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‘Miracle man’ earned renown as horticulturist

POSTED: April 12, 2014 11:30 p.m.

Gainesville native Iverson D. Hudgins was characterized “a miracle man” because he survived the 1936 tornado despite being caught in the vortex of the twister, thrown high above his house, landing midst all manner of debris and leaving him with 17 fractures and nails in one eye and his jaw.

Doctors deemed he would die before the day was done, declared it a miracle when he hung on and still another miracle when he walked despite his battered bones.

Yet Hudgins had been called a “miracle man” long before the tornado tossed him around. His ancestors had thrived as horticulturists dating as far back as America’s first colonies. He, too, took up the profession as a nurseryman and earned wide acclaim for his accomplishments.

However, his first profession was in education, teaching at the old Sugar Hill School in Hall County when he was but 14 years old, one of the youngest teachers in the country at the time. His father had attended the same school with classmates A.D. Candler and Joseph M. Brown, both of whom became Georgia governors, according to the late local historian Sybil McRay.

Still young, he eventually became principal of the school. He also taught at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School. 

All the while Hudgins was dabbling in the dirt, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. They all operated nurseries, and their descendant absorbed many tricks of the trade and the secrets of growing anything that would spring from the soil.

Hudgins learned from Indian descendents who claimed to grow trees in a day’s time. He would extract a substance secreted from an insect and feed it to plants, which would grow at a rapid rate.

Famed botanist Luther Burbank and Hudgins became friends at a convention of nursery operators, and they both met their wives afterward on a steamer excursion to New York City. Hudgins married Talula B. Wilson, grandniece of President Woodrow Wilson.

As his botanical experiments progressed, some proclaimed Hudgins “the Luther Burbank of the South.” It is said he could grow trees that produced pecans the size of coconuts by injecting them with a magical fluid. His chestnut trees bore nuts as large as lemons, the Gainesville News reported.

He also became proficient in developing dwarf plants as well as those of abnormal size and oversized strawberries that ripened outside in January.

Hudgins could rattle off the names of 8,000 botanical items, in English and Latin. When he spoke publicly, he would spellbind audiences with his knowledge of plant life. His former students at Sugar Hill would listen intently when he talked to them at occasional gatherings.

For 20 years he was superintendent of Ashford Park Nurseries in DeKalb County while also owning Blue Ridge Park Nurseries in Gainesville. 

Besides teaching and growing things, Hudgins was well known in Northeast Georgia as a church leader. At Oak Grove Baptist, he served as Sunday school superintendent, clerk, deacon and adult leader, and was engaged in other Baptist activities. He also served for a time as superintendent of a home for orphans in the Atlanta area.

His survival from the tornado wasn’t his first brush with death. He had suffered severe burns as a child. The tornado injuries caused him to wear a patch over an eye, and he walked with a limp. 

After his debilitating injuries in the storm, he had to move to the home of a daughter in Ohio, where he died in 1942.

The Rev. Homer Morris conducted Hudgins’s funeral at Oak Grove Baptist, where he was buried in that church’s cemetery.

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How available was gold around Dahlonega in olden times? Legend has it that when a hard rain fell, old men, women and children would dig in the gullies with spoons to get enough to buy their tobacco, snuff and candy.

Would-be prospectors still find gold around Lumpkin County, mostly from panning in streams. The real treasure, however, is the county’s development as a tourist attraction, which includes the old Lumpkin County Courthouse in the middle of Dahlonega as a gold museum. It’s also the seat of the growing University of North Georgia, a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as a popular venue for music, both scheduled and spur-of-the-moment jams on the square.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times, and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle, NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays in The Times and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.


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