Cherokee Leader Lived Here Prior To Early 1800s Trail of Tears Occurred

Author Is Interred In Center Of This Building

Mrs. Harris Was Also A Firm Believer In Family And Marriage

By Robert Latimer Hurst

Jean and Don King, friends from Cartersville, wanted me to see "In the Valley," the homestead of Novelist Corra Harris. They knew that I had a great interest in American literature, especially regional works. So it was that I embarked on what I called "Temptation #3," with great thanks to Jean and Don.

Corra Harris, a Cartersville native, wrote the "A Circuit Rider's Wife", which offers insights into the life of the Rev. and Mrs. William Thompson in the mountains of North Georgia as they minister to those in these Methodist churches. Mrs. Harris termed her book fictional, but she borrowed heavily from her own life as she left her Episcopal upbringing to embrace her husband's Methodist beliefs. For this reason, one often hears that it is semi-autobiographical.

This book tenderly looks at a devout preacher, who knows nothing of the world, except that he is here to make it a preparation site for the great beyond, and the wife, who confesses that she is more worldly and has to step in when the husband depends too much on his ministerial passion to solve everyday problems. She works behind the scenes to help him handle overly romantic church ladies and overly ambitious deacons. It is up to this woman to modify some of his sermons, depending on which church the delivery will be made. All this time, the devoted wife is active in facing the politics of the church, while the husband seeks salvation for his flock. Many will remember the 1951 movie, "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain," which was based on Mrs. Harris' book and starred Susan Hayward and William Lundigan.

Jean made the telephone call to Mrs. Marilee Henson, one of the major forces in renovating the complete complex as current president of the Cartersville Corra Harris Garden Club. After making the request for visitation to the grounds, Mrs. Henson said she would have the keys ready to open the home and outbuildings and be glad to accompany us. And four eager people found themselves "In the Valley" at a place designated as both Pine Log and Rydal, Georgia.

Mrs. Harris, during her life which spanned from 1869 to 1935, wrote over 25 books and novels; however, this woman did not just sit down and write an award-winning novel. She composed "A Circuit's Rider's Wife" from first-hand experiences; it was a means of escape from the "desperate privation" that accompanied her unhappy married life with Lundy Harris, an emotionally sick man "obsessed with hell fire and damnation" and a preacher who could never understand nor deliver a sermon on the love of God. Afflicted with aphasia, he would finally desert his family to be found in Texas, living in a fantasy world of his own. Repeated nervous breakdowns finally led to his suicide in 1910.

Most women would have withered away as they beheld their future "in the mountains, pulling a creaking buggy over impossible roads, serving malnourished, isolated people in tiny churches, for a salary of $245 per year," reported the 1996 Georgia Women of Achievement Committee prior to inducting this novelist into its ranks. Corra Harris, a determined realist, accepted her marriage vows because, as she wrote, "People did not think about their marital relations; they accepted them. So there were no divorces."

Her salvation became "A Circuit Rider's Wife" when the Saturday Evening Post accepted it and continued to accept what she wrote, allowing her to make a living from her writing. The magazine also sent her to Europe during World War I as its first female war correspondent. The periodical even allowed her to educate her daughter, Faith, and buy her home in Bartow County.

Corra Harris, ahead of her time, championed the role of her sex as she tried to find self-fulfillment. She believed strongly in marriage and family, but this strong female did not believe women were unequal to men or incapable of thinking for themselves, as was promoted by some during the early 1900s. Their highest calling "was to lift their husbands and children to a high moral plane through love and service," reports one biographer. One can easily see this philosophy in her writings.

"In the Valley" is located on a hill --and has been on this hill since about 1820. It was first the home of Chief Pine Log (hence the name of the community), a Cherokee leader, who evidently was not very popular with his tribesmen since he accepted gold coins in return for herding some of his people onto the Trail of Tears to the Oklahoma Territory. Mrs. Harris, who took it over in the early 1900s, began an expansion program that included the chief's cabin and gave it the name "In the Valley."

In 1996, Mr. Jodie Hill, another Cartersville native, bought the property with a purpose: to restore completely everything to its original condition. "Because of his respect for historical authenticity, his eagerness to share the story of this property, and his infectious enthusiasm for life, Jodie Hill has drawn others into the effort of reviving the past for today's appreciative visitor," writes Margie K. Carroll in Mountain Life. So today, as Mrs. Henson pointed out, guests, such as the Kings and I can now visit this place and return to that time when Margaret Mitchell came to tea or when Martha Berry slept over. We can "feel" that era when "A Circuit Rider's Wife" maintained her home "In the Valley."


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