Memories with Cousin Charles E. Bryan
The Smith House
(photo printed with permission from Rocky Smith)
It wasn’t until I became interested in family history research that I met my second cousin, Charles Earle Bryan… although I’m sure he’d seen me as a young child, I just didn’t really know him. We became acquainted after I sent his mother my yearly Christmas newsletter and a copy of my Bryan research. He began reading through it… and was bit by the genealogy bug… and on one of my trips home we hooked up for a family research trip to Dahlonega, Georgia.
Charles, surrounded by many of his family (he’s back there in the blue shirt)
One of my first trips, of several, with Charles, began in June of 1999. He drove me, along with my mother and son Stephen for a trip to Dahlonega. That day we were picked up in his van… mama was enjoying the captain chairs in the back, and there even was a TV and vcr, so they were kept busy as I’m sure Charles and I yakked all the way up. Whenever she’d moan about the windy roads, Charles just keep on driving while chuckling… and give me a wink!
We arrived around lunchtime and stopped at The Smith House… which is more for tourists but we had wanted to check it out. They serve family-style meals, which means you sit at large tables, often with other guests and pass the bowl around, just like at home. Mama always said their fried chicken was one of the best she’d had in years… Stephen kept the fried okra bowl empty, and I did a decent job on the creamed style corn. The one thing I thought missing was a southern biscuit… they only serve yeast rolls… oh well you can’t have everything!
From my journal entry, I’m thinking this might have been my first visit there, as it seemed Charles let us spend time walking around and shopping… I’m sure that wasn’t his cup of tea! I wrote in my journal that I bought a lap-throw with pictures of Dahlonega on it… I’m not remembering that, so might have to dig around and see where it went!
After a walk through town, stopping at The Hometown Bookstore for a genealogy book on Lumpkin County obits transcribed, and a stop at The Fudge Factory, we were ready to ride off our food! Charles drove up to Woody Gap to show us the view of Dahlonega from way high up… Stephen had a chance to try out his new digital camera and snapped many photos; this was the new Sony camera that first recorded digital images on floppy disks. Boy how times have changed in nineteen years!
Cane Creek Falls
On the way back to Dahlonega, we stopped by Cane Creek Falls… which is now on the property of the campsite of Camp Glisson, a youth camping area; you can still walk down to the falls if camp isn’t in progress. Our common ancestor, Berrian Clark Bryan’s homestead was further up, and just across from the part of the river that runs down to feed into the falls.
That trip was only one of many as once the family research bug hit Charles, often he and his wife Kay spent many weekends in Lumpkin County; they enjoyed searching out places to show me when I came home every summer. (I was always so jealous!)
Cousin Charles favorite restaurant!
On another trip, Charles took me to his favorite… where he always ate… The Wagon Wheel… it was just out of town and where all the locals ate; you can never go wrong if the locals eat there! He never went to Dahlonega without stopping there for his favorite fried chicken… I’m told it’s the best… and always a slice… or maybe two… of their famous chocolate pie. His daughter, Lynn, told me that it wasn’t unusual for him to just take off and go up there by himself just for a lunch of fried chicken and chocolate pie! I’m definitely stopping there on my next trip… and maybe I’ll have an extra slice for cousin Charles!
Charles would always take several routes to Dahlonega, and it took me awhile to get my bearings and finally write down a route so I could drive my son and I up there for more visits. This was before I had a cell phone for map directions. I became quite good in making that route and learning my way around to feel comfortable enough to drive there… although my mother wasn’t comfortable when we hit the roads going around the mountains… all I’d hear from the backseat was… “slow down, I know you’re going to drive us off the mountain, or I’m going to be sick!” Stephen and I would laugh from the front seat!
Cane Creek Church
One of the main places I had always wanted to see was Cane Creek Church in Dahlonega; after Charles and Kay discovered it, Kay wrote me all about it, and how he would take me there when I came home; I couldn’t wait for my trip to Georgia… knowing that I was finally going to see the church and cemetery where my third-great grandfather, Berrian Clark Bryan, was buried, along with many more family members.
When Charles turned off the main road that day, the first thing I noticed was that the road wasn’t paved… it was a narrow red-dirt road, and very muddy from the rain, the night before. If you’ve ever driven on muddy dirt roads with deep slanting sides leading down to the even muddier ditch, then you know what I’m describing. Of course, if you know Charles, you know he had plans to tease me about ending up in that muddy ditch… and yes I was a little nervous about being stuck there as the road leading out to the cemetery, which seemed to go on and on; it was way over a mile back in the woods… and it became a dead end when we arrived!
While I was excited to see Cane Creek Church, I was a little scared being so deep in the woods, now at a dead end… and seeing an old logging truck with men sitting off to the side of the open area… didn’t make me feel any safer! I’m sure Charles chuckled when I said, “well if they kill and bury us somewhere back here, I know Steve will never know what happened to me.” He just laughed again! Before we headed around the church toward the cemetery, the truck pulled out… and I breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t think it had fazed Charles one bit!
Seeing the church and cemetery was like stepping back in time… as if time had not touched this area. The cemetery was a small circular area with many graves still unmarked… only marked with a fieldstone. I had learned earlier from a cousin, that her grandfather, who was a grandson of B.C. Bryan, had actually researched the cemetery many years ago to learn exactly where the family graves were and had gravestones placed; what a lifesaver that was for us!
Charles and daughter, Lynn; they visited Cane Creek Church on Memorial Day (2015)
Visiting the cemetery and gravestones of my early ancestors that day, was only the first beginning of many returned visits; the church was another delight to see in person. The two white-clapboard doors were open and upon entering, it felt like we had stepped back into another era. The original oak pews were still in place… lined up on very worn oak flooring. Gas lights still hung on the wall, although there is electricity now for lights overhead and ceiling fans. An older upright piano sat in the corner, with many hymn books there showing what music they played. We left a note and money in the offering basket we found underneath the ministers preaching pulpit. It seemed others had also been there before us, as there was other money in the basket… seems we all had the same idea. In as much as I could have stayed longer, we headed home… or mama might have turned into a pumpkin. My camera was loaded with so many photos that day and I couldn’t wait to view them later on my laptop.
I was swept away by the quaint inside on my first visit… click HERE for a story and photos on my visit to the church showing ghostly spirits.
Another trip with Charles was to Nimblewill Baptist Church and cemetery, as he showed me the graves of William P. Turner (1846-1899) and wife Laura A. Gooch (1848-1914). I remember how excited I was when I learned what the letter “P” stood for… Pinkney… the same middle name of my grandfather, Paul Pinkney Bryan; I always had heard he was embarrassed with that middle name and never liked anyone to know… if only I had known early… I would have liked to have asked him about it.
Nimblewill had a couple more “Turner” graves of a Francis Turner (1810-1911), age 100… and for several years I hoped, and tried to tie her in as being the elusive mother of my William P. Turner, but after much research, she wasn’t a match. She could tie in to the Turner family somewhere, but not as his mother. It turned out that Francis was the mother of the nearby gravestone of Malinda Turner Gamblin (1840-1876).
A year passed, and while I was home dreaming of what Charles would discover to show me… he was pulled to Lumpkin County on many weekends…. searching for new places of interest… especially cemeteries of where our shared ancestors were buried.
Another trip to Georgia had Charles and I heading to Springer Mountain in Fannin County, which is the next county over from Lumpkin. I had never heard of this mountain before, but anyone who hikes will know that Springer Mountain is the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from there to Mount Katahdin in Maine; a total mile count of 2,200 miles, which often takes around six months to walk. I’ve read a few books of people’s walks, and followed someones daily blog recently… finding them quite interesting. Their writings sound like such an adventure, from the people they meet, to the breathtaking views they see… but I’ll never see those views or meet those people except through their stories and photos… that should have been something I thought to do many years ago… today I’d never get a mile in before turning around. Hopefully when I revisit Hickory Flats Cemetery again, I’ll find the beginning of the Appalachian trail and that will be as close as I’ll get to the trail… it does run directly alongside the cemetery, so I could step on the trail there… and at least I could say I was on the trail!
I was totally lost as we headed there, but Charles knew exactly where he was going… I just enjoyed the ride and the scenery… until! Once we turned off the main road onto the last road that wound round and round up Springer Mountain, I had hesitations on going on, but! This narrow dirt bumpy road was known as Ladder Road… so known because of the constant line of bumps going across. When I say it was narrow… it was very narrow… and my first question of many was “what happens if we meet another car coming down?” Charles just laughed, “Oh, we’ll get by.” I wasn’t as sure as he seemed to be, but I buckled up and held on. His side of the car hugged the mountain, while mine hugged the side of the road directly next to the ravine… which I could look down the side of the mountain and see a constant water stream full of rocks. All that ran through my mind was, if the tires go off the road and we go tumbling down the gully into the water… it’s all over. I’m sure I said a few prayers on the way up… and it seemed like it took forever. I was quite relieved when we finally reached the top of the winding ladder road and came to another… dirt ruddy road!
Hickory Flats Cemetery is known as one of the most unique cemeteries in Georgia as it sits on top of a mountain…. in the middle of the Appalachian Trail. It is around 12 miles from the closest paved road… and to reach it, you drive those 12 miles on a twisting gravel-dirt mountain road through the Chattahoochee National Forest. As the cemetery is inside the area of the Chattahoochee, campers have camping rights in this cemetery area… where else would you find a cemetery to legally camp in? I found it so odd when I discovered that, but it is pretty cool.
I was later told by his wife Kay that the first time he took her and the kids up to Hickory Flats Cemetery, he took the same bumpy road… him hugging the mountain, while she, like me, feared they’d end up in the ravine down below! They often took weekend trips there, and lured the kids along for “digging up bones“… which is what they called those trips. Kay also remembers the “sighs” and “eye rolls” from the backseat… but they came.. and now have many great memories of those trips with dad, just like I do. And they all knew they’d get a slice of chocolate pie if they came along for the ride!
After we turned onto a somewhat flat straight road, the cemetery of Hickory Flats was just to our right. New Bethel Church, for whatever reason, had left Georgia and moved it’s parish up to Tennessee. We pulled into the parking area to discover several cars, a camper and many people sitting around an open fire. We were quite surprised, wondering why so many people were here, and just sitting around. Charles, being the southern talker he is, didn’t hesitate to walk over, introduce himself and start a conversation. Before I knew it, we were sitting by the fire and sharing stories about the families of the Bryan’s and the Long’s.
It seemed the “Long” family came there yearly, every August for a family reunion… yes in a cemetery! We sat down and had many conversations as there were Long’s who married into our Bryan line… and it seemed we were connected as distant cousins. After several photos and a look around, we left them to their reunion, and we headed back… on a different route. I was thankful for that, especially after the story told about a bear spotted up there the day before. I’m sure I kept looking over my shoulder that day… expecting to see Yogi looking for a picnic basket… or me!
What I had first noticed upon getting out… was the quality of the air on top of Springer Mountain that day. You could just take a deep breath and feel how clean, crisp and cool the air felt. I have never been back there since that day with Charles, but it’s now on my “to do” list… I must take my husband there on our next trip to Georgia… but I’m not going the route of Ladder Road… I can’t take that trip up again!
We hadn’t gone 500 feet leaving on that flat road before Charles said, “was that a snake I just ran over, now where did it go.” He thought he had run over a rattlesnake, but didn’t see him in the road after stopping. I just knew that he was lingering under the car, waiting for me to open my door… and bite me! Later I wondered if he actually ran over him… or just was teasing me! Charles was always quite the storyteller, and a teaser!
The dirt road just outside the cemetery, actually runs back toward where Cane Creek Church is and also Nimblewill Church cemetery. In discovering that, we surmised that Fanny Fortner Bryan must have been buried here as it was the church they belonged to at the time. Much later, William Madison Bryan, her husband, had came to live with his father near Cane Creek and was buried in the Cane Creek Cemetery.
I received a phone call from Charles one day telling me about his visit with Walter Bryan. I first heard from Walter after the story about the re-enactment of the Confederate funeral for my third great grandfather, Berrian Clark Bryan. Walter descended through a line also from B.C. Bryan. Charles went to visit with Walter after I told him and couldn’t wait to let me know about his visit. He took me also on my next trip… and when I met Walter in person, standing in the doorway wearing overalls… I knew he was a Bryan. I couldn’t believe how much he favored my own grandfather; sometimes you can just look at a person and see the family traits! Charles often stopped by Walter’s whenever he was in the area.
My last meet up with Charles was at his home in Union Point a couple of years ago, along with several of his children and grandchildren. We had a great afternoon going through photo albums and in between he told a few stories. I recently wrote on the “All You Can Eat BBQ plate for $1.25“… sounds like quite a deal! My ears were on that day, and I busily jotted notes as I listened. That afternoon even yielded a few stories that could never be repeated… anywhere… but we all had a good laugh over them. My mother still often remembers it and talks about it… but I stop her right in her tracks… it was funny but not something I really want to talk about! Believe me, it takes a few times of “Shhh” to get the hint across to her…. as she thinks it funny! If you were there that day… you know the story!
Charles still lived in his family home on that day, the same home where he grew up… being the red-headed mischievous boy he was… I’m sure he gave Uncle Leon and Aunt Louise quite the time. From what I know of him, I’d easily say he was “full of the devilment” in growing up… as mama says! While we sat in the living room that day listening to his stories, it’s really the famous “front porch” that has been the keeper of the stories through the years… and if only it could talk… I’d have all the stories!
Cousin Charles Bryan is the father of 5 children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. I will always remember and treasure my alone time with him as we trampled through Lumpkin County, and so blessed that he became hooked on the family history; he paved the way for me to be able to discover all these places and meet people that I never would have been able to on my own, especially in the limited time I have in Georgia when I visit.
If cousin Charles front porch could talk… it could tell all the stories of the family through the years. It truly is the keeper of their stories. Whenever the family gathers… they always ended up on… the front porch… it was always Charles favorite spot to just sit and reflect!
We lost cousin Charles on February 15th this year (2018), but whenever I go to Lumpkin County, I know he’s still there over my shoulder; he loved that area so much!
Feel free to your family stories and memories of Charles in the comments below!
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