According to Fort Stewart’s website, about 74 years ago, Congress authorized the purchase of 5,000 acres in Coastal Georgia for construction of an anti-aircraft artillery base. More land purchases were made until more than 280,000 acres became Camp Stewart in honor of Georgia militia leader, Brig. Gen. Daniel Stewart.
The details of the land purchases and installation’s development do not include what happened to the communities and the people who lived there. Thousands of residents from the five counties that now make up Fort Stewart were displaced. Though much of their history is lost, some of it is found in photos archived in the Library of Congress.
Anna Phillips, geographic-information systems coordinator for Hinesville, recently came across one such photo by accident as part of her membership in the Stars & Stripes Quilting Guild. At the start of last week’s city council meeting, Phillips and fellow guild member Nancy Melchor presented a framed copy of the black-and-white photo to Mayor Jim Thomas and councilmembers.
The photo features a young black woman making a large quilt in what appears to be a smokehouse. Several country hams and slabs of bacon are hanging above her head.
“It just goes to show a good quilter will guilt almost anywhere,” Phillips said, smiling as she explained that long ago, quilting was done outside, rather in the house where there usually was not enough room and it tended to be hot. “This photo was taken by Jack Delano in April 1941. On the Internet, it says ‘woman who has not yet found a place to move out of the Hinesville Army camp area working on a quilt in her smokehouse.’ The picture is in the Farm Security Administration photos in the Library of Congress.”
Phillips said a member of another guild she belongs to came across the photo, saw that it was taken near Hinesville and thought she’d like to have it. Though she found one other picture of the mystery quilter, she has not been able to determine her identity or where she lived on what now is Fort Stewart.
“It’s amazing how one little thing led to another, which led to another,” she said. “You can tell the lady looks like she’s in her 20s, which means it’s possible that she’s still alive today. She has to be somebody’s grandmother and great-grandmother. I just think there has to be somebody out there with family stories about a great-grandmother who used to make quilts in a smokehouse.”
Phillips hopes publicity about the picture might jar someone’s memory and lead to the woman or a family member who can identify her. She said anyone who thinks they know her can contact Phillips through the Coastal Courier.
Phillips made her first quilt in 1982, but a growing family and a job made it difficult to pick back up the hobby again until 2010, when she did three quilts. She said most of her quilts are donated, though some, such as the one she’s currently working on for a wedding, are special gifts.
She said the Stars & Stripes Quilting Guild will celebrate its 33rd anniversary in December.
“We always welcome new members — any age and any level of quilting ability,” Phillips said.
The group meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday each month at the Senior Citizen Center at James Brown Park. For more information, email email@example.com or go to Starsstripesquiltguild@groups.facebook.com.