The Macon Telegraph, Aug. 13, 1992
Tale of two cities
Stevens Pottery, Coopers grew old with one another
In days gone by, Georgia’s small towns were known as “whistle stops” or simply as “the crossroads”. For a variety of reasons, many have died. This series of articles, scheduled to run monthly, will attempt to document as many of the towns in the surrounding 35 counties as possible and explain why they were there and when and how they died. Much of the accounts by older Georgians.
By Bill Boyd
The Macon Telegraph
and Coopers. They were Baldwin County’s twin cities.
Two towns that straddled the same railroad less than one mile apart. But towns that were uniquely different.
Stevens Pottery and Coopers leaned on each other through the years.
One was a farm center. The other depended on industry.
One had a school. The other had a post office.
One sang “The Workin’ Man’s Blues.” The other danced in silk stockings.
For a hundred years, they prospered together. Then the world around them changed.
Farmland that was once rich with watermelon, cotton and corn is now covered by a green blanket of commercial pine forests.
Population of the two towns has dwindled steadily over the past 50 years.
Trains that once transported crops to market now haul trees to pulpwood plants...if they run at all.
The school, post office, railroad depot, businesses - everything is gone now except for a few buildings, a rusted hulk of a brick-making plant and a few souls who remember the old days.
Early Stevens Pottery
As might be surmised from its name, Stevens Pottery was a town founded by a person named Stevens whose first plant produced pottery.
Henry Stevens, who grew up near pottery plants in England, worked his way to America aboard a merchant ship, landed a job as a railroad conductor and arrived in Middle Georgia in 1850.
An ambitious and enterprising fellow, Stevens bought a sizable tract of timber land in the southwest corner of Baldwin County in 1854, and he discovered “an extensive and valuable deposit of fire-clay” according to an 1895 book “Memories of Georgia”.
After putting a sawmill into operation in that area, he built kilns and began to produce the first sewerage pipe ever produced in the South. The plant also turned out pottery and stoneware.
During the Civil War, Stevens’s plant produced “knives, shoepegs and Joe Brown pipes” for the confederacy according to the history book. And, because of that General William T. Sherman burned the plant to the ground in 1864.
Stevens rebuilt the plant after the war and sold it to his sons in 1876.
By the turn of the century, the Stevens plant employed some 300 people and produced only brick.
The late T. L. Wood recalled in a 1984 interview with the Associated Press that Stevens Pottery acquired a reputation as a rough-and-tumble town where shootings and stabbings were commonplace at night and on weekends.
“My mother wouldn’t let me go down there when I was a kid.” he said.
But when he grew up, Wood, like many residents of Stevens Pottery and Coopers worked there for at least a while, and he remembered the plant as a “dirty, dusty, crude-looking place, (where) the work was hard- hauling brick in wheelbarrows and things like that.”
Wood escaped the hard labor in the plant by operating a general store; and getting the town’s post office located in his store.
But others stayed with the hard work and long hours, and as late as the 1950s, a person could work all of the overtime he or she wanted as the plant turned out brick for the booming sugar refineries in Cuba.
William M. Cooper, described by great-grandson Cullen Wood as “a hard-shelled preacher” came to southwest Baldwin County in 1844 and established a store beside the tracks being laid for a Central of Georgia spur line from Gordon to Eatonton.
But it was the next generation of Coopers residents that developed the town economically. Thomas Jefferson Cooper, William Cooper’s son, continued to run the store. Rollin W. Ivey and James M. “Jim” Lee were the leading farmers/buyers/shippers of the area’s farm produce.
Cullen Wood, the Cooper descender, said: “This was once one of the most prosperous towns in Georgia. Whole trainloads of watermelons would leave here. I heard that Coopers was the watermelon capital of the world before I ever heard of Cordele claiming that distinction.”
Coopers was indeed different from Stevens Pottery, said Wood, who also worked in the brick pant when he didn’t have enough carpentry work to keep him busy.
“The difference was the people.” he said. “People who lived here were teachers, merchants and the like. Stevens Pottery had a reputation for violence. Coopers was silk stocking country compared to Stevens Pottery.”
Cooperville School was established in 1893 and educated children from both towns for 60 years.
In it’s heyday, Coopers boasted several general mercantile stores, a gin, a doctor’s office, a telephone exchange and a train stop. Train tickets were sold from the Cooper’s home that faced the railroad tracks.
It’s population peaked at about 700 in the early part of this century.
The declining years
Several events contributed to the decline of sister cities Coopers and Stevens Pottery.
First, the road through Steven’s Pottery and Coopers was paved in the early 1950's and suddenly everything seemed to be going away from the area, Wood recalled.
Rail service declined; the passenger service ceased entirely in the early 1950's.
Old farmers died and few of their educated sons and daughters returned. Many of the smaller farms were soon swallowed up by other interests, and the flow of produce through Coopers, became only a tricke.
In the 1960's a new, straighter highway - Georgia 243 - was built and it bypassed the business sections of both towns.
But the biggest blow to Stevens Pottery came from events too big for the town to control. The United States cut off trade relations with Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power, and the demand for brick from the Stevens Pottery plant stopped almost overnight after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1960.
The plant, which changed hands a couple of times after the Stevens family sold out, tried to stay alive by processing clay for other brick making plants.
That worked for a while, but as the demand for the plant’s services declined steadily through the years, the end finally came in 1963 - almost exactly 100 years after the death of its founder, Henry Stevens - the plant died also.
By then, T. L. Wood, the hub of the town’s businesses, had closed his store and retired as postmaster. The post office also closed for good.
For a time, tourist came to Stevens Pottery to look for old pottery, but its been years since anyone has asked Cullen Wood for directions to the plant.
Now rust eats away at the giant tubes, towers and catwalks, and kudzu is gradually throwing a blanket over the plant.
Fewer that 200 people now live in Stevens Pottery The nearest stores are half a mile away along Georgia Highway 243.
Coopers is only slightly bigger, but Wood says -with hope in his voice - that maybe things are turning around for his hometown.
“Coopers has grown some in recent years. “ he said. “It’s a peaceful place to live, a good place to raise children. Folks are beginning to move back here. Coopers will always be here, I’m sure... even after I’m gone.”
Eileen Babb McAdams copyright 2004