Recently, I traveled the country roads back to Chipley, in Florida’s Panhandle, to revisit my childhood. This included finding my grandparent’s old home place, named Glen Arden and to look for a certain federal historical marker that has family significance. Locating the remnants of my grandparent’s old place was easy; finding the marker took some sleuthing.
As we turned on to Vernon Highway and headed back into Chipley, I pulled into the Agriculture Extension Office to inquire about the location of the highway marker that tells about the introduction of kudzu. The lady said she wasn’t from Chipley and didn’t really know where the marker was located and for me to go to City Hall down the road. This I did. I finally found someone in an inner office who happened to be a City Administrator, a pleasant young man.
I introduced myself by explaining that my grandparents, Herbert and Blanch Dickinson use to live out on the Vernon Highway and owned Glen Arden. I added that my great, great Uncle Earl Pleas who lived there before them, during the turn of the century, is the one who brought kudzu into the area and that I was looking for the historical marker.
“Well, I wouldn’t be going around admitting that I was kin to the one who gave us kudzu, if I were you”, he chuckled. He stretched out his hand to shake mine and said he was Dan Miner and use to fish down at the old sink hole on my grandparent’s property when he was a boy.
“Yes, I know there’s a marker somewhere, but don’t really know where. Let me call someone who probably does know and find out. People don’t much like kudzu, you know”, he added.
He called a woman, explained who I was and what I wanted to know. After some listening on his part and mouthing, “yes” several times into the receiver, he kept a slight grin on his face and then added “thank you” as he hung up. He looked up at me and said she told him to kick me for being kin to Earl Pleas. “Just kidding,” he says.
“The marker’s not far from here. I’ll walk you over there.”
Ron was standing outside in the sun and I filled him in. He got his camera and we followed the young man right back to where we started. The marker was located in front of the Agriculture Extension Office by the road and shaded by a tree. We laughed at why we missed it, and then took a few pictures. I marched into the Ag. Building to inform the lady, who wasn’t from Chipley, that there is a bit of history outside her door, right under her nose, but she had left for the day.
Obviously, this highway marker touting Kudzu Developed Here will be left in the obscurity of a tree’s shade and hopefully forgotten by many. I’m sure the Washington County Agriculture Extension Office has had its share of being blessed out, fussed at and cussed at by farmers and land owners who have battled the “vine that ate the south”, a part of local history. The marker erected in 1962 to give homage to Uncle Earl came posthumously, something he would be proud of; however, Chipley would rather be known for anything else but kudzu, also known as the “cuss you vine.”