Editor’s Note: This is a reprint as Mr. Brantley was unable to send a new column this week.
Many people go to Lake Martin to get away and have some fun. Or maybe you live on the lake and look out over the water at all the beauty there is to see. There are those that ride along the lakesides or cross the bridges with a beautiful view of the lake. Let me remind you this water covers a number of communities and small towns.
Let’s go back to 1924. All the land was approved by the powers to be flooded. People didn’t want to leave; it was the only home most of them knew. There were about four places that waited until the water came up to leave. These people were notified but they hated to give up their houses, churches, even the dead in the graveyards. The power company took all of the precautions not to upset the people and notified them before exhuming the bodies and invited the family members they could find before starting.
Some chose to leave their dead where they were.
Today, 90-some years later, their graves are still beneath those mighty waters. No one really owned the churches so they are still down there and people came with tears in their eyes and watched as the water crept higher and higher over the buildings, crops, the graves that were left and the dreams of the young and old.
One community — a Black community named after one of the leaders of their forefathers was Benson, named after Will Benson — was left almost intact. I’m not sure where this place is but I do remember years ago when each town had a rescue unit that was well equipped, we were called out to a drowning on Lake Martin. After many days of searching we called the divers from Craig Air Force base in Selma. They came and told us of a house beneath where we were searching that was in perfect condition.
Everyone has heard of Susannah, a very large village. It had a gold mine — school, two stores, a gristmill, flour mill, a church and a sawmill. There were a good number of houses and they recorded digging up and relocating over 900 bodies from the graveyard and leaving those the families wanted left and undisturbed.
Most of what I have mentioned is to this day resting at the bottom of the lake. Susannah is located (or so I’ve heard) out in the deep part somewhere above the dam and towards Kowaliga Bridge. I have heard of one more village in our section of the lake. Its name was Irma and the members sang hymns as the waters rose and covered their church.
How much more is left? I don’t know, but this story tells of some of the communities in that area.
A man carried me and showed me the old Dixie Hotel about 50 or 60 years ago. This hotel was used by construction workers of the dam. It wasn’t covered up but right near the edge of the water. There’s the old Sea Scout boat that sunk after it broke loose. I can remember the good time the Boy Scouts had on this boat. I guess unless something happens it will stay in its watery grave up the river above Martin Dam.
Just think of the outboard motors, the boats, and all of the other things that are in the bottom as we look out over only the blue top of the beautiful lake.
Ronald Brantley is a Tallassee native and longtime weekly columnist for The Tribune.