WWII had a significant impact on our country and the communities here in Gwinnett County. Many men from Sugar Hill, Buford and Suwanee left to fight in Europe against the Nazis or in the Pacific against the Japanese. Gender roles in our community shifted with so many men overseas, and many patriotic women went into white-collar and blue-collar jobs supporting our families left at home or the war effort abroad. “Rosie the Riveter” is a popular image even today. Our greatest generation was not only full of amazing men, but also amazing women. Charlotte Howerton was one of these amazing women. Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to recognize Charlotte and women like her who have contributed toward shaping the Sugar Hill that we call home and love in modern times.
Charlotte was born in 1916 in her family’s home on Level Creek Road. The Shelley-Howerton House still exists today, and it is easy to find because there is now a historical marker that provides a brief narrative of the home’s history. Built in the 1860s, the home was bought by Charlotte’s gold mining grandfather, William Shelley, in 1883. It is the oldest surviving house in Sugar Hill and a real treasure for the community. Charlotte wrote a book about the house called “The House on Level Creek Road.” The book is a great read that can be checked out at the Buford-Sugar Hill Library and provides glimpses about her life in Sugar Hill up until she passed away.
The Depression lingered longer in Georgia and the South than anywhere else in the United States, and times were very difficult for the rural communities in Gwinnett County. Just before WWII, Charlotte left home and went to Detroit, Michigan, to find work and sent money back home to her family. She was a progressive and strong woman even in her early years. WWII would be no different for Charlotte. At the very beginning of the conflict, she joined the Women’s Army Corps as a supply officer and served on several bases in the United States. The WAC was the women’s branch of the United States Army, and it was first put into active duty in 1943. The history of this auxiliary unit is interesting. WACs, like Charlotte, were the first women other than nurses to serve in the Army. She was an early enlister in the program and would later serve in promotional photos used to recruit more WAC volunteers. Both men and women were needed to win the war effort.
Charlotte lived an extraordinary life after WWII. She married, resided in Texas for a while and eventually moved back to Sugar Hill into the family home place on Level Creek Road. Charlotte traveled extensively abroad and in the United States, wrote books and even painted and made pottery. As part of Gwinnett County’s bicentennial celebration, her paintings were displayed in a traveling art exhibition.
Sugar Hill has been and is home to many veterans who have served the United States of America and our community. In addition, the experiences, thoughts and ideas they brought back to our community have contributed toward the great city we are today. Charlotte was an amazing woman. When she passed away in 2015 at the age of 99, her obituary read, “Charlotte lived a very full and adventurous life and was an extraordinary woman.” Her service during WWII opened a whole new world for Charlotte, her family and, no doubt, Sugar Hill.
The Sugar Hill Historic Preservation Society is working with the Howerton family on a special exhibit for the new Sugar Hill History Museum & Art Gallery. The special exhibit will highlight Charlotte’s life, provide detail into her rich family history and showcase both her paintings and pottery.