In an earlier post Chuck and I followed some old trails and roads which we felt the Walker families may have used when they migrated to Florida from South Carolina in the late 1820s. If you remember, our daylight ran out around Milledgeville, Georgia; and I said that I would continue the trip in a later post.
Well, this is it–a later post and a continuation of their and our journeys from Milledgeville on down into Florida. We recently made this trip; but they traveled it about 1828, almost 200 years ago. I need to stress, though, that I’m less certain of the route they took, as you’ll see later.
After the family left Fort Hawkins, which was the old fort south of Milledgeville that set on the eastern edge of the wilderness, they followed the Lower Creek Trading Path.
As mentioned earlier Milledgeville was the Capitol of Georgia in the 1820s and it also set on the Fall Line Rd. Well, the Lower Creek Trading Path was essentially an extension of the fall line road that led on through Georgia to Alabama and Mississippi. The Path was also known as the Old Horse Path and was used by the Carolina traders before the foundation of Georgia.
The wilderness west of Fort Wilkinson belonged to the Creek Nation until the Fort Wilkinson Treaty of 1826. This treaty opened the wilderness to migrating settlers; and by the time the Walkers traveled this route in 1828, it had only been opened two years. Most of the roads in the wilderness were widened Indian paths, except for the Lower Creek Trading Path.
This route was not as primitive as one might imagine, because it had been opened earlier as a postal route leading to New Orleans. The Creek Nation allowed our postal carriers to use this path, and our government widened it and made it easier for travel.
This road on its way to New Orleans crossed the Chattahoochee River nine miles south of Columbus, Georgia. State historical markers in Chattahoochee, Marion, and Taylor Counties today show the route through those counties.
The road was previously very well traveled by the Indians of that area, who initially used it as a trading path. As mentioned earlier our government negotiated for our postal service to use the path; and years later during the War of 1812, it became, under another treaty, a military road. General Andrew Jackson and his army needed a faster route to get to New Orleans so they could ‘fire their guns cause the British kept a comin’.
This Lower Creek Indian Path is also called the Federal Road and follows SR 112 south out of Milledgeville, and we can safely say it follows this path to Ft. Wilkinson. While I’m fairly certain how to follow the lower path of the Lower Indian Path/Old Federal Road out of Milledgeville as far as Ft. Wilkinson, I’m a little uncertain about where the Old Federal Road went from there. But I believe it followed the fall line.
There are different theories though as to where the road went from this fort. One theory is that it wandered south and west through Toomsboro towards Hawkinsville. This is also called the Vinson Highway, but Hawkinsville seems too far south of the Chattahoochee crossing mentioned earlier. Also, this road does not followed the fall line.
The other theory is that it followed the fall line on into Alabama and Mississippi. This one seems more correct. The next rivers over are the Ocmulgee in Macon and the Flint River on the western side of Crawford County. If you draw a line between these points and the fall line on the Chattahoochee below Columbus, the Old Federal Highway mostly follows US 80. I feel more certain that this is the Old Federal Road/Postal Horse Path.
More About Ft. Wilkinson
South of Milledgeville on SR 112 is a marker that says that 300 yards east of the here is where Ft, Wilkinson stood. This fort, built in 1797 on Georgia’s Indian boundary, was an early trading house, where the Creek’s were supplied under the Treaty of New York of 1790. It is also where the 1802 treaty was signed when the Creek’s ceded the land westward to Commissioner’s Creek.
There are also documents showing that this is the fort where the soldiers stayed when they widened and built the Lower Indian Path into the Federal Road.
In 1897 the Ft. Wilkinson garrison moved to Ft. Hawkins near the Ocmulgee River fall line, near present day Macon. Macon grew up around this fort. I believe this move is why it is so hard to follow the Federal Road, as the beginning of the Federal Road comes from two locations–the earlier one was Ft. Wilkinson south of Milledgeville and the later one was Ft. Hawkins near Macon.
So we first followed SR 112 past the site of Ft. Wilkinson until we came to a problem. We found that there is one section of the road where it does not follow SR 112. When SR 112 gets to US 23 northeast of Hawkinsville, the road here follows Coley Station Rd, which later becomes the Old Milledgeville Rd. After which it intersects with Alternate US 129 which goes southwest into Hawkinsville. This is a pretty drive, not as developed as the SR 112 route which bypasses this.
Another reason I believe SR 112 may have been built on an old road, not necessarily the Old Federal Rd., is because of a document that named several cities that were built on on it. This document actually calls this road the Old Federal Road, too. Actually, there are at least three Old Federal Roads in Georgia, one north of Atlanta, also, which was once an old Cherokee trading Path.
But documents said that this Federal Road went through cities such as Ashburne, Rochelle and Toombsboro, etc. If you look at the road that runs directly between these cities, it is State Road 112. But my question is where did this Federal Road stop and a possible new route opened for the new settlers moving into this area immediately after the 1826 treaty. If it was SR 112, when did this road open. I have no idea.
My problem now is how far did this old road follow SR 112. SR 112 pretty much will take you all the way to Cairo, GA which is where I can definitively say one can follow the Lower Hawthorne Trail, which will be explained later. Since I have no idea when this road opened, I decide that the other theory has more believability.
The Second Theory
It is said in several documents that the Lower Indian Path/Old Federal Road crossed the Flint River near the Old Indian Agency Headquarters in Crawford County. The Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins lived here, and his burial site is by the river on the west side of Crawford County. His home and the community that grew up around it was called Traveler’s Rest. So we have a good idea where this was.
If you look at a map, SR 112 goes in the wrong direction to intersect with this point. On face value SR 112 is not the path I’m looking for, unless it was blazed directly down from the old path south of Ft. Wilkinson. It does look like a good option, but again I believe it is wrong.
A better road was probably the one that came directly down from Traveler’s Rest and which Old US 19 was built upon. Old US 19 was changed over the years, and you can find its roadbed as SR 3 in most places now. I believe SR 3 beginning in Baconton, GA was where Hawthorne blazed his new trail.
What was the Old Federal Road Like?
By the time the Walker families traveled the Old Federal Road in 1828, the road was no more than 16 feet wide. It was widened in 1811 by the military to make it sufficient for moving supply wagons, cannons, and men on horse and foot. in other words it was a military road. The Walkers spent weeks traveling this road and they camped on land beside it.
Its swamps and streams were causewayed and bridged. Stumps were ordered not to exceed 6 inches above the ground and to be pared around the edges. The settlers through their journals and diaries said that often the road climbed sandy ridges and rambled.
The vegetation removed from the surface of the sandy loam soils caused the road to erode rapidly, especially on the sloped up and down grades. The pressure of the horses’ hooves and the iron bands of the wagons wheels disturbed the soil even more. They said that gullies formed everywhere. It was rough going.
The Old Hawthorne Trail
Some documents say that the Old Hawthorne Trail ran from Columbus all the way down to St. Marks, Florida, which is a riverport near the Gulf below Tallahassee. Some say that the road crossed the Flint River at Traveler’s Rest in Crawford County, Georgia. Almost all agree that it had been a Stagecoach Road.
And I found where a Stagecoach road existed that ran south down from Albany. I began thinking this was the road that may have been a part of the Hawthorne Trail since this is the location where I lost the trail when traveling north on the lower part of the Hawthorn Trail.
It is said that William Hawthorne blazed the road in 1818. The Walkers didn’t use it until 1828, a decade later. Many great and distinguished men traveled this old road, and it probably was used by Gen. Jackson while he was governor of Territorial Florida when going to and from The Hermitage, his home near Nashville, Tennessee. And this may be why they thought it went all the way to Columbus. He came down from Nashville which was north and west and then turned east using the Old Federal Road until he got to Traveler’s Rest.
My problem finding the Old Hawthorne Trail begins with a document that says that the old trail went south from Baconton. For a while I thought this was old US 19 which is now SR 3.
There is a problem here in Baconton, Georgia, though, because Baconton did not exist when the Walkers came through in 1827-28. It wasn’t established until 1866.
Instead, there was a little community east of Baconton on SR 93 which was called Gum Pond. It was a town then, and it sits on the Florida Stagecoach Road that ran from Albany to Thomasville through Camilla. I wonder if this is where the Hawthorne Trail runs south, not in the current downtown of Baconton. This area has the address of Baconton today, and this may be why folks thought that it pulled off from Baconton. This old Stagecoach Road runs parallel to SR 3 about three miles to the east.
Also, State Road 112 coming down from Milledgeville through Sylvester intersects with The Old Stage Coach Rd. at Greenough just a little south of where Gum Pond was located. One can then take SR 112 all the way down to Cairo from here.
In Cairo is where there are signs that mark the Old Hawthorne Trail. These Hawthorne Trail signs run west of the city. These street signs call it the Upper Hawthorne Trail which run southeast into Cairo.
Here the Upper Hawthorne roadbed is clay, reminiscent of the country music which romanticize red clay roads.
This road runs through pine forests and cornfields before crossing US 84 which runs from Bainbridge to Thomasville through Cairo.
On the north side of US 84, though, we spotted an old cemetery, the oldest one we’ve seen here. We walked through it, and I found a grave with a date of death of 1841. In graveyards this old, there are always unmarked earlier graves. Many graves in this area are unmarked because the Indians would dig bodies up. It was part of warfare to give one’s enemy a bad death.
This cemetery could be old enough to have been here in 1828, when the Walkers came to Florida. This road forks left off of SR 112 which runs up through Camilla and intersects the Old Stage Coach Rd. just a few miles south of Gum Pond. So this is where we know the Old Hawthorne Trail existed.
For the first time today while on this old clay road I can really imagine what it might of been like as the family moved along through this area. Mostly these are just farms and forests through here now. It’s a good road but I wouldn’t want to be here when it rains.
But north of this point between SR 112 in Greenough and here, I really have no idea if this is the trail. Poor Chuck. He’s driving and I’m directing first up this road and then down that road. He finally points out that he’s beginning to feel like Hoke in ” Driving Miss Daisy.”
As you get farther south, though, toward the Florida line, the Old Hawthorne Trail is marked both on maps and by signage on the highways. We followed it through Lower South Georgia south of Cairo. It is a pretty little two-laned grey asphalt road, canopied by trees in some areas.
You can find it on the maps south out of Cairo on State Road 111, which is also marked as the Lower Hawthorne Trail.
You’ll find where the Lower Hawthorne Trail pulls off of SR 111 way south of Cairo on your left. It becomes County Road 157A here.
This road is surrounded by farmland and is wooded in the lower areas. When you get to the end of 157A there is a street sign that says Concord Rd. If you follow this road, it dead ends in Florida.
We turned right on Concord Rd. and over our shoulder noticed a sign that said Lower Hawthorne Trail with an arrow pointing back down towards the Concord Road. This is very helpful as it tells us that the historians believe that 157A or the Concord Road is also a part of the Old Lower Hawthorne Trail. Georgia has marked it side of the trail, but not Florida.
The Concord Rd. (Old Lower Hawthorne Trail) came down to about a mile east of Concord, Florida on State Road 12. To find current day Concord, we turned west on SR 12 and drove to the little intersection with its little service station. This is modern day Concord, and I believe the Old Bainbridge Road leading down to Tallahassee may also be part of the Old Lower Hawthorne Trail, but again I’m not sure, though some documents say it went all the way to St. Marks, Florida on the Gulf coast.
So it is my best guess that the family followed the Old Federal Road, which follows the fall line, out of Milledgeville. At Traveler’s Rest they turned south on a trail that later became Old US 19 until they traveled through Gum Pond and met up with the Hawthorne Trail which I believe began in or around Greenough, Georgia. At least that is how I plan to write it in my book, adding all the research used to come to this conclusion.
But I’m not quite ready to begin writing. I think I want to make one more road trip on this route to stop in at some key libraries just to test my theory one last time. Besides I get the chance to follow this old trail again. And I love that as much as I love a good road trip.