Article & Contemporary Photography
by Gordon Sargent
As long as most people can remember,
this northwest Georgia community has enjoyed a
rich reputation for high crimes and high times.
A neatly-dressed stranger from an out-of-town company
was examining a lot upon which his firm had contracted to build a home
for a local resident. Suddenly, a man with a shotgun walked up.
"Get out of Esom Hill," he rasped at the builder. "You
ain't got no bizness here." After a glance at the barrel of the
deadly weapon, the builder had to agree, and quickly departed.
Such has been the reputation for the little state line community in northwest Georgia's Polk County for decades, an image fostered by a long record of illicit activities such as moonshining, gambling, and even darker crimes like murder. And surprisingly, it seemed the stronger the criminal element became in the township, the less visible was law enforcement.
Despite its infamy, Esom Hill, according to many residents, is a friendly community with caring neighbors and a bad name circulated by "out-siders". Just like many situations, the truth lies somewhere in
Settlers in this western-most edge of what once was Cherokee Indian Territory were among the last to arrive in Paulding County, Georgia (later reorganized as a part of Polk County in 1851). The beginnings of Esom Hill occurred with the founding of SHILOH BAPTIST CHURCH in 18481and the first post office in 1850.2
Partly as a result of its close proximity to the Georgia-Alabama state line and partly due to its generally remote location, Esom Hill has long been frequented by lawlessness and controversy. Local tales describe - tongue- in-cheek - how bootleggers could escape law enforcement officers by moving their liquor from one room in a building (in Georgia) to another room in the same building (in Alabama).
Another claim even maintains the first Esom Hill post office was actually established in Alabama (1847) and then later moved to Georgia (1849).3
This possibly could be explained by the fact that the first postmaster - Benjamin WHEELER - lived in Alabama and actually operated the post office there from his home or store. Today, no one really knows for certain.
Local folklore maintains the name of the little community sprang from an old trading post once operated by an Indian named "Esom" or "Easom", possibly prior to the removal of the Cherokees from the territory. The "Hill" apparently was added later.
Another version of the origin of the town name claims it came from an early settler now buried in Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery beneath an unmarked fieldstone. Whatever the origin, the name of the tiny township has spread far and wide over the years, always accompanied by its dark reputation.
A book entitled the GEORGIA STATE GAZETTER4,published in 1881, lists Esom Hill as a community of 169 people with five general stores, three churches, a school and a saloon. The village also boasted a steam gin, a water-powered gin, and a saw mill. Four years earlier when Amos WEST founded his Cherokee Iron Company in Cedartown, Esom Hill must have shared the prosperity as mining operations grew (supported by plentiful iron ore deposits in the area). Farming, of course, undoubtedly also figured prominently as a professional pursuit, as did a number of small businesses listed in the book, all of which suggest a self-sufficient little community:
W.P. WEST, postmasterToday, many of these original residents of Esom Hill rest in Shiloh Cemetery, and their descendants still live in the same community.
J.P.S. BREWSTER, general store (Molly Stowe's ancestor)
(Joseph Proctor Screven Brewster, 1856-1913, was a member
of the original pioneer families in Esom Hill. The original
Brewster General Store in town burned and a new structure,
built in 1901, stands today.)
Rev. V.A. BREWSTER, Baptist pastor (Molly Stowe's ancestor)
A.A. and J.W. CAMP, saw mill
DUKES and PEARSON, blacksmith
H.A. EDMONSON, notary and justice of the peace
Jerry ISBELL (Molly Stowe's ancestor)
(Jeremiah Marion Isbell, 1829-1913, operated a country store
out of the front room of the family home, and was among the
original families to settle Esom Hill.)
M.E. McCORMACK, country tax collector and teacher
J.S. MERCER, general store
NOBLES and ADKINS, blacksmith
T.J. WEST, general store
W.P. WEST, general store
WEST and HACKNEY, grist and saw mill
C.M. WHEELER and son, saloon
The North Georgia Journal and this author gratefully acknowledge the valuable services provided by Mr. Dennis HOLLAND, postmaster of Esom Hill, without whose assistance this article would not have been possible. Grateful appreciation is also extended to the LOTT family, the BREWSTER family, the BAILEY family, Mr. Charlie COLLINS, and Mrs. Sue Isbell STONE.
Larry G., A HISTORY OF POLK COUNTY (GA) MISSIONARY BAPTIST ASSOCIATION,
Curley, Nashville, 1977, p. 7.
2/ U.S. Post Offices, Polk (and Paulding) County, U.S. Records, Microfilm Drawer 281, Box 32, Surveyor General Dept., Georgia Department of Archives and History, Atlanta, GA.
3/ Stewart, Mrs. Frank Ross, "Alabama's Cleburne County," Centre, AL, 1982, p. 68.
4/ Georgia State Gazeteer (sic) & Business Directory, 1881-82, Atlanta.
5/The date of construction was once inscribed in the concrete on the front step, but is no longer legible today.
6/ Hoyt Dingler interview, August 17, 1994
7/ "A Pioneer Dead," THE CEDARTOWN STANDARD, October 28, 1897.
8/ Jeremiah Isbell served in the U.S. Civil War with his eldest son. His father, Pendleton Isbell (1806-1873), served also, as did eight of his sons and three of his grandson. All returned home safely, except one son and one grandson, who were killed.
9/ NW Georgia Document Preservation Project. 1993 Microfilm SHC-156, Brewster/Isbell Papers.
10/ Brewster, Phi. Sr., Cedartown, Georgia, video interview, August 7, 1988.
11/Hoea. Cora Belle, Cedartown, Georgia, letter to Dennis HOLLAND, August 31, 1992.
12/NW Georgia Document Preservation Project. Op. Cit.
13/ "Vacancy at Esom," THE CEDARTOWN STANDARD. c. June 29, 1971.
15/ Hoyt Dingler interview, August 17, 1994
16/ Hoyt Dingler interview, August 17, 1994....
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