When I stopped at Maebob’s Diner in 2017 [the date of this photograph], it was the first time I’d eaten there since my college days, and the food was just as good as it was in the early 1990s. I’m not sure how long the place has been open, but I’m saying it’s at least 30 years. There is nothing pretentious about the place and nothing fancy, but the homestyle Southern food does all the talking. It’s really the only gathering place in tiny Irwinton and much of Wilkinson County passes through here at one time or another. The day I was there, a soap opera was playing on the television, and one of the servers and a couple of the customers were paying attention when they could. It made me think of my grandmothers referring to soap operas as “the stories”. They watched them religiously and you knew not to call them while they were on, which, depending on the shows they watched, was anytime between 12:30 and 4PM.
Though it appears at first glance to be a house, this was the Vernon Johnson School. Located across from Asbury Church, on the Wilkinson side of the Wilkinson-Twiggs County line, it is best known locally as Asbury School today. A state educational survey in 1918 recorded 31 students from both counties. Wilkinson County students attended for 5 months and Twiggs County students for 6 1/2 months. One teacher was responsible for all eight grades.
With around 8 million metric tons mined and $1 billion in annual economic impact, kaolin is one of Georgia’s largest natural resources and industries. In fact, Georgia is the leading clay-producing state in the nation. Primary applications of kaolin include paper-coating (glossy magazine pages, for instance), paint pigments, ceramics, and pharmaceuticals, especially antacids such as Kaopectate and Mylanta.
The Kaolin Belt in Georgia runs roughly parallel to the Fall Line and is a vital economic force in at least 13 counties.
Historically, the industry had a bad reputation for its land rights and reclamation practices, but improvements in recent decades have (hopefully) lead to better stewardship. For an overview of the industry’s controversial earlier days, read Charles Seabrooke’s Red Clay, Pink Cadillacs and White Gold: The Kaolin Chalk Wars. The book was not well-received by the industry, though locals agree that much of it is solidly documented and reported. I’m not endorsing nor attacking the industry as it’s very important to the economy, but let’s hope it has improved. It’s not a liberal or conservative view to treat people right, to not steal their land, and to leave the land better than you found it.
After both the Methodist and Baptist churches in Irwinton burned in 1854, congregants came together to form a common house of worship. The result is the wonderful structure you see here, first known as the Irwinton Free Church. Though Sherman’s forces burned the courthouse, the church was somehow spared. Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians shared Union well into the 20th century but by 1960, the Presbyterians were gone and the Methodists and Baptists were settled into their own churches. During that decade, Joseph T. Maddox came forward to restore the building and prevent its deterioration. Perched on a hill on the edge of Irwinton, it stands today as an enduring symbol of cooperation and common faith.
Penn Chevrolet was Gordon’s dealership and located adjacent to this building (if I understand correctly), which has murals honoring the business on both sides.