Sunday, September 23, 2012

Life Along the Dog River During the Early 1900s

A few weeks ago a friend handed me a history of the Vansant family compiled by Sarah Elizabeth Woods Carter.

I finally got around to looking at it.

Mrs. Carter was a member of the Douglas County Genealogy Society, and did a great job researching her family and presenting the information in her book.  Her introduction really grabbed my attention mainly because it was well written as well as informative.

After thinking about it for a bit I decided Mrs. Carter's narrative is very important to the Douglas County story not only because of the contributions she and her husband, Gilmore Carter, made to the region during the 1960s to the mid 1980s, but because the narrative paints a portrait regarding how many citizens of Douglas County lived their lives during the early days of the 20th century - from 1900 to the early 1920s and how those same people handled all of the changes during the last half of the century.

Think of it as "Little House on the Prairie" meets the turbulent 1970s.

Mrs. Carter's time here in the county could be considered as a great case study regarding how Douglas County changed from an extreme agricultural and rural community to an Atlanta suburb.  

I've divided Mrs. Carter's narrative into two parts....part two will publish next week.  

Her words are italicized.  My comments appear in regular print.

It will not be a long story telling you about the life I have lived.  These seventy-seven years have flown by so quickly.  On October 28, 1909 I arrived on Clifton Boulevard in Atlanta, Georgia.  When in my fourth year a little baby brother, John David, arrived.  In my fifth year my parents decided the six of us needed to be on a farm, two older brothers, Curtis and Ottis,  and two older sisters, Fannie Lou and Orella.  The half dozen needed more exercise than city life could give.  

Mrs. Carter published the book in 1986.  The residence she speaks of on Clifton Boulevard is actually Clifton Road that cuts through Atlanta from Ponce de Leon  over to Briarcliff.  Per Mrs. Carter's obituary the property was located along Clifton where we find Emory University today.   Eventually both of Mrs. Carter's sons would earn degrees on the land where their mother was born.  

This picture is the Edgar Woods family and was taken when they lived on Clifton Road.  Mrs. Carter is the youngest child.  

The narrative continues:  

In a covered wagon I rode with my father on a cold day in November the forty miles to our country home on Dog River in Douglas County.  I kept warm underneath a quilt with a lighted lantern.  The only thrill I had for the day was crossing over the bridge on Dog River.  We were going to a farm on which my father lived as a youth.  The house was there - trees had grown up through the porch.   But even though after dark, my father picked up limbs from the trees that had fallen and in no time the huge fireplace was crackling with fire and we were perfectly warm.  The straw ticks for mattresses and springs were filled with pine straw.  No need for more, we slept through it all.  

Mrs. Carter's father was Edgar Woods who married Carrie Vansant in 1874.  Carrie's father was Young Vansant who is well known in the Douglas County history community because he donated the original 40 acres that would become the city of Douglasville.   

The following picture was taken at the time Edgar and Carrie married.

Turning the Woods family property back into a working farm took hard work by all of the family members at a time when folks didn't have the machines we have today.  

Trees had to be cut and hand piled to burn in clearing the land for planting crops the spring following.  I was there and came in at night with the rest, black from carrying burnt brush into piles ready for burning.  I was greeted by the rolling steam from the kettle of hot water and into the tin tub I went and was soon like new.  Soon we were proud of the four hundred acre farm.  A dairy was started.  Orella, my sister two years older was my pal.  We made a game out of all we did and raced on every task.

We were given the calves to care for.  A barn on a rented place near our home was given us, a place to call our own in which to care for our calves.  We fed them and cared for the cleaning of the barn.  If a grown person came around it scared our calves.  

At the ages of ten and eight we milked cows, ran the big old barrel churn, cleaned the "De Laval" cream separator, and walked two miles to school, getting there on time and back home for chores again.  My first administrative task was at the age of eight managing my dozen calves.  They followed me and minded me like my pet dog.

Pictured below is a cream separator like Mrs. Carter refers to above.  Basically it was a centrifugal device that separated milk into cream and skimmed milk.  Most of the time the skimmed milk would be used for the family and some used to feed farm animals.  The cream would be used for churning butter and the excess was sold.

We never thought of keeping busy as work.  It was real life.  And never a day passed but we found time for a game or foot race, or hurried to the piano to see which one made it first.  That mother of ours taught us music.  And not only that, but at the age of six I had finished every word in the old blue back speller.

The blue back speller dates back to 1783 and was created by Noah Webster - author, political writer, and textbook pioneer.   He's the Webster in Webster's Dictionary.  Over five generations of Americans used the book to learn how to spell and read in the days when standardization wasn't a bad word.  

How often I have thanked heaven for that mother of mine.  The Vansant blood that ran through her veins never failed to circulate.  She managed the seven of us.  (I had a  little baby sister, Claudie Mae, arrived on the "ole Dog River" place).   The lessons I learned on mother's knee saved me many a woe in life.  I can never forget the day, sitting on her lap at five years old and the admonition she gave me.  She said, "There is a God in heaven and he expects me to guide you till you get old enough to know right from wrong.  No matter where you are He sees you and will help you.  Every day learn to do something new, and do something you know you should do but don't like to do, and do it with a smile.  I have a Bible text for everything I teach you."

Yes, I understand that some parents don't use the Bible to teach their child right from wrong, and I understand it's every parent's choice, but more and more I see parents who choose to be a friend to their child instead of a parent.  I see parents who treat their child more as an accessory than a responsibility.   Mrs. Carter's statement, "The lessons I learned on my mother's knee saved me many a woe in life"..........

Very true.

It was a regular custom at our house to get up at 3 a.m.   One morning it came to my mind as I came bouncing down the stairs at 3 a.m. I thought, I'll bet she doesn't have a text to prove we have to get up at 3 a.m each morning.   Yes, I found her already in the kitchen, up and making those good biscuits that would be piping hot for breakfast.  I said, "I bet you haven't got a text to prove we have to get up at 3 a.m.."   I can see her yet as she turned her head from me to laugh to herself.   But instantly she came back with the answer - "a little more sleep, a little more slumber, the way of the sluggard."   I went on to the barn to milk the cows with the rest of the family and never questioned her integrity again.

Three in the morning!!!  Okay.....I give.   That IS a little extreme.  

So in case you are wondering about Mrs. Carter's mother's response...."a little more sleep, a little more slumber, the way of the sluggard" can find it in the Bible at Proverbs 24:33....meaning.....little procrastinations....any procrastination can ruin men's souls.

I do understand the point.   Procrastination is my own personal nemesis.

I caught up with Orella in school work.  In fact, we raced in everything we did.  Many tasks were given to us, chopping cotton, picking cotton, helping the men folk bailing hay, and any odd jobs were ours.  If I could ride the horse or mule to the house from the field, or sit on top of the load of hay as it was hauled in, was pay enough for the day.

I'm thinking about most of the children I know between the ages of nine and late teens and trying to visualize them chopping cotton, picking cotton, bailing hay, etc.  Broadening my thinking a little I don't know that many adults who could do this sort of work these days.

I'll be continuing Sarah Carter's narrative next week where she discusses her family's move to Texas and moving back to Douglasville years later where she made her mark by building a school, a nursing home, and a hospital and the challenges involved.

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