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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Thursday, July 15, 2010

John Andrew Wimpey, farmer and merchant

Many still living may remember going to the John and Nellie Wimpey store located on Highway 129 South in Blairsville across the street from the old United Methodist Church just a block from the old courthouse. As I recall, customers could purchase clothes, shoes, piece goods, staple groceries, and other personal, farm and household needs at the Johnny Wimpey Mercantile Store.

Mr. Wimpey was a small man of stature, quiet and unassuming in nature. But he stood tall as a citizen and a respected gentleman about town and even throughout the county. He and his wife, Nellie Duckworth Wimpey, operated their "town" store in a friendly and helpful manner. Customers would go to trade and leave feeling that they had been treated to the news of the day, warm hospitality and friendly conversation as well as a good deal for the purchases they made at the Wimpey store.

John Andrew Wimpey was born December 7, 1887 in the Choestoe District of Union County. His parents were James A. Wimpey (08-15-1856 - 02-15-1894) and Morena Dyer Wimpey (09-14-1859 - 04-09-1903). On his father's side, his grandparents were Jehu and Mira Jackson Wimpey. On his mother's side, his grandparents were Micajah Clark Dyer and Morena Elizabeth Owenby Dyer.

Readers may recognize his maternal grandfather as being the famous inventor who received a U.S. patent in September, 1874 for his "Apparatus for Navigating the Air." One of John Andrew Wimpey's favorite stories to tell was about seeing his grandfather's flying machine invention. For any who doubted that a plane had been made at Choestoe years before the Wright Brothers' flight in Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903, they referred to Johnny Wimpey's story, and reasoned, "It must have been true; Johnny Wimpey never tells a lie."

Like most boys born in the mountains in the late nineteenth century, Johnny Wimpey did not have an easy childhood. His father, Jim Wimpey, died when Johnny was six years old. His mother, known as Rena Wimpey, died when the lad was fifteen years old. Johnny had two brothers, Bill and Virge. The boys' uncle, Jasper Washington Dyer (1843-1913) and his wife, Emaline E. Lance Dyer (1843-1915) took the Wimpey boys in after their mother died. Johnny worked hard on the farm and leaned to blend with the extended family.

Johnny Wimpey had a notable and dedicated instructor for his elementary education at the one-teacher school at Pine Top. Known as "Bud" Miller, this upright citizen of Choestoe was William Jasper Miller (1848-1919) whose wife was Jane Malinda Collins (1861-1931). Johnny's education was received between obligations on the farm, but he learned to "cipher" well, a skill with numbers that would fit him admirably for his future as a merchant. In fact, his teacher, Mr. Bud Miller, may have influenced the young lad toward the mercantile business, for Mr. Miller operated a country store at his home, farmed, and taught the short-term sessions at Pine Top School.

John Andrew Wimpey and Nellie Jane Duckworth (12-29-1896 - 02-06-1968) were married on December 14, 1911. Nellie was a daughter of John Francis (known as Jack) Duckworth (1869-1910) and Laura Jane Noblet Duckworth (1875-1956). The Duckworth family lived on a farm east of Old Liberty Church in the Choestoe District.

Nellie's father, Jack, died of a gunshot wound on Christmas Day, 1910, from a "friendly" shooting match. Nellie saw her father fall over from the shot, a traumatic event in the life of the then almost fifteen year old. Just weeks before her sixteenth birthday, Nellie married the love of her life, Johnny Wimpey.

At first, Johnny and Nellie Wimpey farmed the land. They continued farming after Johnny opened his first store in 1922 located in the Town Creek section of Union County. Johnny would be gone for days to Gainesville to trade items the couple had taken in for barter in their store. At the wholesale houses, he purchased new merchandise for the store. In the days before the Neel Gap Highway (now GA 129) opened for travel in 1925, Johnny had to go over the Logan Turnpike to Tesnatee Gap at Cleveland and on to Gainesville. The Choestoe store at Town Creek burned in 1922, a blow to the young couple. He kept farming, but one of Nellie's brothers, Frank Duckworth, had a store in Blairsville. He invited Johnny to come to work for him and they formed a partnership.

Then, in 1928, Johnny bought out Frank Duckworth's store and it became known as the Johnny Wimpey Store in Blairsville.

The fact that he bought the store in town just prior to the Great Depression was a venture of faith within itself. Fortunately, he still had farm acreage he could till which produced food for the family in the lean years of the 1930's when people did not have money to buy even what they needed at a store. Barter was again the way of dealing with the shaky economy. The records show that Johnny and Nellie took as barter sorghum syrup for which they allowed 40 cents per gallon in trade; corn was bartered at 50 to 75 cents per bushel; cured pork was traded at 5 to 7 cents per pound. Labor on the farm was no more than 50 cents per day, or, if the farmer did not have to provide the noon meal for workers, the day's hard labor was 75 cents, lunch brought by worker. Johnny would take day labor on his farm as "trade" for items from his store. With diligence to work and kindness to customers, the Wimpeys weathered the storm of the Great Depression and their store stayed open through the years of World War II and beyond until Johnny Wimpey decided it was time for him to retire.

The Wimpeys were active in Old Liberty Baptist Church at Town Creek where he was ordained a deacon and became a Sunday School teacher. When they moved to Blairsville, they joined First Baptist Church and were active there as long as their health permitted attendance.

Four children were born to John Andrew and Nellie Jane Duckworth Wimpey: Ethel (1913) who married Claude Rawlins; Charlie (1914) who married Grapelle Wimpey; Ruby (1917) who married Howard Parks; and Charlene (1930) who married Harold Ash. During our high school years, their daughter Charlene and I were best friends. My visits in the Wimpey home were always met with the motherly care of Nellie who became a surrogate mother for me after my own mother died when I was fourteen. It was a great blow to me when their daughter and my friend Charlene died of a then incurable disease in 1952 at age 22. Ruby Parks is the only one of the four Wimpey children surviving at this writing. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday. She and Ethel had long careers as teachers and Charlie was a farmer and cattleman.

John Andrew Wimpey died March 18, 1980. His wife Nellie preceded him in death on February 6, 1968. Their graves are in the Blairsville Cemetery across from First Baptist Church. Both descended from early settlers of Union County and all, including ancestors, themselves and their children, left a distinctive mark as farmers, merchants, educators, business persons and salt-of-the earth solid citizens.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published April 23, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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