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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Look at Owltown

Travel Highway 129/19 south from the old courthouse square in Blairsville and you will come to the Owltown District of Union County lying around the vicinity of the Experiment Station. It was the last of the fourteen districts of the county.

This district numbered 1409 was signed into law on April 4, 1887. Court appointed commissioners John M. Rich, Milton G. Hamby, and Quiller F. Reece had been assigned the task of laying out the lines of the proposed new militia district. Daniel Mathis, Thomas Fields and other citizens had petitioned for the new district and signed a request for it with the Court of Ordinary in Union County. Portions of already-existing districts of Arkaqua, Choestoe and Coosa were surveyed and made a part of the new Owltown District. Mr. William Colwell, County Ordinary, signed the completed papers and the new district was summarily formed.

One is reminded of the words of naturalist John Muir, who in 1867, passed through beautiful Union County, Georgia on his walk from Louisville, Kentucky to Cedar Keys, Florida, a journey of over one thousand miles. He wrote of this mountainous region: "Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God."

Whether Muir passed through what became Owltown twenty years after his visit, we know not. But he could well have been describing that section of Union County nestled along the Nottely River and its tributaries. County Historian Edward S. Mauney, in his description of Owlton in 1950, said of it: "Being no less mountainous than the county's entire terrain, with its dark recesses called coves, the natural habitat of that wise old bird, the owl, suggests what is believed to be the origin of the name." (p. 72, Sketches of Union County History III, 1987).

Hoot Owl Town and Hoot Owl Hollow were eventually shortened to Owltown. Others have thought that in addition to being "the natural habitat of the owl," Owltown may have received its name from a settlement of Cherokee Indians with Chief Owl as its leader.

Some of the early-settler families that chose Owlton as their place of residence were Hamby, England, Fortenberry, Rich, Davis, Stephens, Reece, Spiva, Akins, Curtis, Majors, Fields, Mathis, Colwell, Bowers, Rider, May, Crump and others. Even today, these family names remain in residents in the coves and hollows of District 1409 and elsewhere in Union.

If John Muir did, indeed, traverse land in what became the Owltown District twenty years after his sojourn here; he would have seen cleared patches in the bottom lands where the farmer settlers grew corn, potatoes, cabbage, onions, beans, wheat, rye, oats and flax. In garden patches were tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and peppers and in yard patches, herbs like sage and rosemary for seasoning. Growing out from their mountain cabins were the beginnings of mountain orchards of apples, pears and peaches. Owltown has been noted as a place of production of good-tasting, juicy apples.

On the mountains were chestnut trees, the annual fall crop of which provided food for ranging hogs and cattle, and enough to pick up and haul to market in Gainesville over the Logan Turnpike. This extra crop from the forest helped to provide coffee, tea, sugar, cloth for making clothes and even shoes for members of the mountain families.

Another distinctive early industry of Owlton was the gold mine at Owltown Gap. The yield of this mine is not currently known, but it, along with the Coosa Mines, caused enough excitement to produce a mini-gold rush to Union County in the heyday of gold mining here.

Fort Mountain is within the area of Owltown District. The ancient fort, some of the remains of which can still be seen, is a great mystery. Legend prevails that it was built by a contingent of Spanish conquistadores who came through the region in the sixteenth century under the leadership of one Juan Pardo and built a fortress on the mountain. Lost in mountain mists and lack of records, we may never know the origin of the fort on this mountain.

Out of Owltown have come many distinguished citizens. To name a few, the following come to mind. Rev. Milford G. Hamby was a noted minister in the North Georgia Methodist Conference. Mr. Newton Curtis was termed a "good teacher" and an able debater. Solomon Hill Rich and Nancy Conner Rich had a son named Charles Edward Rich who was a noted Baptist preacher and educator. The Rev. Luther Colwell, another long-time Baptist minister in Union County, was a son of John Theodore and Amy Elizabeth Bowling Colwell. John Theodore Colwell was county ordinary when "the old courthouse" on the square was built in 1899.

"A thousand windows," to quote from John Muir, open throughout Owltown. One has but to drive its roadways to be surprised by beauty and a quality of "divine light" that emanate from a lofty past and point toward an optimistic future.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 20, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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