Week 30: July 26, 2014
A Family Search, an Old Church and Ghosts
From the moment I began my research of “where did my ancestors come from” – I have always wanted to walk in their footsteps. I know that it’s not always possible with the passing of time and home-places no longer there, but I was finally able to realize my dream. This is not only my dream, but of many family researchers.
My dream came true on June 5th, 2000:
There were many contributing factors as to how this all came about, but on the top of my list I would say I owe it to Ila Stargel Jones Sewell. She was born in Dahlonega in 1903 and turns 111 this year (2014); we have corresponded since 1997.
Each letter that came from Ila was always received with great enthusiasm – they were full of family history and stories of life and times when she grew up. She also shared a little insight on the ancestor I had been searching for – Berrian Clark Bryan.
Her second letter left me speechless! She wrote me about when our mutual Civil War grandfather died. He was my 3rd great-grandfather, and her great-grandfather. Ila was just twenty when “Dad” died; she remembers that he was more or less called by that name by everyone. Dad passed away at his cabin home with his youngest daughter Emeline Bryan caring for him.
Ila’s letters left me wanting more – I never thought I’d meet someone who actually knew my Civil-War grandfather. It totally amazed me to have contact with a family member that could tell me true facts about him; how much closer to knowing him personally could I get! Reading that letter left me feeling, “I can’t believe that I have met someone that knew him”. I don’t actually know of anyone else that can say, that they have a living cousin that knew their great-great-great grandfather who fought in the Civil War.
Each and every letter from Ila kept me wanting more. They were a “gold mine” of vital information – for she is writing of events from over 80+ years ago.
From stories and newspaper clippings, it was said that Berrian “Clark” Bryan lived near the head of Cane Creek; also it was noted in the Dahlonega “Nugget” that he walked to town every week. By those accounts I had already placed him living near Cane Creek; and every letter with Ila led me closer to an answer to “where he lived”.Through Ila’s stories on growing up, telling me how she lived near Cane Creek and her great grandfather, “Dad”, living about a mile away, and what I know now, she remembered it all just as it was. Ila said she walked on the “walking trails” through the woods to Cane Creek School. The school, church and cemetery were all in the same yard area. Cane Creek School is no longer there but the church and cemetery are there and still in use. Ila always said she could probably find where their cabins were, so when I wrote to tell her of my June trip to Georgia, she persuaded her son to bring her to Dahlonega to meet me.
The Search in Dahlonega:
On June 5th, 2000 I arrived in Dahlonega to meet Ila and her son Ike Sewell; a meeting long overdue.
In trying to discover where Berrian “Clark” Bryan’s cabin was, Ike first talked to his mother’s cousin along with a couple of older townspeople – they remembered the Bryan/Stargel families and knew of where the old cabins once stood.
With the directions given, we left for our “little walk” through the woods to search for the cabin site. I was very excited to think that I might find his cabin and finally know where my Bryan Civil-War grandfather lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia; just outside the gold-mining town of Dahlonega.
Besides meeting Ila and her family I also met a new cousin, who connected through my “Free” line to Sally Free. Sally is the mother of my Berilla Free Bryan, wife of Berrian “Clark” Bryan. She was eager to know where Berilla lived in hopes that it would help us locate where Sally Free’s cabin was. Family back then usually lived in the same vicinity.
We went through Dahlonega, past the Gold Museum on the square and turned left on US Rt.19 North. From there we drove out of town until we came to the road that led us to the small paved road we were looking for. The closer we came to our destination, the more excited I became – hoping that I might actually find the cabin site today of “Clark” and Berilla Free Bryan. We followed the road about a mile or so before finally crossing a small branch of water – the road now turned into a dead end with a gate blocking off a dirt road.
We had finally arrived to begin our search:
The dirt road beyond the gate was private property, but we had been told that we could walk in to look for the cabin sites. Unfortunately Ila was not able to finish the last leg of our search; she stayed behind with my mother and others that did not walk.
We walked around the gate that closed off the dirt, rock-filled road and began our trip to search out a piece of our family’s past. After walking quite a ways, we crossed over a couple of small branches of water by stepping on rocks in the water. Soon after, we passed a shed next to a spring, which was very over-grown all around with trees and shrubs, but you could still see a large body of water there. We had been told that we would pass by it, so we felt sure that we were headed in the right direction. Continuing on the path, way over to our left, we could now see what we knew was Cane Creek. Walking a little further brought us to our first cabin site where Ila was born. On our left, with Cane Creek very much in sight, sat a log cabin, but not the original one. The cabin there now was built in the 1940’s, but it was built on the actual site of where the original cabin of John and Georgia Jones Stargel once stood. This would have been where Ila and her sisters were born.
Directly across from this cabin sat a newer frame house; it was built on the old cabin site of John Stargel’s father, Richard Remington Stargel, who married Sarah Bryan. Sarah was the daughter of Berrian “Clark” Bryan and Berilla Free Bryan. The house sat on a small hill that looked down toward the opposite log cabin. I’m sure if Ila had been with us she would have remembered this area as being a very familiar place from her past. She had written me so much about her life growing up, that I could easily picture her living there.
I took pictures of the cabin sites to document our findings as I did earlier when we began our walk in crossing the two small branches of water and the spring.
Off the Dirt Road, Skirting the Fields:
Leaving the cabin sites also pretty much ended our dirt road path. We were now walking on the outskirts of old abandoned fields and pastures. A path had been cut next to the edge of the forest that we followed downhill and around. We passed old chicken coops and barns that were once used years ago – and still standing after many years of abandonment.
We continued on this path, me hoping to find the site I have been waiting to find for several years. As we rounded a corner we saw that our walkway was coming to an end in this small hollow, still across from Cane Creek. It had followed us alongside the fields where we walked. Ahead of us at the end of our path loomed a dense forest of tall pines and much ground growth.
What we were now looking for was the cabin site of Berrian “Clark” Bryan and Berilla (Free) Bryan. It had been described to us as a clearing up above the trees on a leveled off area toward the mountain. The country roses and wild hydrangeas, we were told, were supposed to still surround the yard area.
When we reached where we could go no further we looked up to our right and Ike walked up the small incline between the tall pines that loomed there from many years ago. It was the one area that looked like a cabin may have set nestled among the pines. He walked toward the old country pink roses that we saw from our pathway below. He could clearly see that it was a leveled off area and definitely looked to be where a home had once stood many years ago. The country roses and wild hydrangeas still surrounded the yard, just as we had been told. From the accounts of the actual land owners giving us these explicit directions, and the fact that they knew the Bryan and Stargel families from whom they bought the lands from, we believe this to be the cabin site of Berrian “Clark” Bryan and Berilla Free Bryan.
I took pictures toward the site with the pink country roses blooming – it showed where the old cabin had once stood nestled up against the mountain. It probably stood facing the flowing of Cane Creek across the fields. Ike cut down a few of the old country roses and brought them down to us to bring home. My mother rooted them for me and they grow in my yard today.
I had finally reached the site of “our search” – where they lived, farmed, grew old, and died. Both Berrian “Clark” and Berilla Free Bryan died at home in the cabin, and they both are buried, not far away, in Cane Creek Church Cemetery.
Finding this site, even though the cabin no longer stood, gave me an incredible feeling of “coming home to my roots”. Standing there in the small hollow I tried to imagine my 3rd great grandparents and their cabin, where they lived and raised their family of 15 children. The fields where we had walked through to reach this final destination would lend the term “walking in their footsteps.” I have achieved my dream of finding their ancestral home site. Standing there I wondered, “Do they know we are here”?
Cane Creek Church and Cemetery:
Upon returning back to the car we headed to Cane Creek Church and Cemetery to see Clark and Berilla’s grave. Actually Cane Creek Church is just back up through the woods behind Clark’s cabin site. I have always felt that they were very close from Ila’s accounting of how she walked to the school and church – now we know that to definitely be true.
We soon arrived at Cane Creek Church, a very quaint old white-board country church. I can still remember my first time seeing it, and it taking my breath away. I felt like I had stepped back in time as I stood in front of it. It is set back about a mile or so from the road all alone in a circled dirt yard.
Behind the church, up a small incline sits the old Cane Creek Cemetery encircled completely by years-old tall pines. You are completely all alone when you are there, as it sits completely at a dead end road. Many say you hear the pines whispering to you while you are there. I soon said my goodbye’s to Ila and her family as they were off to visit other Stargel sites before heading home that day. It had been so good to actually met Ila in person and put a face to her letters.
We stopped at Cane Creek Church before leaving to take pictures of the inside of the church. Earlier in the day I ran out of film with my 35 mm camera and was now using my son’s digital camera. Entering the double white wooden doors, I was reminded of a country church song, “Church in the Wildwood”; I remember singing that in church when I was young. This quaint old church appropriately stands in a Southern rural countryside, nestled into the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, between Long Mountain and Horseshoe Ridge.
Upon turning on the camera inside the church, I first thought I was seeing shady areas on the lens. It had drizzled rain throughout the day so I thought maybe the lens was rain spotted, so I cleaned the lens and continued shooting.
The inside of the church is probably no more than 24×30 feet. The old wooden floor leads you down the aisle with seven worn wooden pews on each side. Down front is a small wooden pulpit with a few more pews off to one side, and on the opposite side in the corner, sits an old upright piano. I’m sure it could tell tales of times gone by.
I sat down in the front pew trying to imagine the church-goers coming in to worship; they still hold service here once a month. Maybe one day I’ll be able to attend one of their church services. On the walls you can see where old gas lamps had once hung, but now replaced with electric lights. The walls themselves were knotty pine, not finished. It reminded me of my grandfather’s farmhouse; all his walls were knotty-pine boards. The complete atmosphere spelled “country church lost in time somewhere,” and belonged on the cover of a magazine.
Later that night as I watched TV, my son said “there are ghosts in these pictures“. I looked over at him and said “what“? He had been viewing the pictures that I took with his digital camera inside Cane Creek Church.
It gave me an eerie feeling when I looked at them as there seemed to be something in the photos. I remember when I first looked through the screen of the camera inside the church – I did see something hazy as I tried to adjust taking the pictures. I kept wiping the screen for a clearer picture. Then I just chalked it up to, “it’s nothing”. It had drizzled rain on us when I was taking photos out in the fields, and there were no spots on those, so we were a little puzzled as to what was really in these photos. There was something on those photos – whether you call it “ghostly images” or not.
I quickly emailed my “ghostly-pictures” to the friend who walked in with us. When she opened them she wrote back that they gave her the “chills”. She in turn emailed them over to her sister to see what she had to say. Her sister couldn’t believe what was on the photos and quickly called her daughter to come and look at them. The next day in passing the daughter mentioned them to a friend of hers, a reporter for the Dahlonega Nugget. She immediately asked if she could come over and see them. After viewing the pictures, the questions came. The reporter called and asked who took these pictures and what had we been searching for that day when we walked through the woods and stopped at the cemetery.
In talking to the reporter, I told her who and what we had been looking for that day and mentioned that I had arranged to meet Ila Stargel Jones and search for our Bryan ancestral home place. She seemed very interested and said she’d like to do a story on us, our findings and the ghost pictures I took at Cane Creek Church. We talked briefly and she told me she would call in a few weeks to talk more about it. At the time she called, I had already written a brief story on what we found that day and I promised to email her the story and pictures.
Upon returning home my friend had been trying to find a way down from Cane Creek Cemetery to Berrian “Clark” and Berilla Free Bryan’s cabin through the woods. She had been back several times and discovered a few walking trails, but they never led her to the cabin, although one of them did lead her to a small dirt road above the walkway where we walked to his cabin that day. She also had been working on discovering the home place of Berilla’s mother, Sally Free as we felt she lived close to her daughter. There was a ridge not far away named the Sally Free Ridge and up there supposedly is her cabin site, also nearby is Sally Free Creek. The cabin was torn down or burned many years ago, and the story goes that they used the rocks of the fireplace to build a moonshine still. The pile of rocks are still there marking the site; she documented the site while walking the ridge.
I treasure that I have been able to visit these actual sites as it has been almost like being able to step back in time for a fleeting moment – walking in their footsteps.
Response to Week 30: 52 Ancestor 52 Week Blog: A Family Search, an Old Church and Ghosts…..
sharon whitman: July 30, 2014 at 2:55 am
Love love love the stories, and if you look real close at the bench in one of the pics I swear it looks like an arm leaning on the pew, gave me chill bumps. Thank you for sharing. I may never get to go to where these stories are wrote about but I feel I have been able to just by reading the stories.