The Sun News

Q&A with Victoria Simmons

City of residence: Byron

Occupation: Author, editor

Q: What’s behind your new book, “Vanished Towns Revisited: Crawford County and Byron, Georgia”?

A: It’s a history. I love history and think it’s important it’s handed down and kept alive. There really isn’t a comprehensive history of Crawford County or these towns and if it’s not captured now, then that part of our past will be lost.

Q: How do you go about telling the history?

A: I co-wrote it with Billy Powell of Fort Valley who’s written a column for many, many years and loves history and research as much as I do. The book’s first part tells of 14 communities that are pretty much ghost towns now. The last part is about Byron, which was going the way of the other towns, but didn’t. There are over 200 photographs, so that’s a big part.

Q: First, how about those ghost towns?

A: Each was typical of Georgia communities of the era and each was unique, too. We tell the story of the town and stories from the town. We tell about the people and events that made each community what it was and talk about its demise. We give the unique character of each.

Q: What are a couple of those towns?

A: Oh, let me see. For example there was Gaillard, Allon and Rollo. They were typical Georgia towns of the early 1900s that grew up around agriculture or another resource. Gaillard was a bustling railroad community until the rail line died and the town became obsolete. But it had a charming character. It got its name from the man who surveyed the area for the Atlanta & Florida Railroad.

Q: Allon and Rollo?

A: They’re related to the Atlanta Sand & Supply Company which is still located there. The railroad carried sand from Crawford County to Atlanta and elsewhere. They say if you removed all the sand from Crawford County from the Atlanta skyline, the Atlanta skyline would disappear.

Q: Still in Crawford, you compare and contrast Roberta and Knoxville.

A: The railroad was the death of Knoxville and brought Roberta to life. They’re right next to each other. The people of Knoxville were opposed to the railroad coming through because they believed it would disrupt their daily life. People in Roberta welcomed it.

Q: It’s not surprising modern transportation is key to a thriving community.

A: That’s really the case. When the railroad was no longer king, these communities dwindled. And that’s what’s significant about Byron.

Q: Sounds right -- but explain.

A: Byron was on a railroad line and first known as Station One and a Half. Later it was known as Jackson Station after the guy who ran the little depot, Nimrod Jackson. C.H. Richardson was the first mayor and named the town Byron after Lord Byron, the poet. Richardson became mayor in 1874. Later, as the railroad started dying, Byron started dying.

Q: And then --

A: And then the Interstate came. The saving factor was Interstate 75. Now that’s where businesses have grown. But even though there are a lot of abandoned buildings in historic downtown, they’re having some success revitalizing old Byron. There’s a deli in the old drugstore, a nice little park, and the historical society does a lot with the old train depot.

Q: How about writing the book. It’s not easy gathering history, is it?

A: Billy and I’ve both done historical articles in the past and decided to further that and create the book. We worked on it for more than four years then published it ourselves. It’s available on amazon.com and at book-signings we do. It’s also available at the Byron Welcome Center at the Peach Shop at Byron. We obviously depended on people and documents and records. We talked to longtime Byron Mayor Larry Collins and Jackie Hays Edwards, who’s a bit of a Byron historian. We depended a lot on Sydney Goodrich, a Crawford County historian who passed away last year. His death kind of spurred us to get it finished. There are a lot of people who can take credit for adding information.

Q: And you weren’t a stranger to the stories.

A: I’ve worked in newspapers in Peach and Crawford and elsewhere for years. Now I’m publisher-general manager of The Georgia Post in Crawford County and The Byron Buzz.

Q: And now as book publishers, you and Powell are working to sell it.

A: That’s part of it. It’s a lot of work -- and surprises -- but it’s worth it. It’s really a tribute to the people that lived, worked and died in these communities. They made progress in their day and brought us to where we are.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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