The Ashton community is well-known in Ben Hill County, but nearly forgotten otherwise. It’s the neighborhood where my father grew up, a community characterized by farms and farm families who have been in the area for generations. Most people are familiar with the present Ashton School building, a WPA structure now privately owned and used as apartments, but until Karen Luke shared this photograph with my father recently, I never knew there was another school at the location. It appears to have been built with blocks from the Fitzgerald Granitoid Works and I’d estimate that this image dates to about 1910. Unfortunately, I don’t know the names of anyone in the group, but it appears that the entire community turned out for the photograph.
Much of the land surrounding the upper reaches of the Alapaha River is characterized by sandy soils, dunes and scrub oaks. They’re most often encountered by hunters and fishermen but they’re a magnificent ecosystem, worthy of exploring when you can get access. Several endangered species call these scrublands home.
The Alapaha originates in southern Dooly County and flows southerly through or along the borders of Crisp, Wilcox, Turner, Ben Hill, Irwin, Tift, Berrien, Atkinson, Lanier, Lowndes, and Echols in Georgia and Hamilton County in Florida. The Willacoochee and Alapahoochee Rivers are its two main tributaries. It flows into the Suwanee River 1o miles south of Jasper, Florida.
Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is ubiquitous.
The remains of a weather-damaged oak lie beside the banks of a man-made canal near the river.
The Alapaha isn’t widely known beyond the counties it embraces except by a few kayakers and canoeists, yet it courses 202 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the Suwanee. Its levels are increasingly strained by modern agricultural practices in a region considered to harbor some of the most productive farmland in the state. It’s particularly important to me as it’s where I first went fishing in a boat with my father as a very young boy. I may be foolish to think so, but I believe people who live near the river will always have a strong desire to protect it.
Historically known as Bone Pond, Crystal Lake was, at least from the late 1930s until its closure, a wildly popular rural recreation spot. It was originally known as Bone Pond, for Willis Bone, who ran a grist mill at the site. Bone has traditionally been vilified in local circles as a Union sympathizer because he harbored a runaway slave on his property, but his great-great-great grandson, Richard Thornton, sheds new light on the story: “His son was a soldier in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The Bones were Creek Indians. Most Creeks did not believe in slavery and traditionally helped runaway slaves”. Thornton also dispelled the long-held local legend that Bone was a Yankee, noting his birthplace was Elbert County, Georgia.
It was historically a pond of normal size but a sinkhole reportedly swallowed the mill and filled the surrounding the area with water. In the recreational era, the water level was fed by numerous underground springs connected to the nearby Alapaha River It’s completely dried up today and is no longer open to the public.I’m not sure who owned it after Willis Bone, but Dr. W. L. Story of Ashburn owned it for a time. Mandy Bryant notes that her “grandfather, Leon Lewis, and Jehu Fletcher owned Crystal Lake for awhile in the 40′s and 50′s. My grandfather died in 1953 and at that time my mother (Athleen Lewis Harp) and her sister (Maudine Lewis Holden) bought Jehu Fletcher’s half. Then the three sisters sold the property.” The late A. N. Adcock, Jr., of Tifton. who was one of the greatest promoters of tourism in the region, was the owner who expanded and popularized the park. It is now used as a hunting club. The Adcock family has done a great job in regard to its general preservation, as the surrounding hammocks and scrublands are ecologically important habitats. I was fortunate enough to go riding in the woods at Crystal Lake with Mr. Adcock, along with my father and the late Milton Hopkins, in search of a rare bird whose identity I can no longer recall. It was probably around 1989 and even then, at the height of the park’s popularity, Mr. Adcock was deeply interested in preserving the natural history of this special place.
It was a big deal when the park closed, and apparently, it’s been sixteen years. There were times in the past when the lake was known to have dried up but it always naturally regenerated. I expect agricultural strains on the aquifer have rendered that impossible today.
At some point, as the park grew in popularity, the name was changed to Crystal Beach. I can remember a time when there was one of these bumper stickers on nearly every teenager’s vehicle in Ben Hill & Irwin Counties.
A large modern drive-through entrance gate was added in the 1990s. I remember the ticket booth pictured below.
This is the pavilion as it looked in the days when I was visiting Crystal Lake, from the 1970s to 1990s.
And here’s a postcard view of a smaller pavilion in the early 1960s.
And an anonymous snapshot of someone with a 1940s convertible, a “tame” wild boar, and the old wooden pavilion of an earlier era, probably 1930s-1950s. (This came from a Facebook page; I’d appreciate knowing more about it from whomever posted it).
As the postcard view indicates, there was nothing much on the beach in the 1960s, but by the 1970s and 1980s, growing crowds wanted more diverse things to do when spending the day.
I’m sure many people have memories of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers here.
Just past the picnic area and behind the pavilion was the real star attraction, the park’s first large waterslide. Derek Veal, who worked at the park as a teenager, reminded me that it was known as the “Slippery Dip”.
Other waterslides were added as the park expanded.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see it one more time, but it is NOT publicly accessible nor do I have ability to get anyone access. Trespassing on the property is illegal and is watched closely.
For my first post on Crystal Lake:
Aerial Views of Crystal Lake, 2008
My friend Browne Harper made these shots of the lake in 2008. I’m grateful to him for sharing them with Vanishing South Georgia.
This view shows water in the sinkhole; I didn’t see any when I visited.
Here’s a view of the pavilion and main beach, with the Slippery Dip waterslide in the right background.
This was a newer waterslide which I wasn’t familiar with.
The preceding three photographs are courtesy of Browne Harper. Please do not share them without proper credit to him.
<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/90821868″>The Farm Was Our Own: Memories of the Irwinville Farms Project</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user26571688″>Erin O'Quinn</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
This is a wonderful tribute to the Irwinville Farms Project! Erin O’Quinn expertly blends archival photographs with the anthem of the Great Depression, Happy Days are Here Again, to set the context and has a great interview with Irwinville Farms resident Edward McIntyre. If you’re not familiar with Vanishing Media’s Irwinville Farms website, visit this link:
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This enigmatic building, the only remaining symbol of Waterloo’s past, has been identified as a church, a school and a Masonic Lodge. I’ve yet to locate anything else on its history, but have been in contact with people who have known of its use for all three purposes. I’ll use the term “unidentified” until I learn more specific information.
See “Related Tags” below for an interior view.
To see this Irwinville Farmhouse as it looked a little over five years ago, when the porch roof was still intact: