Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Miracle of Brasstown Valley: a Book Review

Governor/Senator Zell Miller has done it again. He has written his seventh book, and has managed within its pages to turn history into a page-turner.

I gratefully received a copy early as a Christmas gift from a very dear friend. I want to recommend that you go out to a nearby bookstore in these days remaining before Christmas and either purchase a copy for yourself or get a copy as a gift for someone special. You will be glad you did.

The Miracle of Brasstown Valley is the story of the founding of Young Harris College in 1886 by an itinerant Methodist preacher, the Rev. Artemas Lester. But it is more than history, more than a realized dream of Lester whose life was touched in a unique way, both by his calling and his mission. Through his keen imagination, the Honorable Zell Miller has brought to life people, places and events in the mountains of North Georgia. He gives us a front-row seat to happenings as if we are there. Sharing Miller's love for history, and being mutually tied, as he is, to some of the same places and people who make up the colorful pages of this book, I find it a privilege to recommend his book to your reading.

In his foreword, Mr. Miller states:

While all the people, places and most events are real, in some instances I have filtered their undocumented words spoken long ago through my imagination. So be forewarned: this history is not pure and perfect; it's padded. But, as we say in the mountains, this is 'pert near' how it all happened." (page 4).

Getting it 'pert near' right is good enough for me. Not only does the book give the history of the founding of the college in the mountains, which has stood as a shining light for students educated there since 1886, but within these pages we get lessons on geology and theology, politics and religion. The people of yesteryear, whose names are well documented in family histories, in county records of land holdings, in church and cemetery records, in stories of their deeds passed on from generation to generation are mentioned in the book as Artemas Lester makes his way from Yatesville, Georgia, where he was born, to Brasstown Valley in Towns County, Georgia, learning what he can from residents he meets along the way. He wants to know about the land and the people, the sturdy stock who have taken up residence in the mountains. The literary technique is a travelogue. The impact is that of having been there, experienced that.

In the pages of Miracle we meet people who have a role to play in the background of Young Harris College's founding. The itinerant Union County preacher, the Rev. Milford G. Hamby, was responsible in part for the conversion of Artemis Lester in a revival at far-away Yatesville, Georgia. He heard the young man's dream and set him on his way toward the north Georgia mountains.

We meet William Jasper Miller, better known as "Bud," teacher at Hood's Chapel School in Upper Choestoe. Artemas Lester observed this country school teacher's methods in action and thought them good. He also heard that Bud Miller planned to take unto himself a second wife, Jane Malinda Collins, following the death of his first wife, Florence Edmundson Miller. Jane Malinda's ancestors were the first Choestoe settlers, Thompson and Celia Self Collins, her grandparents. She was a daughter of Francis and Rutha Nix Collins. With this background, Jane would be a good step-mother for Bud Miller's six children, left motherless by his first wife's death.

We see Artemas Lester's first view of Track Rock Gap as he travels from Dahlonega to Brasstown Valley.

We meet Widow Nancy Louise Haynes Stephens Sanderson, whose help in establishing the school in Brasstown Valley ranged from knowing the right people for the Rev. Artemas Lester to see to loaning him her horse and buggy in which to travel, and making available the abandoned store building where the first classes opened in January, 1886.

This book is full of mountain lore and culture. It is a book about a dream and the price one man paid to see it fulfilled. It is about moving on, even before the school Lester worked so hard to establish, was fully functional.

The book expresses appreciation for a solid way of life and for the faith that seeds planted will eventually sprout and bear fruit. Credit is given to many people who figured prominently in the founding of Young Harris College. You will meet them in the pages of this book, and rejoice that they were faithful to fill in the gap in their years of service. To name them all would take away some of the mystery of your meeting them for yourself in the book's pages. Prominent among them, however, besides the Rev. Artemas Lester, were the Rev. Marcus Hale Edwards, the Rev. Joseph Astor Sharp, Young Loften Gerdine Harris for whom the school eventually was named, and many others, presidents, professors, supporters.

Governor/Senator Zell Miller and I trace our roots back to Thompson Collins and other people who, although not well educated themselves because of limited academic offerings in those pioneer days, wanted a better way of life and accelerated opportunities for their children and succeeding generations. It was on this principle that the Rev. Artemas Lester set about to found the school in the mountains that became Young Harris College. Mr. Miller's chronicle will make you proud to be of sturdy mountain stock.

He has Artemas Lester asking Teacher Bud Miller this question:

"Where do they (the students) go when you've taught them all you know?"
Bud stared straight into his friend's eyes. "Ah, that's the question. You tell me."

At Christmas, this book will be rich reading as you discover and rejoice in the answer.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 13, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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