The Clay family came to this area in the 1840's and lived in a log cabin less than a mile up the road from where we are now. The cabin had been a US army outpost before the county was opened to settlers in 1818, and although it no longer looks like a log cabin from the outside, this old family home is now the Walnut Grove City Hall.
In Walton County, like so much of the South, other than growing one's own food, the crop to grow was cotton. Year after year, acre after acre, every bit of land available was planted in cotton. Even now, riding through the woods you can see the old terraces created to grow cotton on steep land. But cotton is hard on land and by the 1930's and 40's the land was "cottoned out", depleted, eroded and unprofitable.
Photo (taken in the late 1920's): Four generations of the Clay Family.
After the war, Lawson Calhoun Sr and his father-in-law, Dr. Grady Clay, decided to convert the farm from cotton to cattle as a way to restore it. It was a huge and experimental undertaking.
Ashland Farm had been named after the great statesman, Henry Clay's homeplace, Ashland, in Kentucky. Henry Clay was credited with importing the first Hereford cattle to this country, and Dr. Clay is credited with "importing" the first Herefords here to Georgia.
Cattle need pasture. There was no pasture and no information about developing pasture for this area. Calhoun experimented with alfalfa, lespideza and kudzu (available free (!) from the government (which promoted it as excellent both for forage and for erosion control) before settling primarily on fescue and the new, also experimental, coastal bermuda grass, which we still grow and bale for our horses. They brought in a pull-behind combine to harvest the fescue seed, which they sold to a small start-up (now the nationally known Pennington Seed Co) down the road in Madison.
Gradually they developed pastures, filled in gullies and, with help from the Soil and Water Conservation Service, created lakes. The land flourished.
Then, in 1968, land taxes tripled eliminating any possibility of profit. All the cattle and 2000 of the 2400 acres were sold. The family kept 400 acres, the lakes, and a small tenant farmhouse from the cotton sharecropping days. For the next fifteen years the pastures were leased to a neighbor and the family used the farm as a weekend retreat.
- See "Field of Greens"