As many of you know, I spend a lot of my time reading old newspapers. This week I ran across an interesting article from the January 31, 1901 issue of “The New South” which was a major source of news here in Douglas County at the time.
The article states, “Mr. C.T. Polk who until now resided at Winston, is now a resident of Fruithurst, Alabama. Since going to our sister state, he has developed quite a reputation as a pedestrian, and this he did in a single journey. As the story goes, he left his home in Fruithurst a few mornings ago for a walk setting his face eastward. He moved steadily on toward the place of the rising run until he noticed that old Sol was about ready to bid adieu to the day. Then looking around he found himself on the outskirts of Villa Rica. This is a record not often made either in Georgia or Alabama.”
I instantly had questions.
Why had he moved to Fruithurst?
How did he walk so far without realizing where he was?
Who was this C.T. Polk?
I began flipping through the genealogy records.
C. T. Polk, or Charles Thomas as the family Bible probably stated, was the son of Charles Shelby Polk and Catherine (McLarty) Polk who settled in the Dark Corner section of Campbell County. They made the trek from North Carolina along with a brother named Ezekiel in 1834 who I have written about before. Through the years the Dark Corner section of Campbell County became Douglas and though many still refer to it as Dark Corner, Winston is the more familiar name today.
In 1875, Charles T. Polk married Margaret Ann (Freeman).
In 1901, Charles and Margaret Polk moved to Fruithurst, Alabama — about 40 miles from Douglasville.
I cannot say with certainty what prompted the move, but after looking into the area’s history I can make a good guess.
Today Fruithurst is a rural little hamlet near the Georgia border in Cleburne County. The 2000 census indicated a whopping 200 people lived there.
Things were different in 1894, however. A company known as the Fruithurst Company bought up large holdings of land. The company was formed by a group of Northern entrepreneurs who envisioned transforming a portion of Alabama’s piney woods into a winemaking region.
Yes, a winemaking region!
The town name — Fruithurst — came about through a contest the organizers held. One woman was the lucky winner of $25 for coming up with the name.
Part of the scheme involved encouraging immigrants from Germany, Sweden and even Hungary. Every man who bought ten acres of vineyard land was given a lot in the town; its location determined by the type of house he planned to build.
The developers laid out an ambitious “model city” with intricate diagonal streets instead of the usual checkerboard pattern. A large hotel, the Fruithurst Inn, was built for $40,000. The building had 3-stories, 80 rooms, a billiard room, bowling alley, and barber shop as well as central steam heat.
Virginia Voss Pope states in her book “Fruithurst, Alabama’s Vineyard Village” (1975), “Promoters and investors began to arrive so fast during this time that homes could not be constructed rapidly enough to meet the demand and many of these new arrivals had to be put up as borders.” Mrs. Pope might seem familiar as she has been a Douglas County resident for several years and is heavily involved in the arts community. She also serves on the board for the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.
In just four years Fruithurst became a real boomtown with 800 residents.
Over 3,000 acres were planted with over 100 varieties of grapes. Several packing houses were built, and dozens of pickers were hired making thirty cents a day.
Yields were staggering. One vineyard produced 8,324 pounds of grapes in a single year. In 1898, 23,000 gallons of wine were produced.
With this knowledge it is easy to see why Charles and Margaret Polk set out for Fruithurst.
Perhaps they were looking to get in on the boom.
Diving back into the genealogy records again I confirmed that Charles and Margaret were in Douglas County in 1900, but obviously by 1901 they were in Alabama. The census for 1910 confirms Charles and his sons, James and John were boarding in someone’s home, but they were not in Fruithurst. They had moved northwest to Etowah County, Alabama which is the Gadsden area. The census also confirms that Charles was a widower at the time since Margaret died in March 1907.
This column ran in the Douglas County Sentinel in July 2015. Lisa’s books “Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County, Volume 1,” “Douglasville,” a pictorial history, and “Georgia on My Mind: True Tales from Around the State”, are available at Amazon, The Farmers Table, Douglasville Welcome Center, and the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.