On this day 80 years ago, Essie Callaway invited 12 ladies to her home for lunch and together they founded the Covington Garden Club. A year later the club became affiliated with the Garden Club of Georgia.
Members of the club gathered at the home of Esther Williams Wednesday to celebrate the local organization’s anniversary and share memories created since 1929.
"Today is a celebration of who we are, what we’ve accomplished and the diversity of all our members," said club president, Patricia Mayfield.
The 1950s and 1960s
Member Loy Summers joined the Covington Garden Club in her 20s.
"Back in those days," Summers said, "everyone wore hats to the meetings."
She said the club’s 25th anniversary celebration in 1954 was a grand affair.
"We all wore cocktail dresses, I’ll have you know," she said to the members assembled for the celebration.
Summers also reminisced about joint projects of the Covington Garden Club, Miniature Garden Club and Green Thumb Garden Club.
She laughed at the memory of drawing the Kiwanis Club to make an arrangement for in a joint project. She and her partner painted galvanized chicken feeders Kiwanis blue and placed golden-colored flowers inside.
In another all-club collaboration, giant cedar trees were placed on each corner of the square for the holidays and members were charged with creating large decorations for them.
"That was the last time we did it," Summers said, smiling, remembering what hard work it was to adorn the huge trees.
At the beginning of the 60s, the club voted to place a memorial to founding member Essie Callaway at Newton General Hospital, now Newton Medical Center. Carol Veliotis, Callaway’s granddaughter and current garden club member, remembered that memorial was a marble-like foundation with a cherub. The fountain has since been placed in storage.In the 1960s members also made holiday arrangements for each patient at Newton General, encouraged city residents to plant dogwoods and created a brochure detailing many of the restored historic downtown homes.
The Miniature Garden Club and the Green Thumb Club disbanded in 1966 and some of the members of those clubs joined the Covington Garden Club at that time.
Becky Ramsey joined the club in 1970 when she moved to Covington with her husband, former mayor Sam Ramsey.
She remembered the large undertaking of the club in that decade was to landscape the old Interstate 20 exit to beautify it as well as direct visitors toward the historic square. The sign the club posted at the exit, which said ‘Welcome to Covington’ on one side and ‘Keep America Beautiful’ on the other, remained in place for 25 years.
"I had a certain place I would pull over and run out there and grab any trash people would throw away," Ramsey said.
Also in the 70s, the Satsuki Garden Club formed because the Covington Garden Club was growing too large to continue to host meetings in members’ homes.
Ann Brewer shared a few memories from the 1980s with members.
"One of the most significant things that happened in the 80s was we got water out at the Hub," she said.
Brewer lives close to Hub Junction and now where the Newton Campus of Georgia Perimeter College is located. When the city placed a water tower near her home, an endangered plant species — false poison sumac — was discovered close to the site.
"Since I lived in the neighborhood, I got charge of it," she said.
She and a dedicated helper would carry water to the plant almost every day. It eventually died.
The club also did all the planting outside of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce when it moved to its current location in an old home on Washington Street just off the square.
1990s to present
Current club president Patricia Mayfield said the club continued to take care of the plantings outside of the Chamber building into the 1990s and took on some projects never before embarked upon by the club in its history.
"The 90s seemed to emphasize parks and the care of parks and public buildings," Mayfield said.
The club planted tulips and daffodils at the newly designed I-20 exit and set up several small green spaces around the city.
"We just took little pockets of land that did not belong to anyone and made little pocket parks to create beauty in our town," she said.
When the Olympic torch came through Covington on its way to Atlanta in 1996, the club ensured that the square was beautifully decorated with flowers and shrubs.
In the early part of this decade, the club raised funds for and installed a wall fountain in the NMC Women’s Diagnostic Center.
"Our thoughts were that it would bring beauty to that area and bring a sense of peace and tranquility to people who may need it," Mayfield said.
One of the club’s most recent projects was planting trees in memory of former members in the arboretum at Academy Springs Park.
Williams steered the celebration toward an end by announcing that a memorial bench the club had purchased also had been installed at the arboretum on that very morning. She said it was appropriate because the people of the club made the most important memories of all.
"We have a wonderful diversity to our history," Mayfield concluded, "and I think today is a day to pat ourselves on the back and also to say that we will go forward and do more good for our community."