Preserving Historic Pinpoint, Georgia

By Kim Gusby , WSAV TV

The small settlement stretches less than a mile from end to end, but its history spans generations. If you want to know about the history of Pin Point, just ask the people who live here.

Like many of their neighbors John Haynes, and brothers Charles and Tyrone Harris were born on this land. They remember growing up during a time when life was simple, secluded, and seemingly untouched by the outside world. Charles Harris recalls not having electricity when he was young.

"We had lamps like that lamp up there and that was how we'd see at night", Harris says. "We had no gas. We had to cut wood. Cook and heat with wood." They grew what they consumed... and what they didn't grow, they caught in the river nearby. "I could provide for my family," says Harris, "because if I ran short of money or my refrigerator got empty, I could go in the river and catch them something to eat."

There were no strangers here. Folks were all connected by friendship or kinship. They lived in one of two places- up the street or down the street. "The road was everybody's gathering place," says Dr. Barbara Fertig, a history professor at Armstrong State University. "The Gospelaires... they started out by getting together as young men in the evening and singing in the road and they've had an illustrious career since then." It's these stories.. this culture that Dr. Fertig is hoping will be preserved. She's been studying Pin Point since the early 90s. "This is much more than an African American story. It's an American story about people who made their way."

Many of Pin Point's residents are the descendents of freed slaves who sailed from Ossabaw and other islands to make a home inland. Pieces of the past are still very much a part of this close knit community... like Sweet Fields of Eden Church... a place of worship that has stood at the corner of Lehigh and Pin Point Avenues for more than a century. Next to it, a graveyard where many of their ancestors are buried. There's a social hall that was built in the 1920's. And the structure that was once the economic heart of this waterfront neighborhood... the A.S. Varn and Son's oyster and crab company.

"It was the crab factory down that side where mostly everybody worked," says John Haynes. "And we would scrub the backs of the crab. We would scrub and put in tubs with a brush and clean them... and they would make the deviled crabs." The company opened its doors in 1926. It closed nearly 60 years later.

But, not everyone made their living crabbing. Some were carpenters. "My father was a carpenter and his brother was an architect- William B. Haynes. They had a construction company along with Dr. Collier. Most of the young fellas from out here worked with my father and he trained them how to be carpenters," the older Harris recalls.

But it's the hard work of its most famous son- Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas- that earned Pin Point a place on the map. "He was only six when he left," Fertig says. "He hated leaving and came back as often as he could. What he says about it is his grandfather raised him to think of being free. Being free of restrictions. But his grandfather did it through choosing to farm and hard work, he chose it through learning."

Many will quickly point out though that Justice Thomas isn't the only product of Pin Point. There were scholars and athletes. There's even a softball team that Haynes refers to as a dynasty. "It was the Pin Point Rams started by Joe Louis Bonds... and we had parties at the hall, paid a little dues, and we was able to purchase some red and white jerseys with khaki pants... and that was our uniforms... and years later in the 60's, we got Varn to sponsor us." Just like the church, the social hall, and the A.S. Varn building... the team is still around and so are the memories.

It seems the folks of Pin Point have a hard time of letting go of the past. And they want to keep it that way. Work has now begun to preserve the rich culture of Chatham County's first unincorporated historic district. Dr. Fertig says a marker will go up within the year. The old A.S. Varn building is currently being converted into what's being called the Pin Point Heritage Museum- a facility that will share the fascinating story of that community and the people who've lived there for generations. It's expected to open this fall.