Every Friday we will feature one of our easement landowners. These stories are updates on profiles written by Frank McIntosh.
Walter Sheffield’s uncle had a simple land ownership philosophy: “I only want to own what touches mine.” Not all of the family was quite that avid in their pursuit of land ownership, but from Walter’s grandfather’s first 70 acres purchased in 1888, they’ve been active landowners in Miller County, GA. Walter’s father’s purchased a farm adjacent to his Grandfather’s holdings in 1914, and Walter and his three siblings acquired land adjoining their father’s.
Earlier, much of the land was part of the Seminole nation. Andrew Jackson led an expedition to the area, and his troops notched trees along their route through the dense woods to guide them out. Many places in the area carry “three notch” in their names after Jackson’s navigation markers.
It would have been tough going with the dense cover of cedar and pines. The cedar were logged first, with the pine later harvested for ties for the rail line that forms part of the boundary of the 69-acre easement conveyed to the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust. Grandfather Sheffield bought much of his land during this time, paying around two and a half dollars per acre.
After his father’s death, Walter purchased a sister and brother’s section of the family farmstead and even acquired the land that eventually became the conservation easement from his uncle. The easement protects rich soils and bottomlands that buffer Aycock’s Creek, part of the Flint River watershed, identified as a Georgia High Priority Waterway.
Like many who grew up in the area, Sheffield fondly relates experiences with hunting, bird dogs and some of the animals hunted.
Walter’s first shotgun was a reward for picking his first bale of cotton and he notes that “with lots of fence lines there were always quail. I don’t hunt any more, but I always had five bird dogs down on the property. The last one—a wonderful German short-haired pointer—died recently. He was the second best dog I ever owned.”
The first best? “Another pointer. We had split rail fencing on the property, and he would leap on top of those fences and hold a point. He was amazing.”
The property’s crown jewels for Walter remain his live oaks. Sadly, the trees have seen Grandfather Sheffield’s home burn—”six rooms with a separated cooking wing”—and saw the land that held the old house leave the family, about the only part of the family’s extended holdings to do so. If the trees live another couple of hundred years, they may never see that again.
Walter’s three children share his affection for the home place, and he reports that son John III’s first question when visiting from Denver is, “When are we going to the farm?” We hope the oaks will always have some Sheffields to shelter and echo Walter when he says of the oaks, “I hope they are there forever.”