Not announcing the next number, he played an introduction and began to sing a solo in his resounding baritone voice, I Am a Poor, Wayfaring Stranger. Every time I hear that old hymn I remember how Rev. Jim Hood sang it.
After he played the organ and led the singing, he then went to the pulpit to preach. I don’t remember what he preached about. In those early years my mind was not focused for long on any one topic, but found many trains of thought to pursue as the minister preached. I can remember, however, being impressed with the Rev. Jim Hood, whom everyone knew, because he lived “up on the River” at a community in upper Choestoe called “Hood’s Chapel.” The Hoods had settled there when the county was young, and the first church and school in that community had been named Hood’s Chapel, a name that carried even after the church changed its name to Union.
Later as I grew and came to know more about this mountain preacher who lived up near the headwaters of the Notla (also spelled Nottely) River from my Dyer family did I come to appreciate his many talents and abilities. Not only was he a well-read, able preacher, self-taught in many respects, but he was a musician who could hold “singing schools” using shaped notes; he composed music and wrote words for his own songs; he was a woodcrafter, a carpenter, a cabinet-maker; he farmed, was a blacksmith, a sawmiller, a teacher, and an inventor.
Born March 10, 1889, James J. Hood was the son of Enoch Chapman Hood (1855-1932) and Amanda Townsend Hood (1857-1916). He grew up in a large family of 13 children. His name was soon shortened to Jim. His paternal grandparents were William Jackson Hood (1823-?) and Celia M. Turner Hood (ca. 1830-ca. 1891). His grandmother was a daughter of Jarrett Turner and Sarah Collins Turner. William Jackson Hood’s parents were Enoch Hood and Mildred (?) Hood who migrated from North Carolina (Burke County) to Pendleton District, S.C., and from there to Union County, Ga., between 1834 and 1840.
James J. Hood married Ollie Saxon on January 8, 1911. To them were born 11 children: sons, Homer, Byron, Eugene, George, Eron and Charles; and daughters, Bessie, Bertha, Clara Jane, Pauline, and Margie. Charles and Margie died as children.
Rev. Hood’s woodworking shop was well-equipped with lathes, saws, routers and other tools. Many of the pieces of equipment he used he fashioned himself in his blacksmith shop. He operated the machinery with water power that he had ingeniously channeled to his shop. It has been said that more than 6,000 handmade chairs, benches, pulpit lecterns and other hand-crafted items were made in his shop. He taught woodworking in the vocational division at Union County High School when the subject was added to the curriculum.
Among his several inventions was a burglar alarm. Like an earlier inventor in the Choestoe District, Micajah Clark Dyer who invented the flying machine before the Wright Brothers, some of Mr. Hood’s inventions were firsts as well. However, he did not have the money to pursue patents for his inventions and so was not officially credited with them. He was one of the first persons in the area to weld steel to iron while he was still a lad working in the blacksmith shop.
He taught himself to play the organ and piano without benefit of instruction books or teacher. He determined the relationship of the printed notes on the treble and bass clefs of written hymns and where the corresponding notes were located on the keyboard. No doubt he possessed an ear for music, for his pitch was true. Once he had learned music through teaching himself, he then could teach others with great enthusiasm and skill. Some of his own compositions were gospel songs, I Know There Is a Rest Beyond, and The Pearly Gates Open Wide for Me.
His seminary training was by his own oil lamp late into the nights after working hard in the daytime. He ordered Hebrew and Greek textbooks and proceeded to teach himself enough of the languages of the Old and New Testaments to satisfy his curiosity about what seemed to him to be discrepancies in translations. His ministry as a preacher was wide-spread throughout the mountain area, not only to most all of the Baptist churches in Union County but to Young Harris, Cleveland and Robertstown.
Personable, dignified, intellectual, hard-working, kind, talented and devout, the Rev. James J. Hood touched many lives for good. He and his beloved wife Ollie were married for fifty-four years. He died November 3, 1964. Both were buried in the Union Baptist Church Cemetery, Upper Choestoe.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 19, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.