JIM'S ROOTS (THE BRADLEYS): Augusta and Savannah, Georgia
I met a man from Augusta a few years back who told me the town is FULL of Bradleys. A fact easily verified when you read the Augusta Chronicle on-line: lots of Bradleys pop up in the obits (often as pallbearers). What I have yet to ascertain though is if the Augusta Bradleys are English (one of several lines whose name means in all cases "Broad lee (field)" or Irish (with a completely different origin, from Gaelic).
It wasn't until recently that I realized my great-grandfather wasn't really FROM Augusta. He was born there, but his parents moved to Savannah when he was small. Still, Augusta was where the roots were.
Augusta by night and Augusta by day is like... well, day and night.
I arrived about 9:30 at night and immediately found Broad Street, the descriptively named street one block over from the river. The first part of this is loaded with strip joints and other unsavory bars. But about midway through a number of younger, artier places appear. I first went to the Metro, a bar/coffee bar in a large, high-ceilinged space filled with couches and easy chairs. With lots of floor space left over. The crowd is mostly young, but with enough of a mix to make it feel friendly. After a walk, I came back to the Soul Bar, also in a large space but very definitely a bar, with lots of old roadside ads and music posters up and down the high walls. A small bar towards the back left lots of room for the band that started just before I went looking for my motel. An excellent high powered jazz band that I was sorry to leave.
Both were wonderfully comfortable places, and I wished I could bring them back to L.A.
In the interim, I walked down to the River Walk and got my first good look at the Savannah River. I had climbed a steep stairs matching the slant of a grass-covered slope to get to the the stone pathway where I was standing. But I didn't realize until I looked down at an information sign that I was standing on a LEVEE! My first levee!
Those of you raised where these are common will be bemused by my excitement. But realize that most of us have HEARD of levees most of our lives ("Drove my Chevy to the levee"; Dylan: "There's a crash on the levee, mama, waters gonna overflow"; etc.) but I would wager very few Americans have ever seen one, much less stood on one. And the Augusta levee is quite impressive, about 15-20 feet tall.
The city has done some good development. The River Walk in particular has several museums on it, including a rather refreshing looking museum of science (Fort Discovery). The next day, I also looked over the exhibits on what was once the mainstay of Augusta's economy: cotton. Several Southern cities have preserved their old cotton exchanges, but I doubt you'll find a better intro to the trade's history than the one presented in Augusta.
The next day I eagerly returnd to Broad Street to visit the impressive Augusta Genealogical Society, whose colonnaded building takes up one corner of 11th street. At last, I might unlock the secret of the Bradley's origin I parked, walked up to the door.. and found it locked. Turns out the society is only open three days a week (and not that one.)
OK. So I headed to the main library, which looked very impressiuve. Until I found out it was closed for renovations (no reopening date set.)
These two disappointments, and the gray sky, began to get to me. Plus, in daylight, I could see how much of the city still hadn't been redeveloped, how ramshackle many of the houses were away from the main streets. I did take a brief drive up a dirt road by the old canal, which is lovely in a shattered way. It wasn't until I parked back on Broad Street that I saw my Celica was covered with that famous Georgia red clay. Which didn't wash off through several subsequent rainstorms.
I stopped for lunch at the White Elephant, whose Brazilian owner makes various grilled meats over very spicey beans and rice. Different without being precious. The waitress had had an affair with a guy who worked for Penny Marshall, spent a month in Los Feliz. She was now married to a professional man and they were about to move away 'for personal reasons'. She told me one of her ancstors had owned the building we were in, and another one down the block. Though she'd been upbeat about leaving, as she told me all this, she seemed to fight her emotions. As one who'd come on the trail of someone whose parents had left for another Georgia city and who himself left the South forever, I was affected by her response, musing on what, besides ambition, pushed people to leave places where they had such deep roots.
Before leaving, I stopped at the Magnolia Cemetary, a film-perfect version of an old, moody Southern cemetary: crooked clusters of tombstones, brooding boughs of large trees. A worker there told me they were supposed to put all the names on a 'puter', but it hadn't happened yet. I told him these things never get done as fast as planned, and left.
The city's done some great stuff, still has a long way to go. Still, if ever you're there, don't miss the Metro and the Soul Bar. And whatever joins them next.
I hadn't planned to go here. It just happened to be on the road. But blues afficionados will understand why I was tickled to at least take a look at the place:
"Mama's got 'em, Papa's got 'em, Grandpa's got 'em too. Look down in the corner, Mama, hand me my travelin' shoes. You know by that I've got those STATESBORO BLUES."
Nice town, with a surprisingly large genealogy room in its local library.
My, what a lovely town. Savannah has some of the best bits of Paris, Boston and Georgetown. A symmetrically matched series of lovely littel squares, some quietly residential, some lined with restaurants. A beautiful river walk, with old worn stones and lots of shops, with atmospheric old alleys in back of them. Even the modern bridge off to the left is quite graceful. And there's every sort of restaurant and club, some simply down home, some actually fairly tasteful. I ate a pricey but delicious meal and then listened to some jazz at a casual place nearby.
I was pessimistic about the genealogical side of my visit, but when I went to the Georgia Historical Society the next day, I found lots of helpful people and useful stuff, including most of the city directories since just before the Civil War (or 'The War of the Rebellion' as many people seem to have called it back then.) Several people listed, with occupations and addresses, who might have been Harry's parents.
They also had lists for all the cemetaries, which saved me some footwork.
So, nothing very conclusive on the Bradleys. But a good feel for where my great-grandfather came from.
I'd planned to slant down through Georgia on local roads, but a woman I met in the jazz bar told me I'd have six tickets before I ever reached Florida. So I took the I-95 and headed for New Orleans. Stopping en route in Mobile and Biloxi.
LAST UPDATED: March 2003