An Interview with John P. Souther

 

Author of

 

Between the Bald and the Blood

 

 

          If there is one recurring theme that emerges throughout the interviews that I have done with our Union County natives, it would be that of the strong belief of their knowledge that they were “rich.”  Not so much in the monetary sense, but in the sense of the wealth of family and home.  In today’s world of affluence and excess, sometimes we take the simplest things for granted.  Not so for this generation, for they were the ones that “had it hard” but they never realized it at the time. 

 

          Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains from the year of his birth in 1915 to the years just before World War II were some of the happiest, sometimes carefree, sometimes tough occasions for John Paul Souther.  The grandson of an Army private that was involved in the removal of the Cherokee Indians in the infamous Trail of Tears, Mr. Souther is undoubtedly among very few people living today that can declare that fact.   His grandfather, Jesse William Souther, came to Union County in 1848 and homesteaded what is now known as Souther Mill Estates in the Choestoe district.  His grandfather also built a mill for the grinding of corn and flour, as well as a sawmill.  Because it served a necessary purpose at the time, the mill functioned as a popular meeting place for the community. 

 

          “A rock dam on the creek created a millpond which provided water power to turn turbines or “tub wheels” that operated a grist mill, flour mill, and sawmill.  The tub-wheel mill was typical of the (Union County) area, being relatively dependable and comparatively easy to build and maintain.  Water was channeled through a paddle-wheel turbine under the floor of the sawmill; the impact of the water on the paddles drove a shaft that extended through the floor, turning large leather belts to power the sawmill equipment.” {1}

 

          “The Souther Mill operated for nearly 100 years, from the time it was built in 1848 until it burned in 1943.  The water turbine from the old sawmill was located and salvaged by Ted Thomas with the permission of Iven “Benny” and Martha Collins, who currently own the property where Souther Mill once stood.”  {2}

 

          “Ted Thomas restored the turbine and donated it to the (Union County) Historical Society in April 2004 in memory of his mother, Frankie Roseanna Vandiver Thomas (who was related to the Southers).”  {3}

 

            The names of the many families mentioned in Mr. Souther’s book are a genealogy researcher’s dream; throughout his book, he recalls the Collins, Selfs, Colwells, Dyers, Shulers, Spivas and many more families that had a connection to his early childhood years.  He describes his school years in the one room school that he attended, the Choestoe Grammar School.  The book is a treasure in describing the home-made toys the children would create to entertain their selves; they even seem to find contentment in the construction of their toys as well.  He writes of learning to provide for his family by trapping, hunting and fishing, and of how the farm was literally the very source of their way of life.  These early families of Union County grew nearly everything to provide for their daily sustenance.  Money was scarce and most families traded or bartered for the things they could not grow. 

 

          The first paved road, from Choestoe to Blairsville, was completed in 1923.  Typically, the roads were dirt or gravel, used mainly by wagons or buggies pulled by horses or mules.  These roads would turn miserably useless after a hard rain, often miring both the unfortunate driver’s wagon and animals in the mud.  Mr. Souther goes on to describe how the opening of Highway 129 over Neel’s Gap in July 1926 provided a better access to Cleveland (Georgia) and beyond.  It marked the beginning of better things to come for Union County, the opening up of accessibility to the “outside world.” 

 

          Mr. Souther tells of his high school years, from 1929 to 1933.  Again, he brings in a wealth of information, writing about the first Union County High School and the administrators and teachers that held an important part in the school’s development.  After completing high school in 1933, he went back to the family farm.  Although he loved the Choestoe region and the mountains, he knew in his heart that there had to “be more to it than this.”  Realizing that furthering his education would be the key, he enrolled in the University of Georgia from 1936 to 1940.  Graduating in May 1940 with a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry, he concludes his story to just before the darkening days of World War II.  

 

          I spent an enjoyable afternoon with Mr. and Mrs. Souther this past summer.  He is so much fun to talk and listen to.  I took along my tape recorder, intending to spend just a couple of hours with them, only to realize that I had recorded nearly three hours worth of pure gold from Mr. Souther.  There are so many things he talked about of his native home in Union County, too many to write about for this article.  One day soon, I hope to transcribe the whole tape and submit another article about this humble sweet gentleman and his lovely wife. 

 

          The more I meet and talk with the people that were born and raised in our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the more I come away with the realization that they are truly the epitome of the American ideal.  They did not let the Depression, war, or poverty deter them from embracing life and the land that they love.  Their belief in God and country was, and still is, very strong. Again, the word perseverance comes to mind. These remarkable mountain people had the determination and courage to make the best of what their world had to offer.  The legacy they leave to us is invaluable; it remains for our generation and the ones that follow us to keep that heritage alive.

 

 

                                                          Martha Clayton Clement

                                                          September 2004

 

 

{1 – 3} Quoted, with permission, from the Union County Historical Society’s newsletter, Spring-Summer 2004 edition

 

Copies of Mr. Souther’s book, “Between the Bald and the Blood” can be obtained from:

 

                   The Book Nook

                   115 Cleveland Street

                   Suite A

                   Blairsville, GA 30512

 

The price of the book, with sales tax and shipping/handling charges included, come to  $24.61.  Checks can be made payable to “The Book Nook”. 

 

 

 John P. and Virginia Souther


John P. Souther and Virginia Parks Souther
June 2004
 

 

Back to the Union County, GA Website


GAGenWeb 10/4/04