R.A. Gant's father owned Norcross' cotton store, situated a stone's throw from the railroad tracks that still split the quaint downtown area. It also sat alongside the hardware store operated by Roy Carlyle.
An accomplished baseball player himself, Carlyle was famous for his 618-foot home run, the longest tape-measured shot in baseball history back in 1929. The Norcross native reached the major leagues, as did his brother Cleo and another set of brothers raised in Gwinnett County, Ivey and Red Wingo.
Carlyle's store was where men from the baseball-crazed town gathered to talk about the sport. The town's local team, which played games a block away beneath a tall ridge that flattens out just enough for a field (it is now Lillian Webb Park), was a powerhouse and typically dominated the conversations.
Gant, now 83, remembers those chats well. He worked for Carlyle for 10 years as a wide-eyed youngster who happened to grow up in a town that produced four major-leaguers in the first half of the 20th century.
The now deceased Wingo brothers -- slated for posthumous induction into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame at today's Gwinnett Braves game -- were among the visitors to Carlyle's store. Ivey Wingo retired to Norcross after a 17-year big-league career, and Red came back for the occasional visit.
A young Gant took it all in.
"All his knuckles were swollen up like somebody with arthritis, but I figured that's where the ball hit him from catching all of those games," Gant said of Ivey, who caught a National League record 1,231 games between 1911 and 1929. "I always thought he was a pretty good sort of fellow. I remember he told me the most he ever made in a season was $10,000, which was a heap of money back then."
Despite that money and the status of a pro athlete, Ivey Wingo wasn't really treated like a celebrity back home, Gant said. He was just one of the guys, the Wingo brother who came back to settle down in his native Norcross.
His younger brother Red didn't return as frequently, opting to live in Detroit, where he played the bulk of his major-league ball. That wide divide split the Wingo family into two sects that never really bonded because of the vast distance between them.
That will change some today when some of the brothers' relatives, who have never met in person, will celebrate their baseball heritage in the county where they learned to play.
The long-running Norcross Old Timers Baseball Association -- the group dedicated to preserving the town's baseball heritage -- has its own hall of fame display in city hall that is packed with stories on the Wingos' feats.
Both brothers honed their skills at what locals called "the ballground," the field that spawned Norcross' astonishing run of major-league talent.
"There were two recreation areas growing up in Norcross back then, the ball field and the Chattahoochee River," said 76-year-old Carl Garner, also a former Norcross player whose father Carl Sr. is pictured in a 1916 Norcross team photo with Red Wingo. "We all just grew up with baseball. We loved baseball."
Ivey was born in Gainesville, but moved to Norcross as a teenager with his family. Red, Ivey's junior by nearly eight years, was born in Norcross. The brothers, part of eight siblings, were born to different mothers, but had the same father.
They shared a similar love of baseball, red hair and freckled faces. Red was slightly taller and stockier, though not by much at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds to Ivey's 5-10, 160. Both batted left-handed and threw right-handed.
While Red grew into a major-league outfielder, Ivey spent nearly all of his career as a catcher. Both were pretty mobile, though, and Ivey once stole 18 bases in his prime. He also legged out 81 career triples, including 11 in each of the 1916 and 1917 seasons.
"My father was in the Marines in World War I and he was stationed in Boston, so he got to watch Ivey play (in the majors) there," Garner said. "He was a great ballplayer. If you look at Ivey's records against some other catchers, it seems like he should be in the Hall of Fame (in Cooperstown)."
Ivey's life cut short
Baseball consumed nearly all of Ivey Wingo's life, from his grade-school days to the end of his life.
He first ventured well outside of Norcross to play with Greenville of the Carolina Association in 1909, when he was just 18. His play there earned a shot with the St. Louis Cardinals, who watched him grow from bullpen catcher to starter. Between the 1913 and 1914 seasons, he was part of a baseball tour that traveled the world and eventually returned to the U.S. via the Lusitania, the ship famously sunk by the Germans in 1915.
Ivey Wingo was traded later to Cincinnati, where he played the last 13 of his big-league seasons. He still holds the dubious record of most career errors by a catcher (234, with 20 or more errors in five different seasons), many of those reportedly from his strong-armed throws into center field. He hit over .300 in his career just once and didn't have much home run power, but was a steady offensive force.
He won a championship after the controversial 1919 World Series, catching three games for the Reds in their victory over the Chicago White Sox. The '19 series is remembered for the Black Sox Scandal, which saw eight Chicago players banned for life for throwing the series. Wingo was 4-for-7 (.571) with three walks, good for a .700 on-base percentage, in that series.
After playing regularly with the Reds through 1926, Wingo bounced around from playing and coaching in the latter stages of his career. He played his final season, a short stint with the Atlanta Crackers, as a 39-year-old in 1930.
He was married in 1916 to Mattie Jones, and the two eventually moved back to Norcross, where they both grew up. Their house was where the First Baptist Church of Norcross is now.
"(Mattie) went with him a to a lot of places and spent a lot of time at ballparks, with the other players' wives," said Buford resident Michelle Morgan, Ivey Wingo's great-granddaughter.
Unfortunately, Wingo's post-baseball life didn't last long.
He became ill and died in 1941 at the age of 50. The cause of death was never reported, though most who remember seeing him during that time feel it was emphysema or cancer. Gant remembers him coughing badly throughout his final years of life.
One of the last times he saw his younger brother Red came in the hospital, according to Jim Wingo, Red's grandson.
"My mom told me the story, that Ivey took his pack of cigarettes and the look on his face was like, 'This is what did it to me,'" Jim Wingo said. "My grandfather smoked a lot, too. He smoked Camels unfiltered and a pipe for as long as I can remember."
Ivey Wingo's widow, known by locals at "Miss Mattie," remained in Norcross after his death with the couple's only son, Bill. She lived there until her death in 1990 at the age of 93.
Ivey is buried in the old Norcross Cemetery, with a simple gravestone that says "Ivey B. Wingo" and makes no mention of his famous baseball career. Its inscription also brings to light a mystery about the spelling of his first name. Some say it's "Ivey," others say "Ivy."
"I don't really know what's right," Garner said. "Miss Mattie must have put (Ivey) on his tombstone, and she would know how to spell it."
Red's different path
The younger of the major-league Wingo brothers was born in Norcross, spending all of his formative years playing for the town's teams.
That experience earned Red Wingo a spot with the Atlanta Crackers, but he played just the 1918 season there before making his major league debut with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1919 at the age of 21. He didn't stick in the majors, so he spent two more seasons in Atlanta and two with Toronto of the International League.
From there, he played five solid major league seasons with the Detroit Tigers. He was a career .308 hitter in the bigs, aided by a 1925 season when he hit .370 and had 34 doubles, 10 triples and 68 RBIs. Along with Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann, he was part of the only outfield in major league history to have all three members hit .370 or higher in the same season.
Wingo hit .285 in 1928, his final season in the majors. He played four more seasons in the minors for four teams -- San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, Chattanooga of the Southern Association, Scranton of the New York-Pennsylvania League and Toronto again -- before his retirement.
He made his home in Detroit, the site of his big-league prosperity, and worked for Ford Motor Company for years. He and his wife Grace had two sons who played minor league baseball but never got to the majors.
Jim Wingo spent countless hours with his grandfather as a child, though he didn't talk much about his pro baseball past. He did help Jim with his hitting one little league season, and that resulted in an .833 batting average.
"He really didn't talk about baseball much," Jim Wingo said of Red. "He was the patriarchal father. My mother called him a Southern gentleman. I know he really loved Ivey. My mother told me when Ivey died that Red went to bed for two weeks. He mourned that way."
Red Wingo was still in good health when he died in a 1964 car accident. Just 66 at the time, he was hit from behind, thrown from his car and pinned under another vehicle.
"He went too soon," Jim Wingo said. "It was really a blow to us. He really was the golden god of the family. He just had that certain magnetism that we all liked."
Wingo is buried in Detroit's prestigious Woodlawn Cemetery, where the city's elite residents have been buried for years, including auto manufacturing families, Motown greats and civil rights legend Rosa Parks.
Coming back together
Jim Wingo, now 59, was born two years after his uncle Ivey passed away and admitted his interaction with that branch of his family has been brief.
He recalls just one trip to the Deep South when he was 3 or 4 years old to stay with his aunt Annabelle, one of Red and Ivey's sisters. Since Red and his family lived in Detroit and Ivey passed away so young, the brothers' families lived separate lives in different parts of the country.
Most of Ivey's family stayed in Georgia, including his grandson, who lives in Blairsville, and Morgan, his granddaughter in Buford. Because of the proximity, they are very familiar with how their grandfather grew up and began his baseball career.
"It's really cool to know (Ivey played in the majors)," Morgan said. "It's especially nice to have two guys in the same family do it."
Unlike Ivey's family, Jim Wingo and his brother John spent their life in Michigan. They heard about Norcross, but knew little about the place their grandfather grew up. They didn't talk frequently with their family in Georgia, either.
But they plan to make up for lost time this weekend. Both Jim and John Wingo will scour Norcross and its baseball hall of fame this weekend for a memorable trip that will end with Red Wingo's induction into the Gwinnett hall of fame.
They will share the honor with Ivey's family, reuniting the families of two brothers who last saw each other in 1941.
"I'm a little bit anxious, but I'm excited," Jim Wingo said. "I don't know who we're going to meet besides Michelle Morgan, Ivey's great granddaughter. We're planning to go to Norcross, to city hall to see all the things we can about Red and Ivey. We're looking forward to learning a lot while we're there."