Mr. Charles Roscoe Collins was my guide in 1992 for a delightful day back into history as he pointed out where the Logan Turnpike was located and told me significant happenings along the famed toll road. I couldn’t have had a better mentor, for he himself had traveled the road as a lad with his father, James Johnson Collins. Then as a responsible teenager of 17, he was trusted to take his first wagon load of produce to Gainesville and return with goods to be sold in the Collins store.
“This is the place the Runyon boys were hanged from a strong limb of a large chestnut tree during the Civil War,” Collins stated as he pointed to the site. We could still see the old Logan Turnpike roadbed, but the chestnut tree had long since disappeared, hit by the blight that took those once-productive trees from the mountain soil.
“I used to be afraid when my father and I passed by here,” he said. “I was afraid the ghosts of the Runyon boys would come out of the woods to haunt us.”
He explained that the Runyon brothers met their deaths at the hands of the Home Guard, self-appointed vigilantes who hunted down and often disposed of those who hid out in the mountains to escape conscription into the Confederate Army. Mr. Collins also noted that many in the mountain region were pro-Union, siding with the North in “the late unpleasantness” as the Civil War was sometimes called.
I looked at the spot where the chestnut tree once stood and had a gruesome picture in my mind of a sad chapter in the area’s history as the young men met their deaths in such a cruel, untimely fashion.
“I’ll have to tell you about Jack Shuler and his boys and how they were hired to keep the north stretch of the Logan Turnpike passable,” Mr. Collins stated.
“Jack Shuler operated his farm and the Ponder Post Office near the present-day Union Baptist Church. Mr. Shuler received seventy-five cents per day for his labor to keep rocks, limbs and debris out of the road and to fill in the ruts after a gully-washer rain. When his strong sons worked, they received ten cents a day for their labor, even after they had grown nearly to manhood.” He pointed out rocks piled alongside the old roadbed, saying that, no doubt, they were some Mr. Shuler and his sons had piled there while clearing the turnpike.
“And this is Big Spiva Bend,” Roscoe Collins said. “Near here is the place where Newt Spiva hid out during the Civil War. The Home Guard found him and ordered him to surrender. He refused, preferring death to conscription. He was shot at a rock outcropping here. This place was named Spiva Bend after him.”
Spiva Bend was hard to manipulate with four-wheeled vehicles. Mr. Collins told of the time when his own older brother, Tom Collins, together with Perry Hood and Tom Calloway, had been hired by a Mr. Jarrard to transport a huge steam boiler from the gold mines of Coosa District in Union County to Cleveland, Georgia (across Tesnatee Mountain).
When they came to Spiva Bend, they had problems getting the large implement and the specially constructed four-horse wagon vehicle with extensions around the bend. The young men considered whether they would have to disassemble the engine and put it back together again. However, the men placed winches in strategic locations, and with their mountain ingenuity managed to get their load around the hazardous Spiva Bend without taking the engine apart. The next day the three men delivered the steam engine, all in one piece, to Mr. Jarrard at his place on Town Creek near Collins Mountain in White County, Georgia.
That day with Mr. Collins, we did not walk the seven-plus miles across Tesnatee Mountain to the south side of the old toll road. Instead, we drove Highway 129/19 southward across Neal Gap.
That route afforded more rich stories from Mr. Collins’s repertoire which I will retell at another time. Our destination was the south stretch of Logan Turnpike which we accessed by going Kellam Valley Road leading off Highway 129/19 north of Cleveland, Georgia.
Homer Nix and a Miss Satterfield are pictured in front of the old Logan Inn on the south end of the Logan Turnpike in 1920. Records show that the fiery South Carolina senator, and later vice-president of the U. S., John C. Calhoun of SC, made this inn his place to spend nights as he traveled to and from Lumpkin County to check on his gold interests there.
There, at the spot of the old Logan Inn, which today is the location of a private dwelling, we were welcomed inside by the owner, Mrs. Marion Crawford who looked after her 98-year old mother, Mrs. Sarah Mathis Ethier. They knew the history of the old turnpike and were glad to share their knowledge and show us pictures.
We went to a tree, still marked with a sign reading “Logan Turnpike. Pay tolls here.” We were told that John C. Calhoun, famous in South Carolina and U. S. history, and other notables made the old Logan Inn their place of rest when they traveled the turnpike. (Picture courtesy Union County Historical Society)
A milestone in deciding toll fees came as a spunky lady named Roxanne Durfee of Atlanta came chugging northward in her Overland Country Club Roadster in 1917. When she stopped to pay the toll, the gatekeeper didn’t know what to charge her because hers was the first car and driver to seek access to the toll road. Finally, a fee of fifty cents was set, and Mrs. Durfee paid and went along her way. She somehow managed the hazardous curves, overheated brakes, frequent stops and frazzled nerves to arrive later at the Christopher Hotel on the square in Blairsville. She was a pioneer, paving the way for other motorized vehicles to cross Tesnatee on the Logan Turnpike.
As I walked portions of the old Logan Turnpike, I sensed a strong touch, a nexus with the past. Over this same road my grandfathers, Francis Jasper Collins and Elisha Bluford Dyer, and my own father, Jewel Marion Dyer, had taken wagon loads of produce from their Choestoe farms to barter on the market at Gainesville and exchange for “store-bought” goods.
I thought back even farther to the Old Union and Unicoi Turnpikes, parallel roads into the mountain region, over which earlier ancestors had traveled to settle on 160-acre land lots in the early 1830s.
I thanked Charles Roscoe Collins for being my excellent guide on the journey back into history, a delightful time-warp.
I heard a faint rattle in the bushes, and there, hopping along the old roadbed, was a gray rabbit, intent on getting as far away from us as possible.
Choestoe in the Cherokee language means “the dancing place of rabbits.” Poet Byron Herbert Reece wrote in his poem about the place:
We could believe they danced and wish them dancing;
They came to sport forever in the name our country bears,
One that the Indians gave it.
Even more real than the dance of the rabbits was hope that ‘sprang eternal’ in the hearts of mountain men and women—my ancestors, your ancestors. An old roadbed lies as a symbol of their faith and optimism, of their dreams, of the harsh realities they faced. All combined to make us, their descendants, what we are today.
If you go to seek out the old Logan Turnpike roadbed, closed to traffic in 1925 when Neal Gap (now Hwy 129/19) opened, maybe you, as I, will have a deeper appreciation of your roots and the forces that made us uniquely a proud and industrious mountain people.
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 12, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.