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Researchers visit to study G.W. Carver
Reclusive genius
Dr. George Washington Carver (left) and research partner Austin Curtis at work in his Tuskegee Institute laboratory. - photo by Photo provided.

Dr. George Washington Carver was a scientist, educator and inventor best known for his work with peanuts.

He also was devoted to helping poor people – namely the recently-freed blacks around Tuskegee, Ala., where he taught in the early 1900s – improve their lives through utilizing natural resources.

Dr. Edith Powell of Tuskegee University, along with University Archivist Dana Chandler, has set out to collect Carver’s undocumented discoveries and inventions.

“We’re trying to uncover many things about Carver that the public does not know,” said Powell. “He was a private man and did not share much … he didn’t write down a lot about what he found.”

The investigators are currently working their way through the university archives to piece together Carver’s body of work.

Powell recently visited Richmond Hill to research a wood stain that Carver created at the request of his friend, Henry Ford.

According to Powell, Carver had been in the process of developing paints and stains from natural sources like clays, pecan shells and walnut hulls. His hope was to create paints from simple sources to make them accessible to everyone.

Ford was impressed with Carver’s work and asked for a walnut stain for a power house in Ways, Ga. (now Richmond Hill). 

“I found there were white and blue stains prepared for churches here in Tuskegee,  one for Ways (Ga.) and another one in Montgomery, Ala., so I wanted to track down these things to see if they were still there, take pictures, and see how the stain was holding up,” Powell explained.

Powell needed help in determining where the power house was, so she enlisted the help of the Richmond Hill Historical Society.

Frank Grimm, caretaker of the Richmond Hill Museum, knew of three power houses that stood in Ford’s time.

“I don’t think the stain would’ve been used at the saw mill or trade school power houses, because that was such a work area down there,” said Grimm. “But the power house for the mansion was kind of Ford’s hangout. The downstairs was where the generator was, and he had the little upstairs room where he would go tinker with his watches and kind of get away … so I’m thinking it was used there.”

Powell took a tour of Ford Plantation on Sept. 24 to see what she could find.

According to Grimm, the power house has since been converted to a private home. Powell was unable to investigate, but hopes to speak with Ford Plantation representatives to find out if the original floors are still intact.

Chandler and Powell will compile information from their research into a book about Carver’s lesser-known accomplishments.

“He was doing green science long before it became this buzzword,” said Powell. “What we do find, we will publish. We want to help people know about the real Carver. He was an amzing man and I think it’s good that people see it.”

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