March 3, 2020

Pages 4994-4998
Whole Number 182

25.2.4 THOMAS LINTON SPARKS (1846-1913)

by His Eldest Daughter, Eula (Sparks) Foster

[Editor's Note:This memoir by Eula (Sparks) Foster, born November 16, 1869, was written prior to her death on August 6, 1949. She had sent a copy to her cousin, Charles H. Smith, who shared it with your editor in 1957. Mrs. Foster was the eldest daughter of Linton Sparks, whose full name, according to her, had been Thomas Linton Sparks, although when his birth had been recorded in his parents' family Bible, his name had been written simply as Linton Sparks, and he was called Linton throughout his life. In the brief sketch of his life appearing on page 4985 of the present issue of the Quarterly, we noted that he married Sarah Elizabeth Wimberly (1846-1912) in Cedartown, Georgia, on December 17, 1867. Mrs. Foster's paternal grandparents were Thomas Hunter and Ann (Linton) Sparks; her maternal grandparents were Capt. Henry Franklin and Anna (Wood) Wimberly. While Mrs. Foster's memoir gives some information already appearing in the preceding article, she has added interesting details. She also provides a glimpse Southern life before and following the Civil War.

[In stating that her father had been the eldest of nine children of Thomas Linton Sparks, Mrs. Foster omitted two who had died as children: Carter Whatley Sparks died at the age ten in 1863, and Mary Elizabeth Sparks had died at birth in 1859.]

My father, Thomas Linton Sparks, was the oldest of nine children, seven boys and two girls. They were all born on a large plantation in Cedar Valley, Georgia. [The youngest, Charles Sankey Sparks, was actually born in Arkansas, on July 8, 1863.]

Grandfather (Thomas Hunter Sparks] was ambitious and while he owned nearly 100 slaves, he was not satisfied--he wanted more, and more land. Just before the War Between the States, he sold his fine plantation and his beautiful, comfortable home and took his family and slaves to Arkansas, where he could have all the land he desired.

They had hardly become settled when the war broke out and Grandfather died, leaving Grandmother with all those children. The youngest (Charles Sankey Sparks] was so small he had to be fed on gruel made from meal dusted from one of the barrels the soldiers emptied as they passed through after the war. Grandmother said the one bright spot in that trying experience was the fact that she was not responsible any longer for the slaves.

I loved her dearly and thought her always kind, wise, and capable. Before her marriage, she was Miss Ann Linton of Athens, Georgia. She planned to go back home (after the war] where her seven boys. could attend the University. Her money was wisely invested there in a cotton mill. Never once did that mill fail to pay her dividends.

MMy father was the oldest and the first to finish the University, and he immediately accepted a position to teach Latin in the Preparatory Department under Dr. Carlton Hylior. I often wonder what our lives would have been had we remained there, but fate stepped in here.

My father went to visit with friends in Cedar Valley and there he renewed his acquaintance with my mother, Miss Sarah Wimberly. The last night he was there, a crowd of young people, of whom they were members, were returning from a party, stopping for each one to alight as they reached their homes. When my father stepped from the carriage, the last thing he heard as they drove off was my mother's voice as she called: "Good night, Linton." He said her voice, short words, sent a thrill to his heart. He realized he loved her, and it was not long before he came back to claim her for his bride.

It was a real love match that lasted all their lives, in spite of all the hardships they endured. They were married in Cedartown, Georgia, on December 17, 1867.

Mother loved her home in Athens and my father's people, but she grew homesick for her own, and when an opportunity offered to bring the two families together, Father availed himself of it. He and Mother's brothers, Augustus and Randolph Wimberly, made an unfortunate investment. All that my father had inherited from our grandfather's estate, and all my uncles had realized from the sale of their plantation, was swept away. They left Shelby Springs with nothing except their personal belongings. Father's family [at that time] consisted of Mother, two little girls, Eula and lone, one and two years old. Grandmother Wimberly's family was larger, two boys and three girls: Augustus, Randolph, Lora, Alice, and Annie, all grown. [Three other sons had died.] The two familles moved together to Etna, Georgia, the site of an iron furnace that was not in blast. Father rented the Superintendent's home, and both families lived there very comfortably for several years. It was a large, roomy house in a large grove of hickory trees.

Father supported the family by working in ore mines a few miles away, while the uncles searched for work. In those years after the war, when the South was undergoing its worst depression, finding work was almost impossible. Aunt Lora taught school in the nearby church. This was quite a help. Uncle Randolph secured a position as manager of a large country store of general merchandise that served a large farming district. This was located some miles north of Etna on the railroad, the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad, Priors Station. As soon as they could secure a house large enough for our needs, both families moved there. In the meantime, Father was still working in ore mines.

Uncle Randolph made such a success of this store that he was offered a wonderful place at Trion Factory, in very much this same kind of store. He then moved his family to Cave Spring, Georgia, as it was more convenient for him to visit them there.

One interesting incident occurred just before they moved. Father's young brother [William Daniel Sparks], who had been clerking for Uncle Randolph, had fallen in love with Aunt Annie, Mother's young sister, and they were quietly married. I must have been about 12 years old at that time and was their only attendant. We missed more than I can express that large part of our family. The tie between us was very close.

About this time, Father met at the store a very successful farmer who owned a beautiful farm several miles back from the railroad. Mr. Tumlin wished to sell the farm, and Father bought it. How he managed the money part of the transaction, I do not know--I wish I did.

We were in a fever of excitement over the prospect of the move and always spoke of the farm as the Tumlin Place. When we at last drove out there in a big farm wagon with spring seats to take possession, there was added to the excitement, charm and delight. Our mother at once changed its name to "Green Meadow Farm. A fine descriptive name, it suited it perfectly. With meadows and orchards and little streams running through them, and a large modern house in the center of a grove, it really was a sight to gladden the eye as well as the heart.

Here, Father's chief interest was his farm, ginning his and his neighbors' cotton and threshing their wheat--but like his father before him, he was ready to expand his interests.

A few miles away, ore was being mined for Tecumseh Furnace. After the crops were laid by in the summer, Father would send his two mules and wagons to haul this ore several miles to a railroad; from there, it was shipped to the furnace. This supplied cash to help run the farm and keep the children in shoes.

The most important question now was, how to educate the children. Schools were few and far between. No public schools at the time, or only a few. The happy years had been passing rapidly, and for several years we had a governess, who taught us. She was a delightful friend, too, for us and our parents; but we were growing up and needed companionship as well as books and music. There were six of us: Lillian, 2 years old; Hal, 5; Frank, 7; Linton, 9; lone, 11; Eula, 13. Something must be done at once.

Father, still interested in ore, found what he always spoke of as a large pocket of manganese ore in the hills of North Georgia. It was near what was the Salem, Rome and Dalton Railroad. It is today a part of the Southern system of railroads.

My father went to see the president of this [railroad] and persuaded him to build for him a narrow gauge spur up into the hill to his pocket of ore that he had leased. He consented to do this, and to supply the cars in which the ore would be brought down the hill to the cars on the regular railroad on which it would be carried to the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. I never see one of those cars today, marked "Tennessee Coal and Iron Company," without thinking admiringly of my father. How he managed this deal without any pull or money is a marvel to me. His motive power was simple: mules pulled the empty cars up the hill. They were loaded and came down by gravity.

This business venture served two purposes: his money troubles were practically over, and it enabled him to move his family to Cave Spring, Georgia, a beautiful village just a few miles from his mines. It was built around a school for the deaf (the State Deaf and Dumb Institute), a public school, and a Baptist School, all fine, offering wonderful opportunities for young people coming from the country to grow and expand mentally, socially, and religiously in beautiful surroundings.

One other circumstance added greatly to our happiness. Grandmother Wimberly's family lived just across the street from us, and Grandmother Sparks's family lived in Rome, Georgia, only 16 miles away. Our visits back and forth were a pleasure and a delight to old and young.

My father's influence was soon felt in the town. He became a Steward in the Methodist Church, Superintendent of the Sunday School, and teacher of the Men's Bible Class. At one time, when my children were small, I told him I thought I would have to give up my Sunday School Class, but he said, "No, Daughter, keep teaching that class. Teaching the Bible is the greatest and most important work in the world." I'm sure he was right.

As the years went by, the town people depended on him more and more, both for precept and for example. In cases of right and wrong between two people, they would often say, "Let us go to Linton Sparks and see what he says. I am perfectly willing to abide by his decision."

My mother was a quiet homemaker, reading during her spare time, which was not a great deal, with six children to clothe, feed, and keep in the straight and narrow path. She made for us a beautiful, happy home life and always stood shoulder to shoulder with my father in everything he did, sometimes leading.

As I look back over those happy years, my respect, admiration, and love for them grows deeper and deeper. I am sure they both have heard those wonderful words spoken by our Lord Himself, "Well done, good and faithful servants, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."