The empty space where the garden was to be built had sentimental value for me. This was the location of the ancestral home of George Washington Crowe, who was a descendant of one of the original families that settled in what would become Mentone through land grants in the early 1800’s. George Washington Crowe (1854-1944) was my father’s (Garrett Lee Davenport, 1909-1986) maternal grandfather.
Crowe married Mary Jane King (1859 – 1931) in 1878. They were charter members of what is now the Mentone United Methodist Church established in 1892 as the Mentone Methodist Episcopal Church North. An interesting fact to note is that other children born in that area were often named “George Washington xxx” in honor of the founding father of our nation. The “home place” of the Crowe’s was reportedly constructed around 1885 and the family stayed in the Mentone Springs Hotel while the house was under construction (needs to be verified). George Washington Crowe and Mary King Crowe raised their seven children in that home. One of his daughters, Addie S. Crowe (1891 – 1982), was my father’s (Garrett Lee Davenport (1909 – 1976)) mother. Addie was married to Virgil Lee Davenport in 1908 and my father was born in 1909. Addie and Virgil divorced, unheard of in that day, when my father was about two years old. Addie later married Ruben A. (Rube) Akins (1889 – 1959. One of Addie’s three sisters was Bertha Crowe (1900-1977). She was married to Rube’s brother, Richard Akins.
Bertha loved Lee like a son. It started when Lee was a baby and that love continued throughout her lifetime. The picture at left of Bertha and Lee was taken in 1910. Bertha would have been approximately 10 years old and Lee would have been approximately one year old. Ultimately the “home place” became the property of Bertha and her husband Richard when her father passed away.
Below is a picture of my grandmother Addie and her daughter by Rube Akins Appropriately her name was Ruby Alice Akins (1918 – 1974. Addie and Rube had one other son, George M. Akins (1920 – 1991) who ultimately settled in Birmingham, Alabama.
One of the things that we still have in our gardens both in Snellville and Mentone are Aunt Bertha’s peonies. These peonies go back at least 75 years and maybe even as much as 100. Bertha cultivated them in a garden space on the left side of the house. They were beautiful then, and just as beautiful now, though they had to be moved to survive after the “home place” fire and the passing of my father in 1986. They were an integral part of the “home place” garden spot that had been there for as long as I can remember. I’m certain that George Washington Crowe began the cultivation of that garden spot. Richard and Bertha grew flowers and vegetables there when they owned the home. And Lee and Lottie continued to grow vegetables and flowers there after Bertha’s death. The two photos below show Bertha gathering flowers for Sunday church service and my mother Lottie and my wife Charlotte inspecting the peonies in May of 1982. My sister Patricia Anne Huiet has a beautiful peony garden at her house started from this stock as well. These peonies have been a part of our life and I am glad that God allowed us to experience them as they have brought great joy to us in early spring for many, many years.
Lee and his wife (and Jim’s mother) Lottie May Cooper (1914 – 2005) began building their retirement home next to the Crowe “home place” when Lee retired in 1974 from a large grocery store chain in Atlanta, Georgia. Building that house was a work in progress for several years as Lee and Lottie continued to add a garage, and more living space to the house. Here’s the way the house looked in March of 1983.
The picture below shows the house as it stood in 2003. Note the addition of a screened porch on the front of the house and a new roof. The inside and outside of the house had not yet been renovated.
Upon Bertha’s passing in 1977 her property, including the “home place,” and 18 acres of land were bequeathed to Lee. Lee had lived there as a boy with his mother and grandfather Crowe. He slept in a small upstairs room that I only saw a few times. Lee and Lottie immediately set out to refurbish the “home place.” They completed the task over a period of many months and found a suitable renter for the home. The Saturday before the family was supposed to move in, the “home place” burned in a mysterious gas explosion. The house was a total loss. The insurance money was inadequate to rebuild so Lee had the house pushed into a pile and much of the debris was carried off. What remained was pushed into the former cellar of the house and then covered with fill dirt and chert. That is the reason that the proposed garden site was so infertile … the fire, the debris, the fill dirt and the chert!
I feel like the “home place” still lives on in the form of our garden. Every time I walk through the front gate of the garden I recall using that same pathway to enter the front screen door of the “home place.” There are countless memories for this close-knit family and their many descendants. I am one of those descendants.
When I was a boy I often spent a couple of weeks in the summer with my grandmother Addie Crowe Akins who was married to Ruben Akins. Their house was across the pasture from the “home place”, then the home of my Aunt Bertha and Uncle Richard Akins. Ruben and Richard were brothers … brothers married sisters. I have such fond memories of those hot summer days and cool summer nights on Lookout Mountain. I often slept on grandmother Akins front screened porch. To me it was like “sleeping out” without the worry of something mysterious “getting you.” Sometimes when a lot of family was visiting relatives in Mentone we would spread out among my dad’s and mother’s relatives. I sometimes would stay with my Aunt Bertha and Uncle Richard. They had a shower in the basement and I would go there sometimes (infrequently) to take a shower in cold water which was very refreshing in the summer. Back in those days you didn’t take a shower and/or bath every day. In fact, my grandmother’s house had no running water nor an inside bathroom for some time while I was a boy. When you needed to wash up, you warmed well water on the wood stove and poured it in a basin. We took what we called “spit” baths. And you most certainly didn’t wash your hair every day! Baths were usually taken on Saturdays using water heated outdoors in a wash pot. Why Saturday for a bath? Because you always went to church on Sunday and you had to be clean and wear your best clothing.
Today as I walk the property once occupied by my ancestors and work in the garden where the “home place” once so stately stood, my mind is flooded with memories of the past and pleasures of the present. What a wonderful way for Charlotte and I to spend the latter years of our lives.
Historical Note: Many of the George W. Crowe descendants are buried in the Little River Cemetery, DeKalb, Alabama. Follow this link for an alphabetical listing of those family members interred there.