published Saturday, June 12th, 2010

New spot on the map


by Andy Johns
  • photo
    Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Robert, (who wished his last name not be printed), exits the Ranger, Ga., post office as a portion of the city's 95 residents make their way to vote for their hometown candidate for congress Tom Graves.

RANGER, Ga. -- In the tiny Gordon County town of Ranger, one of the 92 residents is a U.S. congressman.

Tom Graves, a Ranger resident, is scheduled to be sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday after winning Tuesday's special election runoff in Georgia's 9th District. He now holds the seat vacated by former representative Nathan Deal, who is running for Georgia governor.

His new prominence has "put Ranger on the map," according to Mayor David Charity, who used to brag that the town was the smallest in Georgia.

"I had to stop saying that. I found out there were four smaller than us," he said, standing in the middle of U.S. Highway 411, the main street through town.

Hugging both sides of the highway in the middle of beef farms near the Gordon-Pickens county line, Ranger doesn't have a supermarket or even a convenience store. The nearest place to get a hot breakfast is a drug store seven miles away in Fairmount.

"People always talk about growth," Mr. Charity said. "When they say they want growth, they mean a place to buy milk."

The town used to be a busy railroad stop on one of the more well-traveled lines in the region. As rail traffic decreased, the trains stopped stopping. The building of Interstate 75 through the western part of the county also took many of the cars off U.S. 411.

"Between the train not stopping and 75 coming in, it killed this town," the mayor said.

Now a post office, community center, a handful of churches and a few dozen homes about sum it up. Many of the residents drive to Rome, Calhoun, Marietta or Dalton for work.

"When you say you're from Ranger people say, 'Where's that?'" said Cathy Hood, sporting a Graves sticker on the rear window of her white Mercury Milan.

"You wouldn't know," she added, answering her own question.

Ms. Hood, who said her children are friends with the Graves children, said she saw his congressional run coming.

"He's just always been involved in the community," she said.

Mr. Graves is a real estate developer.

Born in St. Petersburg, Fla., Mr. Graves grew up in Gordon County. He took 61 of the 72 votes cast in Ranger in the runoff.

"You know we're going to push for the hometown boy," said Jeff Thacker, taking a break from painting white pickets in his backyard.

Mr. Thacker said he had met Mr. Graves several times and once gave the new congressman lumber from his barn for a project the Graveses were working on.

Mr. Charity moved to Ranger 12 years ago when he traded a piece of pallet-making machinery for seven acres and a log cabin kit on Possum Hollow Road. He's made a few changes to the town, using federal stimulus money to rework roads and improving the community center and playground.

Even though Mr. Graves' congressional tenure could be short if he's upset in the July 20 primary -- at that point, he'll serve until a new congressman is sworn in in January -- the mayor said there could be some political perks that could help the town.

But he's not holding his breath.

"That's one thing we learned, nothing happens fast," he said.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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