The Thomas E. Watson Papers Digital Collection
Interview 2, Tape 1
Interview with Georgia Watson Craven by David Moltke-Hanson, part 1
Georgia Watson Craven discusses childhood memories of her grandfather Thomas E. Watson's home in Thomson, Ga.; the physical terrain and flora and fauna of the Old South homestead, known as Hickory Hill; Grandmother Watson (Georgia Durham Watson); how the household was run; Watson's dining habits and dinner guests; social exchange and subjects of conversation at mealtime; the history of the old barn and its importance to Watson; his love of riding and his eating habits; learning to dance from her grandfather; Watson's love of music and fascination with trees; discussion of the original layout of Hickory Hill and the additional rooms that were added, as well as how each room was used. [30 minutes, 54 seconds]
David Moltke-Hanson: One two, one two. One, two, three. Alright. Would you like to just say a few words so we can get readings, levels?
Georgia Watson Craven: Oh yes. I'm delighted to have you here.
David Moltke-Hanson: Ok. A little more? I'm delighted to be here.
Georgia Watson Craven: Well I hope that we can now, that I can guide my remarks so that they will be organized to the satisfaction of whoever uses the material later.
David Moltke-Hanson: Well I think this discussion about... will be interesting, if simply you pursue your interests in the course of our discussion. And I'll have questions from time to time, meant to help listeners understand some of the context out of which your speaking and help the listener gather some sense of how to judge and so use the information, opinions, observations, you have to offer. But largely this is an opportunity for us at the Southern Historical Collection who hold, thanks to you and your family, the Tom Watson papers, to enrich the records. There aren't many people left who knew your grandfather and no one left who knew him as intimately as did you. And this is for us really a quite wonderful opportunity to capture dimensions of the life not really fully recorded in the very rich papers at the Southern Historical Collection in the extended correspondence and, uh, observations in the papers of Tom Watson's -- your contemporaries. Or in the work of historians who have followed Ben Woodward, pioneering biographer of Thomas Watson, thanks to you again, in pursuing a figure that has loomed since the initial publication of Ben Woodward's book as one of the most puzzling and important keys to understanding the South undergoing change between the Civil War reconstruction and the modern industrial urbanizing era which he saw advancing in his last years. To begin, perhaps we talk a little bit about your grandfather.
Georgia Watson Craven: Well, I was unfortunately, for my emotional, the feelings of my emotions, born in New York City. It was just at the time when Grandfather was moving his magazine from New York to your hometown, Thomson, Georgia. That first summer of my life I spent at my grandfather's mountain place in Virginia near Charlottesville and I spent many summers there afterwards until the place was old. It was one of the warm spots of my whole life. But in the autumn, we went to live in Thomson and Thomson was home all of my premarital life.The first year of course which I do not remember except through Kodak pictures and family conversation, we lived in my grandfather's home while our house was being built. Somehow I think no matter what happens or has happened in my life, the word "home" means translates into my grandfather's home. It was the epitome of Southern life at that time, which was a lingering Old South caught between the rapidly changing industrial South that came with the coming of the railroads to Atlanta, for example, and that kind of thing and the agricultural.
My grandfather's home was the center for all of us. There were two children who were living—my father and my Aunt Agnes and she lived on one side of my grandfather's place in the old Victorian house which was where my grandfather lived at the time of the Populist campaigns. It was in town to a certain extent but the land behind was all Watson territory and we were what we called "going through", which meant going the back way by the scuppernong arbor, through the fields, through a very beautiful stand of long-leaf pines that my grandfather would have died if he ever knew had to be cut. We lived on the other side of my grandfather through the field and between my grandfather's home and what became the Jeffersonian Publishing Company, which was a large one-story brick warehouse kind of building right in the middle of a cotton field. So I don't think there was a day of life when I was well that I was not at my grandfather's with my cousin who was my own age, my only first cousin.We would meet at my grandfather's and play together and it was, I don't know whether a second home or whether it was just home. We had our own individual homes too, but that was the place.
My Grandmother Watson was a very, very lovely woman and I don't know whether to say an old-fashioned or just a lady-like creature who was sensitive, but extremely capable of running a big household in the old Southern tradition or old American—more or less rural tradition I suppose you would say. Grandfather was obviously the head of the house, the one that people considered. We had to consider the fact that he was writing upstairs in is study and therefore, at certain times, we could not be too noisy. He was very tolerant of us, but on the other hand, he was a person who was very high keyed in a very nervous way. Any creative person is. He didn't need to be interrupted all the time.
As I think of him in the home, I think of him mostly at the table—I think of mealtime, at dinnertime which was in the middle of the day. His breakfast has to be just black coffee—very strong—that was taken up in the thermos the night before and he drank that anytime from dawn on if he wanted if he was inspired to work. At different times I remember he would come down for breakfast or come down for a late breakfast. But at dinnertime, if there was someone there who was of his intellectual caliber that dominated the scene. If it was a lesser person, he always was able to pitch his personality and his talk to fit the social occasion; or when we just as a family, it was almost a monologue I suspect at times because he was still talking about historical events and what the news was then. I will remember that as long as I live. I'm sure this is where my roots of interest in history began. I knew more about the Hapsburgs. I didn't know if fact because I didn't know enough to latch onto, but to know that it was an important part of European history and of course Napoleon because he wrote The Life of Napoleon later. Then there were Georgia politics. I don't remember very much listening in any detail about those, though I know enemies came and went and enemies came as France went.It was a mixed bag, but it was always something that wasn't just the everyday thing. He lived so that means were a highlight, so they were an intellectual time, that set a pattern of having good conversation as far as my taste is concerned and it was connected with the social exchange of the meal. Then there were times of leisure during the day. After dinner he would sometimes take a walk and when he took a long walk through the back fields, my cousin and I would ride our little Shetland ponies and he could walk as fast as the ponies went and sometimes he would want us to go faster and he'd take a cornstalk and hit one over the little rump and the horses would be wild little creatures—go flying off and sometimes take us just breathless into the hall of the barn.
The barn was a wonderful old building. It had been constructed from what was called a tent at the Methodist campgrounds in the country and when they tore that down, I don't remember that, it was there when I was born I guess... my grandfather bought these wonderful old logs into town and built this great big barn. The barn was there until later when it was torn down. I kept some of the logs. I always wanted them for a house or living room. When I sold the place to my cousin at her marriage, I told her father that I hoped that he would keep those logs and do something with them. Well, unfortunately, he used them in another barn in the country that burned down, so those logs were symbolic to me of a certain thing. But to get back to the barn. I have to go back and say that the barn was important to my grandfather because he loved horses. He loved to ride. He was a beautiful horseman and there were times when instead of taking these walks, he would go riding alone after dinner. That was his leisure time. That was his exercise time.The barn had other animals too. At one time, they had an old oxen called Jerry and at Christmastime, Grandfather would get Jerry hitched up to some sort of old rig and we'd go to the woods and choose the Christmas tree for Hickory Hill which was the name of his house. We had our own Christmas trees at home, but Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner were always at our grandparents. Sometimes, that made a big gathering, but sometimes one of Grandfather's sisters and her younger children would be there for Christmas dinner. I don't remember any other people, but there could have been if there had been someone around who didn't have a place to go for Christmas.
So that gives a little orientation of the meal and the evening. Of course we had supper which was a standard meal. My grandfather was very finicky and perhaps out of necessity, careful about what he ate. He avoided a great many of the old Southern goodies—rich things and so. I'm not sure that he ate fried chicken, but he might have eaten what we called smothered chicken—a chicken pie which my grandmother made so wonderfully—broiled chicken. She made a certain kind of ground meat what is almost a hamburger today.There was a little book that someone wrote about recipes from the Senate. Walter Brown has one. I ordered to get mine and Grandmother's recipe was in there. In the summertime he liked these cold meat cakes and sliced green peppers and I don't think he ate raw onions, but that kind of thing. He put a lot of Tabasco sauce on it. I get that from him—hot things. A lot of Worcestershire Sauce. He ate very carefully but didn't eat heavy desserts at all. In fact, I'm not sure he ate any desserts. He ate fruit and in the winter there were raisins. In those days it was a whole bunch of grapes that had been dried to raisins and nuts. There was always a bowl of nuts—usually pecans, but in the wintertime you could get down there a mixture of English walnuts and that kind of thing. Then there were periods when he would have a very tiny glass of port wine with those. Wine was never served as a course at the table and that's the only time I ever remember it in the house. I never saw my grandfather with too much to drink. I never saw him drink in front of anybody else in the house, but I do have that picture of him with the port wine and the raisins and the nuts.He was not only careful about what he ate, he had—I don't want to put this in a false light, but he felt more comfortable in having his clothes right and nice. He had beautiful tailored clothes made by an old tailor from Augusta. What was this man's name? He used to come up and I remember once at Passover time, he brought us... what is that white bread—matzo—because we didn't have that because we only had a few Jewish families in town. But Grandfather always did look neat—beautiful fabrics and that kind of thing. It wasn't something that he was straining to be somebody that he wasn't; it was simply a matter of feeling and indulging that particular taste.
Then there were other times when—I mean these little customs would come and go—maybe in the wintertime when the weather was bad, after dinner, he would stop and play a couple of records on the Victrola. He loved music. He taught my cousin and me to dance. How he did, I don't know, but I became a very good waltzer under his tutelage. He would only just dance us around a little bit. Earlier than that, before my aunt died, she died when I was eleven, I can remember Sunday afternoons when she would sit down and play the piano and Grandfather would play his violin. They played together. And we sat around quiet, and I was always sitting on Black Horse ----- scratched my legs [laughter from both parties]. So that is a side of family life. He was an informal person but a person who wanted things done in a comfortable but not sloppy way. I don't remember too much about the evenings. But if there would be-- shall I tell something about the friends now, who came over, would that be better now or a little later?
David Moltke-Hanson: Why don't we talk about the friends a little later? There is so much still to explore.
Georgia Watson Craven: My grandfather loved the out of doors. He collected trees, specimens from all over, any place that would grow in that climate zone. He had some very unusual trees and some of them have gone and some of them are still there. He planted trees in a certain way. I don't quite know how to describe it, but they were not rows—well, they were rows but from where they were seen they gave the feeling of a pattern. It must've been something that he got from some architectural magazine. He had these rows of dogwoods. It didn't show up as tows until you walked down between them. And the beautiful beech trees and all kinds of conifers that he got different places. The place is beautiful today with magnolias. I bet you'd be amazed at the size of those magnolias. Hollies, beautiful holly trees. So he was interested in developing the grounds around, interested in these specimens. It was not a landscaped place in terms of lawns and shrubbery around the place and so on. That was just no en vogue in a small town. It was so hot and no way to water the grass in the summer and that sort of thing. So the yards were kept swept and it was white sand. There were beautiful oak trees around the house close to the house and many hickory trees—great, huge hickory trees. The driveway went all around the house.
When my mother first went there a year after her marriage, the kitchen was in the basement. The original house had been four rooms downstairs—big rooms—and four upstairs. I think my grandfather built what was the dining room. The other people may have had a kitchen behind that, but I don't think it was the room that was my grandmother's dining room.No, I'm making a little bit of an error here. Behind the full front room, there was one room that went right straight across the back of those four, in other words, the hall went into that big room. When I was a child, that room was used as a kind of a business room. The overseers came, the boys with the mail for the plant came, the magazines and the papers. There were papers from all—he got big dailies—over the country. He took beautiful magazines.There was that room. Then, behind that, there was a dining room that I know my grandfather built on and it had a basement. The only room in the house that did have a basement. And Mother said that the kitchen—and I know this from other sources—the kitchen was in the basement and there was a dumbwaiter that went up to the dining room and pantry. Then by the time I can remember it, they had built on a kitchen because they always had trouble with the basement leaking. They built on a huge kitchen and a little breakfast room and sort of a pantry between where the stairs had gone down to the basement and then you went around and there was a wonderful well right outside of the kitchen. You didn't have to go downstairs to the ground at all; it was just even with the kitchen floor, so that was part of the house, and it was a wonderful kitchen. I think every southern child loved the kitchen where the black people were so good.
David Moltke-Hanson: Originally the kitchen, basement and the dining room on top were directly behind this sort of office business room?
Georgia Watson Craven: Right.
David Moltke-Hanson: Sort of like a T?
Georgia Watson Craven: It was a little short of the width of the fore room and right in the front hall. I can draw this for you later if this is still on. I don't want to waste it.
David Moltke-Hanson:Where did people sleep and where did you grandfather work upstairs?
Georgia Watson Craven: My grandfather's study upstairs was the southeast room on the front of the house. That was always his study and it was lined with books from floor to top.
David Moltke-Hanson: I've seen the remnants of the collection in North Carolina.
Georgia Watson Craven: Tom's gotten back as many of those as he can. Hen there were other bookcases scattered through the house—old-fashioned, heavy, attractive bookcases. That was his antum sanctorum. Nobody disturbed him in there. Downstairs at table and these other places he was a most attractive, agreeable, social person most of the time; but upstairs was sacred territory, he was working and that had to be respected.My grandmother's bedroom was downstairs and that was on the east and the back bedroom off the hall. At one period, I can remember as a small child, because when my cousin and I spent the night there when we were very little, grandmother had—the room was so big, it had more than one bed and we would sleep in the big bed there. My grandfather was using the adjacent room, which was a front downstairs room—east room—for his bedroom, but most of the time until he died; his bedroom was across the hall upstairs from his study. There was another bedroom behind that and since the original house didn't have bathrooms built in, one corner of that back bedroom was made into a little bathroom for him, so he used that room sort of as a dressing room and bathroom. Then the other room upstairs was a guest room always as I remember. Of course they had bathrooms downstairs. There were four bathrooms in the house.And then the dining room was a big room and off on one side my grandmother had a little aviary bird—lots of birds—a nice little grassed-in place that projected from the walls of the house out into the sunshine and so on. The kitchen was warm with lovely black folks and smells and friends and so on. It's a very pleasant memory to think of the house—big porches all the way around. I can remember when the two side porches were built. We were quite young, my cousin and I. One time we stole the carpenter's lunch and were punished terribly for that, then one of those porches was screened in on the east and that was off of two east rooms, my grandmother's bedroom and another one. We used to sleep out there in the summertime. Other times it was just a sitting porch.There was a huge garret attic and I always loved attics. Both of my grandmothers, north and south, had attics, and the one at Hickory Hill was wonderful. It had two rooms that had been closed in off of the whole big framework. I was fascinated as a child because somebody had taken off wallpapers that had been in different rooms and pasted them all over and it made this collage sort of thing. We would play up there occasionally, but not too often because that was where the noise would come down from upstairs.