Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Mountain Community Steeped in Learning and Teaching

I live in the Choestoe (Pronounced Cho - ee Sto - ee) section of southern Union County, Georgia, an area of mountains and valleys, once very isolated from the rest of the state. Union County was created in 1832, when Georgia, aided by Andrew Jackson's Administration, took over its portion of the Cherokee Nation, driving the Cherokees out in 1838. Choestoe, Cherokee for "the land of the dancing rabbits, was soon settled by a number of families, among them the Dyer, Collins, Duckworth, Reece, Hunter, Swain, Schuler, and Miller families.

It is said that sometime in the mid to late 19th Century the area was visited by an educator, who introduced these pioneer families to education and made a lasting impression upon them. By the very late 19th and early 20th Centuries, education had taken hold in the section and soon the local school became a center of activity. Frequent declamation contests were held, involving both students and adults.

As the 2oth Century progressed Choestoe produced a Georgia State School Superintendent (Dr. MD Collins), a State Supreme Court justice (Henry Duckworth), a Governor/US Senator (Zell Miller), a nationally known and published poet (Byron Herbert Reece), several county school superintendents, and countless teachers, administrators, and college professors. As I entered and progressed through the county school system, at least a third or more of the teachers and administrators were from this section of the county. My high school math teachers were all from Choestoe and consisted of two families: Dyer and Collins.

Not to be outdone by all of the teachers, the Dyer family also claims an inventor as its own. Micajah Clark Dyer, received a patent for a flying machine in 1874. Family legend has it that he actually flew the aircraft before the Wright Brothers, but this feat has never been fully documented. Nevertheless, Mr. Dyer was ahead of his time.

Choestoe is, indeed, a unique area. Today many of the descendants of these families still live in Choestoe. One educator, Mrs. Dora Allison, age 103, is still active in the community and much celebrated and loved by her hundreds of former students. Education is still a central part of these families lives. However, like so much of our area, Choestoe is changing. A large influx of retirees, absentee landowners, and refugees from Florida, threaten to change the face of this beautiful and unique area forever.

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