W. C. Patten and the Chattanooga Evaporator

Fall in South Georgia from October through the end of the year is still syrup making time -the time that sugar cane is cut and cane syrup produced. In the 1890s, one of the biggest producers of cane syrup and cane sugar in Berrien County was William C. Patten. His production was noted for the use of the Chattanooga Evaporator, which allowed for continuous processing of the juice into syrup, rather than the “batch processing” done in the broad iron kettle of the home farmer.

 

Almost hidden in the steam, the cooker stands over a Chattanooga evaporator and dips his ladle here and there to skim the scum. Occasionally he tests the boiling syrup as it drips from the skimmer and when it "acts right" he lets it out. He doesn't need a saccharometer, and instrument commonly used for the purpose, to know when the syrup is done. His eye is keen and his judgement ripe and he knows when the sweetsome flood is ready. This interesting process is taking place in South Georgia where the natives insist upon sugar-cane syrup and cannot see the taste of a Tennessean, for instance, who has to have his sorghum, which is thicker but not any sweeter. All the same, either goes with flapjacks and hot biscuits - and what would the kids do without old-fashioned molasses candy? There is a Chattanooga cane mill nearby that crushes the stalks as they come from the field and presses out the juice, which then is piped to the evaporator where the cooker keeps a wary eye on the sugar content while the fire is taking out the water.

Almost hidden in the steam, the cooker stands over a Chattanooga evaporator and dips his ladle here and there to skim the scum. Occasionally he tests the boiling syrup as it drips from the skimmer and when it “acts right” he lets it out. He doesn’t need a saccharometer, and instrument commonly used for the purpose, to know when the syrup is done. His eye is keen and his judgement ripe and he knows when the sweetsome flood is ready.

This interesting process is taking place in South Georgia where the natives insist upon sugar-cane syrup and cannot see the taste of a Tennessean, for instance, who has to have his sorghum, which is thicker but not any sweeter. All the same, either goes with flapjacks and hot biscuits – and what would the kids do without old-fashioned molasses candy?

There is a Chattanooga cane mill nearby that crushes the stalks as they come from the field and presses out the juice, which then is piped to the evaporator where the cooker keeps a wary eye on the sugar content while the fire is taking out the water.

 

The Harvester, May, 1921

It is said that  sugar cane cultivation was first introduced into south Georgia by John Moore  when he moved to Lowndes County around 1828. By 1876, Sugar cane became one of the staple crops of Wiregrass Georgia, Berrien County, and of Ray City.   Every farmer had a small cane mill on his farm for pressing the cane to extract the juice, which was cooked down in a cast iron kettle to make syrup. Hundreds of gallons of cane syrup could be produced from a single acre of sugar cane.

Local syrup producers over the years have included the likes of Jehu Patten (1838-1907), farmer of the Rays Mill (now Ray City) District, who in 1896 had “300 gallons of syrup jugged and sealed,” as well as his home produced cane sugar; Levi J. Clements (1851-1924, patriarch of the Clements family and founder of the Clements Lumber Company at Ray City; David C. Clements (1857-1902) who shipped his Georgia cane syrup from Ray City to markets as far as Texas; Moses C. Lee (1853-1926), exemplary farmer of Ray City, who in a year “jugged and barreled 750 gallons of syrup, of the finest that can be made”; Della Outlaw (1891-1932) made cane syrup on what is today the W. H. Outlaw Centennial Farm near Ray City, and bottled it for sale in Nashville, GA (Today, her grandson, Bill Outlaw, makes cane syrup in the family tradition);  David Jackson Skinner (1898-1962), a farmer of the Ray City, GA area and a Deacon of New Ramah Church put up his syrup in cans;  Wiley Chambless (1832-1888) was a Berrien county farmer who grew “red” and “red ribbon” cane; J. McMillan, J.J. McMillan and J.L. Harper, of Alapaha together produced 25 barrels of cane syrup for shipment in 1885; J.N. Bray,  of Berrien County, in 1908 produced 2000 gallons of cane syrup; George W. Leggett (1846-1922) shared the use of his syrup making equipment with family and friends.

The December 14, 1894 the Tifton Gazette reported about William C. Patten’s cane syrup processing:

Tifton Gazette, December 14, 1894. W.C. Patten was one of the largest sugar cane growers in Berrien County, GA

Tifton Gazette, December 14, 1894.W.C. Patten was one of the largest sugar cane growers in Berrien County, GA

 

Mr. W. C. Patten is perhaps the largest sugar cane producer in Berrien County. He uses a Chattanooga Evaporator and it takes about a month to convert his cane crop into sugar and syrup. He lives about five miles north of Milltown. He produces a plenty and to spare of “hog and hominy.”

William C. “Babe” Patten (1849-1944),  was a resident of the “Watson Grade” community, near Empire Church just  northeast of Ray’s Mill, GA .  Watson Grade was the location of the Watson family farm and the home of Sam I. Watson, among others

William C. Patten was a son of William Patten and Elizabeth “Betsey” Register.    He married Sarah Lee, who was the daughter of Moses Corby Lee and Jincy Register. A prominent farmer of Berrien County, GA, William C. Patten was a Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace. When his wife’s niece, Jennie Lee, married Samuel I Watson in 1900, it was W. C.  Patten who performed the ceremony.  W.C. Patten, after the death of his first wife, married Sam Watson’s sister,  Laura Watson.

The Chattanooga Evaporator

The evaporator is generally placed down hill from the cane mill so that gravity can be used to get the juice from the mill to the evaporator. The evaporator is a shallow pan about three and one-half feet wide by from five to fifteen feet long. Chattanooga evaporators have partitions about nine inches apart, with a small opening or gate at alternate ends to make the juice flow back and forth across the evaporator.

The evaporator rests on a furnace made of steel or brick. Pine wood is considered the best fuel, as it makes a quick, flashing fire and gives more uniform heat the full length of the pan. The aim is to keep a constant flow of juice into, and from, the evaporator. About thirty minutes after the juice enters the evaporator it leaves it as a clear, delicious syrup.

The picture [above] shows a real South Georgia syrup maker. The quality of the syrup depends a great deal on the skill of the “cooker.” As the juice begins to boil a thick, slimy, green scum rises, bringing with it all the impurities. This is skimmed off and thrown into a barrel.

Just a word about that barrel. Sometimes it becomes the focal point of a great deal of attention, such as might arouse the curiosity of the uninitiated. After the skimmings have stood a while a certain amount of juice settles at the bottom, and that juice develops a kick that would bring happiness to prohibition sufferers could they get a chance at it.

On account of the rapid evaporation, the vapor or “steam” sometimes completely hides the outfit, but the cooker plies his ladle, skimming the juice, dipping and throwing back and occasionally raising the ladle and allowing the syrup from the finishing end of the evaporator to drip off. If the “cooker” is an old hand he knows from the way the syrup “acts” when it is done. The inexperienced cooker tests the syrup with a type of hydrometer known as a saccharometer. – The Harvester, May, 1921

1920 advertisement for Chattanooga cane mills, evaporators, furnaces and accessories.

1920 advertisement for Chattanooga cane mills, evaporators, furnaces and accessories.

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Feb 22, 1905 Marriage of Mollie Bell Clements

Remember Mollie Bell Clements Lee?  She and her husband, Bill Lee, ordered their home from the Sears Catalog about 1917 (see Ray City’s Mail Order House).  Mollie Bell Clements and William David “Bill” Lee were married on Wednesday, February 22, 1905.   Presented here,  the wedding announcement that appeared in The Valdosta Times.

The bride was a daughter of Martha J. Baskin and David Clements. The groom was a son of Moses C. Lee and Amanda Clements.

1905 Wedding announcement of Mollie Bell Clements, of Ray City, and William David Lee, of Milltown.

1905 Wedding announcement of Mollie Bell Clements, of Ray City, and William David Lee, of Milltown. The announcement appeared in the Saturday, February 25, 1905 edition of The Valdosta Times.

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, February 25, 1905

A Wedding Near Ray’s Mill.

      The home of Mrs. Martha Clements, near Ray’s Mill, was the scene of a very pretty wedding Wednesday afternoon, the contracting parties being Miss Mollie Clements and Mr. William David Lee, of Milltown. The ceremony was performed by Rev. L. R. Christie and was witnessed by a large number of friends of the contracting parties. The bride is a very popular as well as pretty young woman, and is a daughter of the late David Clements. The groom is a prominent merchant and naval stores operator at Milltown.
      The couple received many handsome presents and are receiving many congratulations and good wishes from their host of friends.

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Feb 4, 1911 Ray’s Mill News Items

Rays Mill news items appearing in the Feb 4, 1911 Valdosta Times were about the business and social scene in the new town.

The Valdosta Times
 Saturday, February 4, 1911, page 7,
Rays Mill News Items

     Mr. A.L. Bridges has moved into his new building here.
     Mr. W. L. Swindle, of Nashville, has accepted a position with his brother, Mr. J.S. Swindle, of this place.
     Miss Leslie Langford returned to Rays Mill Wednesday night from Vidalia.
Mrs. L.  J. Clements is spending a few days in Milltown this week.
    Mr. G. V. Hardee, druggist of this place, moved in his new building Wednesday.
    Mr. I. Burkhalter made a business trip to Nashville Wednesday.
    Mr. Floyd Fender, of Tifton, is visiting Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Fender for a few days.
    Mrs. Baskin, Mrs. Terry, Mrs. Dr. Clements, Miss Fannie Clements and Miss Lessie Carter represented Beaver Dam Missionary Society at the missionary rally in Valdosta last Tuesday, January 31, and lunch was served at the Tabernacle. They report a good meeting, also a pleasant time for all who attended.
    Mr. A. L. Taylor, of Nashville, has bought Mr. J.T. Webb’s store.
    Mr. W. M. Carter, of Rays Mill, visited Tifton last Saturday returning Sunday night.
    Mr. W. H. Terry made a business trip to Valdosta Wednesday.
    Mr. George Norton spent a few days in Macon last week returning Monday night.

Ray City News appeared in The Valdosta Times, Feb 4, 1911.

Ray City News appeared in The Valdosta Times, Feb 4, 1911.

Austin Lawrence Bridges was a merchant from who came to Ray City in 1909 with his bride, Della Pope.  He bought a house on Jones Street and opened a dry goods store.

William Lawrence Swindle was a farmer of the Ray City area and former Sheriff of Berrien County.  He was a brother of James S. Swindle, and son of James Swindle, Pioneer Settler.

Leslie Alma Langford was the daughter of William E. Langford and Mary Virginia Knight, and sister of Luther Etheldred Langford. In 1918 she married Walter Greene Altman. At the time he was a clerk working for Nix & Miller Company, a sawmill in Ray City, GA, but shortly thereafter he became an ice dealer.  Later Walter owned a cafe where Leslie worked as a waitress.

Mrs. L. J. Clements was Eugenia  Watkins Clements, wife of Lucius J. Clements. Her parents were Sarah and Thomas H. Watkins, of Whitesburg, Carroll County, GA.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from La Grange College in 1907.

Gordon Vancie Hardie was a druggist and entrepreneur of Ray City.

Isaac Burkhalter, Jr was born 1863 in Clinch County, GA just weeks before his father, Captain Isaac Burkhalter was killed at Gettysburg. Isaac Burkhalter, the son, made his home at Rays Mill some time before 1900 with his wife, Marentha Sirmans, where he engaged in farming until his death.

Wilson W. Fender was the owner of the Fender Hotel in Ray City.  His wife Lena Fender was in millinery. His eldest son was telephone lineman Floyd Fender, of Tifton, and his younger son’s were Ike and Lutie. Ike Fender was a telephone operator and Lutie Fender was a soda jerk.

The Ladies of the Beaver Dam Missionary Society

  • Mrs. Baskin mentioned in the story could have been one of several Baskin women: Mary Ann Harrell Baskin, second wife of James B. Baskin; her step-daughter, Fannie Ellen Hagan Baskin; or another of the Baskin wives.  The Baskin family  helped found the Baptist Church at Ray City.
  • Mrs. Terry was Nebbie Luckie Terry. She was a daughter of William F. Luckie and wife of W. H. E. Terry, also mentioned in the article.
  • Mrs. Dr. Clements was Pauline Nelson Clements, wife of Dr. Henry Warren Clements. Dr. Clements owned  the second gasoline powered automobile in Berrien County, a Maxwell Doctor’s Roadster.
  • Miss Fannie Lola Clements was a daughter of Martha J. Cements and David C. Clements.
  • Miss Lessie E. Carter was a daughter of Lorenzo D. Carter and Anna Eliza Fender.

Jesse Thomas Webb, who sold his store in Rays Mill, was a son of Mary and John L. Webb, of the Connells Mill District. After selling his store in Rays Mill he moved to Tifton, GA and opened a store there.

William Manson Carter was a son of Lorenzo D. Carter and Anna Eliza Fender, and brother of Lessie E. Carter. In 1917 he worked as a druggist for C. O. Terry.

William Henry Edward Terry came to Ray City about 1910 and built the first brick building in the new town.

James Madison Baskin Settled at Beaver Dam Creek.

James Madison Baskin, first of the Baskin family to settle in the Ray City area, came to Berrien county about the time it was created in 1856.  He was the grandfather of Armstrong B. Baskin, and great grandfather of Mary Frances Baskin. James M. Baskin was born 6 April 1829 in Houston County, GA, one of thirteen children born to Sarah Goode and James G. Baskin.  His father was born 1792 in Abbeville District, SC.  and came to Georgia as a child.

When grown to adulthood, James M. Baskin left his family home with two slaves given to him by his father.  These slaves were experienced in construction, and James went into business as a building contractor.

While on a stay in Atlanta, James M. Baskin resided at the Bell House, a boarding house said to be the first hotel in Atlanta. There, he met the proprietor’s daughter, Frances Bell Knox.  She was  a widow with a three-year-old son, Alton Knox.  (The 1850 Dekalb County census  records show that by the age of 17 she was married to Joseph Knox, age 28, and that the couple had a one year old son named Alton.)

About 1852, Frances Bell Knox and James Madison Baskin were married  in Houston County.  In 1853, Frances gave James a daughter,  Fannie E. Baskin.  Another daughter, Sarah “Sallie” E., followed in 1856.

James M. Baskin’s father died in 1856.  About that time he decided to move his family from their home in Houston County.  His adopted son was now seven years old, his daughter three. His wife was probably either pregnant or was caring for their second infant daughter Sarah “Sallie” E., who was born that same year.   Who knows his reasons for uprooting his young family?  The Indian wars were over – south Georgia was secure. The Coffee Road provided a migration route and there was a steady southward flow of settlers.  Perhaps the disposition of his father’s estate incited him to move.  Perhaps he foresaw the coming war and wanted his family farther from north Georgia military objectives, or perhaps he saw more opportunities in the new counties being opened in southern Georgia.

It was in 1856 that Berrien County was cut out of Lowndes County; Levi J. Knight and others were setting boundaries and surveying the new county. James M. Baskin brought his family to the area of Beaverdam Creek in the southernmost part of the new county.  He settled about a mile outside of present day Ray City, GA  on land Lots 470 and 471 in the 10th land district. Tax records from the 1870s show James M. Baskin owned 1080 acres pf land in Berrien county,  relatively valuable land appraised at $1.85 per acre.

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lots #470 and 471.

1869 Berrien County Map detail showing location of land lots #470 and 471.

Over the next five years three more daughters were added to the Baskin family: Georgia Ann (1857), Martha J. (1859), and Mary J. (1861)

The Civil War came along and James M. Baskin joined the Confederate army, enlisting as a private in the 54th Georgia Infantry. He fought throughout the war and was wounded in the Battle of Atlanta.

After the war, James Baskin returned to farm life.  Over the next ten years he and Frances had five more children.  In all,  James M. Baskin and Frances Bell had 11 children. James and Frances Baskin, and some of their children, were active in the formation of Beaver Dam Baptist church, now known as Ray City Baptist Church.

Children of James Madison Baskin and  Frances Bell:

  1. Baskin, Fannie E. (1853 – 1892) m. William A. K. Giddens
  2. Baskin, Sarah “Sallie” E. (1856 – ) m. Thomas M. Ray, Jr.
  3. Baskin, Georgia Ann (1857 – 1934) m. Leonard L. Roberts
  4. Baskin, Martha J. (1859 – 1950) m. David C. Clements, Dec. 22, 1881
  5. Baskin, Mary J. (1861 – 1902) m. Ulysses A. Knight
  6. Baskin, James B. (1864 – 1943) m. Fannie Ellen Hagan, dau. of John W. Hagan, Dec. 15, 1887
  7. Baskin, Callie D. (1866 – 1890)  m. John T. Smith
  8. Baskin, William H. (1869 – ) m. Mamie Harrell, dau. of John W.
  9. Baskin, Emma (1872 – ) m. George T. Patten
  10. Baskin, Maggie May (1874 – 1898) m. Robert L. Patten
  11. Baskin, Ollie (1876 – ) m. L. H. Dasher

Frances Bell Knox Baskin died on June 3, 1885 at Rays Mill (now Ray City), Berrien County, Georgia.

James Baskin was a widower, 56 years old, the youngest of his 11 children just 9 years old. He decided to re-marry. Just six months later, on Dec 30 1885 he wed Mary Ann Harrell. She was a native of Lowndes County, born in  Nov. 29, 1859. At 27, she was a prominent citizen experienced in public service, and a former Ordinary (probate judge) of Lowndes county.

Children of James Madison Baskin and Mary Ann Harrell, – m. 30 DEC 1885 in Lowndes County, Georgia

  1. Baskin, Alonzo L. (1886 – ) b.   Nov. 17, 1886, m. Corine Rodriguez
  2. Baskin, Verdie (1888 – ) b.   Dec. 17, 1888, m. James W. Lovejoy
  3. Baskin, Infant (1891 – 1891)
  4. Baskin, Ruby (1893 – ) b.   May 16, 1893, m. Walter M. Shaw
  5. Baskin, Ruth (1894 – 1922) b.   Dec. 15, 1894, died single, age 22 years
  6. Baskin, John Holmes (1897 – ) b.   Oct. 8, 1897, m. Mrs. Laura Hall Sweat of Waycross

James Madison Baskin lived on his land near Ray City with his second wife until his death on July 7, 1913. Mary Ann Harrell Baskin  died April 29, 1917.

He and both of his wives are buried in the Ray City Cemetery.

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Ray City’s Mail Order House

In the early 1900s rural consumers found they could purchase almost anything from mail-order catalogs, including homes.  About 1917, one Ray City couple did just that.

The Avondale, Sears mail-order home ordered by Mollie and Bill Lee, of Ray City, GA in 1917.

The Avondale, Sears mail-order home ordered by Mollie and Bill Lee, of Ray City, GA in 1917.

 Sears Catalog Homes (sold as Sears Modern Homes) were ready-to-assemble houses sold through mail order by Sears Roebuck and Company. Over 70,000 of these kit homes were sold in North America between 1908 and 1940. Shipped via railroad boxcars, the kit included all the materials needed to build a house.  Many were assembled by do-it-yourself homeowners with the help of friends, relatives, and neighbors, in a fashion similar to the traditional barn-raisings of farming families.

As an add-on, Sears offered the latest technology available to house buyers in the early part of the twentieth century. Central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity were all new developments in-house design that “Modern Homes” incorporated, although not all the houses were designed with these conveniences. Central heating, for example, not only improved the livability of houses with little insulation but also improved fire safety, a worry in an era when open flames threatened houses and even entire cities, as in the Great Chicago Fire (1871).

As demand decreased, Sears expanded the product line to feature houses that varied in cost to meet the budgets of various buyers. Sears began offering financing plans in 1916. However, the company experienced steadily rising payment defaults throughout the Great Depression, resulting in increasing strain for the catalog house program. More than 370 designs of Sears Homes were offered during the program’s 32-year history. The mortgage portion of the program was discontinued in 1934 after Sears was forced to liquidate $11 million in defaulted debt. Sears closed their Modern Homes department in 1940. A few years later, all sales records were destroyed during a corporate house cleaning. The only way to find these houses today is literally one by one.

One Sears mail-order home was purchased by Mollie and  Bill Lee of Ray City, GA.

Mollie  Bell Clements and William David  “Bill” Lee both grew up near Ray City, GA.  Mollie was a daughter of  Martha J. Baskin and David C. Clements. Bill was a son of Moses C. Lee and Amanda Clements.  He was educated at the Green Bay School near Ray City, where he was a member of the Advanced Literary Society.

Mollie and Bill were married February 22, 1905 in Berrien County, Georgia. As newlyweds, they made their home in a two-room log cabin.  The Census of 1910 shows William and Mollie living  in Georgia Militia District 1144, the Rays Mill District, with their two young children, Vivian  Lee and Fannie Lee.  Bill was farming on his own account. By 1917, the Lees had four more children,  Ruth Amanda Lee, Willie E. Lee, Mary E. Lee, and Moses Clements Lee.  Clearly, it was time for a bigger house.

About 1917,  Bill and Mollie ordered a “Modern Home,”  The Avondale, No. 151, from the Sears Modern Homes Mail Order Catalog.  The materials were probably shipped via the Georgia and Florida Railroad to Ray City, then carried by wagon to the construction site.  The Lees purchased additional interior components to complete the house from the Sears & Roebuck store in Valdosta, Ga.  The home would have been assembled completely by manual labor, as electric power was not yet available in Ray City in 1917. The house had seven rooms, and the common features of the time, like 12 foot ceilings, plaster walls, wood floors, and bay windows.  Over the years the Lees modified the original floor plan of their Sears home, adding on to the back of the house to enlarge the kitchen and rear bedrooms, and adding a sun room off the master bedroom.

Nearly 100 years later, the house still stands near Ray City.

Houseplans for The Avondale, mail-order house sold by Sears & Roebuck.

House plans for The Avondale, mail-order house sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

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