WAYNESBORO, Ga (WJBF)- For nearly 120 years, Waynesboro has been home to the Georgia Field Trials– a bird dog competition.

That’s why this month on Your Hometown History, Kim Vickers explores how they became the “Bird Dog Capital of the World.”

Everywhere you look in Waynesboro you can see imagery of bird dogs. There are murals, a hall of fame dog is on the water tower and businesses are named for them. The phrase is etched on everything.

But HOW did Waynesboro become the Bird Dog Capital of the World?

“We’ve always had field trials here, even before there was an association or a club,” said Leah Carter Chambers, Director of the Waynesboro Burke County Museum.

“In 1946, LIFE Magazine came to tour our trials and to be here,” explained Nell Mobley, Field Trials Organizer. “Well they were so fascinated by what we were doing here, until they said ‘Well I think Waynesboro should be called the Bird Dog Capital of the World.’ And that’s what I’ve always been told.”

Painting owned by Harold Ray, done by artist John Donaldson in 1973.

Bird dog field trials are a competition to evaluate the dog’s ability to find and point coveys, or flocks, of quail. Bird dogs are traditionally English Setters and Pointers.

There are different reports on how they started. Some say they date back to 1866 in England. Others claim they were born in Tennessee in 1874 to settle an argument over who had the best bird dog.

“Oh, it was really, it was really a big thing especially in years gone by,” Mobley said.

The Field Trials came to Waynesboro at the turn of the 20th century. Senator W.H Davis wanted to bring a Field Trial competition to Georgia and Waynesboro was chosen.

Leah Carter-Chambers is the director of the Waynesboro- Burke County Museum. She said the town had the perfect traits to host field trials.

“Because of our land, the layout of the land, some parts are hilly and some parts are flat. Because of our layout and because of the vast amount of quail, these are reasons we probably received the Field Trials. And the men loved the sport.

Over a century, Waynesboro brought home several National Champion dogs, many of them in the Field Trials Hall of Fame. The first was Count Whitestone II in 1908.

Chambers imagines there was quite a fanfare when he came home.

“I think it brought a lot of fame and importance to our town. To our community and that just continued throughout the years,” she said.

Quail hunting and the Field Trials brought people from all over the country to Waynesboro.

“So the first trial ran in the 1903 time period and famous people from all over the world came here, eventually,” Chamers explained. “Two famous people that you might know– Bobby Jones, there. (points to wall) Photograph. And Ty Cobb, the famous baseball player.”

Photo of Bobby Jones at the Georgia Field Trials. Found in the Waynesboro-Burke County Museum.

Several people from Waynesboro are also in the Hall of Fame including Fred Bevan, Henry Berol, Elwin and Inez Smith and Harold Ray. Ray worked as a trainer for Bevan, and later the Smiths.

He’s been involved with the sport since he was a teenager. He now owns Smith Setter Plantation, left to him by the Smiths.

“A man named Rodney Cane would come out to our farm and run his puppies. So, he asked me if I’d like to go to a field trial. Which I did. And he took me to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. And I just fell in love with it there,” Ray smiled.

Ray has come a long way since then. Now, he is the only living hall of famer still in Waynesboro. Several of the dogs he trained are in the Hall of Fame as well– including Tomoka, whose likeness is seen on the water tower today.

Ray told Kim Vickers that the sport has taken him all over the world– something he would never have done without it.

“Here I am, just a common dog trainer, sitting at a table. You know it’s mind boggling where it has taken me. So, when I say the common denominator, all the different walks of life, no matter the richest to the poorest, considering me at the time, are sitting at the same table.”

Over the years, the Field Trials were held at various private properties.

Then, in the early 1950’s, Henry Berol, heir to the Eagle Pencil Company in New York, bought more than 8,000 acres in Burke County. He named the property Di Lane Plantation, after his daughters Diane and Elaine.

Plaque at the Bird Dog Cemetery on Di Lane Plantation.

He brought the Field Trials to Di-Lane until his death in 1976. Nell Mobley organizes the Field Trials currently. She said Berol was passionate about his dogs and the sport.

“These were not just hunting dogs. These were prize dogs as far as he was concerned,” Mobley said.

Berol loved his dogs so much, he put a cemetery on Di-Lane. There are more than 100 dogs and 4 horses along with other various pets buried at Bird Dog Cemetery.

The cemetery is surrounded by large, Spanish moss draped oak trees. Each headstone bears a unique epitaph about the dog buried there.

Headstone at the Bird Dog Cemetery at Di Lane Plantation in Waynesboro.

Ray knew Berol and said his dedication and love for his dogs was unequaled.

“It was a personal epitaph about what he felt about the dog. To create the cemetery and all the epitaphs about the dogs just showed his love for the dogs.”

After Berol’s death in 1976, he was buried near the cemetery with his beloved animals. Shortly after, his family moved back to New York and moved his remains there.

Mobley explained that the trials started making rounds on private property again until 1988, when her husband arranged to have them held at Di Lane again. The property was and still is managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The Trials have been held there ever since.

“We feel especially fortunate to have grounds here. That we don’t have to depend on land owners. Because I can remember the years of the land owners and we would just go by faith that, hopefully, they were going to let us hold them there,” said Mobley.

Mobley’s husband organized the field trials until his death. She made him a promise that, after he was gone, she would keep the Field Trials going.

And she has.

“This is a real sense of pride for me to do this. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t put my time into it. But they are my heart. Just a real sense of satisfaction I get out of them. And I feel like I’m giving something back to my community.”

While bird dog Field Trials are not a spectator sport, it is a prestigious event that draw competitors from around the world– and Waynesboro is proud of that.

Hey, Waynesboro. That’s just part of Your Hometown History.

Photojournalist: Reggie Mckie.