Monday, November 21, 2005

Farewell to Oscar "Rock Man" Robertson

On Thursday, October 25th, 2005, 81 year-old Oscar Robertson of Ball Ground, Ga, passed away.

For those closest to him, perhaps it was expected. For those on the outside it comes as a bit of a shock. Oscar was not only an eccentric small town legend, but for many, almost a fixture . . . as vital a symbol to Ball Ground Georgia as any centuries old tourist attraction. He was a part of Ball Ground's uniqueness for as long as many of us can remember, even if we didn't know him personally, and somehow there was the sense that he would always be there.

Many a Sunday, passing through Ball Ground with its row of rock-crammed storefronts, we would see Oscar parked on the side of the road, the guardian of his rocks, watching like a jealous lover as people stopped to stare at the treasures behind locked doors and dark windows. All day, just sitting in his truck, watching. Selling only to a chosen few. We didn't dare stop however. We'd heard the rumors. Oscar was a notorious grouch and defended his prized possessions from all "outsiders" with a passion . . . or at least that was the story that circulated.

For stories swirled around Oscar Robertson like dust in July. How many were true, or even had an element of truth, is hard to say, but they made for good telling . . . stories of the IRS backing up a truck to haul off back taxes in cash from a buried location in one of the stores; or of Oscar buying a brand new car for his newborn daughter--and burying it in anticipation of her sixteenth birthday; or, of hostile run-ins with would be buyers who dared to peer through those grimy windows at the eclectic wealth of rocks and arrowheads and figurines piled at random inside his eight stores.

There is likely an element of truth in all of it . . . numerous citizens and government officials can attest to peculiar moments with their neighbor. It is also no secret that Oscar "Rock Man" Robertson was wealthy, although few know exactly how wealthy (one estimate put his worth around $62 million), but he hid it well. Aside from cash and the value of his stores and their contents, he was a veteran land dealer, with extensive holdings in booming Cherokee County GA. Yet seeing him in the street, you would be tempted to offer him change to buy a cup of coffee.

Whatever his faults, it is a hollow feeling that remains at losing someone who brought so much character to one small North Georgia town, and our thoughts go out to his friends and family. Small town America breathes a vibrant life of its own, rich with such enigmatic personalities, and it is hard to watch them fade, along with the communities they embody.

Of course, the big questions on so many minds is . . . what happens now? For years the rise of Ball Ground has been expected as a natural progression of the Cherokee and Pickens County Georgia real estate growth. New downtown business opportunities are likely to facilitate this change--if Oscar's stores become available. However, at this time their future is uncertain, and the family have not indicated what their plans are. It would be a shame to see a row of fast-food chains and gas stations replace this colorful heritage, but leaving the stores to sit and deteriorate--stunting local growth and opportunities--is equally unfavorable. Hopefully, there will be a level of planning, forethought and dialogue sufficient to preserve the past, while looking to the future, in keeping with the steady revitalization of this quaint and historic community that is already taking place.

We look to a bright future, even as we say goodbye to a well-remembered icon.

Farewell to you Mr. Robertson. You will be missed.


Trent Cluley

For more information on Ball Ground Georgia, Ball Ground real estate, Jasper Georgia real estate, or real estate in Bent Tree, Big Canoe, Pickens County and other areas of North Georgia, including searchable listings, free reports, demographics, city histories, a service directory, and numerous real estate articles, visit: http://www.NorthGeorgiaResidential.com .

14 comments:

  1. Trent, I happened to get pix of some of Oscar's writings and posted them here:

    http://picasaweb.google.com/slashsplat/OscarRobertsonBallGroundGA

    Rather interesting and colorful.

    ReplyDelete
  2. slashsplat - Thanks for the great content! Really brings his thoughts to light.

    - Trent.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Trent, thanks for posting the stories of "Rock Man". I've been going to Ball Ground since the early 90s on my way from Auburn AL to camp near Ellijay and then later from the Atlanta area.

    I got goosebumps when I read your words about him selling only to the "chosen few." I don't know if it was shear luck or persistence but I did purchase a few things from Oscar over the years.

    When people would ask me questions like "How do you know what everything costs?" I'd tell them that the prices were determined by how well he liked your stories. That's the way I saw it, anyway.

    He was definitely an odd old man but I cherished each meeting we had. I loved listening to his stories as we walked the storefronts. I once asked him how I could find him and he told me: "You just stand out front and wave a hundred dollar bill and I'll find you." Said in a humorous way but meaning it, we both laughed and I believe I actually remember seeing a smile on his face.

    I took a friend up through Ball Ground yesterday. We spent at least an hour looking at everything in detail and taking photos through the windows. I wanted to give her a little more history on the eccentric old man that was responsible for this mass display of organized chaos.

    So glad I found your blog. Gone is Rock Man and his red truck but thankfully some of the stories live on. If you don't mind, I'd like to link your story from my blog and maybe quote you on a few of your passages.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Jamie -

    Thanks for the comment. For a simple man in a small town, it's amazing how many people's lives Oscar Robertson must have touched.

    The number of hits and responses this post has generated has surprised me (some of them from distant parts of the country!). Apparently there are a number of people wanting to remember him, or learn more about him. I wish I had more to share.

    Anyway, feel free to link to and quote from the post as you choose.

    - Trent

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous1:04 PM

    Trent,
    I lived in Holy Springs 16 years
    & will never forget my first drive
    through Ballground. My Grandfather
    in Woolwine Virginia had a great rock collection, but I never saw anything like that! Mr. Robertson actually sold me a Tigereye for my belt buckle to replace the one that broke. We connected that day.
    Dave, Roanoke, VA

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dave,

    Thanks for sharing. Mr. Robertson's stores still stand as of this writing, as does that amazing collection of rocks / marble (among other things).

    It's fascinating how he chose certain individuals with whom to interact and do business . . . guess you were one of the lucky ones. I think Ball Ground Georgia will forever be defined to some degree by Oscar Robertson.

    Trent

    ReplyDelete
  7. Pame Kingfisher12:26 PM

    I have wondered so often about Oscar. I was lucky enough to get two pieces until I insulted him somehow and he threw me out. Another time, we begged him to let us and he wouldn't. The next day we got in. I come to Ballground to research my family - Kingfisher died there in 1754. Sure would like some more of his crystals.
    Pame Kingfisher, Austin, TX Cherokee Bird Clan.

    ReplyDelete
  8. slashsplat11:47 AM

    The transition is in process. His daughters are working through the myriad legal hassles he left behind, and slowly restoring some building for rent. Downtown BG has been redone with new sidewalks and lighting, and looks great. Instead of being blotted by the corporate carpetbaggers, it looks like the character is slowly emerging to reflect a small twon from times gone by. We now have two restaurants, Dot's and the BG Grill. Dot is Oscar's estranged sister. Though the government-induced economic collapse has slowed the activity, we see a great town emerging.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The Ball Ground Art Gallery is now selling Oscar's rocks!

    ReplyDelete
  10. After the completion of the paved sidewalks in Ball Ground the adorable city has begun to blossom. The Ball Ground Art Gallery is now the only place to purchase Oscar's rocks. They also have "a little bit of everything", from around thirty different artists. Ball Ground is also now home to several new businesses such as a German butcher, J.J.'s a pizza and sandwich shop, a karate gym, a gift shop called A Price of Time, an embroidery store and even an old mill turned into an antique store. On the weekends several merchants have sidewalk sales which make a fun family outing.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Joyce Wethersfield Ct9:58 PM

    Was introduced to Ball Ground this weekend. Am fascinated by Oscar's collection and display. I too found some of his collection for sale at the Art Gallery. A very helpful attendant at the Gallery let us know that if we desired an item that was not already on display in the Gallery, we could register our request in the guestbook which is reviewed regularly and would be called if and when it became available. Seeing Ball Ground and learning about the Rock Man, really helped make our 3000 mile roundtrip from Connecticut more memorable.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hello there! I took photos through the windows of Oscar's storefront in the Fall of 2010. My son lives in Roswell ~ he talked me into hopping on the back of his BMW bike for a ride into the GA countryside. We ended up spending most of our day in Ball Ground. I was completely entranced with the painted wooded primitive looking babies. We met with Oscar's daughters, purchased various rocks from the trunk of their car! Heard oh so many stories from them. I have been searching for information related to Oscar and his 'story.' So glad I stumbled upon your site!!! What would we do without Google? I am using one of my photos in a poetry post next week ...

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thank you all for the positive comments and updates to what's going in Ball Ground. There have definitely been some changes in the six-years since I wrote this post, mostly for the good. Ball Ground has managed to retain its small town appeal, and yes, it appears Oscar Robertson's collection, or parts of it, are now available for sale.

    The sidewalk sales only add to the charm, as it makes for a great stop when traveling between Pickens and Cherokee or Forsyth Counties on weekends.

    @Helen If the poetry post is related to Ball Ground, Mr. Robertson, or otherwise relevant, please feel free to come back and add a comment with a link here to share with others.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous8:17 PM

    Trent, I just stumbled upon your site while looking at Ball Ground, Georgia. My father was friends with Mr. Robertson growing up and one week while I was in college we drove to Ballground from Louisiana for a family re-union during the 70's. My father wanted to visit Oscar. We went to his rock shop where the Coke sign is. They had a great time reliving old times. I came away with a pet rock and a Watergate bug made from a rock. A gift. I went to Georgia another time to visit my aunts and my father ask me to visit him while I was there. I went to visit him and he was so excited to share his knowledge about rocks.
    My father and now Mr. Robertson are both gone but I have fond memories. My grandfather owned a grocery store many years ago that was later filled with rocks. I just wanted to share a positive story about a man who was my father's friend.

    ReplyDelete