WASHINGTON – It would be difficult to find a more attractive small town than the seat of Wilkes County which was once the site of Georgia’s capital. Not many know that factoid.
In those Revolutionary War days, its name was “Heard’s Fort.” There is plenty of history about this scenic garden spot which is where the Confederacy effectively ended the American Civil War. As that heralded philosopher Casey Stengel usually said when pontificating and his audience looked bemused, “You can look it up.”
Like so many others, I bypass the city on the north side of town when I come this way sojourning to Augusta and up into the Carolinas. My recent stop here made me realize that I should be traversing the old road and spending more time in a place which could lay claim to once being near to the center of the universe.
Washington was a plantation stronghold, slavery was a way of life and elite politicians held sway—like Robert Toombs, the first Secretary of State of the Confederate States.
Lionizing a champion of slavery would not earn anyone a pat on the back, but a slight intrusion into his past reveals that he was against the attack on Ft. Sumter which caused him to resign from Jefferson Davis’s cabinet.
After earning respect at Antietam, Toombs refused to use canister shot at the Battle of Columbus in 1865. He avoided detention by sailing off to Europe. Two years later he was back. He refused to ask for a pardon and stood successfully for office, serving both in the U. S. House from 1845 to 1853 and then in the U. S. Senate from 1853 to 1861.
He obviously was blessed with brilliance, which is best confirmed by the fact that he entered the University of Georgia when he was fourteen years old.
University officials took exception to a card playing incident (how in the world would that be treated today?) so he moved on to Union College in Schenectady, N. Y. and subsequently the University of Virginia Law School.
On the Western edge of town is the Callaway House, the home of a well to do family which was known for being prominent in the ministry. A descendant of the Callaway’s, one Ely Callaway, settled in California and made good in the wine business but more prominently in golf equipment.
One spring while in Southern California, I was able to arrange an appointment to see him at his golf club manufacturing complex in Carlsbad. He was eager to talk about his Washington connection. When I asked him why he ventured into wine, he said: “I just wanted to have my name on a good bottle of wine.”
Washington is the home of Ernie Harwell, the Big-League announcer for the Detroit Tigers. Earlier in his career, he called Bobby Thomson’s dramatic home run to beat the Dodgers in 1951, but for a local television station. There was no recording of his call and Russ Hodges, the radio announcer, gained great fame for his exuberant description of the pennant clinching home run.
Andy Anderson, a UGA graduate whom I met in Iowa City when out pheasant hunting with a friend of the Iowa head coach, Hayden Fry, was a career Army officer. Andy was the head of the Army ROTC program at the University of Iowa.
Following retirement from the Army, Andy chose to return to his hometown and is now an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the community. With his pitch-in mentality, he aspires to see his old hometown attract others to relocate at home.
One of the important objectives he has is to promote the Washington-Wilkes football program. “The future of our town will depend on the leadership of many of the young men playing football at Washington-Wilkes. Where else are they going to learn the leadership skills needed to keep our community viable,” he asks?
As I travel across Georgia, I find many local communities with one or two or more natives resettling in their original hometowns with the goal of trying to keep those hometowns vibrant and self-sustaining. Will there be enough of them to pull that off? The greater question is, will there be enough time?