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Leather wasn’t only product of Bona Allen tannery

POSTED: March 29, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Buford has a long history of sports excellence; witness the recent girls high school state basketball championship or the almost routine state championship football teams.

It might not be a stretch to say that tradition began with the Shoemakers baseball team that overpowered semiprofessional teams all over the United States. The team was a product of leather maker Bona Allen, Inc.

According to Bona Allen IV, whose great uncle, John Q. Allen, started the team, the Shoemakers employed the best available players who weren't on major league teams, including some who had played in the big leagues. Bona Allen IV is retired and living in Towns County.

The Shoemakers were a marvel in the 1930s and early '40s. They lost only five of 61 games in 1933. They had a 35-game winning streak in losing only six of 79 games in 1936. They were runners-up in the national semipro World Series and beat the Atlanta Crackers twice before returning to Buford. The Shoemakers won the 1938 semipro World Series.

John Allen was a promoter, said his great-nephew, Bona Allen IV. He had a giant shoe built on a car chassis and drove it around to call attention to the team. He would give coupons good for a pair of shoes to players who hit home runs or pitched shutouts. He challenged opposing teams to free shoes if they beat the Shoemakers.\

The company had a contract with sporting goods manufacturer Spalding to furnish leather for its baseball gloves.

The Buford ballpark was as good or better than Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta, some said. It was the first lighted park north of Atlanta. The team's following was so rabid, crowds would gather at the park during away games and listen to an announcer broadcast over a loudspeaker as he read play-by-play from a teletype machine.

Gerald McQuaig, who became principal of Sugar Hill School and coached high school teams, was among former major leaguers playing for the Shoemakers. Others included up-and-coming college players or former Crackers.

John "Whack" Hyder, a Hall County native who later coached Georgia Tech basketball, played on the Shoemakers with his two brothers. Mercer Harris, who became a scout for major league teams, also was on the team. Brothers John and Victor Allen also once played for the leather company team.

World War II and the declining leather business caused Bona Allen to discontinue the team in the early 1940s. In its existence, the semipro team had a winning record against professional teams.

• • •

R.H. Allen and Bona Allen Sr. started the leather company in Buford, but didn't get along, according to Bona Allen IV. They parted company, and R.H. even refused to be buried in the family plot, where a mausoleum held the remains of family members. Instead he asked to be buried in a plot across the street, where a monument to his memory was erected.
R.H. Allen, who was disabled, had become a familiar figure around Buford, riding in a cart pulled by a goat as he made his rounds calling on customers.

• • •

Bona Allen IV as a small boy used to love to ride the "Little Dinky" steam engine that used a narrow-gauge track to pull cars left by a regular train at the tannery building. Employees would sit him on top of a coal bin to make the short ride.

• • •

Saddles line the downstairs walls of Bona Allen IV's Lake Chatuge home between Hiawassee and Young Harris. They represent the different styles his ancestors' company was famous for worldwide in its heyday. It had the contract for saddles used by the U.S. Army cavalry until horses gave way to mechanized units in the 1940s.

Allen also has a well-worn postal bag that mail carriers used when they used to walk their routes. Bona Allen also had the contract to make the bags for the Post Office.

• • •

Bona Allen, Inc. is history, but the name persists. Bona Allen IV has a son, Bona K., and a grandson, Bona M. The "Bona" name originated with Bona Allen Sr., who had his first name, "Bonaparte," shortened to Bona. The historic Bona Allen family mansion in Buford continues in use for private events.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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