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Much-coveted postmaster job stirred ruckus

POSTED: May 8, 2011 1:00 a.m.
/For The Times

"Granny" Westmoreland's fried pies were in big demand at Jake's Cafeteria in Gainesville.

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Community postmaster jobs once were considered a valuable political plum, and therefore were much lusted over.

State, local and federal officials usually got involved in trying to influence appointments when they were made by none other than the president of the United States.

James Longstreet, the Confederate general, served as Gainesville postmaster from 1879-80. His wife, Helen, served in the same position from 1904-13, following considerable controversy over the appointment.

James P. Farrow, who operated the Porter Springs resort in Lumpkin County, also served as postmaster in Gainesville. In the fall of 1898, he changed the mail route out of Gainesville into Lumpkin County. His detractors claimed he made the change to benefit his resort. Numerous Lumpkin Countians protested, saying it delayed some deliveries along their routes.

W.P. Price, Democratic legislator, congressman and founder of North Georgia College, lobbied to become postmaster and stirred up such a storm that many opposed Farrow's reappointment. He and Farrow debated the issue through the local newspaper, the Dahlonega Signal.

The controversy even made the pages of the Macon newspaper, which described Farrow and Price as having "a warm time shooting wads at one another through the columns of the Dahlonega Signal."

The Signal editor, partial to his hometown candidate for postmaster, let Price have the last word before cutting off the debate. Lumpkin Countians continued their opposition in an "indignation meeting."

Farrow meanwhile proposed that he and Price each put up $100, betting that the new Lumpkin County route he proposed would not be two miles farther, as his opponents suggested, nor would water rise over the roads on the new route when streams flooded.

Longstreet, meanwhile, became involved in the dispute because he wanted his son-in-law, J.E. Whelchel, to be appointed postmaster at LaGrange and opposed Farrow as the Gainesville postmaster. Complicating things, LaGrange residents opposed Whelchel because they said he didn't live there. Longstreet would not support Farrow unless his son-in-law got the LaGrange job.

Farrow remained postmaster, however, until the controversy became an issue in the 1904 9th District House campaign. James Ashley was the Republican nominee for 9th District congressman against the popular Democrat, Tom Bell. Farrow had opposed Ashley's nomination, but supported him once he became the Republican nominee. Ashley's opponents called him a carpetbagger because he moved to the area from Ohio.

In the end, however, Ashley, who apparently swung weight as the Republican nominee under Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, had Farrow removed as postmaster because he wasn't a Gainesville resident, he said. Hall Countians then seemed divided over who should succeed him.

Longstreet's wife, Helen, eventually got the nod from President Roosevelt, and she served from 1904 to 1913.

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 When Jake's Cafeteria on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Gainesville was in its prime, "Granny" Westmoreland's fried pies were in demand.

Lou Westmoreland's recipe was in her head and hands. She would dump about half of a sack of flour into a bowl, take a handful of lard or Crisco, a handful of butter and mix it all together with her hands, adding buttermilk if needed. She measured mostly by feel. She'd roll the dough out, cut circles for the pie crusts, add dried apples, cinnamon and sugar, seal the pies with butter and cook them in heated grease until she knew they were just right.

Mrs. Westmoreland is retired now, living with her daughter-in-law, Loraine Westmoreland, in Lula. Her great-grandchildren keep her company.

After a 33-year career at Chicopee Manufacturing Corp., she helped cook at restaurants such as Jake's and Bobbie's on McEver Road, following restaurateur Steve Dunn. She won the title of "Fried Pie Queen" in a 2002 contest that covered Hall and surrounding counties. Her cakes and other goodies from her kitchens were just as well enjoyed.

Mrs. Westmoreland had cooked all her life, having been raised in a family of 14 children.

Loraine Westmoreland says her mother-in-law has a "light hand" when it comes to cooking. She can't compete with Granny's fried pies or biscuits, but does try her other recipes.

Granny Westmoreland will celebrate her 95th birthday May 30 with family and friends.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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