Last week, I started my new series on Athens, Ga.’s Oconee Hill Cemetery. I spent my college years just across the street at the University of Georgia but never visited until last year.
I featured a photo last week of a railroad track in the cemetery. I found out this week that in 1888 the Oconee Hill trustees agreed to let the Macon & Covington Railroad come through the cemetery. Before becoming non-operational, the railroad was owned by the Central of Georgia, one of the largest rail companies in the state.
In 1898, Oconee Hill’s original 17 acres were increased when an additional 81.8 acres were purchased. I’ll talk more about that next week.
The All-Seeing Eye
Sometimes I admire a plot simply because of the ironwork or fencing. The Singleton/Lucas plot’s monuments are not that remarkable but I was interested in the fact that the chains adoring the fence had survived all this time. Frankly, they usually end up being vandalized.
I can honestly say I’d never seen the “all-seeing eye” on the chains of a cemetery plot before. On grave markers and monuments, yes. But not on the fencing. The all-seeing eye, also called the Eye of Providence or Eye of God, has origins dating back to the Eye of Horus in Egyptian mythology. It appears in the iconography of the Masonic Lodge, Knights of Pythias and the Odd Fellows fraternal organizations.
When I started looking into the Singleton family, I realized there was another tie to the all-seeing eye. Born in 1788, Dr. Joseph James Singleton represented Athens as a state senator. But in 1837, he was was appointed to be the first superintendent/treasurer of the Dahlonega Branch Mint. I immediately thought of the “all seeing eye” that exists on our modern-day dollar bill.
But Dr. Singleton’s involvement with gold reached beyond coins. He had extensive gold mining interests in the area including the Singleton Mine. The Singletons continued to live in Dahlonega after he left the Mint in 1841. He took over the operation of the famed Calhoun Mine in 1847.
Son Joseph James Singleton, Jr. was born in 1827. A family story goes that in in 1839, when Joseph Jr. was 12, his father entrusted him with carrying gold coins from the Dahlonega Mint to the depository in Athens. Reasoning that no one would suspect a young boy of carrying anything more valuable than vegetables or grain, Dr. Singleton tied the gold in flour sacks and put them on the floor of the buggy.
When Joseph Jr. arrived in Athens two days later, the bank was already closed. However, when the boy explained that his heavy bags were full of gold from the U.S. Mint at Dahlonega, he was quickly allowed inside.
Heading to California
When gold was discovered in California in 1848, Dr. Singleton wanted to join other local miners headed west but Joseph, Jr. went instead. He didn’t find gold on a large scale so he returned home. By that time, Joseph had married Francina Rebecca Thomas. Eventually they would have nine children together, seven whom lived to adulthood.
Dr. Singleton died in 1855 of apoplexy at the age of 65. Where he was initially buried is unknown but he was eventually moved and buried at Oconee Hill Cemetery. His wife, Mary Ann Terrell Singleton, died in 1872 and is buried beside him.
At some point, Joseph J. Singleton, Jr. became a Methodist minister and served in that capacity for the rest of his life. According to his monument (shared by his wife), he was “for nearly 30 years a member of the North Georgia Conference”. He died in 1891 in Rome, Ga.
Ten years after her husband’s death, Francina Thomas Singleton died on Feb. 20, 1901.
Close to the Singleton/Lucas plot is the monument to Judge Young Loften Gerdine Harris. It’s one of the grander ones in that area.
Born in Jefferson, Ga. on June 22, 1812, Young L.G. Harris began practicing law in Elberton soon after being admitted to the bar. He married Susan Bevel Allen in 1835, a union that produced no children. He represented Elberton in the state legislature but eventually, for health reasons, the couple moved to Athens in 1840. In addition to representing Athens in the state legislature, he was elected judge of the inferior court of Clarke County which was later abolished. Thus, he became “Judge Harris.”
Judge Harris and Susan joined the First Methodist Church shortly after their arrival in Athens and gave much of their income to endeavors in support of Methodism. That included funding construction of a church in China and providing financial support for more than a hundred Methodist ministers
Following the Civil War, Judge Harris headed the Southern Mutual Insurance Company, a position he held until his death. The couple also donated two buildings to Oxford College of Emory University, located in Covington, Ga.
What would become Young Harris College began as the McTyeire Institute in 1886. It was established by the United Methodist Church with the purpose of providing the first and only educational opportunities to residents of the isolated area of Towns County in North Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Because of the Harris’ financial contributions, the school was able to expand and its name was eventually changed to the Young Harris Institute in 1888, then Young Harris College in 1891. The town in which the school is located also took on the name Young Harris as well.
While Susan Harris shunned the spotlight, she was committed to community service, volunteering with the Athens Ladies Aid Society during the Civil War. After suffering from poor health for several years, Susan died on May 18, 1889. To honor her memory, Judge Harris funded construction of the Susan B. Harris Memorial Chapel in 1892 at Young Harris College. It is still in use today.
Carrying out Judge Harris’ Wishes
When Judge Harris died in 1894, his will stated his wish to leave some of his fortune to the school, which was heavily in debt. But because more than 40 members of his family went to court to contest it, the matter was in legal limbo for a while. By 1897, the litigation over the will was resolved by the Georgia Supreme Court, and the College received $16,000 from his estate.
While Young Harris College has weathered a number of challenges, it is still attracting students today. For many years, it was a junior college but the school now offers full four-year degrees and has an enrollment of around 1,425 students.
As we were heading to a different part of the cemetery, I caught sight of the top of this marker. I’m used to seeing draped urns on grave markers but not flames. So I stopped to take a look. I’ve been told since that it represents eternity.
Born in May 1845 to jeweler William Talmadge and Sarah Young Talmadge, Clovis Gerdine Talmadge spent most of his life in Athens. He enlisted in Company D of the Georgia 11th Cavalry Regiment, rising to the rank of Captain. After the Civil War, he married Georgia Virginia McDowell.
“Stricken Down” at 51
Capt. Talmadge and his wife had three children, two of whom lived to adulthood that married and had children. He served as Athens’ mayor from 1876-1877 and again in 1880. He and his younger brother, Major John E. Talmadge, established a successful grocery business called Talmadge Bros. in 1869. John had served in the Civil War with Wheeler’s Cavalry, running away at age 16 to join the fighting.
Sarah died in 1891 at the age of 42. Capt. Talmadge is thought to have remarried in May 1892 to Mary Bishop but there’s no mention of her in his death notices. He mentions “my present wife” in his will but not by a name. I’m not sure exactly how Capt. Talmadge died because this account in the Atlanta Constitution is a bit vague. He died on his birthday on May 23, 1896.
I’ll leave you with the beautiful monument for Margaret Phinizy Lockhart, who died at the age of 34 on May 24, 1862 just two months after giving birth to her son, Jacob. The infant died only 11 days after his mother on June 4, 1862. He is buried beside her.
The Phinizy plot was damaged when a large oak tree fell on it in 2013 and Margaret’s monument was toppled. Thanks to donations from family members across the country, it has been restored to its former glory. Neale Nickels of Virginia Preservation Group completed the stone repair and restoration work.
I’ll be back next week for Part III.