Tallapoosa Boom

In his landmark 1913 work, Georgia's Landmarks, Memorials and Legends, Lucian Lamar Knight calls the South Georgia city of Fitzgerald the State's "Colony City" because its creation was the outgrowth of the colonization scheme of P. H. Fitzgerald, editor of the Indianapolis Tribune and pension attorney for many Union Army veterans. Encouraged by Georgia Governor William J. Northern, who was "seeking to bring into Georgia a sturdy class of immigrants from the North-west," in 1895 he formed the American Soldiers' Colony Association. To be settled on the 32,000 acres purchased by this company were aging Union Army veterans seeking a more "congenial climate." Like many other historians, Knight ignored previous colonization schemes in Haralson County, which is located in Northwest Georgia.

Haralson County was carved out of Carroll and Polk counties in 1856. It was named after Major-General (Militia) Hugh A. Haralson of LaGrange, who was a member of both the Georgia General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. Settled long before Haralson County's oldest incorporated city, Buchanan, the county seat, came into being was the city of Tallapoosa. Like many towns in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, it began as a gold mining town. Although other names were used to refer to it in its early years (Pine Grove, Pineville, and Possum Snout), a Tallapoosa post office was established in 1839. Tallapoosa got its name from the nearby river of that name. (Tallapoosa is an Indian word of uncertain meaning.) Less than a quarter of a century after it was incorporated in 1860 it entered an extraordinary boom period during which it became known to investors and tourists throughout the North and Canada as a "Yankee City Under a Southern Sun." 

Prior to 1887, Haralson County historian Lee S. Trimble said of Tallapoosa that, "The main dependence of the town for trade must have been on lumber and agriculture . . . as there were no industries of note in that period. Its best friends could hardly say more than it was another good, small town with excellent railroad service, good water, some fine bottom lands on nearby streams, and a lot of virgin timber. That was about the situation until 1886, when Dame Fortune gave her wheel a spin and strange things began to happen in and to Tallapoosa."

This hotel was torn down in 1943.

The most outstanding building built during Tallapoosa's Yankee-created boom years was probably the Lithia Springs Hotel. Begun in 1881, it was completed in 1882, the year that the railroad came to Tallapoosa. It was claimed that this hotel was the largest wooden buildings in the South. (This hotel should not be confused with one of the same name in Lithia Springs in nearby Douglas County.)  It had 175 rooms, a large ballroom, banquet hall, billiard and pool rooms, and an elevator.  In those days many people traveled to lithia springs for their health. A round trip ticket to Tallapoosa from New York by train took 32 hours and cost $38.65 for a round trip ticket.

Adjacent to the Lithia Springs Hotel was a thirteen-acre park that featured tennis courts, bowling alleys, and riding trails. On its grounds were the mineral springs that were this resort's most important feature. Lithia was the most valuable alkaline known to the medical profession. It is found in springs stretching from the Southeast to Pennsylvania.  The Lithia Springs Hotel was built by the Tallapoosa Real Estate and Industrial Company, whose incorporators were B. A. Osgood of Massachusetts, George Steward of Pennsylvania, George M. Williams of New Hampshire, William Sears of New York, and William A. Kimball of Tallapoosa. Ralph L. Spencer, who is given the most credit for creating the late nineteenth century boom in Tallapoosa, is reported to have been on a train trip to the North during which this hotel project was conceived. There were at least three other hotels in Tallapoosa. 

Ralph L. Spencer was born in Essex, Connecticut on July 17, 1859 to Chauncey and Temperance Spencer, he arrived in Tallapoosa in the Fall of 1886. Accompanying him were his wife and son Hawley. People who remembered him described him as a man of  "above average height; well fed and inclining to stoutness; handsome, personable, a born salesman with a flair for showmanship. He wore good clothes, of course, and sported two fine diamonds, wearing them constantly. One in a ring; the other a tie-pin. He was a man's man; lived well; drank on occasion; seemed developed to his family, though there is a record of a capable assistant who served to help keep his fast-moving and complicated business deals in order. She was his secretary, a Miss Grace Parker, who came to Tallapoosa with Spencer, and remained a resident when he left. She was an efficient, loyal aide, an admirable person, but with unofficial status as her name never appears in the records of dealings by corporations and in lands."

 In 1887, Spencer and others obtained charters for the Tallapoosa Electric Light Company and the Tallapoosa Water Works Company. The former was created to light Tallapoosa, and the latter's objective was to provide it with water. The capital of both was $10,000. In 1888, he and others obtained a charter for the Mountain City Athletic Association, whose business was promoting racing, baseball, and other sports and the Tallapoosa Glass Works, whose business was to make all kinds of glassware, including window glass and plate. The capital of the Athletic Association was $20,000, while that of the glass manufacturing firm was only $15,000. 

After, reportedly, briefly leaving Tallapoosa, Spencer invited some Hungarian wine-making families then employed in the mining industry in Pennsylvania to settle on 2,000 acres of land near Tallapoosa. Many accepted this offer. They named their largest community Budapest in honor of the capital of Hungry. A nearby village was named Tokaj in honor of a wine-producing region in Hungry. Tokaj was founded to satisfy the desire of Jacob and Paul Estavanko for lots larger than ten acre. Other Haralson fruit colonies included Stedman and Boheme. An 1896 map reveals that by then vineyards covered approximately 12,726 acres of land in Haralson County.

Led to Georgia by a Catholic priest, the Hungarians brought the Catholic faith to Haralson County. A sketch of them prepared for the dedication in the mid 1950s of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in neighboring Carroll County reports that:

In 1893 two hundred families of Hungarians who had settled in the Pennsylvania mining region emigrated to the South to begin a new industry, the cultivation of grape vineyards. Under the guidance of a Catholic priest, Father Janisek, they established a colony about four miles east of Tallapoosa and named it Budapest. Various groups from Ohio and other parts of the United States were attracted to the area and the new industry. Among them was a group of Slovakians who formed a second town site named Nitra. The colony quickly flourished into a town with sixty buildings including a Catholic Church, stores and a post office. Soon the sloping hills were garlanded with grape vines. Storage vats were prepared and wineries were planned. 

It looked as though a new industry had succeeded in the South, but with passage of the Georgia Prohibition Act of 1907 the wine industry fell into ruins. One by one the families were forced to go elsewhere for their livelihood until today there are only one or two of the original families remaining. 

The wine produced in and around Tallapoosa was sold in the North. The last of the descendents of the Budapest settlers still living there died in 1964. All that today remains of the Hungarian colonies is a well constructed Catholic Rectory in Nitra owned by a local family and the Budapest and Estavanko cemeteries. The Estavanko family remained in Haralson County after the demise of the wine industry.  

The Census of 1900 reveals how polyglot the Tallapoosa District's population became in the late nineteenth century as a result of Northern colonization schemes. Among the out-of-state birth places recorded were (not in any order): England, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, France, Russia, Hungary, Austria, Scotland, Ireland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, New Hampshire, Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Alabama, Iowa, and North Carolina. The number of people born in Northern states and abroad substantially outnumbered those born in other Southern states. The uncommon occupations for this part of the world that were listed were winemakers and glassblowers. The very small nearby town of Waco listed 18 heads of households from Hungary. Buchanan listed five born in Austria. 

The immigrants from the North, some of whom could not speak English, were not welcomed by some long time residents of Haralson County. It has been reported that when a Union veteran fell from the roof of the Catholic Rectory at Nitra while it was under construction that a neighbor, who was a Confederate veteran, would not let the man be carried into his home. As a result, he died on this man's porch. 

In 1889, Ralph Spencer and others obtained a charter for the Golden River Cemetery Company, whose business was to embalm, entomb, inter, and disinter and the Vernon Light and Power Company, whose business was to furnish light, heat, and power to Tallapoosa. The light and power company's capital was $25,000. In 1890, he and others chartered a company with a much larger amount of capital, $100,000, than any of the other companies he played a role in founding. This company was the Tallapoosa Cotton Company, whose business was to produce textiles. The following year he and others obtained a charter for the Tallapoosa Lumber, Manufacturing, and Tramway Company, whose business was to operate machinery, build steam, rail and tramways, manufacture articles of wood, and build all types of public improvements. Its capital was more than double that of the Cotton Company: $250,000. In 1891 he was a member of the group of men who obtained a charter for The Howe Ventilating Stove Company which, with a capital of $45,000, intended to make and sell stoves of all kinds. 

Charters were obtained by others for the following companies:

After the winery was chartered, a number of related firms were created: The Stedman Colony of Fruit Growers, The Highland Colony of Fruit Growers, The Southland Colony of Fruit Growers, The Southern Homestead and Fruit Growing Company, The Southern Homestead and Fruit Growing Company, The Southern Fruit Growing and Colonizing Company, The Piedmont Wine Company, and The Georgia Vineyard Company. 

The Stedman Fruit Colony was founded by the Southern Homestead Fruit Growing Company in 1896.  Its manager was Gottlob Wanner of Tallapoosa. It sold town lots for $25 to $50. Ten-acre vineyards were located near the town. Several Northern families settled there, building steep roofed, two story homes like those built in the North to shed snow. (Today this community's name is spelled Steadman.)

In 1896, Spencer made Zidonia, Alabama, a flag stop on the Southern Railway ten miles West of Tallapoosa, into a boom town devoted to wine production. Renaming it Fruithurst, Spencer created a 1,240 acre town. His unfulfilled goal was to create a colony of about 36 square miles. Unlike his Georgia colonies, this one was settled by Swedes. Apparently the priest, Janisek and an interpreter employed to translate for the Hungarians in Georgia, George Grunik, followed Spencer to Fruithurst, as their names appear as incorporators of some of the companies formed in Fruithurst. It appears that 700 lots were sold to Northern investors, and an 80-room hotel was built for $39,700.  After about three years this project faded. As was true in Georgia, its land was ultimately reclaimed by long-time residents.

As is evident by the companies chartered in Tallapoosa between 1900 and 1907, at a slower pace the boom continued in this period. Among the companies chartered in Tallapoosa between 1900 and 1907 were: Dixie Glass Works, Southern Iron Company, Tallapoosa Cotton Mill, Southern Printing Company, Kimball Knitting Company, Thornton Lumber Company, Tallapoosa Baseball Association, Tennessee Mining Company, Hollywood Cemetery Company, Southern Car Wheel Company, Tallapoosa Mercantile and Manufacturing Company, Tallapoosa Mills, and Tallapoosa Glass Manufacturing Company. Then it was over.

The ultimate fate of Ralph L. Spencer, the extraordinary Connecticut Yankee promoter,  is unknown, and Tallapoosa today displays little physical evidence of the boom period he played a major a role in creating. 

Shown at the top of this article is panoramic map of Tallapoosa published in 1892. It is in the collection of the Library of Congress. The drawings appearing in this article come from this map. (The drawing of the hotel has been colorized and a fold line removed. Other drawings were lightened.)

Thanks for much of the information about the boom years in Tallapoosa go to a Lee S. Trimble, whose description of these years written in 1952 is among the holdings of the Annie Bell Weaver Collection, Irvine S. Ingram Library, State University of West Georgia.

The sketch of the Hungarian settlement was written by Mrs. Gibson LaFoy and was reprinted in Haralson County: A History by Lois Owens Newman, which is also the source of some of the other material that appears in this article.

Copyrighted by Carole E. Scott, 1999. Do not republish without obtaining her permission.

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