Poultry capital of the world

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 6, 2015

Jesse Jewell (1902-1975) started what was to become Georgia’s largest agricultural crop—poultry. The now $1,000,000,000 a year industry has given Gainesville the title “Poultry Capital of the World.”

jesse jewell

Jewell’s business acumen was highly acclaimed. He pioneered vertical integration—the combining of all phases of the business, such as raw materials, processing, and distribution, within a single company—in the poultry industry. His feed conversion incentive plans benefited farmers, helping guide the area’s agriculture economy through and beyond the Depression. The program, from avian parent breeding to brand name marketing, is emulated worldwide today by all poultry producing firms. At the helm of J. D. Jewell, Inc. for more than twenty years, Jewell was a key national leader of the industry.

Jewell’s father, Edgar Herman Jewell, owned a feed, seed, and fertilizer business. He died when Jewell was only seven years old. After studying civil engineering at the University of Alabama and Georgia Tech, young Jesse in 1922 began working in the family feed business, along with his mother and stepfather, Leonard Loudermilk. In 1928 Jewell married Anna Louise Dorough, and the couple settled down in Gainesville. They had three daughters.

When his stepfather died in 1930, Jewell began managing the family business. As the Depression drained the company’s receipts, he tried a new approach to boost feed sales. He bought baby chicks and supplied them, along with chicken feed, on credit to cash-poor farmers. Once the chicks were grown, Jewell bought them back at a price that covered his feed costs and also guaranteed the farmers a profit. More and more Hall County farmers began to contract to grow chickens for Jewell.

By the late 1930s Jewell began adding the elements that would make J. D. Jewell the largest integrated chicken producer in the world. The first step, in 1940, was to open his own hatchery. Next came a processing plant in 1941. The booming World War II economy gave a lift to the fledgling Jewell enterprise. In 1954 Jewell added the final touches—his own feed mill and rendering plant. This vertically integrated corporation set the standard for poultry processors everywhere, as did Jewell’s trademark frozen chicken. His work created a demand for specialists in nutrition, poultry science, poultry marketing and transportation. Jewell’s hiring policies were also innovative: his processing plant was among the first factories in Gainesville to hire black workers.

In the spring of 1951 a majority of workers at J. D. Jewell voted to unionize under Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen. “The workers in the Jewell plant were being paid 75 cents an hour for all types of work, regardless of the length of experience of the employees,” stated the union, in an August 1951 Congressional hearing before the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. The union accused the company of organizing violent attacks on union representatives by a mob, which reportedly included members of J. D. Jewell management. The union never gained a foothold.

A leader in civic and industry affairs, Jewell was a founder and the first president of the National Broiler Council, the president of the Southeastern Poultry and Egg Association, and a U.S. delegate to the 1951 World Poultry Congress. He also gained the presidency of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which he led during the 1950s.

Drawing of the J. D. Jewell Inc. poultry plant, Gainesville, GA, made in the 1940s. Jewell became famous for producing frozen chicken that was shipped around the world. Ed Beasley Collection / Hall County Library Photo Collection, Gainesville, GA.

Drawing of the J. D. Jewell Inc. poultry plant, Gainesville, GA, made in the 1940s. Jewell became famous for producing frozen chicken that was shipped around the world. Ed Beasley Collection / Hall County Library Photo Collection, Gainesville, GA.


In the early 1960s Jewell sold his company to a group of investors. It went bankrupt in 1972, though Jewell himself never did. With his poultry fortune he established a scholarship fund at Brenau College, where he also endowed a new building for biology and home economics. By his life’s end he was inducted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Poultry Hall of Fame. Jewell suffered a stroke in 1962 and died, after an extended illness, on January 16, 1975.


sources: www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2120



Congress, Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, J. D. Jewell Co., 82nd Congress, 1st Session on J. D. Jewell Co. and Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, A.F.L., August 9, 1951 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1951), 2–5.

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I wish they’d a threw it in the New River sometimes

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 5, 2015

Twelve-year old William P. “Punch” Jones and his father, Grover C. Jones, Sr. were pitching horseshoes in Peterstown, WV one day in April 1928 when one of the shoes landed on an unusually beautiful stone. Believing the item to be simply a piece of shiny quartz common to the area, the family kept it in a wooden cigar box inside a tool shed for fourteen years, throughout the Depression. Punch Jones, meantime, worked his way through college during that time while his father struggled as a county school teacher to provide for his large family.

The Punch Jones Diamond was sold at auction in October 1984 through Sotheby’s of New York. It reportedly brought $67,500 from a buyer in the Orient. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s Jewelry Department.

The Punch Jones Diamond was sold at auction in October 1984 through Sotheby’s of New York. It reportedly brought $67,500 from a buyer in the Orient. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s Jewelry Department.

On May 5, 1943, Punch brought the stone to Dr. Roy J. Holden, a geology professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in nearby Blacksburg, Virginia. Holden, shocked at Punch’s discovery, authenticated the find as a diamond. The “Jones Diamond,” also known as the “Punch Jones Diamond,” “The Grover Jones Diamond,” or “The Horseshoe Diamond,” is an 34.48 carat alluvial diamond. It’s the largest alluvial diamond, and the third largest diamond overall, ever discovered in North America.

The bluish-white diamond measures 5/8 of an inch across and possesses 12 diamond-shaped faces. No other precious gems are known to have been found in West Virginia. Dr. Holden speculated that due to its “carry impact marks” and the size of the stone it had probably been washed down the New River into Rich Creek from a source in Virginia, North Carolina or Tennessee.

He sent it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remained for many years for display and safekeeping. In February of 1964, the Jones family brought the diamond back and placed it in a safe deposit box in the First Valley National Bank in Rich Creek, Virginia.

When Grover died in 1976 his widow Grace and grandson Robert became owners of the diamond (Punch had been killed in World War II.) In 1984, Robert sold the diamond through Sotheby’s auction house in New York to an agent representing a lawyer in the Orient, for $74,250. “I wish they’d a threw it in the New River sometimes,” Grace Jones observed over all the controversy. She passed away in 1992.

Grover (left) and Annie (rigt) Jones' family in 1940. Courtesy Robert D. Jones/collection West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Grover (left) and Annie (rigt) Jones’ family in 1940. Courtesy Robert D. Jones/ collection West Virginia Division of Culture and History


Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Division of Mineral Resources. “Diamonds”



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In a small community like this you helped other people

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 4, 2015

I’ve got a ’40 John Deere, and I’ve got the biggest part of equipment for it, and it’s . . . it’s up there in the barn. It’ll still run. And we . . . we worked around here and worked for other people and, you know, in a small community like this, you . . . you helped other people and they helped you. And there was no money exchanged. You was a helping somebody, and then when you got ready to house tobacco they would help you, and . . . and that’s the way you worked it. It’s not like it is now. You know, you got a transaction of money anytime that somebody helps you, where back then you didn’t have.

Back in the late . . . I guess it would be in the late ’40s, there was a . . . there was a log barn there, and my uncle built the other barn around it which you can see over there and it’s got his initials cut in the . . . in the logs, and my grandfather’s initials were cut in the logs.

They kept mules in there and they . . . they also had a “A” over the top of it that was kind a loft where they stored their . . . their corn that they took . . . they took corn . . . they didn’t take money. When they ground the corn they took a toll from the corn, and they . . . they stored that up there, and then if you would want to come by and buy, if you had money to buy it, they would sell the . . . the meal to you or sell the corn to you or whatever.

Pair of Jacks, Laurel County KYCaption reads: Laurel County, Kentucky. A pair of jacks – there are tens of thousands of such teams. This pair owned by Erwin Hensley of E. Bernstedt, hauling coal. Pre-1954, no other date.

[My mom] grew everything. She grew potatoes and corn and beans and broccoli. Just anything that we could grow in this location, she’d grow it. And stick her own beans. Last year she canned probably fifty quarts of beans and gave ‘em to the neighbors when she didn’t eat ‘em herself.

Back when the older generation, which is deceased now, they had a June meeting every year and they congregated at the graveyard and had big meals and everybody brought a dish and . . . and that’s where that . . . I can relate back to that is . . . is a lot of the history that I’m telling you about because, you know, I had heard people talk about there.

But the . . . like I said, there’s only one of my mother’s people that is living, which is her sister, and my father’s people never migrated into here. They . . . they were all over, out of state and everything, and they never came in. But the . . . the Wilsons, they . . . they had a reunion year every year.

But, like I say, after my mother has died and my aunts and uncles, they don’t . . . they didn’t have any last year.


1991 interview with Euell Sumner
(b. 1938 in Cane Creek, KY)
Family Farm Oral History Project
Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History
University of Kentucky
Interview edited; orginal transcript here

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Book Review: “Providence, VA”

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 1, 2015

Fans of the recent Hunger Games trilogy will feel right at home with Michael Abraham’s novel “Providence, VA.” Both are coming of age sagas set in a dystopian environment. The hostile surroundings of the latter are induced by a solar electromagnetic pulse (referred to throughout the story simply as ‘The Pulse’) intense enough to take down the electric grid of the eastern United States for several months.

providence book cover

Sound like mere fantasy? Weak premise to hang a tale around? Abraham’s done his research. “There was a strong EMP in 1859 and a weaker one in 1921, just as the power grid was being developed,” explains Professor Pike McConnell, one of the novel’s central characters, who teaches electrical engineering at Virginia Tech.

“The industry has been building a false sense of security and had gotten complacent. Consumers have been stressing the grid with higher loads. It’s been good for profit but we’ve failed to make the safety measures needed to prevent the damage we’ve now seen.”

Google ‘electromagnetic pulse 1859 1921,’ and sure enough, the hard historical data spills forth to back up the very real possibility of the novel’s opening disaster.

“When I was working on my first book,” says Abraham, “I met a mountain woman who lived very remotely. She said to me, ‘If the world goes to hell in a handbasket, my neighbors are the people you want to know. They are ingenious, they live close to the land and care for each other. They’ll make it.’

“I thought about this for 3 years. I began to think about how to send the world to hell in a handbasket, quickly and blamelessly, thus a natural disaster. There are other books written about EMP from nuclear attacks, but I didn’t want to have all that geo-political stuff weighing in. I decided to have the story told from the view of a young, impressionable outsider, faced with a difficult situation.”

Samantha Reisinger is the ultimate outsider to Appalachia: a wealthy 17 year-old Jewish girl from the northern New Jersey suburbs who’s never been to the mountains before. She travels with a chaperone and her beloved grandfather’s heirloom Guarneri violin (he played with the New York Philharmonic) to the annual Old Fiddler’s Convention at Galax, VA. Sammy’s goal is to see if she can expand her formal classical playing with 5 days of intense immersion in bluegrass and old time music. During the festival her chaperone is suddenly called away by family crisis, and Sammy’s parents agree to instead let a member of her new musician friends’ circle drive her home.

She’s playing onstage one evening, accompanied by new friend Jamaal Winston on the banjo, when ‘every light in their universe went dark.’

Sammy, Jamaal, Pike, and their other friends assume they’re dealing with a mere power outage, and so no one panics initially. But cell phones are down, cars with electronic ignitions won’t start, and electronic watches are dead. Pike’s the first one to suspect something larger is in play, and in the middle of the night rousts his friends up out of their tents to flee what will soon break down into a nightmarish setting, as stranded festival goers start running out of food and water.

Photo by Leslie Square.

Author photo by Leslie Square.

Their group, luckily, has access to an old converted school bus whose non-electronic ignition works just fine, and so they hightail it to the town of Fries, 12 miles away, dropping off most of the group members at their homes along the way, leaving only Sammy and Jamaal, the sole other person in the bus who’s from out of state. Professor Jamaal Winston teaches economics at Georgetown University, and like Sammy, has a deep family connection to music: his grandfather was the black Delta blues guitarist Mississippi John Hurt.

Fries is the home of Quint Thompson, school bus owner, local pharmacist and preacher at an evangelical church in nearby Providence. He and his wife Hattie graciously offer their home up for Sammy to stay in. Quint’s neighbor, widow Emily Ayres, agrees to house Jamaal for the duration of whatever it is they’re in for.

And so the hunkering down begins.

What does Michael Abraham’s Appalachia look like when the world turns upside down? Mercifully, the Blacksburg resident doesn’t cater to the old Hollywood stereotypes. Yes, there are white trash families way back in the holler living 10 to a trailer, and yes, there are a couple of bigoted rednecks in town who are good and ready to string Jamaal up by a rope soon as they get the chance.

And Abraham has a keen eye for the dark underbelly of propriety: Quint the preacher turns out to be having an affair with Annie Wilkins, the police chief, whose son Shane is the local Lothario. Sammy loses her virginity to Shane in about the same time period he’s busy also impregnating Sammy’s new ‘best friend’ Rhonda, whom he turns against her. In a riveting plot twist late in the novel, Sammy is challenged with the ultimate moral conundrum regarding Rhonda. Alone with a full term pregnant Rhonda who’s ready to deliver Shane’s child any moment, will Sammy help or walk away?

But overall Abraham wants us to appreciate the resilience of his townspeople, their ability to fend for themselves, be it by raising and canning their own food, pitching in to help rebuild an old-fashioned water turbine dam to generate new electricity, or gathering at the town hall regularly to play music and keep a sense of community alive. And that’s the spirit that Sammy, initially the outsider, pulls close to her as she gradually becomes accepted, then sought, then loved by the survivors in Providence.

The novel is set in the present. Abraham offers it up as a cautionary tale of what could/will happen if we as a society don’t incorporate more sustainable approaches, not just to our energy network, but also to our financial, health, education, and food networks as well. Using his two professors as surrogate mouthpieces, Abraham implores us repeatedly to realize how interconnected all these systems are, and how susceptible they are currently to unexpected disaster.

A back road in Providence, VA. Photo by Spencer Black/Flickr.

A back road in Providence, VA. Photo by Spencer Black/Flickr.


The Virginia town of Independence is not far from Providence, and it’s easy to wonder why Abraham didn’t choose to name his novel after that town, considering how quickly his townspeople are able to start to rebuild their society without any input from the paralyzed big cities.

But Abraham is a moralist; he wants his tale to teach a lesson.

Sammy answers the question of the book title best as she emerges from the novel’s tribulations: “I have concluded it is no coincidence that I was placed there. Providence means the care, control, or guardianship of a deity. It was my destiny to be there and to receive the graces of that community.”

“I’m not sure whether technically ‘Providence, VA’ has been the best of my four novels,” says Michael Abraham, “but unquestionably the characters were much closer to my heart than any others. It is my favorite story and if I ever wrote a sequel to any of my books, it would be this one.”


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The only baseball player ever traded for a fence

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 30, 2015

Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove is one of only 24 major-league baseball pitchers to win 300 games or more, and he reached the 300 win plateau in fewer games than any pitcher in history.

Lefty Grove suited up for the Baltimore Orioles.  Undated photo.

Lefty Grove suited up for the Baltimore Orioles. Undated photo.

In his 17 major-league seasons (nine with the Philadelphia Athletics and eight with the Boston Red Sox), Lefty had a lifetime winning percentage of .680.

Lonaconing, Maryland’s favorite son was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947, earned a spot on Major League Baseball’s All Century team and is rated by the Sporting News as the 2nd greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, behind Warren Spahn.

Lefty Grove was born to John and Emma Grove on March 6, 1900. His father and older brothers preceded him into the Lonaconing coal mines, but a 15 year old Lefty quit after two weeks, saying, “Dad, I didn’t put that coal in here, and I hope I don’t have to take no more of her out.”

The teenager drifted into other jobs before he found his stride in baseball: as a “bobbin boy” working spinning spools to make silk thread, as an apprentice glass blower and needle etcher in a glass factory, and as a railroad worker laying rails and driving spikes.

In his spare time, he played a kind of baseball using cork stoppers in wool socks wrapped in black tape, and fence pickets when bats weren’t available. He taught himself to pitch, throwing rocks “at anything, moving or stationary,” according a Baltimore Sun article. “Sometimes the targets were squirrels and birds, but mostly they consisted of the glass insulators on the telegraph poles.”

He did not play genuine baseball until 17, nor genuinely organized baseball until 19, when Dick Stakem, proprietor of a general store in nearby Midland, began using him in town games on a field sandwiched between a forest and train tracks.

“Bobby never pitched a game [for Midland] until Memorial Day, 1919,” Stakem told the Philadelphia Bulletin’s John J. Nolan. “He pitched a seven-inning game which was ended by rain. He fanned 15 batters, walked two men, hit two, and made a wild pitch.

In 1929, Lefty opened "Lefty's Place" in Lonaconing.  This gave people in the area a place to bowl, play pool and socialize with their Hall of Fame legend.

In 1929, Lefty opened “Lefty’s Place” in Lonaconing. This gave people in the area a place to bowl, play pool and socialize with their Hall of Fame legend.

“Bob’s best game was a postseason series against [the Baltimore & Ohio railroad team in] Cumberland, the big team around here…. We went down there with Bobby and he held them hitless, fanned 18 batters, and the only man to reach first eventually got around to third. The reason he got there was because Bobby told me he let him steal second and third as he was so sure he could fan the next batters and the runner wouldn’t steal home. The score was 1 to 0, the other pitcher allowing just one hit.”

The B & O manager supposedly wanted Grove, and the next year Bob was cleaning cylinder heads of steam engines for B & O in Cumberland, MD. Before he could put in a baseball season there, a local garage manager named Bill Louden, who managed the Martinsburg, WV, Mountaineers team of the Class C Blue Ridge League, offered him a princely $125 a month, a good $50 more than his father and brothers were making.

With his parents’ blessing, Lefty took a 30-day leave from his job, signed a contract on May 5, got a roundtrip rail pass from his master mechanic and was driven across the mountains in a large car supplied by the Midland team.

Young Grove didn’t know what a curve was; but boy was he fast. By the time Grove had pitched 60 strikeouts in 59 innings, word reached Jack Dunn, owner of the International League Baltimore Orioles (and the man who had discovered Babe Ruth just a few years earlier.) Dunn sent his son Jack Jr. to watch Grove.

In early June, after Grove had pitched seven games, Dunn made an offer for him. According to Suter Kegg, the Sports Editor of the Cumberland Times-News, a storm had leveled the outfield fence in Martinsburg, so Dunn, to get Grove, agreed to pay the price of a new one – which meant Grove went to the Orioles for $3500, or the price of a fence. “I was the only player,” Grove said later, “ever traded for a fence.”

Grove broke into the team’s pitching rotation at midseason, but finished 1920 with a 12-2 record. Dunn kept Groves’ contract from 1920 through 1925, during which time Lefty won 108 minor-league games. In 1925, Connie Mack, owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, paid Dunn $100,600 to get Grove, topping the record $100,000 the Yankees had paid the Red Sox for Babe Ruth.

In 1931, Lefty had his greatest season.  He went 31-4 that year and won the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  Lefty is shown here with the MVP trophy.

In 1931, Lefty had his greatest season. He went 31-4 that year and won the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Lefty is shown here with the MVP trophy.

The A’s made it to three consecutive World Series behind the pitching of Lefty Grove (1929-1931), winning two of them (’29 and ‘31). From the middle of 1930 until the end of 1931, his win/loss record was an amazing 46-4, which is the best 50 game stretch of any pitcher in history. In 1931, Lefty’s record was 31-4. 

He captured the first ever American League Most Valuable Player honors awarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America that year, when he won the pitcher’s triple crown for the second consecutive season.

Today, the MVP Trophy that Lefty Grove received in 1931 can be seen on display in Grove’s hometown of Lonaconing. Although the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame would love to have it, Grove entrusted it to the care of former Valley High School Coach, John Meyers, so more Lonaconing residents would get to enjoy it. Thanks to John Kruk, a former first baseman with the Phillies, it is now housed in a special showcase as part of the George’s Creek Regional Library’s collection.


Sources: Lefty Grove: American Original, by Jim Kaplan (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2000)
High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time, by Tim Wendel (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010)

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