Rome's Establishment and Early Days
In the spring of 1834 two lawyers were traveling on horseback from Cassville, Cass County, to attend court at Livingston, the county seat of Floyd. They were Col. Daniel R. Mitchell, a lawyer of Canton, Cherokee County, and Col. Zachariah B. Hargrove, Cassville attorney, formerly of Covington, Newton County. The day was warm and the travelers hauled up at a small spring on the peninsula which separates the Etowah and the Oostanaula rivers at their junction. Here they slaked their thirst and sat down under a willow tree to rest before proceeding on their way.
Col. Hargrove gazed in admiration on the surrounding hills and remarked: "This would make a splendid site for a town."
"I was just thinking the same," returned his companion. "There seems to be plenty of water round about and extremely fertile soil and all the timber-a man could want."
A stranger having come up to refresh himself at the spring, and having overheard the conversation, said: "Gentlemen, you will pardon me for intruding, but I have been convinced, for some time that the location of this place offers exceptional opportunities for building a city that would become the largest and most prosperous in Cherokee Georgia. I live two miles south of here. My business takes me now and then to George M. Lavender's trading post up the Oostanaula there, and I never pass this spot but I think of what could be done."
The last speaker introduced himself as Maj. Philip Walker Hemphill, planter. Learning the mission of the travelers, he added: "The court does not open until tomorrow afternoon. You gentlemen are no doubt fatigued by your journey, and it will give me great pleasure if you will accompany me home and spend the night. There we can discuss the matter of locating a town at this place."
Col. Mitchell and Col. Hargrove accepted with thanks. The three left the spring (which still runs under Broad street at the southeast corner of Third Avenue), crossed the Ktowah River on John Ross' "Forks Ferry," and proceeded with Major Hemphill to his comfortable plantation home at what is now DeSoto Park. Here they went into the question more deeply. A cousin of Maj, Hemphill, Gen. James Hemphill, who lived about ten miles down Vann's Valley, had recently been elected to the Georgia legislature, and could no doubt bring about a removal of the county site from Livingston to Rome; he was also commanding officer of the Georgia Militia in the section.
After court was over, Col. Mitchell and Col. Hargrove spent another night with Maj. Hemphill, and the next morning Col. Wm. Smith was called in from Cave Spring, and became the fourth member of the company. It was there agreed that all available land would be acquired immediately, the ferry rights would be bought and the ground laid off in lots. den. Hemphill was requested to confer with his compatriots at Milledgeville and draw up a bill for removal. The projectors would give sufficient land for the public buildings and in time would make the ferries free and cause necessary bridges to be built, as well as to lay out streets at once. A contract along these lines was signed with the Inferior Court of Floyd County. Since Col. Mitchell and Col. Hargrove were fairly well established elsewhere, and it would be some time before they could move, they agreed to leave the legal matters in the hands of John H. Lumpkin, of Oglethorpe County, who was ready to resign as secretary to his uncle, Governor Wilson Lumpkin, and to grow up with the new town.
These five pioneers put five names into a hat, it having been agreed that the name drawn out should be the name of the city they were to build. Col. Smith put in the name Hillsboro, typifying the hills, and this later became the name of the suburb he developed, South Rome; Col. Hargrove suggested Pittsburg, after the iron and steel metropolis of Pennsylvania; Col. Hemphill preferred Hamburg, after the great commercial city of Germany; Col. Mitchell, recalling the seven hills of ancient Rome on the Tiber, wanted Rome; and Mr. Lumpkin favored Warsaw, after the city of Poland. The name Rome was extracted and became the name of the town. Among other early settlers of Rome or Floyd County were the following:
Col. Alfred Shorter, who came from Society Hill, Ala., to finance the operations of William Smith, on a half interest basis; Joseph Watters and John Rush, of the Watters District; John Ellis, Jos. Ford, Judge W. H. Underwood, Alford B. Recce. Thos. G. Watters, Thos. S. Price, Wesley Shropshire, Edward Ware, Thos. and Elijah Lumpkin, Micajah Mayo, Elkanah Everett, of Everett Springs; A. Tabor Hardin, Wm. C. Hardin, Nathan Bass, Thos. Selman, Rev. Genuluth Winn, Dr. Alvin Dean, Isaac and John P. Bouchillon, Wm. King. John Smith, Shade Green, Dr. Jesse Carr, Jno. W. Walker, Henry W. Dean, Jno. Townseud, Jeremiah L. McArver, Sam Smith, Wm. Mathis, G. T. Mitchell, Fletch-er Carver, J. W. Carver, J. D. Alexander, Col. no. R. 11 art, Gilbert Cone, Dr. H.V. M. Miller. Thos. W. Burton, A. D. Shackelford, Thos. C. Hackett, James McEntee, Wm. T. Price. R. S. Norton, C. M. Pennington, Rev. Shaler G. Hillyer, Wm. K. Alexander, W. S. Cothran, A. B. Ross, Jobe Rogers, Jno. and Wm. DeJournett. Judge Jno. W Hooper, Ewell Meredith, Col. Jas. Liddell (or Ladelle), Alfred Brown, James Wells, Jesse Lamberth, Terrence McGuire, Dennis Hills, Dr Thos. Hamilton, Samuel Mobley, Wm. Montgomery, Fielding Might, Green Cunningham and Samuel Stewart.
Jackson County appropriately bears the name "Mother of Floyd," because of the number and prominence of her citizens who settled in Cave Spring, Vann's Valley or Rome. Among these might be mentioned Mrs. Alfred Shorter, Major Philip W. Hemphill and his brother, Chas. Jonathan Hemphill; Col. and Mrs. Wm. Smith and her brother, Jno. Willis Mayo, and her kinsman, Micajah Mayo, after whom the Mayo Bar lock was named; Col. Smith's brothers, Chas., John and Klijali A. Smith; Gen. Jas. Hemphill, Walton H. Jones, Peyton Skip-with Randolph, Newton (ireen, Col. James Liddell (or Ladelle), and Wm. Montgomery. Most of these settled in Vann's Valley or Cave Spring and thus furnished the inspiration for Rome. Generally they hailed from Jefferson, home of Dr. Crawford W. Long.
In 1828 the Georgia Legislature had passed a law extending jurisdiction over the Cherokee country, thus ending the "nation within a nation" dream. On Dec. 3, 1832, less than two months after the lottery drawings, the Legislature passed an act providing for a division of Cherokee Georgia into ten large counties: Floyd, called after the Indian fighter. Gen. Jno. Floyd, of Camden County; Cherokee, Forsyth, Lumpkin, Cobb, Gilmer, Cass, Murray, Paulding" and Union. Roughly speaking, this territory lay northwest of the Chattahoochee River, and was bounded on the north by the Tennessee line, and on the west by the Alabama line. Gradually more and more divisions were made, until today the territory is composed of the following additional counties: Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga, Bartow, Gordon, Polk, Haralson, Carroll, Douglas, Milton, Dawson, White. Fannin. Pickens, Rabun, Towns and Habersham, and parts of Hall, Heard and Troup.
Floyd was surveyed by Jacob M. Scudder, who in 1833 was employed by the United States government to appraise Indian lands and improvements near Cave Spring. Mr. Scudder's name appears on the early records at the Floyd County courthouse in a real estate transaction, but there is no evidence that be ever lived at Rome. Livingston, a hamlet located on the south side of the Coosa River at Foster's Bend, about 14 miles below Rome, was chosen by legislative act of Dec. 21, 1833 as the county seat, and a log cabin court-house was erected at which one or more sessions of court, presided over by Judge Jno. W. Hooper, were held, and in which quite a number of Indians appeared as prosecutors and defendants.
The removal of the county scat from Livingston to Rome took place under authority of an act passed Dec. 20, 1834, and was consummated in 1835. However, a considerable settlement had sprung up prior to this in Vann's Valley. On the "pale-face side" of the Chattahoochee a large and restless element had been held back by the existing conditions, but when encouragement was given by the Georgia authorities to encroachments on the Indian lands, this tide overflowed into the Cherokee country.
The county site was removed to Land Lot 245, 23rd District, 3rd Section, Head of Coosa, Floyd County, the new place to be known as Rome. The first Saturday in February, 1835, was set as the date for selecting five commissioners for one-year terms. Parts of land lot 244. east of the Oostanaula and 276, north of the Hightower (Etowah), were also reserved for the growth of the town. The act further stated that nothing therein was to be considered in conflict with a contract made previously by Wm. Smith, et al., with the Inferior Court.
An amendment to the act of 1834, passed Dec. 29, 1838, provided for creation of the office of "intendant," which means "superintendent " by the dictionary, but probably meant "mayor" in those days; also included were commissioners, clerk, marshal, etc., and some salaries were fixed.
David Vann, a Cherokee subchief, had settled near Cave Spring in the valley which was given his name, and in this valley between the present Rome and Cave Spring people began to "squat" several years before there was a Rome. In 1828, Major Armistead Richardson, father-in-law of the late Judge Augustus R. Wright, of Rome, removed to Vann's Valley from Augusta and with the assistance of a number of enthusiastic associates began preparations for the establishment of Cave Spring in 1831.
Ridge Valley, seven miles north of Rome, had been settled simultaneously with the Vann's Valley settlement. This valley was named after another Indian leader, Major Ridge, who is supposed to have lived in it, at the present Rush place, at Hermitage, a number of years before moving to the Oostanaula near Rome.
The period of John Ross' residence in DeSoto (Rome's present Fourth ward) has not been determined accurately. However, a satisfactory conclusion may be drawn from the fact that the Cherokee chiefs had been meeting at the New Echota Council ground since 1819, that New Echota bad been the capital since 1825, and Mr. Ross found DeSoto ("Head of Coosa") a central point to reside. Undoubtedly Mr. Ross was influenced by the fact that Major Ridge was living about a mile away, and they could hold their conferences much more easily. John Ridge, son of the Major and also a leader, lived about three miles from Ross, at ''Running Waters" later the John Hume place. New Echota was some 30 miles, and the Council Ground at Red Clay, Whitfield County, was 60 miles northward, as the crow flies. Sequoyah, the man of letters and knowledge, was 25 miles away. Elias Bondinot, Stand Watie and David Vann were readily available. Assuming that Ross moved to DeSoto in 1825, he resided there ten years, until finally dispossessed of bis home. He used to start his letters "Head of Coosa."
It will be seen, therefore, that the site of Rome was probably of more importance between 1825 and the final removal in 1838 than even the capital itself; but at best the Indians were a nomadic race, living: here today and there tomorrow, and their leaders hopped with alacrity between Rome, New Echota, Red Clay and Washington.
But let us return to the pioneer pale-faces.
Col. Mitchell surveyed the section between the rivers and made a map, dated 1834, copies of which are in existence today. This work was done from Third Avenue northward, since the farm below was owned by Col. Smith and at that time was considered unsafe for building on account of the high waters; furthermore, it was reserved for race track and tournament purposes. Col. Smith was a lover of horseflesh and he built a half-mile cinder track around the banks of the rivers, and placed his grandstand near the spring alluded to in the foregoing. There were special races between the best riders of the surrounding counties; the Indians, who usually rode bare-back, carried off many a prize. Tournaments were held now and then, in which the riders, going at full speed on their mounts, ran their lances through rings held lightly by a projecting wooden arm—the man who got the most rings in the fewest runs won the contest.
Another diversion, of a highly humorous nature, was the "gander pulling." The neck of a live gander was greased tin 'roughly and the bird hung up by the feet to a limb. The game was to pull the gander's neck oft or bring him down "whole." This was a difficult feat because the gander dexterously dodged Ins head when the horseman was about to "pull." Still another was the "greased pole." Anybody who could climb 15 feet to the lop could have the bag of money suspended therefrom. The pole was of skinned hickory or oak and would have been sleek enough without any grease. If the boys could not make it to the top in a reasonable time they were allowed to put sand on their clothing; then they went home to their "maws." "Catching the greased pig" was another sport.
In 1833 occurred an event which made Indians and many superstitious folk believe the world was coming to an end. One night the stars "fell." Such another display of pranks in the skies bad never been seen; for quite a while the stars shot this way and that, in graceful curves, then in uncanny zig-zags, until it appeared that the feeble little people of earth would surely be covered in a shower of stars. Indian mothers rushed about, gathering up their offspring, and rum old negro mammies and uncles hid under beds and houses, shouting, "Oh, Lordy! Oh, Lordy! Dis nigger's soul am pure !"
The task of forming the Rome bar fell to Col. Mitchell, who proceeded with a nucleus composed of himself, Air. Lumpkin and two or three others. Presently, in 1835, funds were raised and a brick courthouse erected at Court (East First) Street and Bridge Street (East Fifth Avenue). Removal of the courthouse did not exactly suit Jackson Trout, who had built the first wooden dwelling at Livingston, he kept up with the procession by skidding his house down to the Coosa River, putting it on a barge and polling it to Rome, where be set it up again as the first dwelling there. Others followed suit, and they had considerable trouble when they reached Horseleg Shoals, which required "mule-hauling" of a high order, to use a nautical expression.
Rome at this time was a "forest primeval." Everywhere were woods except at the forks, and that was swampy and full of willows, with an occasional sturdy tree and hungry mosquito. The rivers were still alive with fish; wild turkeys and deer were often seen ; snakes were numerous; quail were abundant and squirrels skipped in their native element where Broad Street now extends; the bushes were alive with wild birds of beautiful color; on Mt. Alto and Lavender Mountain, live miles away, bears could be found; and at night the fiery gleam from the eye of a wolf was a common sight. It was a wild country, with trails for roads, and few conveniences.
Squatters and Indians alike pitched their tents in suitable spots waiting for some new word to "move on" or "move off." Small squads of Georgia Guardsmen, established by act of 1834, or of United States soldiers, watching Guards and Indians alike, camped a while and then went on to other duty. Trappers and traders did a thriving business; so did the ferry-men who set people across at the forks or elsewhere. Everybody seemed to be going or coming, despite the efforts of the Town Company to halt them at Rome. The Indians were unusually restless.
Along would come a white family on horseback, carrying all their worldly goods. They had traveled from some neighboring county, or perchance as far as from North Carolina, hoping to better their material condition. The man would lead, the children would follow, and the mother bring up the rear, riding side-wise. Any old port in a storm looked good.
Many had definite objectives, many did not and would "squat" anywhere that looked like it held promise for the future. Others were definitely attracted by the prospect of pioneering in a live town. It is fair to say that Rome and Floyd County received, along with many "floaters," a highly substantial and even aristocratic citizenship. The founders were men of character and iron will—accustomed to blazing their way through one kind of forest or another. They started with little and made out of it much. There were no luxuries to be had, hence they worked with the things of nature, and fashioned out of them whatever they could. The old Alabama Road forked where the Central Railroad trestle now crosses it. One fork led to Major Ridge's Ferry opposite the Linton A. Dean place, and the other bent southeast to the Ross ferry at the confluence of the rivers. At the Ross ferry a man from Alabama could gain the Hillsboro side or the Rome side, as he pleased. A little later the traffic became so heavy that Matt and Overton Hitchcock built for Col. Smith a covered wooden bridge at Fifth Avenue (over the Oostanaula), and from that point connected with the Alabama Road- Agricultural business gradually grew prosperous. George Lavender's trading post did a land office business. It used to be said that Lavender kept his money in a barrel or keg which was always fairly well filled with gold and silver coin; and that when his partnership with Major Ridge and Daniel R. Mitchell was dissolved, they cut a melon estimated at $250,000 in 1922 coin.
Perhaps 5,000 Indians patronized this establishment, and they paid any price for what they wanted. They were especially fond of calico garments, and would buy extravagantly for their women, and often include enough for an odd waist which the women would make for them. They wore outlandish clothes, never matching in any particular; buckskin or woolen trousers, well worn or patched; hats that suggested the hat of today on a China-man, often with a squirrel tail tacked on it and hanging down the side or back; some bats made entirely of skin, and therefore very warm in cold weather; moccasins or discarded white man shoes covering their feet, but many bare-foot ; cheap jewelry and trinkets whenever they could get it, which was often; sometimes a queer turban in place of a bat; usually no coat or jacket, except in winter.
The Indian was fond of tobacco and liquor, but as soon as the leaders saw what terrible inroads were being made on Indian territory by pale-face profiteers of various kinds, a strong Indian organization was formed to stamp out the evils. Liquor was obtained from stores that bad a provision shop in front and a barroom or "doggery" in the rear, the entire establishment being dignified by the name "grocery." Green wooden screens obscured the occupants of the bar-room until a state law caused them to be abolished, and then everybody could peek in and see who was getting "lit up." Around these places loafed a gang of shiftless Indians and whites, bent on satisfying their abnormal appetites, and fit subjects for whatever mischief might he suggested by the Demon Rum. These gangs were extremely profane, and poisoned the atmosphere for such a distance that ladies and young ladies would never venture closer than across the street. Knife and pistol scrapes were recipient, especially late at night after the more peaceful inhabitants had retired to their beds. A calaboose soon became a crying necessity, and with it a town marshal who managed to keep it full, except when the inmates escaped and turned the thing over on its side. It was a log affair, near West Second Street and Sixth Avenue.
There is no certainty as to just what the early city government was like. Doubtless in the beginning every man was a law unto himself. Gradually, however, local laws were passed and irresponsible persons made amenable to them. In the thirteen years that Rome remained unincorporated it is likely that the intendant or the marshal acted as the executive major domo, and certain that local or inferior court judges meted out justice.
Col. Mitchell, surveyor, evidently had in mind a future instrument like the automobile when be laid out the streets of the town, lie made Broad Street and Oostanaula Street (Fourth Avenue) 132 feet wide, all other streets 66 feet wide and lanes 33 feet. Some modifications of that scale, notably with regard to Fourth Avenue, have since been made, and a lawsuit of some importance and interest has resulted.
A few more stores and shops sprang up which carried every article that could be obtained in such a limited market. The groceries would also offer a line of retail dry goods, small farming implements, plug and smoking tobacco, pipes, lanterns and lamps, wax tapers, matches, candles, novelties for the Indians, snuff for the women, suits, hats and shoes, horse collars and harness, nails, hand tools, occasionally musical instruments. There were no soda water, ice, silver cigarette cases, bon-bons or chocolates, nail files, lip sticks, rouge, hair nets or beaver hats. Drug stores, banks newspapers, steamboats, crockeries and bakeries, schools and churches were to come along later.
Gentlemen blacked their own boots and cut out of the forest with great cross-cut saws the wood that went into their homes. They wore the uniforms of the frontier and assumed the manners of frontiersmen. Rome was to be built, and it could not be built with kid gloves.
The social life was very restricted at first. It consisted of calls from neighbor on neighbor, afoot, on horseback or by ox-cart; or maybe a country break-down on a rudely improvised platform. Since the Indians had no city to build— since they needed only to get a little something to eat every day and keep out of the way of land-grabbers and the "state police"— they had more time for frolics than the early whites. Around bonfires in their villages the red-skins made merry, rending the nights hideous with their war-whoops; and on these special occasions they put aside their semi-civilized garb and donned the buckskin, the flaming headdress of feathers and all the paint they could daub on.
Each year in summer came the Green Corn Dances at the various villages. The late Air's. Robert Battey recalled one at Major Ridge's, held when she was about seven years of age. A large company of Indians gathered, and one thing that impressed her particularly was that some of the men had mussel shells tied around their ankles and filled with gravel that rattled when they danced. She remembered that several remained over night until Sunday, and kicked up their heels in George Lavender's store. Her impression of the Indian was the same as that obtained by anybody who knew his nature; be was a silent, taciturn individual, deeply religious in his own way, ever faithful to the pale-face who befriended him and ever the foe of one who played him false. He seldom, if ever, broke a promise.
From Montgomery M. Folsom, writing in The Rome Tribune Nov. 20, 1S92, we have the following contribution on the pioneer days:
I drove with Mr. Wesley O. Connor out to see Mr. Wright Ellis, one of the last of the old settlers of the Cave Spring region, and Mr. Ellis told many interesting stories of the early days. Mr. Ellis came to Cave Spring with his father as a little boy. Near his house at the end of Vann's Valley stood an old fort which protected the settlement. He told me of a wolf found dead in the cave; it had lain there several years, and the mineral qualities of the cave had preserved it perfectly, until one day a band of Indian boys dragged forth the carcass and tore it to pieces.
David Vann lived on the hill above the spring and the Indians used to congregate near his place for their annual ball play, as they called it. They came from miles away to enjoy the sport. They would also form in two lines (sides) and shoot arrows at rolling stones. The side which scored the most hits would win.
A short distance west of Cave Spring was where the Indians of that neighborhood held their Green Corn dances. Mr. Ellis said he had seen crowds estimated at 1,000 to 5,000. Out in the nearby mountains Capt. John Ellis, his father, went with a small party and captured two Cherokee chiefs who were giving trouble during the removal, and threatening a massacre. The chiefs were sent west. As the raiders approached, a sentinel cried, "Eastochatehee soolacogee!" meaning "much white man!"
These were the days of the "pony clubs," whose members blacked their faces and stole horses from whites and Indians alike. A party of the law and order element, known as the "slickers," once caught two thieves and gave them lashes on their backs with a whip.
Mr. Ellis also told how Col. Wm. Smith, known to the Indians as "Black Bill," because of his dark complexion, routed a crowd of drunken red-skins at Major Wm. Montgomery's spring in July, 1832. "Black Bill" lit into them with a hame, knocked them right and left and put them to flight.
Capt. John Townsend, Maj. Armistead Richardson, William Simmons, Jackson Trout, W. D. Cowdrey, W. K. Posey, Carter W. Sparks, Major Win. Montgomery and Gen. Jas. Hemphill were among the pioneers who possessed the Cave Spring land ere the print of the moccasin had faded from the soil.
Life with the rugged settlers of Rome was just one murder, horse theft or incendiary fire after another. The country was overrun with vigilance' committees, out-laws, land speculators, soldiers, unruly Indians and plain people of respectability who wanted to farm and conduct their shops in peace. Peace and the social order that thrives in it was not to be attained, however, until the Indians were sent west lock, stock and barrel.
A History of Rome and Floyd County by George Macgruder Battry, Jr.