Monday, September 25, 2017

2017-07-06: Driving Back to West Texas Day 3: Geocaching Through Texas History and Cemeteries

Welcome back to my drive from Florida to West Texas on Day 3 and final leg of my journey. Today's ride should be about 450 miles, probably much more depending upon my Geocaching stops. On the agenda are some cemeteries, a ghost town, an old church, and some historical buildings. And some new caching counties of course!

This morning started out in Centerville, TX at Hwy 7 and I-45. Driving westbound on Hwy 7, it wasn't long before I made it to the next county and my first cache (GC3WT26) at the Wesley Chapel Cemetery. Here is where you'll find Tennessee native Isaac Phillip Stem who enlisted in Western Frontier service in that state in 1836. In October 1836, he moved to Texas and joined the Republic of Texas Army at Houston. Continuing to serve in the military, Stem was a participant in the Battle of Plum Creek on 8-12-1840, in present Caldwell County. The battle was fought between Texas soldiers and Comanche Indians, who had raided the coastal towns of Linnville and Victoria. Stem served in the Somervell Campaign of 1841 and was a member of a cavalry of mounted volunteers during the Mexican War.

After his discharge from the Texas troops in 1846, Stem joined the US Infantry at Corpus Christi, Texas and continued in the war with Mexico. Discharged at Monterey due to illness, he later returned to Tennessee and joined the Tennessee Volunteers at Memphis. He later transferred into the US Infantry once again. Isaac Phillip Stem and his wife, Lucy Ann Weaks, were the parents of eight children. The family moved to Robertson County in 1869 and Stem became a farmer and rancher. He died in 1893 and was buried here beside his wife.

While Isaac played a part in the history of Texas, the interesting headstone was that of his son Washington Taylor (W.T.) Stem. The marker reads: "W. T. Stem and Wives." Doing some research all I could find was one website ( that listed two wives. An Eliza Jane Henderson which he married in December 1873 and Catherine Johnson in February 1884. But the odd part is that there are no headstones around for either of them.

Here are a few more photos of Wesley Chapel Cemetery. There are 58 known interments here dating back to 1831.

After a couple of miles through Robertson County, I then entered into a corner of Limestone County. It was an already found county so it wasn't on my list of geocaching counties. However passing by small cemetery with a historical marker, I just had to stop. And guess what there's also a cache here too! (GC112J1)

Bardin King (1819-1891) and Elizabeth Susan Salter (1822-1879) married in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1842. The following year, they traveled west by wagon with their young son William and Susan's parents and siblings, settling in Louisiana. Bardin was successful growing cotton, but in the late 1850s the extended family moved to Texas, settling first in Navarro and Washington counties before arriving in Limestone County in 1870.

The Kings bought 189 acres here from John and Lucinda Wilson, and the family raised cotton and grains, and were active in the Headsville community. Bardin King was a lay minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church (1 mi. S), and sons John, Cullen and Moses also served later in the same capacity, while youngest son Finley became an ordained Baptist minister. Bardin was a charter member of the local Masonic lodge and active in the Patrons of Husbandry, or Grange.

Susan King died in March 1879 and the family buried her here on the farm. The surrounding land became a dedicated cemetery in 1881, when Bardin divided his holdings among his nine living children and set aside one acre for a graveyard. Daughter Susan Leuticia married Robert Holden Williams, and they and their children later continued cotton and corn farming on the family land. Ten members of the King and Williams families were buried in what became known as King Williams Memorial Cemetery and then King-Williams Cemetery. Robert H. Williams died in 1944 and was the last to be buried in the graveyard, which features historic limestone headstones shaded by pine and cedar trees. Family tradition holds an African American freedman named Speight is also buried here in an unmarked grave. The families also added more modern headstones that are easier to read.

After skipping through the next two counties due to previous finds (remember my goal is to finally get home to see my beautiful wife, otherwise it would take weeks because I'd be stopping at every cache), I entered Coryell County. The Eagle Springs Baptist Church (GC2DM1W) congregation grew from an early Coryell County fellowship known as the Church of Onion Creek. Worshipers met in a log building until it burned in 1954. In 1958 this site was acquired for a new church building. In the same year, the Rev John McLain, a Baptist Missionary, organized the Eagle Springs Baptist Church from the earlier congregation.

By 1880 Eagle Springs was a thriving community with two grocery stores, two blacksmith shops, a cotton gin, two churches, two doctors offices, a post office, and a school. The congregation grew also, with many baptisms being held in the Leon River.

During the first decades of the of the twentieth century, families began moving away from Eagle Springs. The community school was closed in 1935, and in 1948 members of the Eagle Springs Baptist Church voted to disband. The church building was retained, however, for reunions and occasional services. It is one of the few remaining structures in the Eagle Springs community.

My next stop was a Virtual Geocache (GCB1BA). I can't say much as to give away the answers to claim a find. Currently used by the Chamber of Commerce, it once housed a cotton depot until the mid-1970's.

Upon reaching the town of Evant, I turned south on US-281 for a few miles in order to drop down into Lampasas County and grab a quick cache in the Pilgrims Rest Cemetery (GCVTQT). There are nearly 200 burials here dating back to the 1880's. Hard to pass up another cache and another cemetery, I continued a few more miles south to the Hines Chapel Cemetery (GCW0ZK) which also dates back to the 1880's. Making a u-turn back to the northside of US-84 into Hamilton County and two more caches at the Murphree Cemetery (GC22Z0YGC22Z10).

Finally back on US-84 heading westbound and crossing over into Mills County, I came to Star, TX and my next Geocache (GC17GNE). It was laid out by Alec Street in the mid-1880s and named for nearby Star Mountain. Calvin Skinner was the first postmaster when Star was granted a post office in 1886, and Alec Street ran a store and a gin. The town continued to grow until a tornado swept through in 1904. The storm leveled several houses and killed a couple of residents. Star had a school in its early days but did not build a permanent church until 1905, when the town reached the zenith of its prosperity. A bank, established in 1910, closed after a robbery in the 1920s. In 1944 Star had eight businesses and a population of 171. For years the cotton gin was the town's economic engine, but the gin shut down in 1950. The population in 1980 through 2000 was eighty-five. The cache was located next to this 1938 stone building converted to a history museum.

After a quick cache in Brown County (GC6XDMM), I entered into Coleman County. The Atchison, Topika, and Santa Fe Railroad established a railway line about eight miles southwest of Coleman in 1904. The town of Valera (GC17TC6) developed in the area around the train depot. It's business district, established parallel to the railroad, reflected the needs of its citizens. Businesses included a post office, a hotel, a bank, a flour mill, a cotton gin, an opera house, grocery stores, a blacksmith shop, a cafe, and a water well in the middle of the street.

Recognizing the need for a community cemetery (GC15315), Mrs Minnie K. Harris deeded more than 5 acres of land in 1922. One of two cemeteries serving the community, it contains more than 400 marked graves, and at least 5 unmarked graves. The first recorded burial was that of Mrs N. C. Kidwell in 1922.

Next up was a virtual cache (GCD061) located in the next county over. In the town of Ballinger in Runnels County is the Carnegie Library Building. This native limestone library was built in 1909-11 with funds from New York industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Local banker Jo Wilmeth donated the land and the Rev J D Leslie, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, served as the supervising architect. The buildings auditorium and club rooms were used for a variety of civic cultural events, school social activities, and temporary worship services of several local churches.

After one last and quick cemetery cache (GC6QTTJ) at the Fairfield Cemetery in Coke County, and it was non-stop all the way through to Monahans. It was so good to be back. I parked the U-Haul truck and went inside to see my beautiful wife. The truck can wait to be unloaded in the morning. That completes my long 3-day 1598 mile drive from Florida to West Texas.

See ya next time.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017-07-05: Driving Back to West Texas Day 2: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas

Welcome back to Day 2 of my road trip from Florida back to West Texas. Today begins in Evergreen, Alabama. After a good nights rest at the hotel and a quick hotel breakfast, it was time to hit the road again. I'm still following the backroads of US-84, trying to stay off the interstates as much as possible. At the same time Geocaching and sightseeing along the way.

My first stop was to get gas and a Geocache (GC2APKW) at the Love's Travel Stop for Conecuh County, Alabama. A quick fuel up and find and I was on my way.

The next county over was Monroe County and also the next cache. The Geocache was by a historical marker for Fort Claiborne (GC178A3). Built by General Ferdinand L. Claiborne during the Creek Indian War of 1813-1814 as a base for his invasion of the Alibamo country with the U. S. Regulators, Lower Tombigbee Militia, and friendly Choctaws. Claiborne's campaign culminated in the American victory over the Creeks at the Holy Ground. I was hoping to see something other than the sign, but nothing of the fort remains.

Moving on to Clarke County and a quick roadside cache stop (GC2MYZ7) to claim a find and to continue making good time.

Choctaw County was the last along US-84 in Alabama and a county needed. I stopped at the Bladon Springs State Park for an Earthcache (GC3JAB8). The springs here, named after the original property owner, James Bladon, were first opened to the public as a therapeutic spa in 1838. Seven years later, state geologist and University of Alabama professor Richard T. Brumby and two colleagues from the University of Louisiana traveled to the springs to conduct a comprehensive analysis. Brumby reported his findings in a 27-page book, "An Analysis of the Bladon Springs," published in 1845. Following the report, the tourist trade increased so much that a resort was built, including a bowling alley, cabins, skating rink, and last but not least, a Georgian Revival hotel that could house 200. The resort is gone, but four springs remain, one of which is still covered by the gazebo from the resort days.

I gathered the information I needed for the earthcache and took a few pictures. There were two more caches in the park and I was tempted to take the short hike after them. But the road ahead was calling and I wanted to get some miles put behind me. So across the state line into Mississippi I went.

Wayne County was up first with a quick roadside cache (GC38PV9). After that was a quick Virtual Cache (GCE7A7) in Jones County. Continuing westbound on US-84, I skipped right through Covington County having already found a cache there. Then quick park and grab roadside caches in the remaining Mississippi counties of Jefferson Davis (GC388J0), Lawrence (GC1RNA2), Lincoln (GC35WGT), Franklin (GC35WGT), and Adams County (GCTV6P).

Crossing the state line into Louisiana, they have Parishes instead of counties. My first stop in Concordia Parish is the Delta Music Museum (GC1D5VZ) along the Blues Trail. Louisiana and Mississippi have long shared a close musical relationship. One of the most important musical paths was that between Natchez, MS and Ferriday, LA, where African American entrepreneur Will Haney operated Haney's Big House for several decades. In addition to major national acts the club featured local musicians including Ferriday's Leon "Pee Wee" Whittaker and Natchez's Hezekiah Early and Y. Z. Ealey. A young Jerry Lee Lewis often visited the club, soaking up the sounds of the blues.

I had arrived to the museum just as it was closing up. She watched and we chatted as I searched for and found the Geocache. After signing the log, we went inside and she gave me a quick tour of the museum.

Two more quick caches in LaSalle Parish (GC23AXN) and Natchitoches Parish (GC4XHMC) before arriving in Sabine Parish and a cemetery cache (GC2D9MA). Fender Cemetery has over 300 interments dating back to 1851. One of the spookier graves is of this red brick tomb that seems to have been elevated a few inches. Kinda makes you think that the undead comes crawling out at night searching for innocent victims to carry back to the underworld.

I crossed the Sabine River into Texas at sunset and got a spectacular view. Driving nearly 600 miles today, I've got around 450 miles to go. Can't wait to get home to see my Beautiful Sweet Wife!

2017-07-04: Driving Back to West Texas Day 1: Florida, Georgia, and Alabama

So today's the day to hit the road and drive back to West Texas. And of course this won't be a boring I-10 forever non-stop westbound trip. No way. I just can't take a road trip without Geocaching and sightseeing. Plus there's another opportunity to pickup some new Geo-Counties! So I'll be taking the scenic byways of US-84.

I woke up just after 5 AM, gathered my things and quickly hit the road. From Umatilla, Florida heading north on SR-19 through the Ocala National Forest, west on SR-40 and over to I-75 northbound to Georgia. First on my Geocaching county list was Echols County, Georgia.

Non-stop express driving all the way up to US-129 in Jasper, FL, taking that exit to head directly north into Echols County. Now when most people travel they book a flight because it's all about the destination. I prefer to drive because it's more about the journey. The destination will be there all the same, but on a journey there's much more to discover. While passing through Jasper, I spotted this old forgotten rusty Jeep sitting out behind this business among other piles of scrap metal objects. Something about the sadness in the way it looked caused me to slow and make a u-turn for a photo capturing that moment and emotion.

Crossing the border into Georgia and Echols County, there were three caches along the route and I needed to find at least one to achieve the "Found County" status.  The first cache (GC4CJNF) on my list was located at the Echold County Museum and Statenville's oldest house. A combination of No Trespassing signs, fenced in property, and the neighbors outside getting ready for a July 4th BBQ, and I decided to skip this one and move on. It has since been archived.

Second on the list was "Down by the Riverside." (GC5Q27T) Just out on the west side of Statenville along the Alapaha River is a boat ramp and my next cache location. After spending about 10 minutes looking without any luck, I gave in and walked down by the riverside for some photos of the calm muddy waters. Two down, one to go.

The last cache along the way and my last hope for a find in the county was a Country Cache (GC5DBXA). Stopping along the road side, I quickly saw the spot that looked like it might have had a cache placed there but without a container. I continued looking around just in case, swatting away mosquitoes on this humid day, hoping that maybe I just overlooked it. But in the end I had to drive away without a smiley, leaving Echols County still unfound. Strike three, I'm outta there.

The next county was Lowndes County where I-75 runs through Valdosta. Having already cached here, I drove through to save some time. It was there in Valdosta where I picked up highway US-84 for my long journey westbound.

Brooks County was next in line where a quick stop at Quitman's Hangout cache (GC39155) gave me my first caching find and first new caching county for the day. Hopefully this would be the beginning of a caching streak!

Continuing west on US-84, I skipped through Thomas County having found a cache there on a previous road trip, I arrived into Grady County. Before I arrived at my next Geocache, I passed by this old small roadside cemetery and just had to pull over to explore. It was the Lester Poulk Braswell Pearce Cemetery. There are 60 interments there with many unknown graves that no longer have any readable markings on them. The oldest known grave is that of a Rev Mann Dutton who died in 1857 at the age of 61. I found an article that said as recent as 2001, this cemetery was so overground with weeds and vines that it took two hours just to walk through and find all the graves. Glad someone has cleaned it up.

A few miles down the road was another cemetery and my next county cache (GC26MCP). Dr. Joseph Griffin was a black physician. In 1935 he began practicing medicine in Bainbridge, Georgia. He built a 50 bed hospital and established the Southwestern Medical Society. In honor of south Georgia's first black physician, the Dr. Joseph H. Griffin Memorial Gardens was created in Grady County.

Another quick cache find in Decatur County (GC152M9) and I was off to the next one. A short detour to the north up into Miller County and a bridge cache (GC5RNRN). Just down from the bridge was this old church and another cemetery. The cemetery is still in use today. I did see this one dead tree that inspired a photo.

After the short detour, I made my way back south to US-84 and into Seminole County to find my next quick cache (GC5Y3A8).

For the last county in Georgia, it was off to picturesque Howard's Mill in Early County (GC27247). I couldn't find anything on the history of the mill. Though it appears to be used as a private home or for special events now.

Arriving in Alabama, the first two counties were Houston and Dale Counties. I had already found caches there so it was another chance to make up some time breezing through. Next on the list was Coffee County and the town of Enterprise, AL. By this time it was getting late in the afternoon and surprisingly this was the only town that was having a 4th of July celebration around the town square. There was a carnival setup in the square and it appeared that the whole town may have been in attendance.

I had three caches on my radar there. The first being a virtual cache (GCAC2D) located at a statue on Main Street as you enter the downtown area. I can't say much more about it because I'd be giving away some answers you need to claim the cache.

The second cache on my list was at the old train depot (GCT3MX) built in 1903. The first freight shipments and passengers came here on the Alabama Midland railroad in 1898 immediately after construction of the roadbed. That was also the year when most of the brick business buildings downtown were completed.

The one that caught my eye was the Rawls Hotel. This original two-story brick structure also built in 1903 by Japeth Rawls, developer of some of the earliest turpentine plants in Coffee County. This building was remodeled in 1928 and three-story wings added by Jesse P. Rawls, founder of the first electric power system in Enterprise. The Rawls Hotel was the center for business and social gatherings until its closing in the early 1970's.

My last cache to see in Enterprise was at the old jail (GC2FKAY). Unfortunately it was closer to the town square and busy with people coming and going for the festivities. And me being in a large U-Haul, I figured it be best to just pass on this one until next time in the area.

Covington County was the next to enter and my last cache of the day. It was just a quick and easy WalMart cache (GC24TFV).

I ended the day in Evergreen, AL after 431 miles of driving. Claiming some new counties for my Geocaching list, seeing some sights, and learning some history. Tomorrow is a new day. I hope to make it across and into Texas, but there's still 1300 miles to get all the way back. At least halfway would be good.

See you then.