A female Union spy, a corrupt federal official and records from a Cherokee removal fort were a few of the discoveries Stephen Dennis made when he dove deep into the history of LaFayette, Ga., while researching his new book.
Those stories and more made it into the finished 800-page product, “A Proud Little Town,” which came out earlier this month.
“It’s actually pretty descriptive,” Dennis said about the title of the book, which focuses on LaFayette between 1835 and 1885. “LaFayette had some very ambitious residents.”
Dennis, a native of LaFayette who moved away when he was 6, based his research on everything from the 150-year-old account books that belonged to the town leather tanner to army muster roles and Walker County records.
Among the documents he found during his four years of research was a receipt for a new ambulance spring purchased by a Confederate quartermaster from a LaFayette blacksmith two days before the Battle of Chickamauga.
“I’m sure that ambulance spring was in heavy use once the battle began,” Dennis said.
Much of the data came from the Library of Congress and state archives because early LaFayette residents were “very unsentimental” and didn’t save much in terms of written records or pictures, Dennis said.
“There were many buildings that were never photographed,” he said.
But one thing that did survive were military accounting records for Fort Cumming, the fort that served as a holding area for Cherokee Indians who were being forced to leave the area for Oklahoma. Dennis said the records track “every nickel” spent at the fort, which was near LaFayette.
“It’s just information that we never knew existed,” said Henry Gilbert, who is chairman of the committee appointed by Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell to develop the book.
Walker County paid out $25,000 over three years to cover part of the expenses, and LaFayette, private donors and the Walker County Historical Society chipped in to bump the total to about $33,000, Heiskell said.
She said that as of Friday afternoon more than 180 copies of the 385 printed had been purchased. Heiskell said she thinks all the books will be sold at $50 each and that a second printing might be necessary if demand remains strong.
“He was able to gather so much information that nobody had ever read before,” she said of Dennis.
LaFayette Mayor Neal Florence said his city was fortunate to have the book.
“We are going to need a row of new highway historical markers,” he joked.
Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...
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