Partial Transcript: Mr. Gillis, your family’s political and business record goes all the way back to the late 1800s when your grandfather, Neil Gillis, founded a turpentine operation that evolved into one of the states largest timber and naval store businesses.
Segment Synopsis: Gillis talks about the history of the the turpentine and naval store business in Georgia, which his family has been a part of since the 1800s. He describes the process that was used to collect resin from pine trees to make turpentine, and how the turpentine was historically transported by way of railroads and shipped down the Savannah River.
Keywords: Altamaha; American Turpentine Farmers Association; Civil War; Naval Stores Conservation Program; Oconee; long leaf pine; seasonal crops; slash pine
Partial Transcript: Now, Bob mentioned that your grandfather Neil Gillis was the first one in your family to produce the gum naval stores?
Segment Synopsis: Gillis talks about how his grandfather was the first in his family to produce gum naval stores. He says that he believes that future generations will continue to carry on the family business. He also discusses how growing pine trees became the primary focus of the family business instead of turpentine.
Keywords: Neil Gillis; Soperton, Georgia; cash crop; competition; distilleries
Partial Transcript: Well, let’s talk for a minute about Jim L. Gillis, Jr.
Segment Synopsis: Gillis reflects on his background and growing up in Soperton, Georgia. He talks about getting his education at the University of Georgia, and then going on to run his family's business while his father was serving in the Georgia legislature.
Keywords: FFA; Treutlen County; business school; horse and buggy; social security
Partial Transcript: But you found time then to run for the state Senate.
Segment Synopsis: Gillis discusses getting his start in politics by running for the Georgia State Senate. He talks about moving back home to become the mayor and then the county commissioner of Treutlen County. He also describes some local political issues such as taxes and immigration.
Keywords: ad valorem taxes; country consolidation; farmers; three governors controversy
Partial Transcript: Well, I hate to change the subject, but I would like to talk to you for a minute about Mr. Jim, your dad.
Segment Synopsis: Gillis discusses his father's long political career. He talks about how his father served with nearly every governor of the latter part of the 20th century, and worked in the Georgia State Highway Department for 24 years.
Keywords: Atlanta Journal Constitution; Ellis Arnall; Jimmy Carter; Marvin Griffin; land
Partial Transcript: Let’s talk for a minute if you will about some of your civic efforts.
Segment Synopsis: Gillis discusses some of his civic efforts in his community including soil and water conservation. He talks about how the recession of 2008 has affected the timber industry, and describes some of the important issues the industry is facing today.
Keywords: Canada; NAFTA; Watershed; environmental regulations; flood control; imports; reservoirs; water shortage
Partial Transcript: I’d like to ask you this question. You’ve helped Georgia progress from just another southern state, to the empire state of the South.
Segment Synopsis: Gillis talks about the industrial progress of Georgia, and how his family has played a major role in helping Georgia become the "empire state of the South." Gillis also visits the Gillis family cemetery with his brother, Hugh Gillis, and discusses his family's history. He talks about how his great-great grandparents migrated from Scotland, and describes what their life was like living in Georgia in the 1800s.
Keywords: Atlanta, Georgia; North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; WWII; airlines; livestock
BOB SHORT: Im Bob Short and this another in our series of Reflections onGeorgia Politics sponsored by The Richard Russell Library at the University of Georgia. Today Im joined by Sheryl Vogt, director of the Richard Russell Library and we are in Soperton, Georgia with a very special guest. Few families have had more impact upon Georgias political and business life than the Gillis family of Soperton, Treutlen County Georgia. And we honored today to have Jim L. Gillis, Jr. as our special guest. Mr. Gillis, your familys political and business record goes all the way back to the late 1800s when your grandfather, Neil Gillis, founded a turpentine operation that evolved into one 00:01:00of the states largest timber and naval store businesses.
SHERYL VOGT: What was the primary family business before naval stores and timber?
JIM GILLIS: Youre asking me questions youll have to bare with me. Imalmost 92 and Im not as sharp as I used to be but Ill be glad to talk to you about what little history I know, particularly naval stores and maybe a little politics. Its a pleasure to answer. But the naval stores business is one of the oldest businesses in the world. It goes back to Genesis in the Bible when they demanded Noah to treat his ark with pitch and of course it goes on and 00:02:00that pitch was used in lighting streets and various other purposes and water proofing and it was absolutely essential in the navy. Back then there were no metal ships, they were all wooden ships and they had to have this pitch to use in the cracks to seal them so the ships would--in other words it was probably to them what fuel oil and gas are now. And of course, when they made metal ships--and now they've changed it, but thats the way the main naval stores originated. And of course, it came to America and the first company was 00:03:00Jamestown and I think one of the first exports was pitch. They had found these stumps and trees up around Jamestown and they made this pitch and that was one of the first things but thats the way it got its name naval stores. And of course, the industry worked on down into North Carolina. They were reports in Jamestown that there were trees in North Carolina that would profusely bleed or secrete this resin and so the naval stores industry moved the pitch into naval stores in North Carolina. In fact, thats where North Carolina got its name, The Tar Hill State. And of course, in the naval stores its produced in the coastal plains, going from North Carolina all the way into Texas from the 00:04:00fall line to the coastal areas. And it was during and after the Civil War one of the primary sources of income other than cotton in the South, so it was a tremendous part of the economy for years.
VOGT: What kind of pine tree produces?
GILLIS: Only two species, slash pine and long-leaf pine that grow in thecoastal plains area or just north of here. In other words, the fall line, of course, runs in Georgia from below Columbus and Macon, to Macon, to Columbus and it is a native species, the slash pine and long-leaf. And long-leaf was the 00:05:00predominant pine in the older days for the simple reason they burned the woods and it was a lot more tolerant to fire than slash. And of course, long-leaf played out as the naval stores and the timber industry progressed.
VOGT: I understand when they collected the turpentine that initially they wouldcollect it in the bottom of the tree. They would make, like, a bowl in the bottom of the tree?
GILLIS: It was a rather crude operation but with a big axe they cut a hole inthe bottom of the tree and made a pocket and then theyd scar the tree and the resin would run down in this hole and theyd take a dipper and dip the gum out and, of course, that was the way it originated. And of course, that damaged the tree and then after they had worked the tree as much as they could and abandoned 00:06:00it, then they came along and cut it for timber. So it was really in naval stores and timber and then they clear cut it over and thats what we were left with. In the 20s and the 30s was all this cutover timberland and, of course, most of it was in farm land. And then when we started the reforestation effort in the late 20s and early 30s it was primarily slash pine that was planted. And, of course, at the present time they were putting emphasis on trying to plant long-leaf in order to try to restore that species but thats a government program thats in effect now. 00:07:00
VOGT: Now, youre about 100 miles from the coast here, so in the early dayshow did they get this to market? Ive heard that it would go down the river through Savannah.
GILLIS: A lot of it was. The naval store business moved into Georgia after theCivil War and they--up around the rivers, the Savannah and the Oconee and the Altamaha and a lot of it was shipped by barges and a lot of by the railroads, and a lot of it was shipped by rail. And, of course, the first market for the raw material was Savannah and Savannah became quite famous for all of its factorage houses. That was people down there that had organizations, businesses 00:08:00that would finance the farmers and naval store producers for money. They financed them and the production begins in April and ends in October. The warmer the weather, the more production you get from tapping these trees. So in the wintertime while you did all your preparatory work and you made your production in the summer and they would finance these farmers and then they in turn would ship that product to Savannah. And it was, it was shipped by rail and water originally, yes.
VOGT: Now, I know that for a long time youve been a member of the AmericanTurpentine Farmers Association. How did that help production of the turpentine and making it a lucrative business? 00:09:00
GILLIS: After the Civil War as I said, cotton and lumber and naval stores, thatwas about the only commodity you could sell. We didnt have pulp mills. We didnt have these outlets for livestock and that was the primary income that we had. You had probably in the 20s and 30s, early 30s, you had hundreds of little turpentine stills, little distilleries. Every man would get enough production to operate a still and hed make his own turpentine and rosin and 00:10:00then it was disorganized. In other words, if the price was good theyd tap a lot of trees and if it was bad-- there was no organization to it at all. And so a lot of the producers, Judge Langdale and large producers, realized they had to organize in order to try to get some kind of orderly marketing and to try to stabilize the industry which they did and that was a big salvation to the industry. And they worked through the association and had signed up the membership which they paid dues and through that organization they were able to 00:11:00go Washington. But being a seasonal crop, primarily June, July and August, three heavy producing months in March there would always be so much on the market, of course, in the supply and demand, so they created these commodity credit programs for naval stores. And then if price was really low they could place the turpentine and rosin in the Commodity Credit Loan Program. And then in the wintertime when it wasnt producing any then it could be redeemed and that, kind of, helped stabilize the industry. They also, as I said, there was lots of timber back then. It wasnt any problem and most of these people producing gum, they owned some land but they leased timber from the neighbors and farmers 00:12:00and all. And so the timber was-- they cut small timber which was not good and the larger the tree the better the production. But through that they created a government program, The Naval Stores Conservation Program where you had to meet certain credentials in order to qualify which paid a little part of the program but it really-- but there were any numbers--in particular in merchandising the turpentine and rosin and advertising and they associate-- without the association I dont think the industry would have lasted near as long as it had.
SHORT: Who are the main users of naval stores?
GILLIS: Well, back then there was a lot of it used in soaps and particularly00:13:00paints and varnihes. Rosin was used in varnishes, and then paper size, all your newsprint with that resin in it today. They are actually products used in the process of making paper. It has from chewing gum to shoe polish to most anything you can think of and it involved a lot of uses and, of course, the turpentine itself was used in paint thinners and a lot of your Vic salves which you've heard about has got a base of turpentine in it. But the chemical end of it is a pretty big end of it now.
VOGT: Now, Bob mentioned that your grandfather Neil Gillis was the first one in00:14:00your family to produce the gum naval stores?
GILLIS: Right, right. Theres really no accurate records as to when it was,but from the best I can determine it was in around probably 1890 and along in that area that he had a turpentine still and he had a couple of brothers. My granddaddy was always in politics and farming and so the three of them together organized a little business and started it then and then it involved from them with my daddy whenever he got involved in it and really had the foresight to 00:15:00promote the business and thats where it started. It started through my grandfather and his two brothers.
VOGT: Do you think therell be anyone from the next two generations ofGillis to carry on the family business?
GILLIS: Oh, yeah, I think so. We, of course, naval stores. We wont go intothat right now but it ceased production in 2001 but the farm land and timber business-- the same land that my great-great-grandfather came in 1819 is still in the family. Of course, we've added lot of property and thats primarily our business now is the timber business, growing pine trees.
SHORT: So naval stores are not as prominent in your business?00:16:00
GILLIS: No, as I said naval stores was about the only cash crop for a longtime. We produced cotton. We didnt have tobacco in this area until the 30s and then the pulp mills came in, in the late 30s and up until then naval stores was about the only cash product. But after 1940 and the war started, thats when we really went to making changes. And so still a lot of gum naval stores 00:17:00were produced up until it went to dwindling in the 70s and the timber prices went high. And the saw mills didnt particularly like these faces where its been scarred and we had labor, unfortunately it was practically all hand labor and labor prices, of course, after 1940 the people left and went to the shipyards and various places and a lot of them didnt come back. And labor began to get scarce. It was plentiful at one time and then tree got to be valuable for a saw mill and poles and various other wood products. And then your foreign competition, People's Republic of China, theyre the largest producers 00:18:00of gum naval stores in the world. We were at one time in America but they are now and have been and they could produce turpentine and gum turpentine and rosin and put it down in the ports here on the east coast cheaper than we could produce it here. So between those three things, between labor and the high price for the timber and the competition eventually just played out and there wasnt enough. There was still some being produced but not enough to warrant a processing plant to operate.
SHORT: Well, I was going to ask that question. Did you do your own processing?
GILLIS: Yes, sir.
SHORT: Here in Soperton?
GILLIS: At one time in the 20s and 30s there was probably 2,600 here inGeorgia--turpentine still, little distilleries and they produced their own 00:19:00turpentine and rosin. And of course in the 40s they got some central processing plants and they could clean the gum better and better processing methods and they could get a product, they could guarantee a melting point in the rosin and then you had at that time a lot of these small farmers. They wouldnt make enough to own a little still or something, so that would give them a central market where they could take maybe eight or ten barrels, any amount, they could take it to this processing plant, theyd weigh it and pay them for it. And we 00:20:00had about, oh, I guess 15 plants here in Georgia. We had plants in Douglas and McRae and Vidalia and Tifton, Valdosta, Brunswick. It was close enough that you could deliver your raw material to it which was good because it, kind of, standardized the product but about the 40s was the end of the small turpentine stills. As I said, there was about 2,600 of them at one time.
SHORT: Did you sell to a broker or do you sell directly to your customer?
GILLIS: Your gum?00:21:00
SHORT: Yes, sir.
GILLIS: As a producer, they had a plant in Swainsboro, they had a plant inVidalia, they had one in Baxley and one in McRae and usually you had an opportunity to get the best price you could out of it, you see? But all were good and all paid virtually about the same price, so it was just a question of the farmer, where he wanted to deliver his product.
SHORT: Well, lets talk for a minute about Jim L. Gillis, Jr. I noticed youwere born in McRae--Im sorry.
GILLIS: Locust Grove.
SHORT: Locust Grove, Im sorry. But you lived most of your life Soperton?
GILLIS: Thats right.
SHORT: What was Soperton like back in those days?
GILLIS: Soperton was created about 1900 before Treutlen county, of course. When00:22:00the railroad came through thats what got Soperton started. And my mother was from Henry County from Griffin and my daddy, they had gone to school in McRae and then they went from there up to Locust Grove and thats where he met my mother in school up there. And I was born in Locust grove and daddy was in the process of building a home down here, so when they got the home built, I was a few months old and I was here, so Ive been here most of my life. Soperton along with all these other small towns--we had two or three car dealers. We had 00:23:00about four or five doctors and transportation then wasnt like it is now. I can remember when I was real small riding in horse and buggies and in fact when I was in the first grade or two I had a neighbor, we lived about three miles out in the country and he had a little horse and buggy and I rode with him for about a year coming to school. Then they got the school bus system but a lot of these little towns, of course, theyre having a hard time now with all these larger 00:24:00stores and its changed but in a lot of ways they havent changed a lot. But it was a central point then. You bought your groceries here, you had your doctors here. In fact, now we have doctors that are here but they come from Dublin or Swainsboro or some place and theyre temporary and most of your stores, of course, like everywhere else, the Wal-Marts and all your larger chain stores have people that go somewhere to trade and theyre having a hard time. Most all these little small counties and small cities are struggling. 00:25:00
SHORT: Before we get too far away I would like to talk with you for a minuteabout the creation of Treutlen County. That was your grandfather who was in the legislature and your father.
GILLIS: No, my grandfather was in the Senate.
SHORT: Yes, sir.
GILLIS: And my father was in the legislature.
SHORT: Yes, sir. Okay.
GILLIS: They were the two that created the county in 1917 and theres anarticle there that I want to give you a copy of that tells about my father visiting all the legislators all over Georgia. Hed just go and talk to them about getting votes. He said if they asked him to spend the night, he spent the 00:26:00night and he ate meals with them and he got to know them. But the two of them created the county in 1917.
SHORT: And the county was created from--
GILLIS: From mostly Montgomery, some Emanuel, mostly Montgomery and Emanuel Counties.
SHORT: So then youre off to the University of Georgia.
GILLIS: Yes, sir. I graduated here in 1933 and I was 15 years old. I got aneducation that came pretty fast. I was scared I was going to flunk out. I studied pretty hard and made the Deans List and then I found out that you could have a good time, so I, kind of, mixed it all in together. 00:27:00
SHORT: With a degree in forestry?
GILLIS: Yes, sir.
SHORT: Did you know when youwent to the university that you wanted to be a forester?
GILLIS: Yeah, I think so. Well, we had this land and I loved trees and I'd hadFFA projects. I had planted some trees and then, of course, the naval store business was big then. So I havent regretted it. I graduated in 37.
SHORT: And came back home?
GILLIS: No, there were 18 in the graduating class and two of us got jobs and Iworked in Baxley as an assistant district forester for six months and then 00:28:00headed home. My daddy was in the legislature and he was primarily running it--my uncles then were real old and werent able to run the business and they had, I dont know how many families at one time. We had our own operation living on our property and adjoining over 100 families, over 100 employees. Somebody had to come in that would be here. The business just couldnt run itself, and so I fell into it and I didnt work my way into it. When I got here I was in it. When I was in Georgia I went to business school at night. I was going to get a 00:29:00business school education, so I got into shorthand and I decided that if I was going to have to do that for a living Id come back home and do something else. Anyway it worked in well because that business school helped me a lot when I moved in here. They kept most of the records on the back of a paper sack and social security started and the employee paid one cent and the employer played one cent. So it was a beginning.
SHORT: But you found time then to run for the state Senate.
GILLIS: That was in 38 when came back January of 38 and I was in theSenate in 45 and 46. And we rotated, Emanuel and Laurens and Treutlen County and 00:30:00so when it was Treutlen County's time, several of them encouraged me, particularly my father and so I was in the Senate. I believe the next term or the next one they did away with that unit system and had by popular vote for all the counties involved. But I was married and had three babies and being in Atlanta didnt blend in too well with my politics. And then between my father and my brother, why they liked the city and I didnt, so it worked out good. I 00:31:00stayed here and ran the business. We did lots of farming and I had people that lived on these farms. Today I imagine there were 300 or 400 farmers in Treutlen County and it went from cotton and it went from tobacco and everybody was growing hogs and then a few cattle. In fact, after 1940 after World War II these farms, they were left and these farms, kind of, went to dwindling and whenever wed convert them into pastures and run livestock and then it went from the pastures and row crops slowly into pine trees. And now I think theres five or 00:32:00six farmers left in Treutlen County and one of them is a sod farmer and theyre all big but thats all the farming we got. The rest of its in pine trees. Thats pretty well true all over the southeast because we can grow pine trees on any type of soil but theres been a lot of changes in that. The economy is what drove everybody out of the farming business. They just couldnt pay for it and I think the large farmers now are really not making a 00:33:00lot of money. Fertilizers $300, $400 a ton. I dont know what it is. It just about doubles, it goes up so much. Youre familiar with what the economy is now.
SHORT: Were you in Atlanta during the three governors fight?
GILLIS: No, sir.
SHORT: You werent there?
GILLIS: No, Ellis Arnall was governor when I was there.
SHORT: And was your brother Hugh in the House?
GILLIS: Yeah, I think he was in the house for seven or eight years and then hewent from the House to the Senate. I think he was there around 56 years, he ran a long tenure. He can tell you that. He had a long, long record and, of course, my father was involved with the highway department for about 24 years. 00:34:00
SHORT: But you didnt get out of politics. You came home and became a county commissioner.
GILLIS: I was mayor five years and then county commissioner and at one time thegrand jury appointed the commissioner and, in fact, I was county commissioner for 40 years. I had, I think, opposition twice. I was very fortunate.
SHORT: Some people say we have too many counties in Georgia. Do you agree with that?
GILLIS: Well, being from a small county theres a lot of advantages anddisadvantages but I think the economy, unless these small counties can go to 00:35:00consolidating services and make some changes--I dont think youre going to have consolidation by legislation. Youre going to have it by necessity. In other words, the economys going to demand it and I think eventually youre going to have it. As it is right now a countys financed just about two ways, sources of income primarily. Thats ad valorem taxes and sales taxes and theres a limit to your sales tax but seems to be no limit to ad valorem 00:36:00taxes. And somethings going to have to give. And your education, I think the federal government demands the state to have all these different criteria they have to meet and then the state passes that onto the counties. And in fact about half of the tax money we collect goes into education. But I don't know. It boils down to the economy and whether they can afford it. Thats going to be the main thing.
VOGT: Most of your young people in Treutlen County today, where are theyworking? Are they working here in the county or are they going to surrounding the counties.
GILLIS: Very few. Most of them have to go somewhere else for a job and the ones00:37:00that want to go to college they go to college and then, of course, theyve got a choice of specializing in what they might do.
VOGT: Have you had much immigration in this county? Do you have many Asians or Hispanics.
GILLIS: No, not permanent. Weve got some. We are having more from Indiacoming in and buying stores and gas stations and then we have these big farmers, theyre growing tobacco and theyre growing Vidalia onions and everything they grow, theyve got hand labor. And they live in Toombs County. Pretty heavy population around Glenville and Reedsville and Tattnall County and, of 00:38:00course, we got a lot of them here. Most of them migrate from one county to the other, but we dont have a big population, no. But in some counties they do and I didnt realize it but in North Georgia, Dalton, these textile mills and poultry plants and all are heavily dependent upon them and they want to work. Without them I dont know what would happen to the production. Of course this immigration question, I dont want to get into that because as you know from what you read in the paper everyday thats a hot topic today.
VOGT: Are there any plans for, sort of, a renewal of this community trying to00:39:00build it up, rebuild it?
GILLIS: Oh, yes, maam. Every little county, theyve got a developmentauthority and theyve got a chamber of commerce and theyve been working diligently to get industry into these places. Dublin up here in Lawrence County and Statesboro--with the sales tax, its really designed for the consumers. I mean, you spend your money and thats why you pay your tax and so just for an example, in Soperton and Treutlen County they usually go to Vidalia or Swainsboro or Dublin and Dublin has really grown. And, of course, thats the 00:40:00north end of the county about 15 miles, and so commuting is not a bad trouble. Theyve got a 200 bed hospital up there and theyve done an excellent job in getting big industry, all different kinds. Of course, our Congressman Vincent up there, Lawrence County was his favorite. He put in a big VA hospital and theyve gotten just any numbers of industry. Theyve done a great job of doing that. Weve got a development authority here thats doing a real good job. In fact, weve got one of the first in the world I think of producing ethanol from cellulose, from trees and its in the process of being built now. 00:41:00And its going to be a tremendous thing and theyre going to produce the raw material and my understanding is theyre going to truck it by rail and then, of course, its close to I16 but then they have ethanol plants and we are 70 miles from Macon and about 100 from Savannah and theyre going to have plants tere to refine it and make the finished product. But its in the process of being built now which we hope will be a big help to this area. And of course, theyre looking at getting the raw material from a radius of 75 miles of here and it looks very favorable. Theres no question about the raw material. The 00:42:00raw materials here and everywhere you look you can see little planted pines of all ages. So we hope it materializes and I imagine with the price of gasoline now at $4.00 everybody else is hoping well have a cheap source of fuel.
SHORT: Well, I hate to change the subject but I would like to talk to you for aminute about Mr. Jim, your dad. Twenty-four years in the highway department. They tell the story about when these county officials used to come to the state capital. They didnt want to see the governor. They wanted to see Mr. Jim.
GILLIS: Well, I was born in politics and he was, as I say, in 17 he was in00:43:00the House of Representatives and then he came back and he was farming and he got involved with his father and uncles in developing Soperton naval stores and he really got into that. And in the late 20s and early 30s, that grew from just a small operation to a big operation. I remember when I was a boy he was up at 4:00 every morning. In other words, you had all these laborers and you went to the woods to install your cups and to do this and he didnt send somebody. He went with them and he worked hard at that. And then when I came back that, 00:44:00kind of, relieved him. For me to talk about my daddy, thats really, kind of, a tender spot in my heart because he just left it up to me and if I had had the optimism, in other words, back when this land was cheap he believed in the land and when property came up in this area--the North owned the South between the Federal Land Bank and John Hancock and New York and Mutual and these different 00:45:00companies, they had all this farmland. The farmers went broke and these factorage houses, the turpentine people, they wouldnt loan money on land but theyd lend it to you on a lease. But my daddy, you could almost buy land and all for what the lease was worth and he believed in the land. And back whenever he died I dont think he had about $5,000 life insurance but he had a lot of land, though. He believed in the land and if Id had the foresight he did, of course, Im not suffering now but no telling where we would have been. But he loved people and he loved to help people and as I say, anything, he was good to 00:46:00me and quite an inspiration. I was real close to him and after I came back in here he didnt worry about the business anymore. They say thats what politics is, is people and he spent a lot of time with the little man, people that anybody else--
SHORT: Well, if I remember correctly he served with almost every governor inthe latter part of the 20th Century except Marvin Griffin and Jimmy Carter.
GILLIS: Ellis Arnall.00:47:00
SHORT: Ellis Arnall. He didnt serve with Arnall? But he was a very powerfulman and they sought him out for political advice and assistance and he certainly deserves credit for electing several Georgia governors.
GILLIS: Oh, yeah. Theres an article here in the Atlanta Journal. This was in69 and theres a right interesting little story there about my father. He was up there in the middle of it with them but he did.
SHORT: Popular guy. Lets talk for a minute if you will about some of yourcivic efforts. You were very active in the Soil Conservation Service and the 00:48:00Georgia Forestry Commission?
GILLIS: Right. I got the community interested in it and weve got one civicclub, The Lions Club. And in fact, I was just recognized for 70 years of service, but being into land I was very much interested in soil and water conservation. They organized in the 30s and 40s these soil conservation districts and we had five counties. Started out with three and wound up with five and I started that in 39 and our district was the old Ohoopee River 00:49:00District and in fact, I was in when they organized the State Soil and Water Conservation Committee. But anyway the first president was Mr. Holson back from Winder and I was the second president of the association of sower conservation districts, district supervisor and still am but Im fixing to give that up but its local of this district. But I was chairman of the state committee for years and the greatest program we had was all these Watershed Program from North 00:50:00Georgia, in fact, some in middle and south Georgia. And then, of course, water then, it was a question of flood control. Build these big dams and they were constructed to where they could hold much more water than a normal basin and when you had a flood, why, that would stop it and keep it from just flooding everything down. Up in the mountains there, when they had a flood it gushed out of there and then a lot of them used it for a water supply. Lake Tobosofkee up here was our project but thats been a real interesting deal. And of course, being in the timber business I was associated with the Georgia Forestry 00:51:00Association from the time I came back here and I eventually was president of that. And then they organized the American Turpentine Farmers Association in 36 I believe and I came back in 38 and then in 39 they had a vacancy and I became a member of the board of the American Turpentine Farmers Association. And then when Judge Langdale resigned as president I was president of the association, well, I still am but their business has ceased now. But Ive enjoyed--all the jobs Ive had havent paid anything but Ive really enjoyed the work and the people that are involved in it. 00:52:00
SHORT: Speaking of the water and our water shortage, is there anything we couldhave done to prevent it?
GILLIS: Thats a good question. Were dependent particularly from themiddle of Georgia south on our sub terrain, on our underground water supply and thats something now thats demanding more and more attention. Weve wasted water. We havent had any water problems up until the last few years and, of course, now theyre seeing more need for these reservoirs, particularly up in North Georgia. Youve got rock formations and you dont 00:53:00get your underground water like we have down in this part of the country and then theres a limit to that. But I guess until you need something we dont really recognize what could have been done. Im sure if wed had the foresight we could have built more reservoirs. We could have managed it but your population is using so much water and your population is increasing until its at the point now that were going to have to utilize everything that we can from reservoirs to conserving water and thats an important question. I 00:54:00dont know but its getting a lot of attention now, so Im sure itll work out.
SHORT: Does the state of Georgia harvest as much timber as we have in the past?
GILLIS: Well, the demand now--you know when your economy goes bad it affectseverything and its certainly affected the timber business. Right now were not producing as much because theres no demand. In other words, its at low ebb right now but I dont know. In the timber business its like everybody else. Were just hoping that this economies going to bottom out and pick up 00:55:00again which Im certain it will because theres a lot of people that have put all their eggs in one basket and theyve planted the land in trees and theyre expecting to get some revenue out of it. And thats one thing like I mentioned about this plant up here, were going to have to have more processing plants to handle it.
SHORT: Are we importing too much lumber?
GILLIS: From Canada, yes. No question about it. They dont have to pay anystumpage up there. See, the government owns it all and they can send lumber down here and their lumber is white looking and its soft. No trouble. You can 00:56:00drive a nail in it but it doesnt have the strength that this long-leaf and slash pin--the Georgia Pine--does. But people like it, these builders, because they can build faster with it and they put out a good product other than that but if I were building a house I wouldnt want it n it because the termites will have it before you know whats going on. And then, too, it doesnt have the strength to weather storms and different things.
SHORT: Has NAFTA helped or hurt the timber business in Georgia?00:57:00
GILLIS: I dont know. Im not too familiar with our export markets and whatactually has been exported but I guess its a two way sword I guess, two edged sword.
SHORT: How do todays environmental regulations affect your industry?
GILLIS: Well, I dont know that regulations that theyve got, wereliving with them and I think theyre within reason. Some are and some arent but youre going to have not anything if you suit everybody, but overall I 00:58:00think we see it necessary.
SHORT: Id like to ask you this question. Youve helped Georgia progressfrom just another southern state, to the empire state of the South. What, in your opinion is responsible for our emergence as a leader in the southern states?
GILLIS: Well, thats not only a good question, its a big question. But Ithink probably Atlanta, your big cities. Weve been a hub in the airline business, Atlanta has. Weve gotten a lot of big industry in these cities and 00:59:00Savannah and weve had a good support. I think our water supply and our climate, our soil, we just got things in Georgia they dont have in most of these other states, particularly your western states and northern states. I think its been a combination of all your industries and everybody working together trying to promote it.
SHORT: Do you think political leadership has had a role in it?
GILLIS: Yes, sir. No question about it.
SHORT: When do you think that that turned?
SHORT: If you look back on our political leadership in the state, at what pointdo you think that we begin to progress more industrially and federally?
GILLIS: Id have to give that some thought. I think it really begins in the01:00:0040s with World War II and thats when we brought in a lot of industry. A lot of these big industries were still there and since then weve acquired more but I think it started in the middle of the 20th Century.
VOGT: Were in the Gillis family cemetery in Treutlen County with Mr. Jim L.Gillis and Mr. Hugh Gillis and Mr. Jim L., why dont you tell us about the oldest grave in the cemetery.
GILLIS: The oldest grave is down the smaller graves, that tall grave, thegranite is a memorial that we put up there in memory of Murdock Gillis and Katherine Gillis. That was my great-great-grandfather and grandmother and they 01:01:00came into this area in 1819 and he died in 1829. And he had several children which are buried along this line were in now and they were a lot of ladies back then. There was no transportation and you had a lot more old maids that you have in this day and time. But on the other side, Katherine Gillis on the other side, I believe, she would have had to have been born in 1754 and they migrated from Scotland, Northern Scotland, the Isle of Skye. And I think more than likely they had potato famines and the terrain was rather rocky and not much that you 01:02:00could cultivate and they were hungry and they were looking for that. A lot of people migrated into Wilmington, North Carolina and thats where most all the ships came in and it got kind of crowded around Wilmington, Im assuming, and they heard about the pine barrens. Thats what this country is know as, the pine barrens and probably had a little livestock and so they heard about and thats when they moved in here. It was in 1819 and they probably had, I dont know, probably bought a cow and probably had some staple groceries but 01:03:00this is where they settled.
VOGT: There wasnt much of a life here raising cattle was it in this area?
GILLIS: Well, they probably had sheep. Well, they had to survive and, ofcourse, they would grow a little sugar cane and make the sugar and have the meat and have a garden, have potatoes and corn and they survived is right. And they had to go once or twice a year to get staples like salt and other provisions but it was a rough life. No doctors. How they survived I dont know but they got a land grant and then his oldest son, John, he brought him down in 1829 and kind of looked after the family and stayed until Katherine died, his mother. And then 01:04:00John, he had a big family. Hes buried in here. But then all of them in this area that were in right now its been settled. Its rather interesting, a couple of salesmen came through here in 1825 from North Carolina and they were collecting where they had financed these pioneers with I guess supplies and so on collecting and they kept a diary of their travels and they mentioned going into Williamson Swamp. Thats up above here at Louisville and coming on down and spending the night on McLamores bridge on the Ohoopee which is about six or eight miles over here. And then they came through this area right here and 01:05:00spend the night with a Murdock Gillis. This is in 1825 and he was real nice to them and wouldnt let them pay for breakfast and then they forded Pendleton Creek. All our property is on Pendleton Creek, but that diary kind of confirmed the fact they were here then and, of course, the family has been here every since. And its a fact that everybody in here with exception of a few are members of his descendents.
VOGT: So it wasnt really until after the Civil War that the families startedto prosper economically, is that correct?
GILLIS: Well, I dont know. No, they were getting land grants in the 1840sand 50s. I know John who was Murdock's oldest son--and he must have been a good business man--and he acquired quite a bit of property. One grant was for 800 and 01:06:00something acres and he got other grants. Anything you could grow you had to grow--they used it to make a living and they take and grow corn and of course, they made meal and grits out of the corn and have corn to feed the livestock. And then the trees, the whole country was covered with original pine, long-leaf and slash pine. And, in fact, in that article theres those two guys and they refer to that they can ride ten or 15 miles and see nothing but pine trees and seldom ever see a leaf because it was just rye grass which is a native grass here. But it was right interesting. Of course, my grandfather and father and all 01:07:00of the family were buried here.
VOGT: I was saying earlier that in a real pine forest that you could drive ahorse and buggy through it without any obstruction, is that not correct?
GILLIS: You can see the old brick back around this way. The men at PendletonCreek about a mile down here and on the banks of that they found him a spot where the clay would make brick. And they went down there and worked up the mud and with their feet and made brick and took an ox cart and hauled it up here and put this brick wall around that stuff. And of course, this part is new but thats the older part.
VOGT: So how many Gillis are buried in this cemetery, do you know?
GILLIS: I couldnt tell you that off hand but all these graves you can seeare Gillis graves. 01:08:00
VOGT: And are the Gillis members of a particular church in Treutlen County or--
GILLIS: Well, they were born in the springs down here which is an oldcommunity. My granddaddy, John, he gave them the logs to build the Baptist church. I think some of them were Methodists. What their religion was back in Scotland, I dont know.
VOGT: Might have been Presbyterian.
VOGT: So most of the family is still buried here today?
GILLIS: Right, right. And we have young ones that own lots here, so we have acemetery committee and five people on it and weve got a pretty good little 01:09:00cash reserve and we keep it up. It wont be long before Ill be a member out here. I got a brother here on my right, hes close behind me. But anyway, the young ones they own lots out here, so Im real happy that well be perpetuated for a while anyway.
VOGT: Any talk of those who might be outside the brick wall yet? I know at theRussell family cemetery they actually have a couple who are outside the brick wall now. Theyre starting to sell lots outside the brick wall.
GILLIS: Well, I dnt think well worry about that any time soon. Thecemetery does own the property, they own about 15 acres. They own the land around here and the drive as they come in, the cemetery owns it, so itll be perpetuated.
VOGT: Its a lovely spot. Its just beautiful here.01:10:00
GILLIS: I appreciate you saying that.
VOGT: I think if you had to rest in a place and you knew where you were goingits a lovely place to be. Your grandfathers house is now that bed and breakfast inn, did you all see that?
GILLIS: Yeah, that was his house. It was built in 1910 and its still in the family.
VOGT: It is a beautiful house. Its really pretty. Is your fathers housestill standing?
GILLIS: Yes. My son Jimmy lives there. The old house is John whos the father01:11:00on my granddaddy its up there. Theres not a nail in it. It was put together with pegs. I think it was probably built--John whenever my great-granddaddy died, they lived in here. Usually they had the cemetery in the old days close to where their home was and so Im assuming that thats where they were.
VOGT: Mr. Hugh, do you like being back in Treutlen County and not going to Atlanta?
HUGH GILLIS: Im enjoying the rest.
VOGT: You are?
GILLIS: Sure am. And I made a few trips up there with the Ports Authorities and01:12:00several of my good old friends still there said, You better be glad you're not up here now.
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