The Walter Lee Burch (1886-1967) Family

By Mary Jean Burch written 1970's, submitted by Eva Hardin of Inman, GA for church history to Sara Jane Overstreet

 

The BURCH families of Fayette County, Georgia are descendants of loyalists who left England circa 1653 during the reigns of Oliver and Richard Cromwell. A paternal lineage chart traces the family history though 5 generations to our father, Walter Lee Burch, who was a sixth generation American.

1st Generation--John Burch--In 1745 settled in King and Queen Co., VA and died there in 1790

2nd Generation--John Burch, Jr.--Born in VA, came to Hancock Co., GA in 1791. Was a Revolutionary War soldier and served under Col. Abraham Penn (1781). Died 1818 in Hancock Co., GA

3rd Generation--Richard Chunn Burch--Born about 1800 in Hancock Co., GA. Married Martha Mathilda Jernigan in 1822. They had 5 children.

4th Generation--William Henry Burch--Born about 1830 in Hancock Co., GA. Married Frances Aurelia Rowe in Troup Co., GA. Served in Civil War, 31st GA Infantry. Killed at Battle of Wilderness and buried there.

5th Generation--John Thomas Burch--Born 1854 in Harris Co., GA. Married Ida Tigner Gray in 1881 and lived in Fayette Co., GA near Inman. Both buried at Inman. They had six children

1--John Ambrose Burch m. Nell Graham

2--Eva Blanche Burch m. Will Harp

3--Walter Lee Burch m. Jane Fields; m. Verna Roberts

4--Howard Gray Burch--died 14 mos.

5--Sarah Collier Burch--unmarried

6--Fannie Mae Burch--unmarried

This is the history of the 7th and 8th generation descendants of Walter Lee Burch taken from family records, recollections of my mother, Verna Roberts Burch, now 75 years of age, and my own childhood memories.

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Daddy was born December 18, 1886 about one mile south of Inman in the old Ambrose W. Gray homestead (across the road from the house presently owned by my youngest brother, Arthur) where Grandpa and Granny Burch lived at the time. The house was torn down before I was born and a seed shed and horse barn built there. The beautiful watermelon crepe myrtles that were in the yard remained however, and grew to be almost trees in the 20's and 30's before they either died or were cut down.

 

Of his early childhood little is known except what we know from his stories to us when we were children. We do know that he enjoyed the rural life, appreciated the wild flowers, birds, berries and nature in general. He and his brothers and sisters liked to follow Granny and Grandpa as they went about their daily affairs and they all learned to feed the chickens, gather the eggs, churn milk for butter, pitch hay to the stock, slop the hogs, draw and carry water, chop kindling and other rural necessities.

 

Daddy went to the "one room" school at Inman and got both his elementary and secondary education under the tutelage of J. W. Culpepper, a fine gentleman who later became a member of the Georgia legislature. At about age 19 Daddy attended Gordon Military Institute in Barnesville, GA until about 1909-10 when he got his first real job at the Farmers and Merchants Bank (chartered 1906) in Fayetteville. There he learned the banking business. During the years he worked there he boarded at the old hotel, known until its recent demolition (in 1976) as the "Burk's House".

In 1911-12 Daddy returned home and remained there until he was 28 years of age to help Grandpa Burch on the farm. In those years and for the next decade, until the bollweavil blight caused the fall of King Cotton in the South, farming came into its own. Virgin timber was still plentiful, wild berries, crabapples and muscadines flourished in the wild and cotton planted in the rich Georgia soil produced as much as four bales to the acre. Grandpa and Daddy were resourceful men too. They planted fruit orchards (apples, peaches, pears and cherries of several varieties, grape vineyards, scuppernong vines, black walnut and pecan trees). At harvest time the ladies in the family canned, pickled, preserved and dried all kinds of delicacies for family enjoyment during the winters. Sorghum and ribbon cane (sugar cane) grew well on the farm and there was always syrup made from it. Whenever Grandpa and Daddy read or heard of a new variety of seed, shrub or tree they were anxious to try to grow it in Georgia. It was Grandpa Burch who introduced long staple cotton (Sea Island) to Fayette County. They raised chickens of four or five varieties (leghorns, plymouth rocks, Rhode Island reds, and bantams). Grandpa also had guinea hens, swine, sheep and dairy stock in addition to the necessary mules and horses for plowing, hauling and transportation.

 

When in 1914 Daddy married Jane Fields of Hampton, GA he and his bride took rooms at the old Lewis home near Woolsey church (across the road from where Mary Snead lives now). About that same time Mr. Ernest Snead, who was the cashier of the Woolsey Bank, became ill and Daddy went to work as cashier and worked there until 1926 when the bank failed. He and "Miss Jane" later moved to a house back of the Woolsey Post Office (where the Weldon Stubbs' now live) and it was there that Walter Fields was born on 6 December 1915. About a year later they moved across the old railroad to the house Mr. Ernest Snead occupied to the east of the Bank and it was there that Glenn Gray was born on 10 August 1917.

 

In January 1919 "Miss Jane" became ill and died of pneumonia. That was the year or one of the years of the "Influenza Epidemic" which took so many lives following World War I. Daddy and the boys moved then to live with Granny and Grandpa Burch until 1921.

In the spring of 1918, Mama finished her schooling at the Woolsey School (which was located west of Woolsey on the site that Wendell Jones' Woodwork Shop is now situated). That year also Grandpa and Granny Burch took Aunt Fannie Mae to St. Simons Island, hoping that the climate there would improve her health. Aunt Fannie Mae had asthma nearly all her life. She developed it early in childhood, and was never able to go to school so Granny Burch taught her at home. As I remember Aunt Fannie Mae however, I sometimes think she had a broader and better education than many college graduates. Aunt Sadie was teaching in 1918 at the Woolsey School. She was an accomplished pianist and all the children loved her as much for games and entertainment as they did for her teaching of other subjects. That same spring Aunt Sadie went with Grandpa, Granny and Aunt Fannie Mae to St. Simons but came back to Woolsey early in the summer and took a room with Daddy and "Miss Jane" and the boys there in Woolsey. In August 1918 they wanted to take the trip to St. Simons for a vacation but Daddy didn't have anyone to keep the bank while they were away. "Miss Jane" suggested that he teach Mama to run the bank and he did. They took their vacation and when they returned Mama had done so well (and still needed a job) that the Bank Board hired her as book-keeper and assistant cashier. She worked there until the spring of 1921. She also wrote insurance for the cotton growers in the County during this time for cotton stored in the Woolsey Warehouse.

 

On 3 April 1921 Mama and Daddy were married and they, Walter and Gray (who were still very young) lived about a week with Granny and Grandpa while the finishing touches were completed on their new home across the road. Granny and Grandpa sold Daddy and Mama three acres (@$50 per acre) for the home site. Mama's dowery of $100 went toward the land. The house was built by the late Ed Stephens and John Milsap of Fayette County, from native timber sawed and planed at Grandpa Burch's sawmill. Only the finished flooring, the doors and windows and the brick work had to be purchased in Griffin. (In 1949 the wooden front porch was replaced by the poured concrete porch.)

 

The period from 1900-1925 in Fayette County was a hey-dey of farming. Recalling those days rural Georgia was prosperous and business was booming. The cotton gin, the railroad and the automobile emerged as possibly the most important accessories to that prosperity. Both Woolsey and Inman or Ackert, as the railroad people called it, (to avoid confusion with Inman Yards, the Atlanta freight terminus of the spur which served our area) were thriving little towns. The trains stopped at both and people made far more frequent trips to and from "distant" places such as Atlanta, Warm Springs, Indian Springs, and Fort Valley. From Atlanta and Fort Valley it was possible to transfer to other rail lines to really go to distant places, heretofore prohibited by the difficulties of horse-drawn transportation and time/weather elements. People came by buggy and wagon from all over the county to ship and travel by rail and to trade at the General stores. There were two in each town then and there was even a drug store (run by a Dr. Hutchinson) in Woolsey.

 

Daddy ran the Woolsey Bank for about twelve years (1914-1926) before the Great Depression came and the bank failed. He was appointed as Liquidation Agent after the bank closed; a job which took until 1928 to complete. (Grandpa Burch was a stockholder in the bank and lost lots of money when it folded; more perhaps than any other stockholder or depositor because all the stockholders had to pay each depositor a certain percentage of every dollar on deposit with the bank when it closed.) During the ten years from 1926-1936 "times" in the whole country became very lean. Farmers and rural people everywhere found a dollar was "hard to come by". Grandpa Burch had acquired many valuable properties besides being a stockholder in the Woolsey Bank, but was forced to sell some land and property in the bank liquidation process. He had owned a mercantile store, a warehouse and cotton gin in Inman and a sawmill and blacksmith shop on his farm. The store stood about where the Inman Methodist Church now stands. The gin and warehouse were located to the west of the Atlanta-Fort Valley spur of Southern Railroad that passed through Inman (about 300 yds. south of the old Ackert Depot). About 1930 the cotton gin closed down anyway. There was not enough cotton being produced to warrant lines in both Inman and Woolsey. The Lewis Bros. gin in Woolsey operated as the ginning facility for the area until at least the mid-thirties.

 

In March 1926 Granny Burch died of cancer. Grandpa, Aunt Sadie and Fannie Mae lived on in the big house. From 1922 to 1938 Mama and Daddy completed our family so all of us felt the effects of the Depression as we grew up. For our family the Depression really lasted well into the forties for our lives were much the same during the war years as they had been during the so-called Depression. I, Mary Jean was born on 18 June 1922, Iris on 17 Dec. 1923, John M. on 15 June 1926, Abb on 24 Oct. 1928, Eva on 26 Nov. 1930, Bessie on 18 Mar. 1933, Arthur on 28 Oct. 1935 and Sarah Frances on 2 May 1938. We didn't have much in the way of material things but we had each other and lots of love. We were all fortunate to have good health and we all worked. There were oil lamps to be filled and cleaned, coal and kindling to be brought in as needed, wood to be chopped, water to be drawn from the well and carried inside, chickens to tend, hogs to be "slopped", cows to be milked, farming to be done, vegetables to be raised and many other daily chores that went with life on the farm. Even so we fared better than "city folk"; at least we had work to do and plenty to eat.

 

About 1928 Daddy entered the campaign for the office of Ordinary, Fayette County and won. He took office in January, 1929. We moved to Fayetteville in December 1928 and rented the old Bennett House from Mrs. J. W. Wise. It stood to the west of the present Post Office Building. We lived there for three years. It must have been early in 1931 that Grandpa Burch fell and broke his hip and was never well after that. He died in October 1931 at the age of 77. We moved back to the old homestead across from Aunts Sadie and Fannie Mae so that Daddy could look after the farm business and assist them as best we could. Aunts Sadie and Fannie Mae never married and Aunt Fannie Mae's health was never good. There were still very few paved roads in Fayette County and when it was dry the dust flew; when it was wet the red mud was sticky and slick. During the winter and spring some roads were almost impassable. In the 30's there were no telephones in most of the rural areas. (We didn't get ours until 1950.) We commuted to Fayetteville (from 1931) in a succession of cars, mostly used ones--some had to be pushed to start the motor--even though new Fords and Chevrolets in those days sold for $500-$700. Anyway, Daddy always managed to get to work and we got to school, rain or shine. Most of the time we rode to school with Daddy and he dropped us off on his way to work though we sometimes rode the school bus if we were not ready to go in the mornings when Daddy was. (I think he liked for us to ride with him, so that if he got stuck on the road, we could push the car!) We nearly always rode home on the school bus though because we all had to study our lessons and do the nightly chores before dark.

 

All of us children finished school at Fayette County High School and we all went away to college. Walter went to the University of Georgia; Gray went to North Georgia College at Dahlonega and then to the University in Athens; Mary Jean went to Young Harris and to the University of Georgia; Iris, John M., Abb, Eva and Bessie went to Martha Berry College in Rome; Iris and John transferred to the University for their last two years. Arthur went two years to Martha Berry and finished college at Georgia State in Atlanta; Sarah Frances went to Abraham Baldwin for two years and then to the University of Georgia. For the most part we all "worked our way through college".

 

World War II and military service interrupted the education and life plans of the boys in our family just as it did in many others. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Walter Fields entered the Army Air Corps and served in Ordinance Support of air and ground troops throughout the North African campaigns and those in Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Italy and France under the command of Generals Cannon, US Army Air Force and Gen. Mark Clark, Infantry. Walter came home in April 1945, a Sergeant, after over three years of handling, hauling and loading of ammunitions of all types in combat areas of North Africa, across the Mediterranean Sea to embattled Europe.

 

A little later in 1942 Gray enlisted in the Army Air Corps also and after flight training and commissioning as a Lieutenant, he was designated to pilot a B-25 bomber and assigned in the South Pacific Theatre. He flew combat missions in New Guinea, East Indies and the Philippines until August 1945. Gray was wounded (from which he fully recovered) and was awarded the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster and the Purple Heart.

Daddy had worried so much about the boys, as indeed we all had who stayed safely at home, that having Walter and Gray home safely seemed just cause to celebrate by "killing the fatted calf" for a family barbecue, so ration stamps were saved up and we all ate heartily and rejoiced with friends and relatives, though still very much aware that Iris was still overseas as were many of our cousins and close neighbors' boys.

 

Iris was called into the Army under the Universal Selective Service Act, "The Draft" in June 1943 and served in the 24th Infantry Division, Headquarters Company in the South Pacific Theatre; New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan, under General McArthur. He contracted malaria in the jungles of New Guinea and was troubled with recurrences of it for several years after the war ended. He rose to the rank of Sergeant prior to his return to the States in January 1946, for discharge.

 

In September 1943 Mary Jean decided to join the Navy rather than teach school for a $90 per month salary, which is what teachers were being paid in those days. This commitment to serve our country lasted for over 30 years. Mary Jean served in Naval Communications (mail, radio, teletype, cryptology and security) and in personnel and administrative jobs in Hawaii, England and various military stations in the United States, throughout World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. She rose from an Apprentice Seaman to the rank of Commander prior to her retirement on March 1, 1974. She was awarded the Navy's Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Achievement Medal and other honors. She has made her home in Coronade, California but returns often to visit in Fayette County.

 

In 1944 John joined the Navy and went to Camp Peary, Virginia for his basic training and was assigned to the USS EUROPA, a captured German ship which had been converted to a troop transport. He served aboard as a Storekeeper and made several Atlantic crossings. The EUROPA was one of the many transports which plied the Atlantic, returning first the wounded and later the victorious soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen home after VE Day. John returned home in 1946 to resume his college education.

 

In the fall of 1950 Abb was called up as a draftee during the Korean Conflict but was assigned after basic training in Blackstone, Virginia to serve with the occupation troops in Augsburg, Germany until 1952. Most of his service consisted of bivouac and maneuvers with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops under the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE).

 

Arthur joined the Army in October 1958 under the Reserve Forces Act of 1955 and served for six months in the Finance office at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. He was recalled in 1961 during the Berlin Blockade crisis for duty as a reserve in El Paso, Texas, but was released after 10 months with the rank of Sergeant, U. S. Army Reserve.

 

During the wars, conflicts and skirmishes, Daddy served five terms (20 years) as Ordinary, Fayette County (1929-1949). His office was in the Courthouse in Fayetteville, the County seat, in the building still preserved and reputed to be the oldest courthouse in Georgia. The vault in his office was of the walk-in type, with a heavy combination door-lock. In it were kept large ledgers in which he recorded deeds, wills, births, marriages, deaths and all manner of legal documents before sending the originals to the Georgia State Archives. He was the Chairman of the County Road Commissioners and Fayette County got its first heavy-duty road equipment (Allis-Chalmers) from the Yancy Brothers dealers in Atlanta. After that the ruts in county roads were less treacherous. Also in those days the prisoners at the "Convict Camp" off Highway 54 East were used to work on the county roads and right-of-ways and Daddy had to make sanitation inspections at the camp periodically. Among his other duties were the issuance of marriage and hunting licenses and he was a Justice of the Peace authorized to perform wedding ceremonies. Many Fayette Countians were married in our living room.

 

In 1950 Daddy got a job in the State Capitol during the administration of Governor Eugene Talmadge, in the State Revenue Office (Public Words and Auto Registration Departments). In 1954 he worked at the Fulton County Courthouse in their Tag Department for two years. In 1957 at the age of 71, he "retired" more or less but did work one more year as an assistant cashier at the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Fayetteville at the request of Mr. Hill Redwine, Sr.

 

From 1958 he spent his remaining years happily with Mama on the farm with frequent visits from his children, their spouses and grandchildren. They were both active in the Inman Methodist Church and had a part in the building efforts that led to the new church dedicated in 1965. They made vacation trips together to Tennessee, Florida, Virginia and around the State of Georgia and Florida. At home they went fishing on the family pond, acquired a small herd of registered cattle and had a small garden every year. And they wrote letters to all of us away from home. They "looked after" Aunt Sadie and Fannie Mae. Aunt Fannie Mae died in June 1959 after many years as an invalid. Daddy was designated Assistant Postmaster at Woolsey while Aunt Sadie was Post Mistress and often kept the Post office for her during Aunt Fannie Mae's last days and when Aunt Sadie took vacations or was ill. About November 1962 Aunt Sadie retired also and on 6 April 1964 died of leukemia. Her death was very hard on Daddy and three years later on 6 March 1967 Daddy died of a heart attack leaving Mama alone in the house where we all grew up.

 

Of the ten children all except Mary Jean were married. Gray was the first to be married on 3 March 1940 to Aline Thomas of Dallas, GA where they now reside. They have four children: Glenn Gray, Jr, Willa Jane, Brenda Joy, Luanne. Their children are all married now and they have three grandchildren. Glenn Gray, Jr. married Robin Howard of Duluth, GA and they reside in Smyrna with their two children Glenn Gray III and Bryan Richard. Willa Jane married Charles Freeman of Smyrna, where they now live. Brenda married Bill Skutt of Dallas, GA and they have one son, Ronald Gray. Luanne married Kenneth Miller of Dallas and they are living in Smyrna, GA.

 

Glenn Gray, Jr. spent several years in the Army during Vietnam years and was sent to Vietnam as an Intelligence Officer but we are uncertain of details and dates of his service and are hesitant to record more than this brief mention of his military service.

 

On August 21, 1949 Iris married Rebecca Mackey of Heath Springs, S. C. They have three children; David Lee, Walter Bruce and Cynthia Iris. They now reside in Gainesville, GA.

 

On Novemeber 12, 1949 Walter Fields married Beatrice (Crooks) Turner of Greenville, S. C., a divorcee with one child, Carol Turner. Carol married Wayne Helms of Columbus, GA and has two children; Mark Fields and Katherine. Walter Fields is affiliated with the Ford Motor Corp. in Atlanta but he and Bea live in Fayetteville. Carol and her family live in Atlanta.

 

The next to marry was Abb who married Mary Cason of Vienna, GA on March 10, 1951. They live in Jonesboro, GA and have four children; Cheryl Lynn, Laura Jan, William Brian and Bebe Jill. Jan married Brian Scoggins of Morrow Georgia in 1973 and they live near Jonesboro. Abb operates a service station affiliated with Phillips 66 Oil Co. in Atlanta.

 

On 1 August 1952 Eva married Harry Hardin of Rome, GA. They had one daughter Alice Ann  and were legally separated in 1969. Eva returned to Fayette County and built a home just south of Mama's house on Highway 92 where she and her daughter now live. Eva has taught Home Economics at the Fayette County High School since the fall of 1969.

 

John married Iris Jane Malone of Kinston, GA on 27 June 1953. They have two children; Joseph and Jeanna. John is affiliated with the Gulf Oil Corp. in Houston, Texas where they now reside. Joseph is undergoing medical training at Emory University Medical School in Atlanta and Jeanna is a freshman at Martha Berry College in Rome, GA as of this time.

 

Bessie married Lee Ross Buttram of McCaysville, GA on June 17, 1956. They have three daughters; Frances Jean, Nancy Ruth and Eva Nell. Bessie teaches in the Fannin County High School and Lee Ross owns the Buttram Hardware Store in McCaysville where they live.

 

On 21 December 1956 Arthur married Jeanne Hourigan of Gravel Switch, Kentucky. They have two daughters; Verna Ruth and Elizabeth Nan (Beth). Arthur is affiliated with United Family Insurance Underwriters in Atlanta and commutes to his work from their home on Highway 92, south of Fayetteville where they reside.

 

Last of our family to be married was the youngest, Sarah Frances, who on 28 July 1962 married James Colvin Crumbley of McDonough, GA. They now live in Lilburn, GA and have two children; Jonathan and Julia Kay (Jill). Colvin is affiliated with the Gulf Oil Corporation in Atlanta.

As rich as the paternal heritage of the Walter Lee Burch family is, the maternal influence of the Gray family of Fayette Co., the Fields family of Henry Co. and the McLean-Roberts lineage of our mother, Verna Roberts Burch, is equally valued for the thrift of the Scottish and Irish and the industry of the French and Germans. The combinations have made us what we are--a polyglot of stubborn, independent Americans. And I don't know where the "patience of Job" came from unless it was the Good Lord Himself, but Mama has that too, not only over the years but as I have grilled her memory to put together this family resume!

 


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