DeKalb felt like such an odd choice for a relatively common place name in the United States. I’d seen it a number of times in various widely-distributed locations over the years. I’d pondered its pronunciation which seemed to sound like dee-KAB with a silent L, most of the time. I’d wondered about its origin, which didn’t appear to align with settlement patterns since it was clearly neither English nor Native American. It was easy enough to learn the secret once I made an effort, leading towards an obscure chapter of the birth of the United States and its struggle for independence.
The Geographic Names Information System listed nearly two hundred DeKalb features or variations. That included six U.S. counties found in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee. It applied to at least eight cities or towns in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. Add to those examples a crazy number of municipalities, schools, streets, lakes and other features.
howderfamily.com photo: Stone Mountain is located in DeKalb Co.; commemorates a different war
DeKalb County, Georgia (map) might have been the most significant example of the phenomenon with nearly seven hundred thousand residents. DeKalb is largely a suburb of Atlanta, and forms a small portion of the eastern side of the city where it overlaps the county line. Anyone who has ever visited Stone Mountain (as I have) has been to DeKalb.
The largest city named DeKalb can be found in Illinois (map), with about fifty thousand residents, also located in a county of DeKalb so it earned double recognition. An agricultural company located here with the same name developed a brand of hybrid seeds and I can remember seeing its winged ear of corn logo (you know which one I mean) along rural roadsides when I was growing up in farm country. Monsanto purchased DeKalb Genetics in the 1980′s and continued the brand.
This simply underscores that one can find lots of features and things named DeKalb.
The preponderance and maybe every DeKalb place name in the United States derived directly from Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb. Many students of U.S. history learned about Germans mercenaries — principally Hessians — who fought on the side of the British Empire during the American Revolutionary War. Lesser known were Germans with French connections that aided the Americans effort for independence. Johann Kalb fell into that latter camp. Consequently his surname spread throughout the eastern side of the nation following the conflict.
DeKalb statue by randomduck, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
This de Kalb statue at the statehouse in Annapolis, Maryland looks great in Google Street View too.
Ethnic and Racial Minorities in the U.S. Military: An Encyclopedia provided some useful biographical insight. Born in Bavaria, Johann Kalb enlisted in a German unit of the French Army — the Loewendal German Regiment — under a French language variation, Jean de Kalb. That accounted for the partially French (de = of) and partially German (Kalb = calf) conglomeration of DeKalb that carried forward into numerous American locations.
Despite his humble farming pedigree, de Kalb rose through the ranks and distinguished himself in battle long before the American Revolution. He also married well. The source noted that "There is some confusion as to whether Kalb received his title ‘baron’ as a result of his military service or his marriage to one of the richest women in France." Either way, the French foreign minister asked de Kalb to come out of retirement and travel to the British colonies in America. His secret mission was to gauge colonial discontent with British rule in the years immediately prior to the Revolution. He didn’t learn much militarily although he returned to France with an affinity for the Americans.
The Marquis de La Fayette, a much more famous figure in the American Revolution, convinced de Kalb to come with him to the colonies to join the Continental Army as the war began. A whole lot more happened after that point so I’ll skip ahead to the end of the story. Major General de Kalb was commanding a division of Continental soldiers from Maryland and Delaware in 1780 at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina, when he died of wounds sustained in battle. The clash was a complete debacle for American forces:
The American losses were enormous, nearly 1000 men killed and 1000 captured, besides numerous transport and ammunitions confiscated. The British lost less than 350 men. For the Americans, this was the most disastrous battle of the Revolution.
Where de Kalb Fell, North of Camden, SC
The commanding American general, Horatio Gates, never took to the field again. Nonetheless, Continental troops under de Kalb fought valiantly despite the rout and their actions were held in high regard. The revolutionaries also regarded his death in battle from multiple gunshot and bayonet wounds as particularly heroic. This accounted for abundant monuments, memorials, streets, towns and counties all named in his honor during the early decades after independence. Paradoxically, only a few interpretive signs exist at the Camden battlefield today along with a stone marker where Baron de Kalb fell. It may be one of the largest, most significant battlefields in the United States still in its basic original condition, and completely unimproved other than a couple of acres with the signs and marker.
Barron de Kalb was once a well-known revered figure, now remembered principally through the hidden origins of places created as memorials.
I’m always on the lookout for unusual trivia so something stuck in my mind a couple of years ago when I learned about the Augusta Canal, logically located in Augusta, Georgia. The claim, well it took a variety of forms so I put it on the discard pile for awhile before finally returning to it recently.
- Maybe, "the only canal in the world still used for its original purpose of providing power to textile mills."
- Perhaps, "One of the only intact, functioning American 19th century industrial power canal systems."
- Perchance, "the nation’s only industrial power canal still in use for its original purpose."
It was definitely remarkable and noteworthy although I felt I needed to try to verify that claim, although nobody seemed to agree on what it was exactly. I discarded the national and worldwide assertions — invariably those kinds of statements trend towards hyperbole and an enterprising 12MC reader would prove them wrong soon enough — and focused on whether the Augusta Canal retained its original purpose.
Simple enough. So what was the original purpose? Again I ran into much of the same silliness. Most sources specified industrial power although others threw in a secondary purpose, a source of drinking water, or even a tertiary purpose, transportation. Talk about hedging one’s bets. At the logical extreme it meant that as long as anyone continued to use the canal for power, water or boating, the canal could still be claimed to serve its original function. I took a strong position and stuck with power production. Did the Augusta Canal still provide power for industrial purposes? That should be a simple yes or no.
I rewound the clock and reviewed the Augusta Canal History page provided by the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. To summarize, the canal began in 1845 along the fall line of the Savannah River, an excellent location because the elevation drop could be harnessed for hydro-mechanical power using water wheels and such. Factories soon followed. It became one of the few industrial areas located in the southern U.S. before the outbreak of the Civil War, and a natural choice for secessionists to construct the Confederate Powderworks, their gunpowder factory. Augusta survived the war better than most Georgia cities and boomed during Reconstruction, with a string of textile mills and ironworks. The latter half of the 20th Century wasn’t kind to this type of industrialization in Augusta or elsewhere in the United States. The mills began to close, one by one.
That background data helped. I simply needed to find an intact mill or factory still powered by the canal. It didn’t sound promising, though.
Enterprise Mill by AugustaGALiving, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
The Enterprise Mill and Granite Mill ceased operations in 1983. Since then it became, in real estate speak, "an extraordinary setting for working in commercial office space and living in residential lofts and apartments." It was reborn as an excellent example of urban renewal and repurposing after many years of decay and neglect. In addition to offices and apartments, the Enterprise Mill also provided a home for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Discovery Center.
Here’s the best part. The Discovery Center included a Hydropower Demonstration Turbine using canal water to create "hydro-mechanical power which drives the line shaft mounted on the ceiling. The paddle fan above the gift shop operates directly from the line shaft power." In one very small way, for a single ceiling fan in a gift shop in a former textile mill building, one could claim legitimately that the canal continued to provide its original purpose. Could I do better?
It was important to consider another historical fact. Power generated by the canal switched from hydro-mechanical to hydro-electric in the 1890′s.
Sibley and King Mills by Sir Mildred Pierce, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Sibley Mill was another of the old historic structures, in this case constructed in 1882 and producing textiles until 2006. The chimney was a nonfunctional element by the way — it was an historic relic from the old Powderworks — which gave the property a distinctive appearance. Soon after its closure, the Augusta Canal Authority purchased the site with the intent of preserving and redeveloping it, as had been done successfully with the Enterprise Mill. The latest information I uncovered came from a local television station in (October 2013): apparently the structure could become the Mills Campus of Georgia Regents University.
More significantly for the purpose of my search, the Augusta Canal Authority continued to operate the hydropower unit at the Sibley Mill Site "for its own use and sells the surplus to the Georgia Power Company." The Authority used canal-generated electricity although it didn’t serve an industrial purpose, so could I find something better?
The King Mill sealed the deal. The J. P. King Mill started operating in 1883 and closed at the turn of the 21st Century. The Authority purchased the property and leased it to Standard Textile, which continues to operate the premise as a mill, as one can see clearly in Google Street View. Best of all, 50% of their electrical power comes from the canal and the rest from Georgia Power.
That was enough to convince me that the Augusta Canal has indeed maintained it’s original purpose, providing power to fuel industry since its inception in 1845.
Not Completely Unrelated
You said butt. Uh huh huh huh.
I discovered Butt Bridge. It crosses the historic Augusta Canal and was named for Archibald Willingham Butt, a passenger on the Titanic who did not survive. Recently I featured bridge sculptures and was pleased to observe that Butt Bridge had some impressive statuary as well (Street View).
I have a soft spot for places now obscured that "might have been" had history unfolded a little bit differently. I’m not sure that it’s an interest shared universally by the 12MC audience. Hopefully the topic appeals to a few of you though because that’s what this article offers. I think it was about a year ago that I discussed Alabama Capitals. I’ll jump one state to the right and provide something similar for its neighbor, Georgia.
Immediately, I noticed that greater research — or at least more data available publicly on the Intertubes – existed for Georgia than Alabama. Readers who want comprehensive details can refer to better sources like The Story of Georgia’s Capitols and Capital Cities, where I found the chart I’ve reproduced below. I’ll pick out a few oddities and let the experts provide a more complete narrative.
1780-81 Heard’s Fort*, miscellaneous sites in Wilkes County
1782 Ebenezer*, Savannah
1784 Savannah, Augusta
* Temporary meeting sites of state government
Georgia’s Shifting Capital Cities
The volatility struck me right away. The dates suggested an explanation for the ping-ponging capital; the American Revolution (1775–1783) and the Civil War (1861-1865). Despite the long list and the back-and-forth, Georgia is recognized generally as having "only" five capital cities: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville and Atlanta. I’ll focus on the two lesser-known locations, Louisville and Milledgeville, since the other three receive plenty of attention on their own.
Louisville, like the more recognizable city with the same name in Kentucky, derived from Louis XVI of France. However it’s pronounced differently: LEWIS-ville. The capital shifted to Louisville because it was thought to more centralized when the Georgia population began moving away from the seacoast towards the growing interior. The site stood at a crossroads linking several larger towns including Savannah and Augusta.
While a capital for only a decade, it became an interesting historical footnote when it served as the focal point of a scandal called the Yazoo Fraud. Georgia sold a huge territory, most of the northern half of present-day Alabama and Mississippi, to a small number of land speculators at rock-bottom prices. Well, surprise, a number of elected officials and legislators supporting the act that authorized the sale were bribed by the beneficiaries. The fraud came to light and people reacted with rage. It got ugly in the capital city. A marker has been placed near the site of the old capitol building, to commemorate perhaps the most significant event occurring during Louisville’s brief tenure as a state capital.
Louisville Market House
Louisville was also known for The Market House, one of the few structures constructed during its capital period that survived to the present (albeit heavily restored). Everything imaginable was sold from this location. Allegedly it even served a slave market although the local community claims, "Recent research… casts doubt on this and suggests that the old Market House may have a much more benign history as an ordinary commercial market."
Milledgeville experienced a much longer tenure as Georgia’s state capital, lasting beyond the first half of the Nineteenth Century in the years leading into the Civil War. From this location, the state of Georgia seceded from the United States and joined the Confederacy. Milledgeville laid in ruins by the end of the conflict.
The history of events leading to the transfer from Louisville to Milledgeville are a bit hazy. It was a planned community though, built from scratch to serve specifically as a capital city. Milledgeville was centrally located like Louisville and it additionally stood at a point where the coastal plain met the Piedmont’s hills like so many other important cities along eastern edge of the United States during that time. This was the farthest navigable inland point when shipping was so vitally important to transportation and trade. Milledgeville was placed at the fall line, connected directly to the larger world via the Oconee River.
Old Georgia State Capitol, Milledgeville, Georgia by Ken Lund, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
Milledgeville became an obvious target during the war, the capital city of a rebellious state. General Sherman’s troops decimated the city during The March to the Sea.
Houses, stores and barns were looted by Sherman’s troops, who rampaged through the city “foraging.” The capitol building was occupied and a group of soldiers led by Brigadier General Judson H. Kilpatrick held a mock legislative session and “repealed” Georgia’s ordinance of secession before looting the building and inflicting thousands of dollars in damage. The roof of nearby St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was blown off when the soldiers ignited captured Confederate armories and magazines.
That was it. Milledgeville never fully recovered. The capital moved to Atlanta during Reconstruction, "a city emerging as the symbol of the New South as surely as Milledgeville symbolized the Old South." The seat of power has remained in Atlanta ever since 1868.
Two significant signs of the old capital still remain in Milledgeville, the former capitol building, now a museum, and the former Governor’s Mansion.