Knoxville & Roberta
History of Crawford County: Knoxville, and Roberta
By Billy Powell
Billy Powell, author of four books and Georgia Post columnist, loves to research and write about local history.
Crawford County carved from Houston
On December 9, 1822, the Georgia General Assembly created Crawford County, Georgias 57th county. Its land was apportioned from Houston County, whose original territory comprised land ceded by the Creek Indians in the 1821 Treaty of Indian Springs. In 1824, parts of Crawford County were used to create Upson County. In 1827, parts of Macon and Talbot Counties were added to Crawfords borders. Crawford County comprises 326 square miles. Its population in the 2000 census was 12, 495. The 2010 population estimate is 14,000. Crawford County was named after statesman William H. Crawford (1772-1834), a former U. S. Senator from Georgia. He also served as U. S. Secretary of War and U. S. Secretary of the Treasury, and was Georgias first candidate for U. S. President in 1824. Crawford was born in Amherst County, Virginia. His family moved to Appling County, Georgia, when he was a boy. Seven other states have a county named after Crawford. Also named after Crawford were Crawfordville, Georgia, and Crawford, Georgia (where he is buried).
Knoxville, the County Seat
On December 23, 1822, the Georgia legislature authorized Crawford Countys Inferior Court to select a county seat and construct a courthouse. Since Knoxville was located in the center of the county and established on the Federal Wire Road (main stagecoach and telegraph route from Washington D.C. to New Orleans), it became the natural choice. Thus, on December 10, 1823, the state legislature designated Knoxville as county seat. The house of Imlay Vansciver was used as a courtroom and for elections until the first courthouse was built circa 1825. The courthouse burned down in February 1830, reportedly an act of arson. All court and county records were destroyed. Construction of the second courthouse was completed in July 1831. Some 179 years later, the second courthouse still stands, although it has undergone extensive interior renovations and exterior repairs. Crawford County claims three justices of the Georgia Supreme Court who came to prominence in the old courthouse: Hiram Warner, Samuel Hall, and Thomas Jefferson Simmons. It now houses the Crawford County Historical Society. In 2002, a new courthouse was built one block south of the old courthouse. Another historical landmark at Knoxville is the old jail, first built in 1832. A grand jury presentment in 1839 reported the jail was not fit for use; consequently, a second jail was erected in 1843. Forty four years later in 1887, the second jail was considered about as dismal as a dungeon, so a third jail was completed in 1888. This 122-year-old structure still stands.
For Whom was Knoxville Named?
Considerable confusion exists as to whom Knoxville was named for. Historians who use old records and oral tradition without authentication have written that Knoxville was named after General Henry Knox (1750-1806). Knox served in the Continental Army under General George Washington. In 1789, he became the first U. S. Secretary of War. Knox was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He retired to Maine where he was known as a grasping tyrant because of his alleged graft and corruption in assembling a vast real estate empire. He was forever immortalized in Nathanial Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. Hawthorne wrote Knoxs character into the novel as the deceitful Col. Pynchon. Knox had counties named after him in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. He had no known ties to Georgia and had been dead 15 years when Knoxville was named, circa 1821. Some historians contend that Knoxville was named after Hugh Knox, a stagecoach operator with a U. S. mail contract. Knox ran a stagecoach line along the Federal Wire Road from Milledgeville, Georgia, to Montgomery, Alabama. He was proprietor of a half-way house (rest stop to change horses) called the Knox House located between Fort Hawkins (Macon, Georgia) and Fort Mitchell on the Chattahoochee River (Russell County, Alabama). Adding credibility to this claim are the authors of The Federal Road through Georgia. They assert that Knoxville was named for Hugh Knox and that the village that grew up around the Knox House later became Knoxville. Ann Royall, a freelance reporter who traveled throughout the United States, wrote an amusing account concerning the flirtatious Hugh Knox. She left Macon in a stage coach driven by Knox. Ms. Royall wrote in her travelogue that Knox became an insolent ruffian who took some liberties with her on the stagecoach. Ms. Royall had to flee to Fort Mitchell to escape Knoxs continual advances. In conclusion, no one knows for sure for whom Knoxville was named. Its the readers choiceeither the corrupt Henry Knox or the lecherous Hugh Knox.
School and Newspaper at Knoxville
Knoxville Academy opened its doors to students on January 2, 1827. Its first superintendent was William H. Burch. The first trustees were Edward Barker, William Lockhart, and C.M. Roberts. The Knoxville Journal began on January 27, 1888. The publisher was Percy V. Howell. In July of 1888, as the railroad arrived, the Knoxville Journal published ads for property in the new railroad town one mile from Knoxville, amounting to boomtown speculation in a town yet to be named. By February 1892, the official county newspaper was the Crawford County Herald. It was published in Roberta, not Knoxville.
Demise of Knoxville
The Atlanta &Florida (A&F) Railroad circumvented Knoxville during the late 1880s, routing its rails one mile southwest of Knoxville. Many said that Knoxville was bypassed due to local opposition to intrusion of the railroad. Knoxville, at the time, had a population of 200 residents and had expected to increase to 3000. The miss of a single mile doomed Knoxville to obscurity. Knoxville inhabitants began migrating toward the new railroad station, which became Roberta in 1890. As the years rolled by, Knoxville ceased to function as a town. The inevitable happened on July 1, 1995. Knoxville lost its municipal charter granted 170 years earlier on December 28, 1825. Knoxville was among 100 small or inactive Georgia towns that lost their charters, leaving only Crawford and Echols counties having an unincorporated community serving as county seat.
Roberta: the New Knoxville
The county seat of Knoxville was a thriving community for over 60 years: from its creation in 1822 until the A&F railroad came through Crawford County during the late 1880s. When the railroad bypassed Knoxville in 1888 and built a freight depot and passenger station one mile southwest, Knoxvilles fortunes began to change. Its inhabitants began migrating toward the new community--called New Knoxville. Because Hiram McCrary gave the railroad the rights to come through his land, he was given the honor of giving New Knoxville a permanent name. McCrary named it Roberta in honor of his young daughter. McCrary later served as railroad station agent. In 1910, Roberta was officially incorporated as a city and its boundaries extended 1200 yards in every direction from the center of town. Robertas first mayor was A. J. Danielly. The first town council comprised J. W. Matthews, J. W. Melpass, Frank Danielly, W.W. Jordan, and Jonathon Wilder. Roberta will observe its 100th anniversary with a big celebration on 25 September 2010.
Reversal of Fortune
With the advent of the railroad (1890s) and subsequent construction of U. S. Highway 341 (1930s), Roberta became a booming tourist town. Numerous hotels, restaurants, and gas stations sprang up to accommodate the increased traffic flow. Then came a reversal of fortune: passenger rail service ceased (late 1940s) and Interstate Highway 75 bypassed Roberta (late 1950s). Consequently, Roberta regressed into the role of a slower-paced southern community.
Famous personages from the past
Joanna Troutman (1818-1879) was born February 19, 1818, in Crawford County. She designed and stitched the Lone Star Flag adopted by the State of Texas. In 1835, she presented it to a battalion of Georgia volunteers marching west to assist Texas in its fight for independence against Mexico. Atlanta Journal article by Stiles A. Martin, dated Sept. 20, 1931, described Troutmans involvement:
Joanna Troutman died in 1879. She was buried alongside her first husband, Solomon Pope, at Elmwood Plantation (off Avera Rd.) in Crawford County (see cemetery desecration in 28 Jan 2010 issue of Georgia Post). In 1913, Texas governor Oscar B. Colquitt, received permission to exhume Joannas remains and to transport them to Texas. Joanna was reinterred in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas, where a statue was erected in her honor. The governor commissioned an oil painting of Joanna that still hangs in the Texas state capitol.
Colonel Benjamin Hawkins (1754-1816) was born in North Carolina. He was a colonel in the Revolutionary War, a member of the Continental Congress, and a U.S. Senator. In 1796, President George Washington appointed him Indian Agent for all tribes south of the Ohio River. Hawkins and his family arrived in Crawford County, circa 1800. Soon thereafter, Hawkins built on the Flint River a Creek Indian Reservation (five-square-mile compound), which is now part of Crawford County. Earlier, Hawkins had built Fort Hawkins on the Ocmulgee River at Macon. Hawkins lived 16 years at the Creek Indian Reserve until his death on June 6, 1816.
John Pemberton (1831-1888), a druggist and the inventor of Coca-Cola, was born near Knoxville, Georgia, on January 8, 1831.
Jefferson Franklin Long (1836-1901), a person of mixed African and Caucasian ancestry, was born into slavery in Knoxville on March 3, 1836. As a freedman after the Civil War (1861-65), he became a tailor, but an avid interest in equal rights led him to politics. He served in Congress during the early 1870s and became the first African American to speak from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Long did not seek reelection, but served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880. He resumed his tailoring business in Macon, Georgia, and died there on February 4, 1901. He was interred in Lynwood Cemetery.
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), a French political thinker and historian, visited Knoxville in 1832 as part of his tour of America which he would eventually describe in his famous book, Democracy in America.
Appreciation is extended to Sidney Goodrich, Crawford County historian, and Gordon Smith of Savannah, a noted historian and attorney, for providing information for this story.
Banjamin Hawkins Monument & Train Depot
New Crawford County Courthouse
William Harris Crawford
Joanna Troutman painting
Jefferson Franklin Long
Historical Society members at old Knoxville courthouse. L-R: Nita Walker, Mona Lowe, Elaine Westberry, Martha Carter, Betty Harris, Robin Dunaway, and Pat Roys.
In downtown Roberta are Mayor City Council members, Arnita Harris (L), and Erv Patton (R)(C), and
Four counties of Georgia were organized by an act approved December 23, 1822, viz., Dekalb, Bibb, Pike, and Crawford; and, for the last named of these counties, the site of public buildings was fixed at a convenient place called Knoxville, in honor of General Henry Knox, of the Revolution. The town was incorporated on December 24, 1825, with the following pioneer residents named as commissioners; John Harvey, John Vance, Frank Williamson, Jesse Stone, and Martin T. Ellis. At the same time, a charter was granted to the Knoxville Academy, with Messrs. James Lloyd, Coleman M. Roberts, Edward Barker, Levi Stanford, and William Lockett as trustees. Miss, Joanna E. Troutman, who designed the Lone Star Flag of Texas, was a resident of Knoxville, where she was living when the war for Texan Independence began in 1836.
From Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials and Legends, 1997.
Roberta’s First 120 Years
By Billy Powell
Billy Powell, author of four books and religious columnist for “The Georgia Post,” enjoys researching and documenting local history.
Knoxville Resisted the
When the Atlanta &Florida (A&F) Railroad came through Crawford County during the late 1880s, its original plan called for laying the tracks from Musella to the capital city of Knoxville (created in 1822), but Knoxville’s residents were opposed to the railroad’s intrusion and felt it would disrupt their daily lives. Reportedly, they feared the trains would run over their chickens and endanger the lives of their youth. Consequently, the A&F routed its tracks to a settlement located one mile west of Knoxville, a decision that would ultimately doom Knoxville to obscurity.
toward the “New Knoxville”
After the railroad built a freight depot and passenger station one mile west of Knoxville, a new settlement sprang up around the railroad. Realizing the economic benefits of the railroad, Knoxville’s residents began to migrate toward the new settlement in the west which the citizenry there dubbed the “New Knoxville.”
New Knoxville becomes
Since Hiram David McCrary (1847-1912) gave the railroad the land for the right of way, he was accorded the honor of giving “New Knoxville” a permanent name. In 1888, with a new depot and passenger station constructed, McCrary renamed the new settlement Roberta in honor of his young daughter, Roberta, who was seven years old at the time. Hiram owned the first general store in Roberta, was the town’s first elected mayor, and was co-owner with Freeman Walker of the first motel built there, a two story building with 19 rooms. He also served as railroad station agent and as tax collector. Roberta’s namesake, Mattie Roberta McCrary, the youngest daughter of Hiram David and Mollie McCrary, was born on November 20, 1881. She married Walter Eugene Champion. Roberta Champion went to be with the Lord on July 20, 1977, at the age of 96. She and her family are buried in Salem Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery. Her grave is located at the southwestern end of the Salem Church Cemetery.
Roberta McCrary Champion
Mrs. Nita Kite, now 92, the wife of the late Albert Kite (owner of the old Pine Lawn Motel), had an acquaintance with Roberta McCrary Champion through Nita’s mother, Mrs. Launa Storey. Mrs. Kite’s mother and Roberta were good friends. They frequently conversed by telephone and were members of the Senior Council, a local group of seniors who met regularly to dine and fellowship together. Mrs. Kite also knew Roberta Champion as a fellow member of the Roberta Methodist Church. When Roberta was admitted to the nursing home, Mrs. Kite visited her from time to time. Mrs. Kite remembers Roberta as a “nice Christian lady, who was easygoing, always pleasant, and a credit to her church and community.”
Roberta incorporated as
“Town” in 1890
Roberta was officially incorporated as a town by an act of the Georgia General Assembly on December 26, 1890. Appointed as Roberta’s first mayor was A. J. Danielly. The first town council, also appointed, comprised J. W. Mathews, J. W. Malpass, Frank Danielly, W.W. Jordan, and Jonathan Wilder. The appointees were to continue in office until their successors were elected and qualified. The first election of mayor and councilman was set for the first Saturday in January of 1891. The boundaries of Roberta were measured from the depot of the A&F Railroad, which was considered the center of town. The corporate limits extended from the depot as follows: North-495 yards, South-495 yards, and East-to the dividing line running north to south between land lots 112 and 113 in the 2nd land district of Crawford County, and West-to the western land line of land lot 112.
Roberta incorporated as
“City” in 1910
Roberta was incorporated as a city by the Georgia General Assembly on August 3, 1910, and its boundaries extended 1000 yards in every direction (a perfect circle) from the south end of the railroad depot, which was considered the center of town. The act also created a mayor and five aldermen vested with more expansive powers and authority. Appointed as mayor by this act of 1910 was John S. Sandefur. The five aldermen appointed were J. F. Lowe, B. F. Walker, W. J. Watson, S. B. Causey, and J. C. Bond. The appointees would serve until an election was held on the first Wednesday in December of 1910. The mayor and alderman would serve for a period of one year. The city limits were changed in 1937 to 1200 yards in all directions from the Benjamin Hawkins Monument, at the center of town. In 1956, the Linda Park Subdivision in the southwest was annexed into the city. In 1976, the term of office for mayor and council was changed to two years. Although Roberta has been in existence for 120 years, it will observe its 100th anniversary as a “city” with a centennial celebration on 25 September 2010.
Elected Roberta Mayors:
Records from 1890-1916 not available, reportedly burned
|1917-19||W. F. Andrews|
|1920||H. E. Seagler|
|1926||H. E. Bankston|
|1930—32||H. E. Seagler|
|1933-35||H. M. Reeves|
|1936||John C. Sawyer|
|1937-52||D. J. McCrary|
|1953-54||L. A. Slade|
|1955-58||R. A. Bankston|
|1959-62||J. W. Johnson|
|1963-64||Robert E. Williams|
|1965-72||C. E. Thaxton|
|1973-84||Lewis E. Andrews|
|1985-88||W. Jerry Walker|
|1989-93||Lewis E. Andrews|
|1994-2003||David R. Bailey|
|2004-present||Mary Rebecca Smith|
The current city councilmen are Erv Patton-mayor protempore, Robert Cody, E. T. Pressley Jr., Arnita Harris, and Billy Bassett. Vicki Grant is City Clerk and Gale Thaxton is Assistant City Clerk. The current Police Chief is Marlin “Kim” Marcantel. Lemon Gibson just retired as the Public Works Director after 51 years of exemplary service.
Railroad and Construction of I-75 Impacted Roberta’s Growth
With the advent of the railroad (1890s) and subsequent construction of U. S. Highway 341 (1930s), Roberta became a booming tourist town. Numerous hotels, restaurants, and gas stations sprang up to accommodate the increased traffic flow. Then came a reversal of fortune: passenger rail service ceased (late 1940s) and Interstate Highway 75 bypassed Roberta (late 1950s). Consequently, Roberta regressed into the role of a slower-paced southern community. The following statistics exemplify this point…
Roberta’ Population Trend
Census records show that Roberta’s population was 227 in 1900 and 252 in 1910, the year of its incorporation as a city. Population statistics for 1920-1950 are not available. The following census records were obtained from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office:
2009: 727 (estimate)
In summary, Roberta’s population has declined 23 percent since peaking in 1990. Its 2009 population estimate approximates its population count 50 years ago, in 1960. P&Z records show that no new home building permits were issued since January 2010.
Roberta’s Railroad Heritage
Roberta owes its existence to the railroad. The town never would have existed had the railroad routed its rails through Knoxville instead. A document dated 1972 and signed by station agent J. M. Tanner, reveals that the A&F Railroad (began operation in 1886 and consolidated with the Southern Railroad in 1895) had completed its tracks in 1886 and in the spring of that year ran its first train from Atlanta to Fort Valley. A big barbeque celebration was held in Fort Valley. Soon thereafter, a boxcar was converted to an office and warehouse at railroad mile post 89FV, known at that time as the settlement of “New Knoxville,” which was renamed Roberta in 1888. Mr. M. H. “Mark” Carnes was transferred there as the first railroad agent. In the summer of 1887, construction began on the first freight depot and passenger station. It was completed in 1888. The overall structure measured 36 feet wide and 94 feet long. Its gable stood 27 feet tall. Therein were an office, two waiting rooms, a warehouse, and an open loading dock on the north side. Oil lamps provided the light and pot bellied stoves heated the office and both waiting rooms. Agent Tanner states that by the time the depot was completed, other buildings and businesses had sprung up close by.
Original depot burned in 1949
According to former mayor Lewis Andrews, the original depot burned in 1949 and replaced by a second depot, a smaller concrete block structure, around 1950-51. Wincel Thaxton, former city councilman and mayor, stated that construction on the third depot, resembling the original depot, was commenced in 2003 and finished in 2004. Once its interior is completed, the Roberta-Crawford County Chamber of Commerce will be housed there.
Joanne Hamlin spearheading Caboose Restoration
The recently purchased 1962 Seaboard Coastline railroad caboose placed next to depot will house a museum to showcase Roberta’s railroad heritage. To be placed in front of the caboose will be a memorial to honor railroad conductor Clarence Peel, a former resident of Roberta and an esteemed employee of the Southern Railroad. Peel’s daughters are Claire Peel Mattox and Carlise Peel Moncrief, both of Crawford County. Spearheading the caboose restoration effort is Joanne Hamlin, director of the Roberta-Crawford County Clean and Beautiful venture. She also is directing completion of the depot’s interior to house the Chamber of Commerce. Optimistically, Joanne is shooting to complete both projects by year’s end, contingent upon timely receipt of critical funding and contractor work scheduling. Local citizens can be certain these projects will be accomplished in an efficient and effective manner, as Joanne Hamlin is known for her volunteerism, helpfulness, dedication, and dependability.
Perhaps the greatest civic event to occur in Roberta was the unveiling of the Hawkins Monument, which was erected in 1931 by the U. S. government to commemorate the life and service of Colonel Benjamin Hawkins (1754-1816). Hawkins was born in North Carolina. He served as a colonel in the Revolutionary War as a member of General George Washington’s staff. He also was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a U.S. Senator. Hawkins corresponded regularly with a number of great Americans including George Washington (1st U. S. President), Thomas Jefferson (3rd President), James Madison (4th President), and Alexander Hamilton (signer of U. S. Constitution). In 1796, President George Washington appointed Hawkins as Indian Agent for all tribes south of the Ohio River. Hawkins was the first white man to settle in Crawford County. He and his family arrived in Crawford County, circa 1800, and soon thereafter, Hawkins built on the Flint River a Creek Indian Reservation (five-square-mile compound), which is now part of Crawford County. Hawkins also built a fort which was named in his honor (Fort Benjamin Hawkins) on the Ocmulgee River at Macon, but resided there only a short time. Hawkins lived 16 years at the Creek Indian Reservation until his death on June 6, 1816.
He was buried on the grounds of the Creek Indian Reservation on a bluff overlooking the Flint River, not far from the river bridge. You will find his grave on Benjamin Hawkins Road, about 1/4 mile north of the Taylor County line off Ga. Highway 128. A marker was placed over the Hawkins’ gravesite in 1931.
Roberta’s Oldest Businesses
The oldest continually operating business in downtown Roberta is Roberta Drugs, the white-bricked, corner building at 4 Wright Avenue operated by pharmacist Bobby Bell, who has owned the business since 1971. In Bell’s pharmacy is displayed a photo, dated circa 1900, which shows the “Roberta Drug Company” residing in the store building that is currently adjacent to Bell’s present drugstore. According to Larry Youngblood, this building (now red brick facade) once housed John Seagler’s clothing store. Bell’s 1900 photo also shows a General Store resting on the corner of Wright Avenue and E. Agency Street. It is believed to have been owned by Hiram McCrary (Roberta McCrary’s father), whom history records as establishing the first general store in Roberta. McCrary passed in 1912. His general store was torn down circa 1920 and a new drug store constructed at this site. Consequently, the drugstore moved next door to the corner lot, where it currently stands. Earlier drugstore owners before 1971 were Welborn Johnson and before him, Milt Reeves.
The second oldest business is the Georgia Post (58 S. Dugger Ave.), the voice of Crawford County since Crawford Moncrief started the paper in February 1921. The current principal owner is Floyd Buford, a Macon attorney. The editor is Victoria Simmons, one of the best in the business with over 30 years of diversified experience in every phase of newspaper journalism. Vicky has received high marks from Georgia Post readership for producing a quality newspaper. Previous owners over past decades were the Moncrief family, Homer Seagler, J. C. Cox, Garner Childres, and Joe D. McLeroy.
Other stores are Western Auto, which started in 1950 on Wright Street and moved to 51 N. Dugger in 1958. It is owned by Chuck and Obie Starnes. Village Beauty Salon (188 E. Agency) began in the early 1960s. Gail Woods purchased it in 1976 and still operates the business. Hardware Depot (218 E. Agency) specializes in building supplies and hardware. It was purchased by Raymond Corbin in 1993. Previous owners were the W. F. Andrews family who operated a cotton warehouse and cotton gin at that locale dating back to the 1920s. In addition to ginning cotton, the Andrews family bought peanuts and corn and sold seed, feed, fertilizer, hardware, and building materials. One of the most interesting buildings is Duke’s Pawn Shop (97 E. Agency), the former site of the Crawford County Bank established in 1901. The bank moved into a new building at 50 N. Dugger Street in 1972, and has been BB&T since 2002. Another local bank is Atlantic Southern Bank on 300 N. Dugger Street. Hudson’s Barbeque, at 86 E. Agency, has been in operation for one year and offers some of the best barbeque, brunswick stew, and cole slaw in Georgia. R&L Furniture and Mattress Outlet (66 E. Agency) was opened for business in 2005 by Larry Youngblood, a retired postal executive. Larry, who possesses a vast knowledge of the downtown area and Roberta in general, advised that the Roberta Theater was once housed in his business location. This is evident from the slope of the floor, higher on one side than the other.
For providing information and photos as well as their cooperation, my appreciation is extended to former Police Chief Jackie Cooper, Mayor Pro Tem Erv Patton, Melinda Horne, Larry Youngblood, Mona Lowe, Elaine Westberry, Joanne Hamlin, Martha Carter, Bobby Bell, and Crawford County Historian Sidney Goodrich.
Roberta's Leaders From the Past...
Joanne Hamlin and the Caboose Museum
Bobby Bell and Roberta Drugs
Roberta McCrary 1896
Benjamin Hawkins Grave
Crawford County Bank 1901
Hawkins Monument and Old Depot
Roberta's Second Depot
Benjamin Hawkins Grave Inscription
Benjamin Hawkins Monument Circa 1935
Caboose, Monument, and Depot
Downtown Roberta Today
Downtown Roberta Circa 1900
Vicky at The Georgia Post
Another HUGE thanks goes out to Billy Powell for submitting this great information and photos!
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