A.W. ASKEW INTRODUCED THE COTTON GIN TO THE COUNTY
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
The year 1912 was drawing to a close. It had been one of turmoil, dominated by the national elections. At the Democratic national convention that year it had taken 46 ballots to nominate New Jerseyıs governor, Woodrow Wilson, as the partyıs presidential choice. In Chipley, Ga. (Pine Mountain), 49-year-old Albert Wallace Askew, a proud and honorable man, was having his own troubles.
His family had migrated into Harris County from North Carolina in the early 1800s when Mrs. Ann Askew, a widow, and her three sons settled near Chipley, Ga. One of the sons, Andrew Jackson Askew, married Mary Copeland Thornton. Albert Wallace Askew would be born to this couple on August 9, 1863, the decisive year of the Civil War.
A.W. Askew, of necessity, grew up quickly. His mother died when he was only three and his father died when he was fourteen. But, before his death, Andrew Jackson Askew had acquired acres and acres of rich farm lands in Harris County. The young son, A.S. Askew, well-educated and cultured, had been a great pleasure to his father before his death.
At his fatherıs death in 1877 A.S. was named to receive much of the land when he became 21 years old. In 1884 A.W. became the owner of most of the familyıs property. He worked six days a week making it into one of the countyıs richest farms. Over 500 acres was planted in cotton, the major crop of the south at that time. Young A.W. Askew became known as one of the areaıs most successful farmers. He also operated a saw mill and a cotton gin near the plantation. The same year, at 21, A.W. married Fannie Belle Davis, a member of another prominent Harris county family and the couple began a family of their own.
A.W. Askew was a generous man and a firm believer in children receiving a good education. He built a small school house on the 500 acre farm for his children and hired the best qualified teacher he could find. Then he invited the neighbors to send their children to the Askew School. Many of them accepted his offer. Now the farm contained eight buildings and a school house.
The Askew family began to grow. There were six sons, Fred, Leon, Newt, Hoke, Willis, Louis and two daughters, Bessie and Mayme. Another son, George, died as an infant, and a young daughter, Ester, died of Typhoid Fever as a child.
Relatives and friends from throughout the state looked forward to visits on the Askew farm each summer. There they were treated like royalty. The summers passed quickly.
Visitors to the Askew home were enchanted with the strange name of one family member, one of A.W.ıs brothers, a Methodist minister of the North Georgia Conference, Archibald Nabilous Seals Askew. His name was always good for a snicker among the Askew children and their visitors.
When the Askew children completed Grade School, their father decided to move the family into the town of Chipley where they could attend the accredited high school. He bought a home near the school.
The town people of Chipley elected Askew as mayor for two terms. He became a director on the board of the townıs only bank. Business flourished. His cotton crops did well. Askew began to invest in cotton futures through the New York stock market. This was to be a costly mistake.
For a while, the financial future of cotton looked secure. The Askew familyıs resources grew. A.W. Askew each day would send his son, Leon, to the Chipley railroad depot. There the telegraph operator would copy from the telegraph wire the dayıs report of the cotton futures market. Teen-age Leon would deliver the report to his father at home. Soon young Leon began to notice the look of disappointment on his fatherıs face as he read the daily reports. He sensed something was wrong.
Financial disaster came in the form of the lowly Boll Weevil. The pesky insect infested much of the southıs cotton crops, including A.W.ıs. The price of cotton futures that Askew had invested in so heavily changed dramatically.
Askew, a respected and proud man, kept hoping against hope that the futures market for cotton would improve and the familyıs money could be saved, instead it got worse. Askew lost everything he had, and was deeply in debt to the bank at Chipley.
Embarrassed, Askew decided to sell off all his properties to settle his debts and leave Harris County. His wife, Fannie, feared that her husband might take his own life; his financial losses had been so great.
The funds raised from the sale of all of Askewıs property did not quite pay off his debts. A man of refinement and honor, Askew vowed to repay every dime to his creditors. The bank closed, but A.W.ıs brother, Roy, bought up the entire bankıs stock and re-opened it for business. It soon again became one of the areaıs outstanding and profitable banks under Royıs leadership.
A wealthy nephew, J.K. Shippey of Atlanta, in the spring of 1912, asked his uncle, A.W. Askew to make a business trip to Haylow, Ga. near Valdosta, for him. On the trip, Askew decided to visit a nearby friend, Sid Huling, a fellow cotton-farmer, in Folkston. Askew was impressed with Charlton County, and of the opportunities awaiting. He decided to move the family from Chipley to Folkston.
Christmas week, 1912, Askew and his family boarded a train in Chipley with tickets to Folkston. Two freight cars on the train were necessary to bring along their farm animals and implements. Askew and his family began a new year and a new life in Folkston on a large farm he had rented from Seab Mills in the Camp Pinckney community, near Folkston. Mills had decided to move to Texas.
Askew, a cultured man who liked to sing and play the piano, soon became known as one of Charlton Countyıs finest farmers. His background and courage showed through the gloom of the past. Askew busily farmed the rich lands, experimented with a different variety of watermelon and soon became known far and wide for his delicious new melons.
An outspoken advocate of better education, Askew was named president of the countyıs School Board. At that time, L.E. Mallard was its treasurer and Mrs. Bernice McDonald its secretary. Askew, a talented man drew the plans and specifications for the townıs new elementary school building which still stands today on Kingsland Drive in Folkston.
The people of Charlton County, hungry for increased farm production, turned to Askew for help and advice. He worked long and patiently with them as their farm production improved.
In 1917 Askew built and opened a cotton gin and grist mill directly across from the Elementary school building in Folkston. The milling and ginning business thrived.
Askew and his family became deeply involved in the religious and cultural activities of the community. Every Sunday Askew and his family took their places in the Methodist Church where they were faithful members. A devout and sincere man, he sang in the church choir. Mr. Askew neither smoked nor drank alcoholic drink.
The new life for A.W. Askew and his family continued to blossom. The family never looked back to those dark days at Chipley; instead they poured everything they had into helping and loving their neighbors in Folkston. The neighbors returned that love. The Askew family never regretted moving to Folkston on Christmas week, 1912. The years in Folkston were the happiest years of their lives. A.W. Askew grew older in happiness.
On Monday morning, June 17, 1935, Albert Wallace Askew died at his home on Kingsland Drive in Folkston. He was 72. He had lost a two-year battle with cancer. In his final months, he was unable to leave his home. A life insurance policy paid the balance of the debt owed to the bank at Chipley from the financial disaster of 1912. Twenty-three years later the bank note there was parked PAID IN FULL. A.S. Askew died free of the debt that had plagued him for so long.
Rev. J.E. Barnhill conducted the funeral services from the Askew home in Folkston and burial was in the townıs Pineview Cemetery. His widow, Fannie Davis Askew died a year later, August 7, 1936. She is buried beside her husband.
The old home place of A.W. Askew and the 500 acre cotton plantation in Harris County, near Pine Mountain, formerly Chipley, is now owned by the Cason Callaway family.
Albert Wallace Askewıs descendants meet there occasionally for family reunions. Fire has destroyed Askewıs once-comfortable old home in the country. Only desolate brick chimneys of the homeıs fireplaces still stand to mark the place where Askew raised his family among the cotton fields of Harris County.
A proud family which courageously endured so many setbacks when cotton was king found its way to Folkston and Charlton County in 1912 and became a part of its rich history. Folkston and Charlton County benefited greatly from the Askew familyıs coming at Christmastime, in 1912.