A land of the lost

Pinetucky razed to make way for Fort Gordon



There's no gas station to stop at in Pinetucky. No rest areas to stretch your legs as you make your way through this former farming community in south Augusta.

The path to Pinetucky is laid out in dwindling memories held by those old enough to recall a time before the Army took over the town in 1941 to build what would become Fort Gordon, and young enough to remember the stories they heard while sitting on a loving grandparent's knee.

Much of it was a "primeval" land, ideal to either "hold the world together" or as the setting for a military installation, according to the observations of Louisville attorney William T. Morton, who walked much of the community's 60,000 acres in 1941 and observed its people.

But those days are long past. On land that once held pecan groves and grist mills now sit satellite dishes and top-secret government listening posts.

Pinetucky was between Deans Bridge Road and U.S. Highway 78, said Charles Lord, a Columbia County historian. While he is not positive on the source of the name, Lord, who lives only about four miles from where Pinetucky used to be, said it's likely named after the local flora.

"The community was covered by many scrub pines and the name had to be derived from there," he said. "It was just covered by pine trees."

Mack McNorrill is a descendent of the Crawford family who lived in Bath, and members of his family are still buried on Fort Gordon. McNorrill said the community was known for logging and likely got its name from the trees that employed so many in the area.

Recently, Robert Drumm trampled through the thick vine-covered floor of that same pine forest, which now makes up the bulk of Fort Gordon. Drumm, the chief of the Fort Gordon Natural Resources Branch, perspired heavily as he crisscrossed through the woods in 90-plus-degree heat. Suddenly, he stopped at a 20-foot stone chimney jutting out of the sea of green and brown.

It's all that remains of the Beetle Ax and Wedge Club and is one of the last structures left standing, if not the very last.

Only the pine trees -- which began growing long after the hearth held its last embers -- are taller.

When the Army began bulldozing the homes, churches and farm buildings that made up Pinetucky, most of the chimneys were simply pulled down, Drumm said. Not so at the club. The reason remains a mystery. Drumm said it was likely built in the 1920s or 1930s but was constructed on a site that had been inhabited long before.

"Even though this chimney is quite a new structure, there may have been people here, or houses here, for quite a while," he said.

Far better known, and well visited, are the 646 graves the Army maintains as part of an agreement with the former landowners. There are 45 Pinetucky-related cemeteries on post with graves dating back to 1827.

Thomas Huffman tries to make a trip out there several times a year to pay his respects.

He is only half-joking when he says he's related to just about everyone who lived in the Pinetucky community. Huffman has descendents dating back to 1897 buried in two Pinetucky cemeteries.

"While most of Pinetucky's citizens were simple 'country folks' from farming families, many of them came from prestigious families who were devastated by the effects of the Civil War," Huffman said. "Those who can trace their roots back to Pinetucky families are likely to unravel a rich family history."

Margaret Workman and Elaine Hopper are trying to do just that.

Their grandmother Eliza June Prather Richey constantly told stories of growing up in Pinetucky. Hopper, who lives in Denver, said she remembers her grandmother talking about the bottles of "stump juice" she would find sitting near tree stumps on the way to school.

It was during Prohibition and that "juice" was moonshine. The stump was a drop point for the whiskey runners, Hopper said. Richey lost her father, got married and moved to Arizona, and lost her mother -- all in 1904. By the time she was financially able to come back to visit her much-beloved home there was little left.

Now, Workman, who lives in Roswell, Ga., Hopper and the rest of their family are trying to connect to the part of their past that their grandmother was never able to. They believe their great-grandparents -- Addison Christian Prather and Hester Lambuth Inglett -- and possibly two stillborn children still rest somewhere in the woods of Fort Gordon.

Using family history and property records found at the Richmond County courthouse, they hope to return to Augusta soon to find the last piece of the puzzle, the deed documenting her great-grandfather's sale of about half his property in 1905. If they can find that, Workman said, they can trace it forward to when the land was sold to Fort Gordon and perhaps find their lost relatives.

Ultimately, 432 property owners either sold their land or had it taken by the government. Generations of Blackstones, Whitleys, Inglets, Whitakers and others remain in Pinetucky. Their names can still be found scattered about the post, enshrined in stone markers.

Pinetucky -- Where is home?

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.

-- 2 Corinthinans 5:1

I'm out in Pinetucky

Looking for my home.

Mama and Dad are not around.

Can't find the house -- the road is gone.

I'm somewhere near Hood's Chapel-

Let me pause and meditate,

The beauty of the nature trails

He took time to create.

-- A poem in the book Pinetucky-Lost Trails Echo by Farris King Hendrix