Early spring in rural Georgia is usually a peaceful presence, unless you are climbing embankments searching for old, unkept graveyards. On April 6, 2019 my sister and I engaged in this exploration searching for the stone with the markings of W.R. Stovall. His date and place of birth and death is unknown, but as you will see, there is ample evidence that Mr. Stovall was very much alive and prospering just as the twentieth century made entrance.
Of course Kay or I would have been thrilled to find evidence of any Stovall committal, but it would be a bonus to discover the resting place of the former town senior of Stovall, Georgia. He was the man for whom Stovall Road was named. The paved corridor meanders for ten miles through Troupe and Merriweather Counties. Near the midpoint of Stovall Rd, between Lower Big Springs Rd and Greenville, GA, lies the town of Stovall.
Along the roadway we spotted a billboard with directions to Stovall Baptist Church. We took a risk and were surprised to find the fair-sized place of worship. The building looked newer than I had envisioned, with updated siding painted pure white.
Obviously, this was an active church with manicured landscaping and a large sign displaying times of worship on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesdays. If Pastor Billy Allen were to draw a circle five miles around the church it is highly likely that most Baptist within the boundaries would attend worship at this location.
Looking on beyond the church the road dead-ends and changes from pavement to a lovely carved clay street. To our left and right we spotted two old brick buildings.
Kay drove slowly while we both pondered buildings that loomed to our left and right, all secured with boarding over the windows and doors. One structure looked like it could have been a store, but it stood two floors tall. I supposed that it could have been the only multi-use facility in all of Stovall, Georgia.
Straight ahead we could see the road drifted east, out of town. There was a spectacular white fence that lined the exit way for as far as my eye could see. The view was reminiscent of a small town Main Street.
To our right we saw a building that looked vaguely familiar. It was a large structure, longer than it was wide, that seemed to sit snuggly on a perch. Obviously, it was a non-operational facility, but my mind raced, Was this once a storage warehouse? Perhaps it was a distribution point?
I walked around to the back of the building and discovered what I assumed all along. There were dual train tracks, one was a main line and the other was a spur that once picked up grain or cotton from local farmers in and around Stovall, Georgia.
The old store looked structurally sound, but its windows and doors were boarded closed. I remember pondering if there was anything stored there or in the depot. My gut feeling being that both buildings were assuredly empty.
I did note that the long white fence terminated at the store. It was a defining spot where the rural meets urban. I also noted that the grounds were all mowed and manicured, just like the Church property. Could it be that the church maintained what was left of this isolated little town?
. . .
But as it turns out, Stovall, GA has several residents. Driving past a magnificent home near the old buildings, we were fortunate enough to spot a gentleman working in his yard. We stopped to inquire about the town and it happened that that this gracious man was the home owner and was willing to share his expansive knowledge of the town and it’s pastoral past. Kay and I introduced ourselves as ‘Stovalls’, prompting him to produce the original town plot that plainly states downtown Stovall, Ga was owned by W.R. Stovall. The framed document was dated 1906 and was presented as a land plot. It was an amazing artifact that showed downtown Stovall, and all the outlying areas.
“The Stovall’s owned pretty much all of this town. It was farming times, and their farm just ran out. There were a few seasons where the rain would stop just over there,” the man told us, pointing to the distance.
And then he pointed to the railroad tracks, “There was a water tower just on the other side of the tracks. The steam engines came in and filled up with water. But when the deisel trains come about, the railroad quit stoping in Stovall. After a few years the railroad tore down the water tower, claiming it was their property, and they didn’t want to be held responsible for neglect.”
Kay noted the cemeteries on the large map, which brought the man to his full attention, “Get in your car and follow me,” he motioned to us. “I’ll show you two cemeteries and you can see for your self. As for me, I see too many ticks from the road to the headstones.”
The first cemetery contained some gravestones with birth dates in the late eighteenth century, but for the most part, the inscriptions were no longer legible. It was a small area with twenty or so graves that had been largely unattended.
Kay and I followed our guide to the second graveyard, but again he would have no part in scaling the embankment in search of the graves. He waited by the roadway while brother and sister reached the summit. Up ahead we could see many headstones grouped in a large, but neglected patch. When he saw that we had found our destination, he waved and departed in his pick-up truck.
I felt apprehensive as I watched the man drive away. There were so many answers I needed from him, but alas, he and his vehicle faded down the paved county road. Who is the caretaker of this historical little town that bears my family name? Are any of the farms still owned by families named on the land plot? What will the future hold for Stovall, GA? But most importantly; Where are the Stovall’s of Stovall, GA?
. . .
Kay and I searched the larger graveyard and found the stones were better preserved than the first cemetery we toured. We were able to decipher some headstones with the surnames, Hardy and Neal. There was little vandalism, just a few overturned headstones. Much like the first graveyard, it was overgrown with vegetation and appeared forgotten. To our dismay, there were no Stovall headstones.
. . .
Stovall, Georgia is representative of many towns or villages that sprang up shortly after the Revolutionary War. Soldiers wanted payment for their services and our new government had no money to pay them. Legislatures felt the need to proliferate the lands westward and offered free partials to those who were willing to claim the acreage. Within fifty years after America won her freedom from England, farming settlements were populating areas west of the Appalachian Mountains, particularly in the southern most part of our young country.
Stovall, Georgia is a bonanza for modern-day seekers who have an interest in these old settlements. Most are now ghost towns or unpopulated expanses of days gone by, much like the town of Stovall. Maybe some are fortunate enough to have a resident expert who can tell stories of the old town and prove his words with official land plots.
Stovall, Georgia. My kind of place.