ELBERTON – Legends abound in Elbert County, named for Samuel Elbert, a Savannah native and Revolutionary War white hat, who married up and became friends with George Washington and the French general Lafayette, who seems to have as many towns named for him as our first President.
Elberton, the county seat, is one of those small towns in our state with pride in its past, an appreciation for its history and culture along with ambition to improve its lot economically. That last objective is not without success in that Elberton, being the “granite captain of the world,” seems to manage better than most small towns. When you consider that memorials, construction and paving, in which granite is a staple of preferred materials, that means that a lot of contractors, builders and designers want a “lot of what the city’s got.”
Leslie Friedman, the Chamber of Commerce’s genial, young president, ably underscores tourism. She was slammed by northern winters in the recent past and now gushes that she feels she has been freed from bondage by returning South. (Elberton is only a few hours from her native St. Simons Island.) She immediately rolled up her sleeves and set about working overtime to bring visitors this way. She believes she has a lot to tout. A “best” example: Her adopted city has underwritten a redo of the Samuel Elbert Hotel with hopes that there will be such annual occupancy that visitors will help spread the word that taking respite here overnight offers a fulfilling experience.
When she spoke glowingly of what Elberton has to offer, she was the beneficiary of approving nods from locals Tom Denny, Scott Smith, and Brenda and Tom Steele who hosted a recent social for some out-of-town guests.
There are several attractions to boast about including the Granite Bowl, the local high school football stadium, made out of you know what, and the Georgia Guidestones,“Elberton’s “most unusual granite monument,” along with the Granite Museum. It is not an attraction, but Elberton is where the famous “Bubba Burgers” are produced. Bubba Burgers are like Varsity hotdogs — you do not know what you are missing until you have had one.
A multitude of folk know about Old Dan Tucker, who is buried near the Richard B. Russell Lake whose centerpiece is the Savannah River—but you have to take an enervating hike to find it. If you do, you find it worthy of the effort.
Go to a Bruce Springsteen concert and you will likely hear the popular entertainer sing about this legendary Revolutionary War soldier — born in Virginia but came this way owing to a land grant. In its infancy, our country could not pay its soldiers when they went off to war, but offered land grants, which is how many migrated South to start a new life. Starting out with ample land, free and clear of debt, was a very good way to start. Few of those enterprising folk had a song written about them, however.
Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man,
Washed his face in a frying pan,
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
And died with a toothache in his heel.
Old Dan Tucker, in addition to being a successful farmer (his land by the Savannah was rich and fertile), was a Methodist minister and a ferryman — for a small fee he would maneuver you and your contents in his boat across the river that separates Georgia from South Carolina.
The story goes that he was good to the slaves of that era, which is probably how his legend gained traction. Songwriter and performer Dan Emmett, some say, may have written the lyrics that have become legend. A brochure, provided by the Elbert Chamber, says that in 1843, “Old Dan Tucker” (the song) became a minstrel hit. “Today,” the brochure continues, “it is a bluegrass and country standard.”
Our host on our trek to the Tucker gravesite was Hudson Cone, a native of Cairo who settled in Elberton after graduating from the University of Georgia. Knowledgeable with an evangelical bent about where he settled, Hudson is well versed in the legend and lore of Elberton and is always eager to encourage people to make a sojourn to Elbert County.
He admonished a quartet of visitors, which included Matt and Jenny Tucker Brinkley — the latter whose family hearsay suggests that she may be related to Old Dan Tucker — that they did not stay long enough. “For a small town, there is a lot to see here,” Hudson said.
We headed home, humming the lyrics of a humbling folk song, with compelling awareness that this great country of ours is not so young anymore.
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for University of Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.