All aboard! Historical marker right on time

Published 2:27 pm Saturday, June 22, 2019

It was “all aboard!” for another milestone in Americus’ history last Saturday; the dedication of an historical marker and ribbon cutting at the SAM Shortline train depot on South Jackson Street.

The marker, co-sponsored by the Sumter Historic Trust, the Charles L. Mix Memorial fund, and the city of Americus, recognizes Samuel Hugh Hawkins, an Americus lawyer, banker, and Baptist layman, and the significant role he played in making Americus a railroad town.

Hawkins organized local investors in 1884, to construct the narrow-gauge Americus, Preston & Lumpkin (AP&L) Railroad through Sumter, Webster and Stewart counties. In 1887, the AP&L completed track to Abbeville on the Ocmulgee River and soon afterward operated steamboats to Brunswick and Savannah via Darien. Re-chartered in 1888, as the Savannah, Americus & Montgomery Railway (SAM), the company converted to standard gauge and built extensions to Lyons, and Montgomery. The SAM contributed to the rapid growth of Americus and the establishment of new towns east and west along its route, including Vidalia, Cordele, and Plains.

Today, “The SAM,” as I call it, is an excursion train that for almost 20 years has come ‘round the tracks bringing countless visitors to Americus on its regular run from Cordele to Plains. Former President Jimmy Carter and former Georgia state Sen. George Hooks, Americus attorney Jimmy Skipper, and many others were instrumental in getting SAM back on the track.

Lee Kinnamon, local historian and archivist for Sumter Historic Trust, along with former Sen. Hooks, organized placing an historical marker at the new depot. Sumter Historic Trust took the lead in the project, enlisting Mix Memorial Foundation and the city of Americus. Kinnamon created the wording on the monument and Bunny Byrne designed the handsome logo, a replica of the Lee Council House, the trust’s headquarters. Meredith Owen, trust president, said the preservation organization plans to mark other historical landmarks in the future.

The dedication was outstanding, drawing a huge crowd that included many living descendants of Samuel Hugh Hawkins and Cordelia Matthews Hawkins that include: T. Furlow Gatewood III of Americus, and Ann Singer of Lumpkin, who unveiled the marker. Sam Singer Jr., Jim Gatewood and his wife Billie Gatewood, and Virginia Crisp Gatewood, Crisp Gatewood and his wife, Katie Gatewood, and children, Fleming and James Crisp Gatewood III, of Albany, Frances Gatewood Raybon and husband, Robbie, and children, Hawkins and Gates Raybon, Charles Crisp Gatewood of Tifton; Sen. George Hooks, Bardin and Hayden Hooks and toddler son, George Hooks III, Joe and Jarrett Hooks, Mary Anne Hooks Hammack and husband Nathan Hammack and daughters, Anna Gail and Libby, all of Americus, Ed Eschmann III and grandchildren of Bronwood, Bobby and Harriett Hooks Jr. of Macon, Sam and Robbie Vickers, their daughters and granddaughters, and Barri Vickers, all of Jacksonville, Fla.; Bo Sullivan and his wife Mary Lynn and children, Laura Sullivan Joyner and children Cayce and Anna Kate Sullivan, and Shelly Sullivan, all of Americus. Another Hawkins-Gatewood descendant, Leon Holloway, was in Savannah catering an event and unable to attend; however, he provided the delicious Southern-style picnic lunch at The Carnegie immediately after the dedication.

George Hooks says his out of town relatives raved about the Windsor Hotel where they were guests. While here they also toured Oak Grove Cemetery and visited two family homes: the present home of Jenny Justice at 505 S. Lee St., and residence of Dick and Peggy Minor on South Lee Street, once the home of the T.D. Hooks family.

Others I spoke to were Congressman Sanford Bishop of Columbus, Americus Mayor Barry Blount, city Council member Charles Christmas and his wife Kim Christmas, president-elect of the Trust, Trust President Meredith Owen, Ricky and Jane Arnold, former Americus Mayor Russell Thomas Jr., Chet Crowley, Tara Mitchell, Evan and Amanda Kutzler, Hope Henderson, Charles Crisp, Jenny Crisp of Leesburg, Dave and Kathleen Tucker, and Nichole Buchanan of Americus.

Smile and say hello to Andrew Gammage Vann, son of Brandon and Lauren Shivers Vann, and born Monday, June 17 at Piedmont Hospital, Columbus. He was welcomed home by big brother, Bennett Vann, two and a half. And happy birthday to John Richard Larendon Barrett who celebrates his birthday today at a family dinner party hosted by his parents, Mark and Anne Barrett at their home in Leslie.

Surprise, surprise! Jim Gatewood said he was astonished when his family gave him a surprise birthday party last Saturday evening.


Leila Sisson Case lives in Americus.