24 March 2013

The Battle Of Waynesboro & Memories

As I work on my next book about the Battle of Waynesboro, my research has included looking into the history of the battlefield after the battle, which included the development of the battlefield into what would eventually become a residential section of town known as the "Tree Streets." Designated a historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, it is a 120 acre parcel of stately, late 19th and early 20th century homes and structures. During the American Colonial and Victorian periods, it was common practice to name streets running north to south after American species of trees. As the old battlefield reverted to farmland after the war, it became part of an apple orchard and was then developed into a quintessential Southern residential neighborhood with Victorian style homes lining the streets of Oak, Cherry, Locust, Pine, Maple, Walnut, and Chestnut avenues. Also included in part of the Tree Street historic district is Wayne Avenue, named in honor of the town’s namesake—Revolutionary War General, “Mad” Anthony Wayne. 

My great-grandfather,
Charles Lockridge McGann
My great-grandfather built a home in this district in the early 1900's and my father grew up in that home. There he explored the surrounding woods and streams--daily walking over ground which held the blood of men who had fought so valiantly for the causes in which they believed. My great-grandfather's occupation was "caretaking" and farming. He worked in and tended some of the orchards in the area.  I spent many of my own childhood days in that family home as well, retracing the steps of my father and great-grandfather. Those old houses still hold secrets; like the Confederate Memorial wall hanging my father found in the attic when he bought the home at auction after my grandmother died.

This was printed circa 1916 and includes images of Jeff Davis, General Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other Confederate notables. Also pictured in the center of the print is the old Waynesboro National Bank building that used to sit catty-corner to where the Waynesboro Heritage Museum building is today. The Waynesboro National Bank building was torn down many years ago. The poster also had two calendars - 1917 and 1918 - at the bottom and notes that the bank has a surplus of $5500.00 - probably more than many of the banks that sought the bailout money had; and their surplus was backed by gold! It is in remarkably good condition, considering it had been stored in that hot/cold, humid/dry attic for over 25 years and is now approaching the century mark. When my father passed away in 2000, my stepmother passed the calendar on to me. It is currently on loan with the WHM.

As I've noted before, the time spent in that old home and neighborhood was, in so many ways, an idyllic period of my life. Since my father was born in the midst of the Great Depression in 1935 and since the streets and homes--even to this day--recall other places familiar in my memory, I was reminded of a scene from one of my favorite films: To Kill A Mockingbird. Though there are aspects of that movie I didn't like, the film does capture some of what life was like in the South during the years of the Depression, including the dirt streets and architecture--much like it was in the Tree Streets when my father was growing up there. I was also reminded of how much things have changed--some things for the good, others not so good.

The scene below shows typical frame homes from the period and the dirt/gravel roads that ran in front of them--even within small towns and neighborhoods. While the film is primarily about racial issues during that period, it is also reveals how much has changed in our attitudes about how men should conduct themselves and how much more self-reliant most Americans once were. In this clip, a rabid dog threatens the Finch children and neighborhood. The Finch's housekeeper runs to the phone, but doesn't call the police or "animal control"--she calls the man of the house, Atticus Finch. Finch shows up with the local Sheriff, but the Sheriff defers the duty of dispatching the threat to Atticus. The reluctant hero takes the shot and drops the mad dog in the dust, simultaneously taking care of the threat and impressing his children. It is classic. I can see my great-grandfather or my own father doing the same thing.


StaceyJeannette said...

Hi Rick,

Two of my ancestors (GG Grandfather Hanback and GGG Grandfather Kennedy) built houses in the same area and one of them is still standing on Poplar Ave, I remember visiting my Great Grandmother and her sister there when I was little -the other was where Waynesboro High School is now. It's nice you have that calendar.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Stacey - yes, love the old calendar!