy, hotel, blacksmith, stores, lodge hall, post office and many homes.

One of the homes I’ve pictured below….


The Latham Home....Campbellton, Georgia


It’s known as the Latham Home and per this webpage it was built in the 1830s.   You might remember it…I know I do.   You could see it from Charlie’s Market .  Built in the 1830s it faced Old Campbellton Fairburn Road which crossed the Chattahoochee via the ferry.  Around 1958 the old road was closed and a new road was cut behind the home going to the new Chattahoochee Bridge (that we cross today).

In his book The Courthouse and the DepotThe Architecture of Hope in an Age of Despair Wilbur W. Caldwell discusses a Coweta County account that relates in 1830, Samuel Keller moved from Newnan to Campbellton ‘lured by expectations’ of steamboats on the Chattahoochee River.

Yes!  Steamboats!
   
Can you imagine?

Chattahoochee Hills History mentions there were high hopes for the rich loamy soil [ which did make the area successful agriculturally, but] there were also high hopes for the Chattahoochee to become a major transportation and shipping channel in the region….but the river proved to be shallow and difficult to navigate.

Caldwell also mentions something from a Troup County history source that recalls in 1831 Colonel Reuben Thompson brought a load of goods upriver from West Point to Campbellton,  but just the one trip can be confirmed.   The dream of a Chattahoochee navigable all the way up to Atlanta persisted well into the second half of the twentieth century, but it was never to be.

The death sentence for the town of Campbellton came about per most sources when the Atlanta & West Point Railroad failed to be built through Campbellton.  The line went through Fairburn, Georgia instead.    Many local sources state the citizens of Campbellton refused the railroad, but Caldwell states, a quick look at the terrain ‘on the banks of the Chattahoochee’ reveals some pretty rough country for railroad building while the natural ridge at Fairburn is flat and inviting.  Thus it seems unlikely that the opinions of the citizens of Campbellton had much influence on the survey of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad.

Even so…the loss of the railroad meant a slow death for Campbellton over the next several years beginning in 1870 when as Caldwell reports the citizens of Campbellton moved to Fairburn in droves.  One local account relates Campbellton residents were dismantling their homes and moving them as well.  The town had close to 1200 citizens at its peak, but by 1860, only 239 white citizens still remained.

The original courthouse in Campbellton was wooden, but was eventually replaced with a brick structure.  The picture below was taken in 1914 after it had been neglected for several years per this webpage.  



A local man – Robert Cook – bought the building and dismantled it.   He used the materials to build a barn on his property along Cedar Grove Road.

All that remains of old Campbellton today is Campbellton United Methodist Church  and even though the Baptist church building is not original to the town the cemetery is original. The Baptist church faces what once was the town square where the courthouse stood.   Both Union and Confederate soldiers rest in the cemeteries.  Close to the Baptist church stands the Beaver home – a Greek Style farmhouse which was taken over by Union soldiers when they crossed the river at Campbellton during the Civil War.   The house sits across from where the original Campbell County Courthouse stood. 

You might be asking yourself why I’m discussing a dead town that lies on the Fulton County side of the river today, but back in 1828 Campbell County extended beyond the river into what is today Douglas County.   In fact, Douglas County was created from Campbell County in 1870.  You can read more about that here

Many of our county’s forefathers were citizens of Campbell County long before they were citizens of Douglas County.  

The long forgotten town of Campbellton IS important to Douglas County history…..it is our beginning.

10 comments:

  1. Another great story!... and thanks for making the drive Seester Dear.

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  2. Thanks for the history lesson and story. I am lucky enough to have a maternal grandmother who was a Latham and got to play inside the Latham home. The most fun was the staircase in that house. I had a lot of great Sunday afternoons in the yard,on that porch, and having Sunday dinners.

    Thanks again,
    Debbie Foster

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  3. Jill BusenlehnerMay 31, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    The Latham home is where my Grandfather grew up. My mother is Julia Ann Latham and her Dad was Joseph Lumpkin Latham. That is the house, however there name is LATHAM. Just wanted to clarify.

    Thanks for posting the picture of the house! Walked through it before it was torn down.

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  4. Thanks, Seester!

    Debbie and Jill....thank you so much for reading and telling a bit more from the perspective of family. i apologize for the misspelled name....it has now been corrected. Do either of you have any pictures of the house....interior or exterior?

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  5. Thank you for your wonderful article. I am also a Latham, I believe there are many because there were so many children. My grandparents are buried in the cemetery across the street. I have a bedroom suite that came out of the house and a LeFaucheux 12mm revolver from the Civil War. There was a wall in the house that had a canon ball from the CW that remained and also a "cigar box" style piano if I remember correctly. My son and I sat and watched the morning the house burned. The house is gone but not forgotten. I wonder if Debbie Foster remembers the black and white floor in the entryway?
    The Bennetts

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  6. I am a member of Campbellton Lodge 76 F&AM. according to our records, it has been a functioning Lodge since its inception in 1848. We are the oldest Masonic Lodge in the state of Georgia still meeting in its original building. Rocky Rothrock

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    Replies
    1. Rocky, would there be any available old records? Looking in particular for Augustus Wheat of Campbellton 1821-1868

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  7. I must confess to "sneaking into" the Latham house many years after it was abandoned. It was so grand, yet spooky and full of all sorts of lore, we had MANY adventures there....many still yet unexplained....as adolescents and teenagers. I went by it's lot last month and just walked around. It's strange. You can STILL FEEL that house there!

    It was also the main setting of a low-budget horror movie ("Blood Salvage") and I believe made apparences in several other Hollywood films.

    DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW THE HOUSE BURNED? I've heard stories and I ***HOPE**** they aren't true!!!

    Thanks so much and GREAT article!

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  8. My uncle Taze Latham saw a ghost in the house when he was a teenager. A Confederate Soilder - climbing over the balcony with a knife in his teeth. Years later, My Great Aunts came down from New York to stay and saw the ghost again. And years later, another Latham family stayed in the house and the daughter saw the same ghost rocking in a chair. The house from what I understand was always haunted. My Mother said she thought someone set the house on fire. A House full of history!!

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