Born in Scotland in 1808 and trained as a cabinet maker, Robert Findlay made his way to America via Liverpool in 1828, just a year before the first steam locomotive came to America and also just a year before the first steam boat reached Macon, Georgia. Railroads thus competed with canals and meant that heavy items, such as stationary engines, could be shipped anyplace, as long as a railroad was built. Within ten years, Findlay became an expert machinist and assembled locomotives, but the details of his exact relationships with concerns in Pennsylvania are not clear. In any case, in 1838, he escorted one of these locomotives, the Ocmulgee, to Macon, Georgia, which had been designated as one of the three commercial cities in Georgia. Findlay soon left the railroad business and went into a partnership, the Macon Brass & Iron Works and Machine Shop. Within a year, he was the sole proprietor and employed 20 men, eight being slaves. By the time of his death in 1859, the list of items Findlay Iron Works offered was comprehensive, and, of course, included sugar mills and boilers. One of these landed up with Kyle Fuller ( Fitzgerald, Georgia), who has a huge collection of antique farm equipment. Here, Kyle stands by this example (Slide 46) made by Findlay’s . This unusual kettle, like the one to its left, has a full round bottom, dissimilar to the deeper “salt” kettles and to the usual shallow “ New York” pattern kettles. Interestingly, the “n” cast in “ Macon” was set backwards! Findlay Iron Works outlasted Crockett and Reynolds, two Macon foundries that went under in the 1890s. It, however, was not up to competing with larger concerns such as Schofield's or Taylor and Findlay's ceased to exist in 1912 under a court-enforced sale. The last of the foundry buildings was condemned in 1951 and his mansion was demolished for a parking lot in 1974. (Special thanks to Dr. Christopher Stokes of the Washington Memorial Library (Macon, Georgia). The historical data are summarized from the eminently readable book by Robert S. Davis Jr. (1998 Cotton, fire, and dreams. The Robert Findlay Iron Works and heavy industry in Macon, Georgia, 1839-1912. Mercer University Press.))
Picture postcards often portray old timey syrup making. This particular one (Slide 47) is endearing to me, showing an operation near Tallahassee with the extraction and cooking facilities, along with the people who lived that life. (Thanks to Anthony Brinson for sharing this postcard.)
My father’s brother, Buren (1917-1976), made syrup for a few years. After he returned from the war, he sharecropped with Uncle Cornelius and Aunt Lena for one year and then worked with his in-laws as discussed above (Slide 45). Farming was hard and in the mid 1950s, he and his family moved near Lakeland ( Florida) where some of Aunt Bessie’s people had already migrated. The thought of Uncle Boo, as I called him, never fails to bring a smile to my face. He was a daredevil but did not grow out of it as most boys, including I, did. As a boy, I have been told, he would climb into trees overhanging the river. When an unwary alligator swam past, Uncle Boo would startle the poor creature by diving near it. I might not believe such a story except that I knew Uncle Boo: one night, he, Daddy, and I put a small boat into a sizeable lake in central Florida. The "No Trespassing" signs apparently meant more to the crowd of drunks on a deck across the lake than they did to Uncle Boo because they started shooting at us. Daddy immediately had me lie down in the bottom of the boat and he crouched over me. Uncle Boo noted the situation and remarked, perhaps to calm Daddy, that he didn’t think they could hit us from where they were. So, Uncle Boo’s night fishing went on. Pardon this digression, but the essence of the character of people who worked cane mills needs to be told, too. Anyhow, finding the mill Uncle Boo used became a priority for me and I was prepared to buy it, if necessary, to preserve it. After the property was split up, the mill moved down to Quitman to the farm of John Robinson, Aunt Bessie’s brother. Mr. John had passed on and the ownership of the mill was not clear, and in any case, I failed to find it. A second trip, however, was more fruitful (Slide 48). This is one of the later versions of the Goldens' No. 2 (New Model) as indicated by its guide-knife design, and is consistent with a new mill being set up after Rev. William Robinson removed from what is now known as the John Harper place. The improved guide knife is a welcome feature (discussed elsewhere), although most extant No. 2s in my area predate its invention.
Letterheads of two major players in the sugar-cane syrup industry are shown in Slide 49. Roddenbery, located in Cairo ( Georgia), was a packer and produced a variety of cane-based sweeteners and other products as discussed later. Note that this is a modern letterhead, as indicated by the presence of a postal code. The cane patch, though, was inspired by a pre-Civil War photograph. The Golden letterhead, used until the 1950s, depicts the 1890s building that replaced the one built in 1882, which burned. The building still stands, although the smoke stacks have been removed and additions made. The officers are not the original company officers. (Thanks to Anthony Brinson for sharing the Roddenbery letterhead and to Dennis Parker for sharing the Golden letterhead and providing information.)
Awesome, so often overused, is the only proper word to describe the Goldens' No. 44x (New Model) (Slide 50). This mill is owned by Mr. Oliver Broom ( Ocilla, Georgia) who purchased it from Mr. Joe Fletcher ( Irvinville, Georgia) and nothing else is known. This mill “was designed to meet the demand of some of our customers for a ‘Heavier Mill’ especially adapted for Hard Stubble and Tropical Cane.” This series of mills (viz. 22x, 33x, 44x) was not offered in Golden Catalog No. 34 (~1916) (or No. 37, 1919) but was offered in Golden Catalog No.53 (1933) (and No. 52, 1928). The 44x was apparently a replacement for the No. 4xx. Like the 4xx, the 44x has a juice capacity of 150 gallons per hour. The roller size of the 44x is about the same as that of the 4xx and of the Columbus No. 15 (i.e., ~12” x 16” (diameter)). The weights of these mills are 1385 lbs (No. 4xx), 1530 lbs. (No. 44x), and 2000 lbs. (Columbus No. 15). These very large vertical mills are rare. As of this writing (July 2004), this is the only one of the 22x-33x-44x series that I know of. I am aware of only two 4xx mills (Tommy Clayton’s, Bobby McDaniel's and mine ) and only one Columbus No. 15 mill (again, Tommy Clayton’s).
Wayne Davis (Peniel (near Clopton), Alabama) (Slide 51) holds a cane hoe. Wayne confided that he buys every old piece of American-made equipment that he runs across. (After seeing his workshop, I would have come to this conclusion anyhow.) In my youth's experience, hand-harvesting of cane was always done with a large cane knife, but hoes such as the one that Wayne is holding were shown in early sugar-cane syrup bulletins and are used by some growers I know today.
All except one of the labels in this composite (Slide 52) are from Cairo, Georgia, which is the seat of Grady County, and which, for decades, was the center for shipment of sugar-cane syrup to other parts of the U.S. Two of the labels are from the Roddenbery Company, which is particularly notable in the cane-syrup industry. The founder and patriarch of this large family business was Dr. Seaborn Roddenbery, a third-generation Georgian. In 1862, he bought a farm (Cross Roads, bottom label) on what is now Hiway 84 between Thomasville and Bainbridge ( Georgia). Within the decade, he had acquired 1000 acres and eased off his practice of medicine because, he complained, 90% of his customers didn’t pay. Readers of these pages perhaps know of Roddenbery’s sugar-cane syrup industry, which in the end was producing on Cross Roads alone 120 barrels of syrup a 24-hour day on one long evaporator. The company also bought and sold various syrups (including sorghum and maple) and a large variety of blends under many labels. (The company started blending with corn syrup only in 1919 in order to satisfy the requirements of customers who were not willing to pay the high prices for the pure syrup.) Many readers might be interested to know that the Roddenbery enterprises were diversified into a variety of products: early in the 20th century, they grew, bought, and shipped hundreds of train cars of watermelons; the Roddenberys made cigars, ran a hardware business and mercantile business, and they made Cairo famous all over South Georgia during my childhood for the prodigious amount and variety of pickles they produced. That era has passed, too; the Roddenbery business is no more, being sold to Dean Foods, which closed the Cairo operation shortly afterwards. (Thanks to Anthony Brinson for allowing me to scan the labels and to Alan Kaye and Janet Boudet of Roddenbery Memorial Library ( Cairo, Georgia) for courteous essential assistance. Most of the facts were taken from Gwendolyn Brock Waldorf 1995 W. B. Roddenbery Company, Grady County, Georgia, unpublished).
Jerry and Anthony Brinson ( Whigham, Georgia) own this magnificently restored set of fly-wheel engines (Slide 53). The engines represent the entire set of M-series International Engines, which range from 1.5 to 10 horsepower and which were produced from 1919 to ~1930. The largest engine, which was introduced in 1920, was used in Mr. John H. Collins’ syrup operation, which produced over 10,000 gallons of syrup in 1921. Born in 1869 to an established family, Mr. Collins grew up on the homeplace on Hadley Ferry Road, which intersects with Meridian Road about 6 miles north of me. He was a progressive farmer and conscientious citizen, helping to form Grady County and electrify it later. He grew a number of crops, but also had a large milling operation in addition to his syrup operation. (The data on Mr. Collins were from Yvonne Brunton 1979 Grady County, Georgia. Some of its history, folk architecture and families. Quality Printers, Inc. Jackson MS. Thanks to Janet Boudet and Alan Kaye of the Roddenbery Memorial Library for assistance. Thanks also to Jerry and Anthony Brinson for information about the engines.)
Brother Mark and Phyllis Webb live and make a living on their manicured acreage in Florahome ( Florida). They have a personal focus, but diversified interests, which “add up,” to quote Bro. Mark, who is shown with his Chattanooga No. 14 (Slide 54; click here for more about his syrup operation). I visited Bro. Mark on this summer morning, though, to take advantage of his rare skill in reseating a chair (before , after) my ggrandfather Sam Watson had made. Bro. Mark grows one beef a year and tans the hide to use in old cracker chairs. Although my business was to have a chair refurbished, Bro. Mark skillfully crafts old-style Florida furniture using tools inherited from his grandfather. Almost as surprising as impressive, the Webb hog parlor is on the back of the property; using AI, Bro. Mark maintains the stock from which he sells pigs that go on to win championships for local youth. Others go into his smokehouse (sooner rather than later if they annoy him), another commercial enterprise that he and Phyllis have. Rounding out the business at that time, the Webbs made corn meal using corn from fellow syrupmaker Stacey Freeman (Statesboro, Georgia). Of course, I also had a keen interest in his plantings (garden and fruit trees). Finally, I can’t ignore the fact that I am a Webb, too, and had the social climate in the 1840s been as today, my last name would be Webb, likely. Please let me explain. Dawson Webb raised W.H.H. Outlaw, whose mother, Pillie Webb, died. W.H.H.'s father, Alexander Outlaw, gave up his son to the Webb family about the time the Webbs moved to what is now Berrien County. Thus, the census of 1850 shows that the family of Dawson Webb (then age 63) included the boy, W.H.H. My forebearers were thoughtful and often kept marriage in the family so that we of subsequent generations would have fewer ancestors to memorize. Thus, Dawson Webb is also my 4th great grandfather (his daughter Eliza married Moses G. Sutton, Jr., parents of Newton Sutton, father of Buck Sutton, father of Della Sutton, mother of my father). . . . and when it wasn't practical to consolidate bloodlines, they did the next best thing: Dawson Webb is also an in-law (his daughter Frances married William Fountain, brother of my 2d great grandfather Fountain.) (Thanks to Ken Christison for substantive assistance. Reluctantly and uncritically, I must mention that the premier lay resource in genealogy for South Georgia errs in the Dawson Webb account.)
Postscript: I regret to note that Brother Mark Webb passed December 16, 2012.
My small hometown, Nashville (GA), is about half way between Tifton and Valdosta. I always thought of Valdosta as “the city,” and Tifton as a larger version of Nashville and as the place where I suffered at the hands of a merciless dentist. Certainly, Valdosta has a more auspicious name, coming by way of Gov. Troupe’s estate’s name (itself named after the small French region in NW Italy). Although Troupe ultimately gave the name to Valdosta, the honorific Troupeville, a steamboat stop on the Withlacoochee River (Creek: Small River), lost its status as the county seat when the county seat removed to the new rail lines four miles away in 1860. (For a pleasant read, go here; for a pleasant ride, canoe the Withlacoochee.) This entire introduction is simply to make the point that Valdosta was a mere thirty years old when this 1890s photograph of Briggs Hardware (Slide 55) was made on Patterson Street. In the 1910s, Briggs moved to another location, and now it is no more. Can you imagine jumping onto the wagon, riding a day or so, and picking up a new kettle? First noticed by Beth Clayton, Briggs also had a couple of cane mills on the porch. (Thanks to Beth and Tommy Clayton (who own a Golden Mill No.1 with a Briggs Hardware tag) and indirectly to the Lowndes County Historical Society.)
In Irwin County (GA), I bumped into a lever cap (Slide 56) cast with “W Green SA” on it. It appears to have originally gone on a cane mill.
If you cannot overcome the temptation to covet, better not to go to the Brinsons’. Elsewhere, the Chattanooga No. 92 that was used by the sugar-cane experiment station in Cairo was described in the context of its use at the station. According to information given to Anthony Brinson, the station was established in 1917 at the intersection of Hadley Ferry Road and Pine Park Road. Neighboring farmers complained about the high wages paid to laborers because they could not compete. So, the station was moved soon to its permanent home at 361 Hiway 112 (the present location of Conner Nursery), where it remained until the station was closed by the Nixon administration. The inventory indicated that the mill was part of the move. Since the mill does not have IHC cast into it anyplace, Anthony surmised that it was made before International Harvester acquired Chattanooga Plow Company in 1919. The Brinsons use it at the Swine Time Festival for grinding juice, powering it with either their 10-hp flywheel engine or their antique McCormick tractor. As shown in Slide 57, the mill is mounted on a military surplus generator buggy and is equipped with a pump to move the juice into the 95-gallon holding vat. The multicomponent drive system for the pump operates at 2500 RPM whereas the cane-mill pulley only turns 200 RPM.
Like most of us, the Abernethys (Maiden, NC) started in the syrup business with a vertical animal-powered mill. They were lucky to find one that had local history. Their first mill had been owned by a blacksmith who lived only a half mile away and whose wife had a side-line sorghum operation. In the 1970s, Carroll Abernethy’s uncle obtained that mill and they made syrup using it until 2003. Slide 58 shows Carroll standing by his restored Goldens’ No. 36, which he obtained from Colbert (GA), where it had been used for many years. Originally, it had come from the North Georgia mountains.
Anthony Brinson made another great find (Slide 59). The front of the postcard shows a 1916 postal mark and the back elaborates on the qualities of the “Boss” cane stripper. Note that this design differs from those made by the Brinley-Hardy Company (Snapshot 43.)
Al Fuqua, an antique collector and dealer from Springfield (Tennessee), brought this Murphy mill (Slide 60) to the site of the NSSPPA annual meeting in Nashville (Tennessee) in 2005. W.L. Murphy & Co., Manufacturers ( Nashville, Tennessee) is shown on the top plate and Southern Mill, No. 2 is cast onto one of the staves. (Thanks to Ken Christison for assistance with this narrative.)