Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Land Lost

A few days ago I became aware that a new historical marker had been placed on Highway 95 between Bastrop and Elgin. Today I finally stopped to find out what it's about. (See end for transcription of sign.)

When the government confiscated land to form Camp Swift, our Mobley family was one of those who lost their land. George Rice Mobley and his father Joseph owned property between Paige and McDade where they farmed, growing sweet potatoes among other things. It was due to them that the Old Potato Road was so named.

Joseph's brother Hezekiah and their Dunkin relatives also lived in the Oak Hill area, most of which was swallowed up by Camp Swift for the duration of the war. As the sign relates, after the war the opportunity was given to some to repurchase their property but most could not afford to do so.

Joseph and Mary Caroline Mobley ended up moving to McDade and living with their youngest daughter, my great-grandmother Cora. Many years later my parents bought 8 acres not too far from where the Mobley homestead had been. I can remember my grandparents driving with us out the winding Old Potato Road and pointing out where my grandfather had been born. It was beautiful land and it must have hurt terribly to be forced to move away and leave a place where they had invested so much blood, sweat and tears. This was the same family that left Georgia because the Civil War had caused them so much loss. Who would have guessed that the next generation would lose their land to another war?

It's only right their sacrifice should be remembered.


*Sign transcription:
Rural Farms and Communities Before Camp Swift

As the United States prepared for the possibility of war in 1940, the government selected this area for establishment of what would be Camp Swift, a training and shipment facility. The federal goverment quickly acquired property, giving landowners 30 days to leave and to move structures. The displacement resulted not only in the loss of farms but also early rural communities, some dating to 19th-century settlement. Outlying areas of larger communities, including Sayersville, Elgin, McDade, Oak Hill and Wayside, were affected, as were dispersed rural settlements within the camp area, including Duck Pond, Piney, Spring Branch and Dogwood.

Most of the displaced residents were farmers, although some worked in other occupations. Antoine Aussiloux, born in France, began operating a local winery in the late 19th century that prospered until refrigerated railroad cars began to deliver beer in the 1890s and later anti-saloon leagues and prohibition eliminated legalized alcohol production. Another area resident, Frank Dennison, constructed nearby facilities for lignite mining, part of the Sayers Mine. He built a village to house miners, and it was associated with a graveyard known as the Mexican Cemetery. Other area burial grounds located within present Camp Swift included Chandler Cemetery, New Hope Cemetery and a single gravesite.

After World War II, the War Assets Administration began to sell some of the land, but many residents were unable to repurchase their former properties. The government eventually retained about 11,500 acres of the approximately 25,000-acre Camp Swift for use by the National Guard. Today, many residents continue to live in this area, and visible reminders throughout Camp Swift chronicle the history of the settlements displaced by wartime activities.

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