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Former governors kin spar over mineral rights
White County land dispute to be heard by high court
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A land dispute in White County among descendents of a former governor has made its way to the state Supreme Court.

At issue are mineral rights for a large tract of land near Dukes Creek that was once owned by Lamartine G. Hardman of Commerce, Georgia’s governor from 1927 to 1931. Hardman was one of North Georgia’s wealthiest landowners before his death in 1937.

The high court has been asked to decide whether a White County judge should have awarded Caroline T. Wilson and James C. Thomson Jr. full mineral rights to the property when their cousins, John B. Hardman and Shell H. Knox, previously owned one-half the mineral interests.

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Tuesday.

Wilson and Thomson are heirs of the governor’s daughter while Hardman and Knox are descendents of his son.

The two sides have amicably shared mineral rights on the land, where gold, sand and gravel was mined over the years, though the last excavation of any kind was in 1994. Court documents do not describe the size or location of the acreage, except to make reference to a store that sells stones and gems on the property off Helen Highway just south of the Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound.

Wilson’s attorneys maintain in court filings that Hardman and other stakeholders forfeited their half of the mineral rights when the land went unmined for seven years and no taxes were paid on the mineral rights. Hardman countered that there was a long-standing agreement that the other side would handle all mineral excavations for both rights holders.

The descendents of the governor’s daughter, who own title to the land, want full mineral rights so that they can partition the property for sale without being encumbered by “unused and outstanding” mineral rights, according to court documents.

An agreement among family members regarding the property was approved by Judge A.R. Kenyon in 1970 and “went smoothly” for 37 years, until the governor’s daughter, Emma Thomson, died in 2007, Hardman’s lawyers wrote.

“Very shortly after their mother’s death on Jan. 12, 2007, appellees attempted to surprise their cousins by seeking to use (state law) to obliterate almost 40 years of cordial family relations and good faith, fair dealings,” attorneys for Hardman and Knox wrote in a brief filed with the high court.

Lawyers for Wilson and Thomson say the law is clear and that the owner of a property can gain “adverse possession” of mineral rights if they go unused for a length of time.

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