(A month or so ago, Sherry Johnston, the staff historian and genealogist at The Evergreen-Conecuh County Public Library tipped me off to an interesting, old newspaper story that was published in the Sept. 21, 1978 edition of The Evergreen Courant newspaper. As it turned out, the story, which was titled “Old Story Relates Legend of Gold in Shipp Pond,” had been originally published the week before in the Sept. 14, 1978 edition of The Brewton Standard newspaper and had been reprinted in The Courant a week later. What follows is the complete story.)
OLD STORY RELATES LEGEND OF GOLD IN SHIPP POND:
Shipp Pond, a natural lake, is located between Castleberry and Brewton.
According to an article in a 1950 edition of The Brewton Standard, gold is hidden somewhere in Shipp Pond.
The 1950 story, written by the late Edley Franklin, relates much of the history of the pond.
THE LEGEND OF GOLD
It was the year 1862. The Civil War was being fought, and throughout the South, gold and other valuables were hidden for safekeeping.
Many later reclaimed their treasures. Others are supposed to have died, or some unfortunate occurrence, such as changed landmarks or bad memories kept them from it.
It was supposed to have happened one night during the Civil War. Sheets of gray clouds sliding slowly beneath a quarter moon made slowly-moving ghostly shadows across the still waters of a large pond, surrounded by a sloping ridge of virgin pine.
Out of nowhere, a man driving a buggy appeared in an opening among the trees. Twisting and turning, he made his way between the pines down to the edge of the pond. Getting out of the buggy, he tied the horse. He then took a wooden box or small chest from under the laprobe in the front of the buggy. He placed it on a “billy” which was composed of four short logs dogged together and tied there at the water’s edge.
Untying the billy, the man picked up a long pole lying on top of it and began shoving the raft out in the pond, keeping it headed straight toward a tall dead pine that was skylighted on the other side.
Halfway across the pond, the man stopped. He stood there for several minutes, looking in all directions, first toward the dead pine, then the direction from which he came, then to the opposite sides of the pond. Then picking up the wooden box, he lowered it into the water beside the raft and dropped it.
“Won’t no damn Yankees ever find that gold money!” the man said to himself. He got in the buggy and drove back the way he came.
HISTORY OF THE POND
The man was Henchie Warren, great-grandfather of President Warren G. Harding, and the owner of the Warren plantation in Conecuh County. He is buried on the old plantation, now known as the Jay Villa plantation and owned by (the late) Thomas McMillan of Brewton. The pond is known today as Shipp Pond.
Shipp Pond is a large, wide open, treeless, pine woods pond containing approximately 43 acres and is located between Brooklyn and Castleberry. It is one of the many ponds scattered over a radius of about 10 square miles, all formed, so geologists say, from lime sinks.
The land on which Shipp Pond is located was given by the U.S. government to the Florida and Alabama Railroad to aid in the construction of a railroad from Montgomery to Mobile. In 1900, Cedar Creek Lumber Co., now known as T.R. Miller Co., bought the land from Ransom Shipp, for whom the pond is named. At the time, the pond was open to the public for fishing, but only contained a few black bream, commonly known as branch bream, a few mud-cat, turtles and alligators.
For $1 per year, Cedar Creek Lumber Co. leased the pond to a fellow by the name of Harding who wanted it for a bream pond. And, so the story goes, he wanted to seek Warren’s gold which was believed to still be in the pond.
The bottom of Shipp pond is soft, black, muck mud. Anything heavy will, after a long period of time, gradually sink below the surface of the muck. According to the legend, the reason that Harding never found Warren’s gold was because it has settled into the mud.
Some fellows from Evergreen are said to have stocked Shipp Pond with its first trout. They caught the trout in nearby “Ell” Pond.
Several years later, the late Pete Skinner, local fisherman, was on Shipp Pond and heard what he thought was a trout strike. It was. He caught two and was told by Harding to catch every one in the pond. Pete caught 19 more that afternoon, the 21 weighing 25 pounds.
In 1934, T.R. Miller Mill Co. fenced and stocked Shipp Pond, closing it to the public. In 1935, they started fertilizing it, using from nine to 12 tons a year. Fish grow larger there than in swamp lakes. Shellcrackers have been caught that weighed 2-3/4 pounds, Bluegills 1-3/4 pounds, White Perch or Crappie 2-1/2 pounds. And a record trout weighing 11-3/4 pounds has been caught in the pond.
No gars are found in Shipp Pond. Neither have I ever heard of anyone catching a jackfish there. Occasionally, a mud-cat is caught.
Strange things happen at Shipp Pond. Mrs. Annie Smith, Mrs. Nannie Sowell and myself were fishing in the same boat when we saw a large crane catch a trout and wade out of the water and drop it on the bank. Backing the boat to the bank, we chased the crane away and got the trout. With about 15 people looking on, we weighed the trout. It weighed an even two pounds.
But while we were having our experiences with the crane, Mrs. Ruth Sowell, Malcolm McMillan and Mrs. McMillan were fishing in a boat on the opposite side of the pond. Mrs. Sowell first caught a small trout. Before she could get it out of the water, a larger trout came along and swallowed the small one. With a dip-net, Mr. McMillan landed the whole business up in the boat. The large trout weighed 3-1/2 pounds.
Now, if you are a regular fisherman at Shipp Pond, who knows but what that next fish you catch will be over the spot where Warren’s gold lies buried deep in the mud.
And so, as long as years come and go, and sheets of gray clouds beneath a quarter moon make those same ghostly shadows across Shipp Pond, the legend of Warren’s gold will remain.