by Larry UpthegroveMaxwell Berry was born in Lincoln County, N.C. on Feb. 6, 1823. He made his way to Georgia at age 14, becoming a store clerk in McDonough. After that, still at a young age, he sojourned to Alabama where he was involved with gold mining operations. From there, Maxwell went on to Talladega, Ala., where he returned to clerking in a store. He then returned to Georgia and became associated with (Oakland resident) William Markham, his brother-in-law who was peddling clocks all over Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
The venture was certainly an economic success, but in 1854, Maxwell’s health was failing (possibly because of the travel), and he settled down on 200 acres of land in what became Ormewood, three miles east of downtown Atlanta.
After three years in Ormewood, Maxwell moved to Atlanta in 1857 and went into the contracting business with another brother-in-law and future Oakland resident, Thomas G. Healey. Together, they ran a very successful contracting business that lasted many years and made many marks on the growing city. Among their many projects were the Kimble House and the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a structure that has stood for 144 years.
Berry was married to Harriet Key and five children resulted from the union – four girls and a boy. His oldest daughter, Carrie, was 10 years old when Gen. Sherman’s 1864 Federal Army invasion happened. Berry suggested that Carrie keep a daily journal of her life every day during that time, and it has become one of the most quoted pieces of local literature, providing a first-person insight into what a child’s life was like during the most terrible time imaginable.
Mr. Berry was a member of the First Methodist Church and an Odd Fellow. He was a responsible citizen and became quite wealthy, his worth estimated between $700,000 and $800,000, mostly in the value of downtown buildings that he owned. Despite his wealth, Maxwell never held nor sought public office.
His wife died in 1896 and he lay down beside her and his son in Oakland Cemetery on August 13, 1908.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the Berry Family history, which features Maxwell’s daughter and diarist, Carrie Berry Crumley.