Magazine of the Forsyth County Historical and Genealogical Society
Vol. 1, No. 1 December, 1972
Biographical Sketch of Dr. John Hockenhull
by Roy E. Bottoms
John Hockenhull, physician and surgeon, Forsyth County, Georgia, was born in Stockport, England, January 22, 1832. He was the son of John and Mary (Kemp) Hockenhull, both of whom were natives of England. His father emigrated to the United States and settled at White Plains, now Dalton, Whitfield County, Georgia, where he remained some time. Subsequently he moved to Lumpkin County, Georgia, where he engaged in mining and was remarkably successful. He died on March 12, 1880.
Dr. John Hockenhull was six years of age when his parents came to the United states and the ship was ten weeks and two days making the passage; they ran short of provisions and suffered almost intolerable hardships and privations. Major John Hockenhull, the father of this sketch reared nine children: John, the subject of this article; Charles H.; James F.; Emma, wife of Robert McClure; Ellen, wife of Sidney Hays; Anna, wife of William J. Barrett; Sarah J., wife of William Looper; Elizabeth, wife of George Roker; Louise, wife of John Edwards.
Dr. John Hockenhull spent most of his boyhood in Lumpkin County, where he received such primary education as the period and locality could afford. He then began his study of medicine in Cleveland, Tennessee under Dr. G.P. Thompson. After thus preparing himself, he attended lectures during the winter of 1852-1853 at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He next attended lectures at the Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, from which he graduated in 1855, and he entered at once upon the practice of medicine with uninterrupted success.
In 1871 he located in Cumming, Georgia, where he steadily added to his reputation and built up a very large and very profitable practice. No physician in Forsyth County or adjoining counties stood higher with the profession or the people, and his friends outnumbered his acquaintances. During the Civil War he served as an assistant surgeon of the Fifty-Second Regiment in the Kentucky campaign under General Bragg and he was in the Phillips Legion.
Dr. John Hockenhull was married July 5, 1858 to Miss Mary A., born November 2, 1841, a daughter of Allman and Margaret Hutchins, a union which was blessed with eight children: Mary J., born June 23, 1860; John H., born February 8, 1863, a successful physician; Sarah A., born January 19, 1866; James T., born June 18, 1868; Victoria E., born September 18, 1870; Walter L., born April 9, 1875; Willie F., born December 10, 1877; and Allman G., born April 29, 1880. Dr. Hockenhull was a staunch Democrat and an ardent Master Mason, and he and his wife were members of the Methodist Church.
His son, Dr. John Hockenhull, born February 8, 1863 and died November 19, 1922, lived in Cumming, Georgia, where he carried on a successful practice. He was married to Miss Laura Merritt, who was born August 13, 1876, and she died on February 29, 1968. Both of the Dr. Hockenhulls are buried in the Cumming Cemetery. The subject of this sketch died on November 12, 1915.
Vol. 1, No. 2 April, 1973
...Recognizing the efforts of the Society and the tremendous progress made in the past, Mr. Joseph B. Cumming, Chairman of the Georgia Historical Commission, has recently offered to donate a diploma to the Society which belonged to Col. William Cumming, for whom our county seat was named. This 160-year-old sheepskin diploma has been in Mr. Cumming’s possession for many years, and we are extremely proud of his decision to allow us to become the custodians of this valuable historical and family document. His letter of March 7, 1973, reads in part:
I have just finished reading your Annual Report, which I found most interesting and impressive evidence of the progress and activities of the society...
I noted in the ‘1973 Projections’ the report of my having expressed a willingness to donate Colonel William Cumming’s diploma to the Society. I am very anxious to do this. Before the Society was organized, I mentioned from time to time to people from Cumming my desire to do this. However, I wanted to be assured that the diploma would be received by some viable organization with every indication of permanent existence. It is quite apparent that your Society is such an organization.
With your consent, I would like to send the diploma first to the State Archives to have it appropriately treated for preservation and protection. Also, it would probably be put on microfilm for their records. Miss Carroll Hart, Director of the State Archives, is a good friend of mine and has rendered that service to me in connection with a letter from President Monroe to William Cumming...and I think it would be well to have similar processing given to the diploma. Even though it is on sheepskin and has withstood the ravages of 160-odd years very well, it is bound to deteriorate unless it is given this treatment.
Again, please accept my congratulations on the activities of the Society and my best wishes for its continued success.
(signed) Joseph B. Cumming
The Good Old Days
...watching my grandfather whittle ax and hammer handles by firelight on winter nights
and smoothing the handles until they were slick by scraping them with a small piece of
...the first radio I ever heard, a battery model with a big horn amplifier and watching the
‘Old Timers’ who had come for miles to hear the ‘new-fangled contraption’ pass their
hats over and around it, trying to find out where all the racket was coming from
...begging my mother everyday to tell me about ‘the good old days’ when she was a little
girl. (The mother reported that after one such session, with a five-year-old’s innocent
insight, the child said, “When I get to be an old lady like you, Mama, this will be the
good old days for me, won’t it?”)
Erwin Lincoln Tatum: A Biographical Sketch
by Roy E. Bottoms
Erwin Lincoln Tatum - Long substantial contributor to the business life of Georgia. Mr. Tatum lived in Atlanta, Georgia after 1912, engaging in the buying and selling of livestock. Many achievements along different lines established him in a firm position in the respect and confidence of his contemporaries, and he was admired and honored in an ever-widening circle of acquaintance. At the same time he was loved for his kindly generosity and fair-mindedness, and his devotion to his follow citizens and their well-being was outstanding.
Mr. Tatum was born September 30, 1865, in Forsyth County, Georgia, son of Elisha and Julia (Owen) Tatum. His parents were both natives of Forsyth County and members of old families of Georgia. His father, who died in 1897, was a farmer by occupation, and was wounded while serving in the Confederate Army during the War between the States.
The schooling of Mr. Erwin Lincoln Tatum was very limited, though he retained the scholarly type of mind all his life. Early in his career he was engaged in farming in Forsyth County, Georgia, and he later entered the livestock business in Cumming, becoming one of the most successful men in his line of business. He dealt in horses, mules, buggies and harness, handling a complete line of farm necessities. In all parts of Georgia he was known and loved for his work, and he was recognized as an authority on farming and business problems. His sincerity, straight-forwardness and integrity were discernible in all that he did and in all his attitudes, and when he made a statement on any subject whatever, his words were accepted as truth.
After carrying on his work in Forsyth County, he moved to Cumming and operated a livestock business. In 1912 he took up his residence in Atlanta, Georgia, buying a place in the National Stockyards and engaged in the purchasing and sale of livestock for the balance of his life. He was the sole owner of his business, and the policies that he initiated in that connection were influential and beneficial to the whole community of Georgia.
He was a member of the Grange, but had no other fraternal affiliations. During World War I, he was active in the work of the American Red Cross in Atlanta, and was a liberal contributor to the different Liberty Loan Campaigns.
He was a life long member of the Baptist Church. At no time did he seek political office, believing that he could best contribute his share to the general welfare by his chosen work in the business world.
He did much forward-looking work in helping to develop the livestock industry in this state. His charities were numerous and constructive, though always unostentatiously performed, with only his family’s knowledge.
In 1887 Erwin Lincoln Tatum married Julia Adeline Elliott of Forsyth County, Georgia, daughter of Dabney Wansley and Mary Jane (Roland) Elliott. Her father was a Forsyth County farmer who died in 1915, and her mother, also of Forsyth County, and she died in 1931.
The children of Mr. and Mrs. Tatum were: Andrew J.; Florence, who married J.G. Puett; Egbert, who married Ina Kirby; Anise L., wife of E.L. Rhodes; George Robb, who married Rose Maier; Nellie, who became the wife of H.P. Thorne; Mary Wansley. In addition to these children, Mr. Tatum had, at the time of his death, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The death of Erwin Lincoln Tatum occurred on February 22, 1918, and was an occasion of deepest regret and sorrow. His many friends grieved, not only at the loss of one who was to them a close friend and intimate, but also by the departure from this life of so constructive-minded a public servant. The people of Atlanta and of Forsyth County missed him greatly and continue perpetually to revere the memory of Mr. Tatum, whom they loved so well.
The step-mother of the late Erwin Tatum was Elizabeth Ann (Hughes), who was born on June 12, 1842 and she died at Fyffe, Alabama on June 2, 1932. She was the second daughter and third child of Sterling Pinkney Hughes, who emigrated from Laurens County, South Carolina during the early part of the Civil War to Forsyth County, Georgia. She was also a great aunt of the writer of this sketch.
John Forsyth: A Biographical Sketch
by William H. Forsyth
Forsyth County, Georgia was created on December 3, 1832 out of lands that had been acquired from the Cherokee Indians through the 1832 Cherokee Land and Gold Lottery. The county was named for Governor John Forsyth, whom many call Georgia’s greatest statesman. He was the son of Col. Robert Forsyth, an officer in Light Horse Harry Lee’s Virginia Cavalry in the Revolutionary War, Commissary-General of the Southern Division of the Continental Army, and an aide and friend of General George Washington.
John Forsyth was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia on October 22, 1780. His mother was Fannie Johnston, an aunt of General Joseph E. Johnston of the Confederate Army. His father received an appointment as the first United States Marshall in Augusta, Georgia by President Washington. (His commission is extant and was signed personally by the President.) Colonel Forsyth was a most distinguished citizen of Augusta and became its first Mayor. He was murdered in 1794 by a Methodist minister, Beverly Allen, in the performance of his duties as Marshall.
Congress voted the widow of Colonel Forsyth a gratuity of $2,000 which she used to send John and his brother, Robert, through Princeton University. The brother died shortly after graduation. John returned to Georgia and practiced law in Augusta. His political career began in 1808 when he became Attorney-General of the State, then Congressman from 1813-1818; United States Minister to Spain, 1818-1822; Congressman, 1823-1827; Governor, 1827-1829; United States Senator, 1830-1834; and Secretary of State in the Cabinets of Presidents Jackson and Van Buren, 1834-1841. He was most accomplished in every office which he held during his lifetime, and was highly regarded as an orator. One of his great feats was to induce the King of Spain to sign the treaty which gave Florida to the United States in 1919, at no cost to this country.
Forsyth married Clara Meigs on May 18, 1802, daughter of Josiah Meigs, first President of the University of Georgia. He died in 1841 and is interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington. They were the parents of eight children as follows:
(1) Julia Forsyth, born 1803, married A. Iverson, Judge of the Supreme Court of Georgia, United States Senator, and a General in the Confederate Army.
(2) Mary Forsyth, born 1804, married Capt. Murray Mason of the United States Navy, later a Commodore in the Confederate Navy. He was the son of the Governor of Virginia.
(3) John Forsyth, Jr., born 1812, died 1878; graduated from Princeton in 1832. He was Adjutant of the 1st Georgia Regiment in the Mexican War; United States Minister to Mexico in 1856; Mayor of Mobile, Alabama, 1860; Chief of Staff of the Confederate Army of Tennessee in 1863 with a commission as Colonel; and Editor of the Mobile Register. He married Margaret Hull, daughter of Latham Hull of Augusta on April 22, 1834. He headed a Commission appointed by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, that went to Washington to present a proposal that the differences between the North and South be compromised, and the South would rejoin the Union. This would have avoided the bloodshed of Civil War, but President Lincoln would not grant them an audience on the technicality that to deal with them would be to recognize the Confederacy as a separate government from the Union...
(4) His son, Charles Forsyth, born in Mobile Alabama, served as a Colonel in the Confederate Army. His grandson was Charles Sprague Forsyth, who moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and became Superintendent of Becker Leather Company.
(5) Virginia Forsyth married to George Hargraves and had a daughter, Clara, who married Capt. Charles Wood of the Confederate Navy, of Ivy, Albemarle County, Virginia.
(6) Anna Forsyth, a twin, never married.
(7) Rosa M. Forsyth, born 1823, a twin, married William Aubrey of Baltimore, Maryland. He was in the Commissary department of the Confederate Army, and settled in Cartersville, Georgia after the war. Some of the descendants live in Atlanta.
(8) Robert Forsyth, born 1826, was Captain of the 1st U.S. Volunteers in the Mexican War. Later he became a Colonel in the Confederate Army during the war and commanded the fortifications at Mobile Bay.
With the death of Gov. John Forsyth and the removal of his two sons to Mobile, Alabama, to enter the newspaper business, this family, with respect to the history of Georgia, disappears. Two of his great-grandsons live in adjoining states and others of his descendants live in Wisconsin...
Note: William H. Forsyth, historian of the Forsyth families, is a distant relative of the Governor’s family. His great-great-great grandfather, William Forsyth, of Prince William County, Virginia, was a brother of Col. Robert Forsyth.
Vol. 1, No. 3 April, 1974
Forsyth County Courthouse Burns
Arsonists’ fire destroyed the Forsyth County Courthouse on November 5, 1973. The blaze was discovered about 10:00 p.m. while volunteer firemen were fighting another fire about a mile away, thought to be set in an attempt to draw attention from the courthouse. In moments the blaze spread throughout the sixty-nine-year-old structure. Seventy-five Forsyth County volunteer firemen, three pumpers and two tankers fighting the fire were joined by firefighters from Hall County, Fulton County, Alpharetta, Canton, Dawsonville, and Sugar Hill. Volunteer Chief John Moore said, “Without the effort that was made, the whole town could have caught fire.” Flying sparks blown by stiff winds started small fires in nearby structures, but were quickly extinguished with minimal damage.
Smoulder from the caved-in structure caused occasional flare-ups throughout the day Tuesday, keeping firemen on standby. When the debris cooled sufficiently, officials opened the vaults and found very little damage to the records. This was , indeed, fortunate after such a devastating fire. Damage, for the most part, was confined to current tax and voter registration records.
The walls which remained standing were extremely hazardous and were torn down as rapidly as possible. With the debris cleared away, three trailers were purchased and placed on the grounds to house the county offices.
Through the diligent efforts of law enforcement officers, three men have been arrested and charged with the disastrous blaze.
A few nights ago, one of the trailers being used as a courtroom was set on fire and damaged. Arsonists in this blaze remain unapprehended at the present time.
Vol. 1, No. 4 December, 1974
Two Biograhical Sketches
by Mary Annette Schroeder [Bramblett]
The daughter of Henry Strickland, Jr., of Duluth and Alice Harrell Strickland, of Forsyth County, Ellyne Strickland established the foundation for a brilliant law career by graduating from Brenau College at the age of 16 and from Emory University Law School in 1924. In 1927, she became one of the first women lawyers appointed to the General Counsel’s Office of the Federal Service. Ellyne served as a Law Clerk to Judge Annabel Matthews of Georgia, when Judge Matthews was appointed to the Tax Court of the United States. At the time of her retirement on December 31, 1959, she had completed approximately 20 years in the Appeals Division of the New York Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Office of the Chief Counsel. Not only was Ellyne admitted to practice before the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, but she was also an active member of Phi Delta Delta Women’s Legal Fraternity and a resident of the Endion Club while in Washington.
That Ellyne Strickland enjoyed world travel is attested to by friend Catherine Waddle, who accompanied her on her many excursions. Highlights of their journeys include dinner with Justice of the Supreme Court and Mrs. Gokijo in Japan; a horseback trip into the canyon of Petra, Jordan; and attendance at the wedding and wedding feast of the son of the Finnish Ambassador to Great Britain while in Scandinavia.
The granddaughter of Henry Strickland, pioneer settler of Gwinnett County, Ellyne Strickland died on June 26, 1973, at the age of 70 years and at the conclusion of years of service to her country and to the legal profession.
The oldest son of Archibald Benson Durham (1835-1932), A Civil War veteran, and Martha Jane Milwee (1838-1899) of Pickens County, South Carolina, Charles Lawrence Durham was born on December 30, 1859. His brothers and sisters were: James Benson Durham, Earl Anderson Durham, Wade Hampton Durham, Sarah Anna Durham, Julius Orlando R. Durham, Marcus E. (Doc) Durham, Alice Bessie Durham, and Henry Oscar Durham.
Charles Lawrence Durham married Samantha Virginia Hawkins (January 16, 1862-April 30, 1928) on September 15, 1881. Their eleven offspring included: (1) Julius Edgar, born May 10, 1882, married Maggie Sams; (2) Luna Azalee, born January 6, 1884, married Jack Westbrook (1883-1964), died July 20, 1943; (3) Lena Jane, born March 11, 1886, married William Hughes; (4) Myrtle Indiana, born March 19, 1888, married Pledger Washington Tribble (b. 1887), on December 25, 1907, died December 26, 1968; (5) Robert Mart, born September 2, 1890, married Mae Bryant (b. 1894) on December 22, 1912; (6) Charles Royston, born February 21, 1893, married Hettie Lunsford in 1934, died December 22, 1944; (7) Benjamin Tillman, born August 18, 1895, died May 11, 1897; (8) Paul Douglas, born July 15, 1898, married Ama Bagwell (b. 1899) on November 18, 1920, died July 5, 1959; (9) Cliff, born December 16, 1900, married William C. Stone (1892-1964) on August 24, 1918; (10) Mattie Lou, born April 8, 1903, married Bennie Barfield, died July 26, 1965; (11) James Berry, born May 23, 1906, married Lula _____ on June 9, 1953.
At the age of six, C.L. Durham lost an arm in a syrup cane mill. While raising their family, C.L. and Samantha Virginia Hawkins Durham resided on the Post Road in Forsyth county, where C.L. farmed, served as Justice of the Peace and Notary Public, operated a store for O.P. Bennett, and belonged to Bethlehem Baptist Church. His later years were spent as a flagman (night watchman) on the railroad at Marietta and Lucky Streets in Atlanta.
Charles Lawrence Durham died on June 1, 1929, and was buried in Bethlehem Baptist Church cemetery in Forsyth County.
Vol. 2 Nos. 1, 2, and 3 March, June, September 1975
Steam Engines and Threshers
by Gene Bennett
The Forsyth County Steam Engine and Threshers Association’s Fourth of July Parade had its beginning in 1958 with one steam engine.
Mr. A.G. Thomas had bought a Case steam traction engine in Tennessee earlier in the year and brought it to his home in Cumming. After much work repairing the engine, it was ready to be fired up to see if it would run. After seeing that the engine ran all right, it was parked in Mr. Thomas’ yard and there it sat until the Fourth of July.
Cumming was like a ghost town with nothing to do on the Fourth of July, so for the want of something better to do, Mr. Thomas fired up that one steam engine and ran it downtown and around the courthouse square, blowing the whistle all the while. He woke the town up and people came on foot, in cars, in trucks, on horses and bicycles to see what was going on, and followed along behind the engine as Mr. Thomas went back home.
Jim Mashburn was in the crowd that followed Mr. Thomas home, and Dr. Jim said to him, “Glenn, if you will get a grain thresher to run with that engine, I’ll sow some wheat, and if we can find a binder to cut the wheat with, we can have an old-time wheat threshing.”
Before another year more steam engines and a binder and thresher were acquired, so on the Fourth of July, 1959, they lined up all the steam engines with the thresher pulled behind. They left Thomas and Webb Lumber Yard, went downtown and around the courthouse square and out Pilgrim Mill Road to Dr. Jim Mashburn’s home where the wheat was stacked. They set the thresher between the stacks, turned the steam engine around, lined it up with the thresher, backed it into the belt, and were threshing wheat like people did many years ago. That is how the Forsyth County Steam Engine and Threshers Association’s Annual Fourth of July Parade in Cumming had its beginning.
To Everything There is a Season
by Anne Ferguson
In spite of the abundance of rain we’ve had all winter in Forsyth County, spots of fresh-plowed ground are already beginning to dot the countryside. Some people have already planted potatoes and English peas, and onions are making their springtime appearance. It’ll soon be poke sallet time.
There’s not an almanac to be found now in the country stores. Grier’s Almanac, perhaps the most widely read in this section, found its way early in the year to the farmers’ homes and is now being respectfully consulted insofar as planting by the moon and the signs. Some folks believe in planting this way and some don’t.
My grandfather, known by all the young’uns as “Gramp” Nichols, firmly believed in planting by the signs and the moon. So did my dad, Grady Rogers, who in addition to doing a little farming, served as the local blacksmith. In fact, they went by the signs for nearly everything they did---from hog killing to having their hair cut.
They always did their planting when the signs of the zodiac (as outlined by Grier’s) were in the neck, breast, loins or feet. They did their plowing, tilling and cultivating when the signs were in the head. They set out tomatoes, cabbage, onions, etc., when the signs were in the neck, breast, bowels, loins, knees or feet. You’d kill the plants if you set them out when the signs were in the head or heart.
When the signs were in the arms they planted beans. Gramp always said if you planted beans when the signs were in the bowels, you’d get a bellyache every time you ate them.
The above-ground crops were planted during the increase of the moon; the root crops, like potatoes, were planted when the moon was on the decrease.
When the moon was in the fourth quarter, it was time to pull weeds or cut trees, bushes or other plants you wanted to destroy. Grafting was done before the sap started to flow when the moon was in the first or second quarter, preferably when the signs were in the knees.
If you planted tomatoes, cucumber, squash, pumpkin or watermelon seeds when the signs were in the bowels, the blooms fell off.
They cut hay and wood on the old of the moon, and dug postholes then, too; if they dug holes on the new of the moon, the earth wouldn’t settle tight around the post; the hay would mold and wood take longer to dry out.
The meat of hogs killed on the increase of the moon would “just puff up and be full of grease, but on the decrease, the grease cooks right out of it and the meat tastes better.”
Hair cut on the increase of the moon will grow faster than on the decrease, so they said, and the old timers would always try to have their hair cut on the decrease and therefore not require a haircut so often!
When the signs were in the knees or feet, that was the time to have teeth pulled or tonsils taken out: there was less loss of blood, less soreness, less danger of infection, and it healed quicker.
The signs followed folks to their graves. It was said that on the increase of the moon, there would be a large amount of dirt left over after filling in a grave; on the decrease, the dirt could be hauled away in a single wheelbarrow!
The list could go on and on. Is there anything to it? I, frankly, don’t know. But I do know that I have a brother-in-law down in south Georgia, one of the few farmers down there who still goes strictly by the signs, and his crops are far more productive than his neighbors.’ I asked him one day why he still used the signs, and he replied, “Well, it works for me.” And he quoted the following:
“Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.”
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
So be it.
Tater Diggin’ Time
by William Ferguson
It’s tater diggin’ time in Georgia. Sweet taters, that is, and the way the old folks around where I grew up kept theirs was to pile the taters in a cone-shaped pile, stand dried corn stalks around them (1 layer deep), pile pine straw (pine needles) on top of the corn stalks to a depth of about 6 inches. Then cover all this with dry soil about 6 or 8 inches deep.
The taters would keep (if you didn’t eat them all) until spring. Happy Tater Diggin’ Days from William Ferguson.
A Time to Remember: Making Sorghum Syrup
by Roy E. Bottoms
Sorghum syrup making was a time to be remembered in Forsyth County and other North Georgia counties. Almost every family had a syrup-cane patch, and October was the month in which most of it was made.
Quality sorghum syrup was always a matter of pride, as was the more notorious liquid made of corn; progress and technology have taken their toll. A syrup mill was located in almost every community, and the neighboring farmers would carry their syrup cane to one of the mills to have the syrup made. The owner of the mill used a toll system for making, and each farmer had to furnish his own cordwood to fire the furnace.
The mill where the juice was extracted from the cane stalk was located some four to six feet above the level of the evaporator or the cooker where the juice was cooked into syrup. The day’s work would begin at about 4:00 a.m. for the man who fed the cane into the mill. He would need fifty gallons of juice before the cooker could start.
Most of the mills were the two-roller type; the top of the mill had a long lever on it, and a mule was hitched to this lever; there would be a lead pole some ten feet ahead of the mule and a rope from it to the bridle of the mule. The mule walked in a perfect circle while grinding the juice from the cane. The mill would have a bottom part for the juice, and it would go from a spout into the fifty-gallon barrel which would be covered with a clean guano sack; the purpose of this was to strain the juice.
A one-inch pipe would lead from the barrel of juice to the cooker, and the distance would vary from twenty to forty feet between the two units. The cane juice entered the cooker at the back side which would be drained off into a container. The syrup would be strained as it entered the vessel, and from there it would be put into the vessels of the one who was having the syrup made.
Yellow jackets and honey bees would be drawn to every mill by the sweet smell of the cane juice stored in the barrel or the more subtle scent of cooking juice carried on the clouds of steam that would rise from the syrup-making operations. The evaporator or cooker would always be made of copper, and it would be stocked with poplar wood.
The system of making syrup has changed, and they have power mills and use gas to heat the juice in the cooking vat. As one approaches a mill in this day, the noise from the fire sounds like a blow torch and there is intense heat. In years gone by, this was a family-made operation, but such has given way to larger, more efficient, and more modern operations. This is handled by a few, mostly in the mountain counties.
Union County, Georgia, is considered the sorghum-syrup capital of Georgia and has some ten mills in operation which produce about 10,000 gallons annually. There are no known syrup mills in Forsyth and surrounding counties at this time, and people who continue to eat syrup go back to the mountain counties and make their purchases by the gallon or case.
But even with the old mule gone and more and more syrup-cooking houses enclosed with lumber and screened wire to fence out the questing yellow jacket and honey bee, there is plenty of nostalgia left for the one-time rural resident making an homage back to a cane-grinding and syrup-cooking operation. And for those not fortunate enough to grow up in the knowledge of this art, there is excitement in learning how farm families of old produced their syrup and “sweetening” for the coming year.
Though more modern and more sanitary than in the days past, there is still enough of the old-time sights and smells to conjure up pleasant memories of crisp, cool days. The rainbow reflections from frosted leaves, the smell of cooking syrup, and the taste-bud-tantalizing desire for a cup of cold juice and the yellow foam where the syrup left the cooker will always be remembered by the ones who grew up in that time.
After an hour or so of watching the green stalks being pushed through the grinder, the sticky, sweet juice flowing in to the holding tank and on to the cooker; the bubbly foam of the cooking juice as it rides over the wooden baffles in the copper cooking pan; the finished product is strained off through a sterile cloth before being sealed in glass jars. One pays little heed to the increase in price forced by increases in the cost of production.
To watch the making of good sorghum syrup is to watch artists at work. And a connoisseur of this table delicacy prizes the finished product almost as much for the memories it provokes as for the delicate, savory taste that continues to hold its own in competition with foods and food products that were undreamed of by the farm families of yesterday who used to make their own little batch of family sweetening in the fall of each year.
Sometimes we wonder, with the price of sugar soaring as it has during the past several months, will we think of going back to the old-fashioned days for our family sweetening?