Neely Young: The Only Thing
“Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for ‘tis the only thing in this world that lasts.” In this quote from Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s novel about Georgia during the Civil War, Gerald O’Hara expresses this philosophy to his daughter Scarlett.
Georgia’s land is responsible for much of the wealth that has been created for the people in our great state. Georgia has five geologic provinces that contribute in different ways, including Valley and Ridge, Appalachian Plateau, Blue Ridge, Piedmont and Coastal Plain.
The Valley and Ridge, where my family settled near Cedartown in 1833, lies in the northwest part of the state, from Dalton to Polk County. The region contains sedimentary rock and is not suited for farming. During the Great Depression in Dalton, desperate people produced tufted chenille bedspreads and sold them on the side of Highway 41 to tourists heading to Florida and back. It was quite a sight to see the beautiful colors along the road. This cottage industry evolved into the multibillion-dollar carpet industry that today dominates the region.
The Appalachian Plateau, the smallest of Georgia’s provinces, lies in the far northwest corner and continues to produce limestone for cement and aggregate.
The beautiful Blue Ridge makes up the North Georgia mountains, including Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in the state. This region is also not well suited for farming, but is home to the relatively new Georgia Wine Trail. Winemaking is a recent industry in Georgia that needs loose soil to let vine roots grow deep to find water and produce tiny grapes that are high in sugar. The vineyards help add to the burgeoning tourist industry in this picturesque area of our state.
Blue Ridge geologic resources include marble, which has been mined in Tate since Samuel Tate founded the Georgia Marble Co. in 1884. Georgia marble has been used all over the world, including the statue of Abraham Lincoln at his monument in Washington, D.C.
The Piedmont part of our state starts in the southwest at Warm Springs and runs northwest through Atlanta. It passes through Gainesville to Elberton and on to the South Carolina line.
Granite is also an important product of this part of the state. In fact, Elberton is known as the Granite Capital of the World. The industry there molds the stone into memorials and markers that are shipped across the globe. There is at least one monument from Elberton located in each of the 50 states of the U.S. The community has produced an average of 250,000 markers annually.
Georgia’s Coastal Plain begins along the Fall Line, the boundary with the Piedmont province, in the middle of the state, where millions of years ago the mighty Atlantic Ocean reached. In the early days, the cities of Columbus, Macon, Milledgeville and Augusta were developed on the Chattahoochee, Ocmulgee, Oconee and Savannah rivers, along the Fall Line, where boats could be loaded and unloaded to ship goods and timber and other agricultural products to the ports in Savannah, Darien, Brunswick and Bainbridge. Thus, the land created the rivers, which developed the economies of many of our major cities.
Just south of the Fall Line in the Coastal Plain is a significant mineral resource called kaolin, a clay-rich rock that is mined and used in a variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals. Though battered by the recent recession and growing worldwide competition, at its peak the kaolin industry had an annual economic impact estimated at $771 million, with more than 4,000 Georgians employed in mining and processing the material.
Further south, in and around Vidalia, the sandy soil allows the rain to reduce the sulfur levels, creating a unique, mild environment that produces the sweetest onions in the world. The Vidalia onion market has an economic impact of more than $150 million annually in the state.
In the same sweet soil region, Georgia’s blueberry industry has become a global player over the past decade; peaches have been grown for many years; and almost 40 percent of the U.S. peanut crop is produced.
In lower southwest Georgia, the Red Hills are home to longleaf pines and wiregrass, giving rise to quail plantations and quail hunting. Watching the bird dogs, both pointers and retrievers, do their work is a thrill like no other.
Georgia has many other forms of economic value including the air, the sea, birds and farm animals, industrial and service powerhouses of all kinds. But the land, the land in sweet Georgia was here in the beginning and will be here until the end of days. As King David proclaimed, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”