Tag Archives: South Georgia Natural History

Spring Lake Fishing Club House & Fuller Cabins, Wilcox County

In a bend of House Creek just off the Ocmulgee River near the Wilcox-Ben Hill County line is a place known to locals as Spring Lake. Or more likely, Mr. Guy’s or Uncle Guy’s place. There’s a blue spring, or boils, on the property, which actually gives the “lake” its name. It’s a legendary hunting and fishing spot, and though many know of its reputation, only those who have been lucky enough to know the family have experienced it first hand. [I’m grateful to Ken Fuller for the following history. Ken has a passion for the place and its history and I am most grateful to him for the opportunity to photograph this local landmark and share these photos. I have known members of the Fuller family most of my life, but only met Ken recently. A retired Methodist minister, he was filling in for the pastor at my family’s church a couple of weeks ago. He suggested that I come out and see the place, as a small addition was planned for Guy’s cabin and if I wanted to see it in its original state I best do so quickly. My parents and I had a wonderful visit, though I didn’t get to visit the boils on this trip].

This place came to Fuller ancestors through a land grant in the early 19th century and at varying times they’ve used it as a dwelling place and recreational retreat. Because they’ve always recognized it as a natural treasure brimming with all the bounty that provides, it has changed very little over nearly two centuries of their ownership. Ken Fuller notes: I doubt I will ever take the time to try to run it down, but it feels like nearly, if not all, the property from south of House Creek to Abbeville, east of the Ocmulgee, was land grants in 1832 or there about when the treaty was signed with the Indians ending hostilities. The Wilcox brothers, Gen. Mark and Capt. Thomas, and George Reid were major land holders. John Wilcox III and his sons manned 3 forts on the East side of the Ocmulgee before the treaty was signed.

The property is indelibly associated with Guy Fuller today because he built this tiny cabin as a residence in 1933 and chose to live out his days committed to the simple life here. Guy T. Fuller was the fourth of five children, born less than ten miles away at Sibbie in 1895, to Andrew Wade and Celia Elizabeth Reid Fuller. When he died in 1984, he was buried alongside his parents and siblings at his mother’s family cemetery near his birthplace.

His favorite teacher as youngster in Sibbie was John Moye, no doubt of the old-fashioned headmaster variety. He also attended Providence School in Ben Hill County, Georgia Normal College in Abbeville (Class of 1919), and then the University of Georgia. Ken Fuller is inspecting his Georgia Normal College diploma in the photo below.

After one year of teaching, Guy spent time in the European theater in World War I, and upon returning home was determined to carve out a life for himself as a local educator. A country school teacher whose career began in the era of one-room schoolhouses, he was a lifelong bachelor with no children of his own. But nearly all the children he taught over his 42-year career thought of him as family, hence “Uncle Guy”. He freely shared his cabin and in summertime it was common for the swimming holes on the property to be full of young people.  And over the years it wasn’t uncommon for several generations of one family to have been entertained here. While one might draw the conclusion that a man living such an isolated life was an eccentric hermit, his love for people proved just the opposite.

Perhaps an indication of what a genuinely good man he was, Guy Fuller loved teaching so much that he broke barriers of his day by teaching African-Americans to read and write. He told Macon Telegraph columnist Bill Boyd in “A City Slicker Visits Paradise” (3 June 1979): No one wanted to teach the Negroes, so I volunteered to hold classes two nights a week. Some of them walked five miles to come to class. And if I stayed until 2 A.M., they stayed too. They ranged in age from 10 to 76, but by the time school was out all of them could write their names and some were reading from the primer…May sound strange, but that was the most rewarding experience of all my years in the classroom.

Ken writes: The little log cabin was built by our grandfather “Papa Fuller” for his wife “Mama Fuller” so she would have a private cabin. It had a small kitchen off the back with a short covered walkway to it. We children slept in it a lot. Mama Fuller had a terrible allergy to pepper that made arthritis so painful she could not move. A trip to Piedmont Hospital discovered the allergy and when the Dr. took her off pepper she totally recovered and she drove home the new Chrysler Papa Fuller bought and left in the parking lot for her. She had an accident, I was told, that left her with a stiff leg. After that she seldom went to “The Creek” until later in life when her children were grown. After Mama Fuller’s death, it seems that Guy may have used the log cabin as a bunkhouse for the many children that often visited.

Before Guy Fuller built his cabin, there was the Spring Lake Fishing Club House. The Craftsman cabin, complete with sleeping porch, is retaking its place as the center of activity on the property. Ken Fuller shares some of the background: Papa Fuller, Drew Cleveland Fuller, best known as “D.C.” and Drew, had the Fuller Lumber Co. in Ocilla, inherited from his father, Papa Fuller. Drew died in October, 1937 before I was born in January, 1938.
Papa Fuller was an Irwin County Commissioner when he died. Can’t remember knowing when he was elected nor how long he served. The Spring Lake Fishing Club probably came from that popularity. My dad was born in 1916 and as a lad of 8 he spent summers up there alone for months at a time. Papa Fuller had a cabin out on the hill a bit away. If you remember the entrance road where it turned to go to Johnny Stokes cabin, Papa Fuller’s house was there – the old well can still be seen, tho it’s covered up. It was there when he died. A number of old cabins were there over the years, but mostly, before 1900, it was a camping,  fishing place.
Grandpa Fuller, my great-grandfather (Rev. A. W. Fuller), would load the whole family, with cousins, into covered wagons pulled by teams of white horses, and all would go for a week or more, and camp. Uncle Guy and Drew were brothers. Sibbie is named after Sibbie Wilcox Reid, Grandma Fuller’s (Celia) mother.
I doubt I will ever take the time to try to run it down, but it feels like nearly, if not all, the property from south of House Creek to Abbeville, east of the Ocmulgee, was land grants in 1832 or there about when the treaty was signed with the Indians ending hostilities. The Wilcox brothers, Gen. Mark and Capt. Thomas, and George Reid were major land holders. John Wilcox III and his sons manned 3 forts on the East side of the Ocmulgee before the treaty was signed.

Presently, the club house, along with Guy’s cabin, is being restored by Ken and Drew Fuller.  The work in the club house has been ongoing for some time. The floors have been completely replaced, as the old ones had rotted beyond repair. New window sills and door jambs have been added and other structural improvements, such as re-framing the fireplace, have been completed.

The club house has always been a sportsman’s lodge, serving family and friends for over a century.

The property isn’t accessible to the public, so I’m thrilled to have been able to visit. I spent many summers visiting some of the family’s adjacent land and have always loved the area. It was a magical place to me as a teenager and it’s encouraging to know that it will be preserved for generations to come.

 

 

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Filed under --WILCOX COUNTY GA--

Alapaha River, Berrien-Atkinson County Line

Near the forgotten community of Bannockburn, the Alapaha River marks the boundary between Berrien and Atkinson counties. The Georgia Highway 135 bridge that crosses here normally spans a smallish stream, but if you wonder why it’s so big, check out a Google Earth view of the river at high water. It fills up quickly. [Note the pilings of an old bridge or trestle in the sandbar]. At present (early autumn 2019) the river is low enough to ford and not even get your knees wet. The Alapaha is special to me because Lucy Lake (an Alapaha oxbow in northern Berrien County) was the first place my father took my brother and me river fishing. It had been a popular spot with locals for many years and he had fished there with his father and uncles many times as a young man himself. The river seemed so much bigger to me then.

The Alapaha is one of Georgia’s most beautiful black water rivers. Little known to people not near its banks, it rises in southern Dooly County and meanders southeastward toward its confluence with the Suwannee River near Jasper, Florida. During this course it collects the Wilacoochee, Alapahoochee, and Little Alapaha rivers. An intermittent river, it goes underground through parts of its course, especially in Hamilton County, Florida. A famous locale there, near Jennings, is the Dead River Sink.

The earliest known reference to the Alapaha was made by Hernando de Soto’s expedition. It noted a village near the Suwannee known as Yupaha, in the 16th century.

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Filed under --ATKINSON COUNTY GA--, --BERRIEN COUNTY GA--

Leonard Spring, Dooly County

Though it’s inaccessible and located on private property, Leonard Spring is among the most pristine “blue holes” in South Georgia. It’s located on Pennahatchee Creek, a tributary of the Flint River. In recent years, many of these ice cold springs have lost their blue color due to environmental and agricultural strains, but not Leonard Spring. It’s the focal point of an important stewardship forest which has been in the same family for nearly two centuries.

Dooly County pioneer settlers Willis and Sarah Leonard lived on this land and recognized its importance from the start. Its protection has been one of their greatest legacies. I’m grateful to my friend Bert Gregory for securing access and to the family for granting permission.

 

 

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Filed under --DOOLY COUNTY GA--

Spreading Pogonia, Ware County

Spreading Pogonia (Pogonia divaricata), also known by the prettier name Rosebud Orchid, is a rare terrestrial orchid found in Charlton and Ware counties in Southeast Georgia (other small populations likely exist). The Okefenokee region is one of the most biologically diverse in the state and spring is a great season to observe its abundant flora.

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Hamp Mizell & Suwannee Lake, Ware County

As a boy fascinated by occasional visits to the Okefenokee Swamp, I was in awe of the name Hamp Mizell (1884-1948). Dr. Delma Presley told stories of his legendary two-mile swamp holler in Okefinokee Album [this recording is of another famous swamp family, the Chessers].  Coincidentally, I knew his daughter Montine Mizell Mathhews, whose husband Harold worked with my father on the railroad, but did not know at the time that she was a Mizell. I regret missing the opportunity to talk about her father with her.

It was wonderful to visit Suwannee Lake, on the edge of the great swamp, since it has always been associated with Mr. Mizell. It’s not a big fishing hole, but nonetheless revered by fishermen in the know. Judging from satellite images, I believe it’s an oxbow of Suwannee Creek which runs from the west into the swamp. A. S. McQueen noted in his History of Okefenokee Swamp, 1932: [Mizell] is the owner of the beautiful Suwannee Lake, on the north side of the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the most famous fishing places in Georgia. A record was kept of the fish caught in this lake, and one season, 41,618 fish were caught by the hook and line method. During one day 35 fishermen caught 1,471 fish by actual count.

 

 

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Filed under --WARE COUNTY GA--, Hopkins GA

Radium Springs, Albany

70,000 gallons of water issue from the underground caves at Radium Springs every minute, making it the largest springs in the state. It’s considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia and is located just outside Albany. Over a quarter mile of the underground caves encompassing the springs were mapped by Deloach, Young, and Exley, for the National Speleological Society. Features of the caves have names like Fat Man’s Misery, Mermaid’s Tunnel, Hall of Giants, and Neptune’s Trident. Only the most experienced divers have ever seen these wonders and though rare, permits are occasionally still issued to experts wishing to explore the area. Guy Bryant has shared some nice footage on YouTube.

It was a revered ceremonial site first known as Skywater to Native Americans. After encroachment in the 1830s it came to be known as Blue Springs and was a popular swimming hole with pioneer settlers of Albany and surrounding areas. Standing near the cave entrance/springhead today, one is likely to see numerous fish schooling, including Gulf striped bass which wouldn’t be here without the cool temperature of the springs.

By the early 20th century, its prominence as a commercial recreational site was ensured and developers constructed a restaurant and guest cottages to meet the needs of day trippers who enjoyed bathing in its waters, which were a constant 68 degrees. Traces of radium were found in the water in the 1920s and the name was changed to Radium Springs to reflect this discovery. Mineral springs were all the rage in the era as they were thought to have healing powers and this only added to the popularity of the site.

The Radium Springs Casino was completed in 1927. It rose above terraced stone walls and featured a cavernous dance hall and elegant dining room.

A fire in 1982 and devastating floods in 1994 and 1998 damaged the casino beyond repair. The remaining structure was removed in 2003.

A courtyard stands today on the site of the casino and features interpretive signs detailing the history of Radium Springs.

The stonework surrounding the springs and pool is one of the most significant remaining architectural features of the site.

These features are generally not accessible today, though, as they are beginning to crumble and in serious need of restoration.

This is one of two gazebos that were located along the beach.

The spring run which empties into the Flint River is known as Skywater Creek.

The ruins of the main gazebo are being restored.

They’re located just inside the historic gate. Both structures date to the 1920s, when the casino was constructed. At the peak of the site’s popularity, a nearby golf course was equally popular as the springs and attracted notables, including the great golfer Bobby Jones.

The entrance gate is a monumental Colonial Revival landmark.

It features two ticket booths.

Known today as Radium Springs Gardens, it’s operated by the City of Albany and admission is free. It’s a wonderful green space that everyone should see at least once. Though swimming or fishing is no longer allowed, it’s a wonderful place to unwind.

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Filed under --DOUGHERTY COUNTY GA--, Albany GA

Gravesite of John Abbot, Bulloch County

John Abbot was one of the most important naturalists and artists working in early America, but because he generally eschewed publication and most of his work was only available to wealthy patrons and collectors, he has not been as appreciated as other notables of his era, including Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon. Credit is due the Georgia Historical Society for commissioning a delightful memorial marking Abbot’s burial place*, installed at the old McElveen Family Cemetery in Bulloch County. Publication of a collection of his ornithological paintings, John Abbot’s Birds of Georgia, by the Beehive Press in 1997, has done much to advance his reputation.

*-[detail, above]. Mary Stuart. Bronze Relief, after the circa 1804 self-portrait “John Abbot of Savannah, Georgia, America”. 1956. It is the only known image of the naturalist.

Born in London in 1751 to James and Ann Abbot, John was influenced from an early age by the impressive art collection of his lawyer father. Though the elder Abbot expected his son to read law, he also encouraged his interest in art and natural history, hiring the noted engraver Jacob Bonneau to instruct him. In his late teens, John Abbot clerked for his father’s law office but was far too distracted by his passion for natural history and art to give it serious consideration as a career.

He set out for Virginia aboard the Royal Exchange in 1773 and upon arrival resided briefly with Parke & Mary Goodall. By 1775 rising unrest in the colony prompted Abbot to leave, settling with Parke Goodall’s cousin William and his family in St. George Parish, Georgia (present-day Burke County). Sometime during the Revolutionary period he married a young woman named Sarah (maiden name unknown) and their son John, Jr., was born around 1779. During this time Abbot was actively collecting and illustrating Georgia’s insects and a large number were acquired by Sir James Edward Smith, founder of London’s Linnaean Society. Smith commissioned hand-colored engravings of the original Georgia watercolors and published them in 1797 as the  Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia Collected from Observations by John Abbot. It is considered the first major publication devoted to American entomology.

Spicebush Swallowtail on Sassafras, John Abbot, from the Natural History…, 1797. Public Domain Image.

The Abbots remained in Burke County, where John likely taught at Waynesboro’s Burke County Academy, until moving to Savannah in 1806. He was often in transit throughout the central Savannah River area in pursuit of specimens and new material. Sarah’s death in 1817 sent Abbot into a deep state of grief and poor health consumed him for at least two years, during which he was inactive. He finally settled in Bulloch County in 1818 and resumed collecting and drawing for patrons. He lived out his last years on the property of his friend William E. McElveen. His exact date of death is unknown, but thought to be 1839 or 1840.

In what has to be some of the most inspring language on any memorial in the state, the Georgia Historical Society notes of John Abbot: Talented artist and searching naturalist of birds and insects. – As a tribute to him and his work may you who stand here find pleasure in protecting the natural beauty of Georgia. – John Abbot lies buried in this woodland cemetery because of his love of nature and his long friendship with the McElveen family.

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Filed under --BULLOCH COUNTY GA--