The Early Days before Bent Tree – Part 2
Tate Mountain Estates
Don & Diane Wells
Charles Whittington had a plan when he bought a good bit of land in Pickens County. He was going to become rich. However, just like Sam Tate’s land adventure in creating Tate Mountain Estates about 15 years later, Charles may well have gone broke. Charles invested heavily in infrastructure to show potential buyers. He wanted them to know that this was the place to come. He built the Dude Ranch. Along with the main house there was a separate guesthouse, Twin Oaks; a large barn; and a concrete cold storage cellar for perishable food. He piped water downhill from Buck Skull Springs so that the house could have constantly running water and indoor showers and bathrooms.
Many of his business friends were invited to come to the mountains to enjoy the fresh air in hopes that they would buy property. Lillie Mae Pendley told us about her uncle, Hardy Champion, who was the conductor on the L&M Railroad to Jasper. Since travel by car from Atlanta was a bit difficult, many of the Whittington’s visitors probably rode with Hardy to the Tate Station. From there they could then be easily transported to the mountain ranch. Possibly to help pay for all the expenses of owning this large ranch, Whittington initially started raising hogs. He did well for a couple of years, but then disease hit and they lost all the hogs. It may have been after the hog-raising catastrophe that Charles turned his enterprise into a “Dude Ranch.” Friends came not only from Atlanta but also from other areas. Horseback riding lessons were offered to the inexperienced. Those who alreadyknew how to ride enjoyed the pleasure of riding the mountain trails. Vernie Champion, Lillie Mae’s father, helped teach people to ride and to do barrel jumping. On weekends, the quests enjoyed parties. There was music and dancing as well as card games. Vernie’s notes said that the parties sometimes got out of hand. It is speculated that things didn’t go as planned for Charles and his wife Laura. There are no recorded land sales of the Whittington property to others from the time he bought it in 1911-1914 until 1917. By 1917, the war in Europe had officially become WW1. In America rationing had become a way of life. Money was short and what interest there might have been in visiting the mountains to buy land, disappeared. In 1917 at the age of 39, Charles was drafted and his Pickens County adventure continued taking a turn for the worst. Before leaving for the war, Charles transferred all of the mountain property including all livestock and equipment to his wife, Laura. A year later, possibly due to financial problems, Laura began selling the mountain property back to the people from whom Charles had initially bought it. The Whittington’s sold the land for much less that they had paid for it. An interesting paperwork aspect of these land sales in early 1918 is that on one sale Laura is listed as being from Fulton County. A month later, on another sale, she is listed as being from Oklahoma. Even though records show that Charles and Laura lived in Fulton County, Charles, in his 1912 purchase of land, also claims to be from Oklahoma. No data could be found as to when Charles returned from the war, but one would assume that, having sold all of their Pickens’ County land, they would live in Atlanta or some other area. Not so! The 1920 census for Pickens County list the Whittington’s as living in the Grassy Knob District probably at the ranch, now called the GladJoe Inn, It was named after their two daughters Gladys and Josephine. There are no courthouse records showing that the Whittington’s had repurchased the land that Laura sold in 1918. How theyremained on the property and continued to operate it as an Inn is anyone’s guess. The country’s recovery from the war took time. For the Whittington’s, still living in Pickens County, time was against them. County record do not show the land Laura had sold back to the “mountain folk” being returned to the Whittington’s; but on April 11, 1921, the court records do show that Laura, with Charles as a witness, sold LL189 to Sam Tate for approximately $4 an acre, far less than what they paid originally. A year later in March 1922, Laura sold LL 315 to Sam Tate for $2 per acre. Even though they had sold some of their acreage, the Whittingtons still resided at the GladJoe Inn. The Pickens Progress of January 1923 reported that: “Emily Josephine Whitington and Mr. Glee Brock Thompson were happily married in Atlanta on Wednesday December 20, 1922.” The news article went on to say that Emily was the youngest daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Whittington of GladJoe Inn in Pickens County. The Whittington’s continued operating their off-the-beaten-path Inn until September of 1924 when they sold their remaining 1,355 acres property, including the Dude Ranch / GladJoe Inn to Sam Tate. Sadly their grand schemes and dreams came to a crashing end. Sam Tate paid them $3 an acre for land and buildings that they had initially purchased for $10 an acre. The 1930 census shows the Whittington’s living in Jonesboro City, GA in Clayton County near where Charles was born. He is listed as unemployed. Dropping GladJoe and renaming it the Dude Ranch, Sam Tate factored the property into his plans for the building of Tate Mountain Estates. The Pickens Progress of June 1928 carried the announcement of his land adventure. He invited his Atlanta friends to come to the mountains hoping they would want to be a part of the great Tate Estates. The February 12, 1931 Pickens Progress announced Sam Tate’s plans for expansion of the New Dude Ranch. The Progress reported that, “The New Dude Ranch is being built on the Old Whittington Place. The main building, which is just across the branch from the old Whittington home, will have accommodations for sixty people and barns are being built for sixty horses. The old Whittington house has been repaired and enlarged for the reception of guests. Mrs. Blink Drummond will be in charge of the ranch.” It is doubtful that the improvements to the Dude Ranch were ever completed. In the book, “Friendships of the Trail, The History of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, 1930-1980” it was written that in 1938 members of the club carried a new sign to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail “up an old road from the abandoned Dude Ranch.”
Sam Tate’s financial troubles with the Tate Mountain Estates and his death in 1938 meant the end of the plans for the Dude Ranch. William Darnell reported that his family lived in the Dude Ranch in the late 1930’s possibly before it was abandoned. There are some reports that a Waters family lived there in the 1940’s. It probably burned to the ground in the late 1940’s. Today, the Dude Ranch cannot be accurately located because of the land disturbance caused by the building of Bent Tree. It was probably located somewhere between what is now the Bent Tree Administration building and hole #5/6 on the golf course.