Spearheading a cause has led to the formation of many notable organizations. And so it was for the Rockdale Historical Society when concerned community members banded together 40 years ago to prevent the demolition of Conyers’ landmark train depot and the old county jail.
As part of the 40th anniversary, the Society has lined up a year of events and speakers.
On Monday, July 22 at 10 a.m., the Historical Society will host a discussion with Robert Jones, a Civil War author, on Brigadier General Kenner Garrard’s cavalry raid on Conyers Station – part of Sherman’s Atlanta campaign - on July 22, 1864 at the Conyers Welcome Center, housed in the Depot, at 911 Railroad Street.
For specifics on Civil War activity in Conyers, Historical Society President Jean Hambrick refers to a brochure, written by Rockdale Genealogical Society’s Rosana Taylor, available at the Welcome Center.
Months before General Sherman’s historic March to the Sea, he dispatched Gen. Gerrard to burn the railroad bridges between the Yellow and Alcovy rivers to destroy the Confederate Army’s supply line from Augusta.
Though Garrard’s eventual destination was Covington, he sent 50 men to disable Conyers Station.
Just as a train pulled into the station mid-morning, the Union Army attacked setting fire to the Depot and taking 16 Confederate soldiers and citizens prisoner.
“In those sudden, short minutes the citizens of Conyers would have witnessed the fury and the ruin of war, and they would know that the heartland of Georgia, safe from invasion until now, was safe no longer,” said Taylor.
Occupied in battle in Decatur when he heard of the attack, Confederate Major General Joe Wheeler’s cavalry chased Gerrard through Oxford and Covington as they quickly burned bridges and stores of cotton, never giving Wheeler a chance to catch them.
A few months later on November 17, 1864, Sherman and 15,000 of his 60,000 troops marched through Conyers. To give an idea of the scope, just as the front of his column arrived in downtown Conyers, the rear would have been leaving Lithonia.
One objective en route to Savannah was to forage for provisions for their army. Special details were sent to seize wagons and load them with whatever food and livestock they could find.
This was part of Sherman’s “scorched earth” scheme - destroying infrastructure, burning crops and consuming supplies - culminating in his capture of Savannah on December 21.
The depot, originally built in 1845, was a significant part of the city’s development and history. Though rebuilt after the Civil War and renovated to an extent through the years, by 1973 Hambrick describes the Depot as “a falling down mess.”
Early Historical Society members convinced the city not to tear it down and allow them time to raise funds to restore it. It was done through private donations.
“The Historical Society is just a confirmation of the civic mindedness of this community,” said Hambrick.
“That’s the beauty of Conyers, particularly at that time it was smaller, and everybody bought into the project.”
Besides lining up relevant speakers for their quarterly general meetings, one of the Historical Society’s current projects is partnering with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to stabilize the Aaron Parker House.
They have committed to contributing to the restoration plan. The home, built in 1830 by Parker, a War of 1812 veteran, is on the grounds of the former Southerness Golf Club, now a part of Panola Mountain State Park.
It’s the oldest house in Rockdale County and considered a fine example of the plantation plain-style house.
For more information on the Rockdale Historical Society, visit www.rockdalehistory.org. Complimentary tours of the Old Jail Museum on Milstead Ave. are available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first Saturday of the month.