Living the dream of my forefathers is the most wonderful feeling in the world. Most of them immigrated to America in the period prior to the American Revolution, and eventually they settled in Twiggs County located in middle Georgia. They managed to hold onto their lands and acquire more with each and every generation. My Maternal ancestors were all farmers. Their lands reached out to three counties. The men were gallant and well educated, and they always seemed to marry women with large dowries of land.
So it was with my Grandfather Alton Vestal White from Jones County. He had served in the Calvary during WWI and came home to face the fact that his mother had lost their family land. He had studied Ag at The University of Georgia, and it was his dream to farm that land when he returned from war. Things happen for a reason.
In 1922 he moved to Twiggs County. Chief, as he was called by everyone, took a job as a timber procurement agent for Mr. SG Lattimore from Macon. He also landed a job at a small settlement called West Lake to be the Post Master. Thousands of people lived in that settlement. No one lives there today. Located on the Ocmulgee River, the local farm folk did their business there.
Chief met Mr. Mark Shine Faulk soon after moving to town. Mr. Faulk had over 12,000 acres. Most of it was open farm land, but there was a store of virgin timber, and Mr. White was interested in seeing the property. He was invited to dinner at the Faulk residence. Mary Walters and Mark Shine Faulk had five sons and one daughter, Julia Mae. She was 16 years old at the time. Alton was 34. If I must say so myself, Alton White was a well dressed, handsome man. I remember it so well… the lovely fabrics of which his suits were made and the fine shoes and socks that he wore. Since he died when I was 5 you will understand how I was impressed with that at an early age. Julia must have been very impressed with it, too. My Great Uncle George Faulk told me of this dinner, and how soon after that Great Grandfather Mark asked Julia if she was planning to marry Mr. White. She said, “Well, Pa, not if you will make a deal with me. I want to have the house painted, and also, we need to have electricity wired into the place. Her Dad agreed to that to keep Julia at home. She ruled the roost and did so in my family until the day she died and to this day. Well, that lasted for a while, but Julia was smitten…and so was the Chief. They married at her home place in 1922.
What did they do…move to Ft. Deposit, Alabama, to work in the logging business. That lasted for several years, but when Grandma got homesick for Georgia nothing would have it but for them to move back to Twiggs County. They bought an old antebellum plantation very near to her Father and Mother only to loose it during the depression. So, Grandpa Mark built them a house on a 700 acre tract that AV and Julia called Rocky Bottom Farm. She farmed and Pa worked in the forest industry. With Chiefs help McElrath-Stewart Co. bought thousands of acres of timberland around Middle Georgia. The lumber business was thriving and Julia was a brilliant farmer. They started buying up their own lands to augment what was to be given to Julia by her father. Pa was in touch with the land and so was she…they bought The Everett Place, $1000 for a thousand acres. I live there today. and The Paul Place for $10,000 which belongs to my brother Alton. Grandmother was farming cotton, peanuts and corn. She made so much money in 1936 that she paid off the debt for both places. Her diary said that she also had 150 chickens at the time, and she was hungry to go into the cattle business. They were living the dream…doing the right thing by the land and adding more for their children and grandchildren.
During those years they had two children, my father Alton Vestal White, Jr. and Mary Elizabeth White. When Dad married my Mom, Lena Rosaline Denson, they received 500 acres of land called The Smith Place. Aunt Mary would receive the 700 acre Rocky Bottom Farm when she married the following year. My brother Alton and I own Rocky Bottom today. Ma and Pa had moved their home up to The Everett Place in 1944 upon the death of her father, Mark Faulk. They did so because he did not leave Rocky Bottom to them collectively but only to her, and as she wrote in her diary she wanted a place that was dedicated to the love that she shared with Alton White and they wanted a place to call their own together. Upon moving they renamed their collective lands White Way Plantation. In l947 my Grandfather being much older than Julia did two interesting things….he gave everything to my Grandmother., and most importantly he planted about 1500 acres of pine trees. This was a novel thing at the time since all trees cut prior to this time were virgin timber. Since Grandfather was integral in the forest industry he was aware that money was available from the US Government for a subsidy if people would set out their open lands in seedlings.
Grandmother was getting older, and she was tired of the hard work and long hours involved in managing a large farm. By this time they had become very involved in cattle farming. Cows would become a family tradition and it is still being managed by my Mother, Rosaline, brother Alton Vestal White III and his son Paul. Alton Vestal White IV and Lesley White are also a part of the program. They are running about 400 head at the moment. In the meantime the trees are growing…The Alton White’s settled into living the good life. Pa loved Fox Hunting. He had a pack of 65 hounds and the National Grand Champion for several years running. Dad was in love with it, too.
Mom told me that when I was born she wrote a check for the hospital bill and Dad wrote a check for a dog…hers bounced. All hell broke loose at our house!! So it is that the dogs rule…more on that later. On a spring Day in l953 Dad and Grandpa went up to Monticello to look at a dog. Pa. never made it back to Twiggs County as he had a heart attack and died beside the road. It was a depressing day, but things move on. The dream now was for my Father to rule. He was a gentle and loving man. Civic and religious to boot. He took over the management of the forest land to help Grandma. Alton had also been working in the timber industry since adulthood in a similar capacity to Grandpa. He would travel around the country buying tracts of land and harvesting the timber and milling the lumber. His first love though was farming, and he and Mom decided around l960 that he should retire from the forest industry and farm full time. Mom always had a good job. She was the smart one in the family and hard as nails! She knew they could make it on the farm. And, one day they would be owners of the vast lands known as Whiteway. And, the trees just kept on growing during these years. When you have vast acres in newly planted pines and also some of older timber you are certainly notable in the forest industry. There was a new association being touted around the country called The American Tree Farm System and she thought it would be a good idea to join. Aunt Mary had also planted her 700 acres in pines during these years, and she wanted to join, too. This would be a great vehicle to learn more about the market and how to manage your land with help from the Georgia Forestry Commision and their talented foresters. I remember being impressed that they had joined. As time went on the ATF Scontinued to grow..
Grandmother managed her forest lands along with my Father’s help. He was also hired by Continental Can Corporation to do experimental forest practices on property adjacent to my Grandmother . Land that Chuck and I now own.. At this point in time Grandmother supported herself by thinning timber from the older tracts. I remember well that everytime she would cut she would buy herself a new piece of jewelry or a new car. That was the reward!
I graduated high school and attended several colleges before settling in Macon where I had a number of jobs. My lifelong ambition was to be in the fashion business. I had studied that at college, but it isn’t so easy to break into something like that. I kept dreaming about it, but I finally landed a great job working at a music business Capricorn Records owned by Phil Walden. He managed and booked all the great Southern artists such as James Brown, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter and so forth…but at that time he had entered into a contract with Atlantic Records to have this record company. His choice was to have Rock music and his first clients were The Allman Brothers Band. Young musicians were flocking to Macon. One of those was a young man from Tuscaloosa, Alabama named Chuck Leavell. He was only 17 at the time. A few years passed with us being friends. The ABB had asked Chuck to join them after the death of Duane Allman. He had grown into a young man, and we fell in love. I took him to visit my trees. It was the beginning of a new era.
My Dad and family had a great time introducing Chuck to the country life. There was quail hunting, coon hunting; dove shoots, horses and dogs. It was a man’s world…so to speak. Soon we married making our life in Macon. Everyone was happy. Then, things took a terrible turn. My Father died of Cancer only six months later. The dream was confusing. Mama and AV were faced with a farm and heavy debt. My Grandmother was devastated. Dad was only 45, and we were but children. Sometimes you have to grow up rapidly, and we did. Julia just couldn’t get over the loss. She wasn’t sure that the Grandchildren understood how to make it happen. My father left to me and AV 300 acres of land with heavy timber in Jones County that had belonged to the White Family. We decided to take a timber cut netting $75,000. Huge money to us…I took my $$ and started my dream a shop that I called Cornucopia. I sold pretty clothes and jewelry to all the women in Middle Georgia. Trees paid off again. As life will sometimes deal you a dirty hand, PW bankrupted his company.
Chuck had quit his job with ABB due to personality conflicts, and he had started his own band Sea Level. They got caught in the snare, and he was unemployed. I was The Working Gal and he was taking care of our daughter Amy who was 4 at that time. Needless to say Chuck’s abundant energy was not being used to take care of our city lot. He needed greener pastures and something to do. 1981 came and Grandmother passed away. I knew what my job was from the moment I heard the news. I had to move to Twiggs County and take up the dream. I would only inherit 1200 acres at that time as my brother got his share and Aunt Mary had hers. The passing along the land was the easy part. Dealing with the IRS on the Death Tax Issue was another.When Dad died we paid taxes on The Smith Place. We had spent the last years of Julia’s life gifting and playing games in order to manage the situation, but it was just too big. Julia had left it that Alton and I would take care of any debt so that Aunt Mary would not have to suffer. When Mary died we paid again . Alton and I took all the moneys received for 15 years from our places in order to pay off the $300,000 plus in tax. Chuck and I had no choice but to relocate our lives to the country. It was a blessing in disquise since Chuck needed something to interest him. Why, he could just plant some trees. My brother told him to take some of that pasture land , about 40 acres, and put pines on it. We did it. Not long after that he mentioned to me he was thinking about selling his pianos. I’m thinking …I didn’t want to be married to a farmer. I was confused.
It wasn’t too long after that when a man called the house asking if Chuck was available to come for an audition with The Rolling Stones. What? Sounds too good to be true. By this time I am pregnant again with our daughter Ashley. We’ve settled into country life, and all is going well..but the promise of a job for Chuck was just too great. He had to leave Twiggs County to spend 4 months in Europe. My Mom and family and Amy stood by me while Ashley was born. It was hard, but we made it. All this made me realize that if Chuck was to have that lifestyle while I stayed at home then we needed to make some changes. I could see him drifting away from our lifestyle that was so wonderful. I knew that I had to pull Chuck’s attention back to the forest and I challenged him to make the Leavell name synonymus with Forestry. He liked the idea and decided to take a Forestry Course while on tour with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The year was 1988. One of the priorites of the course was to write a management plan for the plantation…and what would we call it? My brother took the name White Way for his property, and Chuck and I wanted to have a name that would signify our love for each other just as Chief and Julia had done . We decided to call it CharLane Plantation for Charles and Rose Lane. And, the dream was now ours.
How could we make this more of a show place than ever before. What other open pasture could we plant, etc. We had to cut some of our trees because Uncle Sam needed his share of the profits. What should we do? We called on our wonderful friends in the Forest Industry to come to our aide. They suggested management plans to us, and they also took note of the young couple in Twiggs County and their interest in Forestry. The piano player had a name, and he could raise awareness in the community. He didn’t mind talking about it! Bob Izler was head of the Georgia Forestry Association during that time, and he nominated us for Tree Farmers of the Year in l990. We won for the State of Georgia. In l993 Chuck was asked by GFA to participate along with President Jimmy Carter and Sam Nunn in introducing Georgia We Grow Trees as a program to bring awareness in the state to our Forest industry. It was a great success, and Chuck became a spokesperson for forestry. He was getting closer to my dream…Leavell…and Forestry….So, we were once again nominated as Tree Farmers of The Year in l999 winning the Georgia, Southern Region and National Award. That American Tree Farm # 1062 was # 1. And, the trees are still growing on Charlane Plantation.
Chuck and I took note of all the plans that folks suggested to us. He asked me to close my store and join him in opening Charlane as a hunting presesrve so that we could diversify our holdings. It was hard to give that part of me up, but I said Yes! First thing I noticed Chuck has 20 bird dogs living with us. I think he just woke up one day and said I need some dogs. Can’t live on this land without some dogs. Some things just never change. Here we are in 2010. Not only has our plantation doubled in size, so has our family. We now have two Grandsons, Miles Everett and Roger Cole (Rooco) Bransford. Thanks to Amy and husband, Steve. When they visit me at Charlane I whisper Tree Farm in the boys ear when I tuck them in bed. Long live the dream.
And, with that I end the story. As a woman I must tell you that only the women have had Tree Farm #’s….Julia, Mary and Rose Lane, but we could never have done it without wonderful men who helped us keep the dream alive. Mine is just one of a million stories about stewardship. All are heartfelt and some do not test the tale of Time as the forest industry is troubled due to our world finacial crisis This is where the importance of The American Forest Foundation proves influential. It is the glue that keeps The Tree Farm message together.
And as I said to my friends in Japan…I am a tall tree.