Augustan believes old lock shut door on the Civil War

As the son of a noted Augusta architect, Willis Irvin Jr. has spent a lifetime forging his own identity while carrying on the legacy of his father.

He has been a tennis pro and has chronicled his experiences at Normandy on D-Day, and now he has a new challenge.

At 85, Irvin said, he's trying to verify the historic significance of a heavy brass lock and key, which he maintains was the last lock turned by Jefferson Davis at the end of the Civil War.

Retreating from Richmond, Va., with the Confederate treasury pulled by mules on wagons behind him, the president of the Confederacy arrived in Washington, Ga., and decided to dissolve the Confederacy, end hostilities and pay off the troops, he said.

There, at a building in Washington, Irvin said, Davis left the war behind as he locked its door.

"When Jefferson Davis turned the key on this lock, he dissolved the Confederacy," Irvin said.

As the building was torn down, a carpenter "cut the lock off the wall" for Irvin's father, who was also a Washington native.

Irvin said he wants to verify the history of the lock and find an appropriate permanent home for it.

"I'm 85 years old, and I don't have too much longer on the planet, and I want to get the story out there," he said.

Robert "Skeet" Willingham, a historian in Washington, is familiar with the building of which Irvin spoke.

The former Bank of Georgia building had residential quarters for the bank's cashier at the time Davis stayed there, but later it was used strictly as a residence, Willingham said.

Situated on the town square, it was demolished in 1904 to make room for Wilkes County's new courthouse, he said.

"People took all kinds of souvenirs off the structure when they tore it down," he said.

Features from the building, such as wrought iron, were added to other houses in Washington, and residents had woodwork from the building made into items such as walking canes, Willingham said.

Among the souvenirs could easily have been Irvin's lock, he said.

Washington's museum of history would be a great place to display the lock, Willingham said.

Irvin has written many stories about his military service and experiences in a book, The Point of the Arrow. He also has a Web site, www.lilagroup.com.

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