Clifford Jones

Many Norcross residents and visitors travel up and down Holcomb Bridge Road every day, and pass by a recently-developed neighborhood near the center of town, Col. Jones Park. Perhaps a few might ask – what is the origin of that name? In this column we have the answer!

The neighborhood takes its name from Clifford Jones (1879-1974), who led an active life, with forty years of service in the United States Army, and many additional years of leadership in the Norcross community afterwards. Col. Jones lived in that block, just up the hill from the intersection of Holcomb Bridge Road and West Peachtree. Here is his story.

Clifford Jones was born in 1879, the first of three sons born to Homer and Mollie Jones. They were living in Cumming GA when Clifford arrived, but the family moved to Norcross a year or so later and lived for some years on Thrasher Street. He spent his youth in Norcross and attended the local schools of the day, and also Hunter’s School for Boys in Atlanta. The photo below shows Clifford Jones during his school days.


When he was 18 a chance encounter serendipitously set his course of the rest of his life. That year his mother decided to take her three sons (Clifford and his younger brothers DeWitt and Thomas (“Tommie”) Jones) on a vacation trip to Washington DC as a Christmas present. (Clifford’s father Homer worked for the Southern Railway, which passes through Norcross, so they likely traveled by rail.)

The boys’ cousin Miriam came along on the trip. While the group was in Washington Miriam’s uncle, Carter Tate, who was serving at the time as the representative from the 9 th District in Georgia in the US House of Representatives, came to call on his niece and the other visitors. While there Rep. Tate remarked that he had received word that day from the War Department (predecessor to today’s Department of Defense) that he would be able to make an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point for the following year, and, after spending time with the group, he was sufficiently impressed with young Clifford Jones that he asked if he would accept the appointment.

Jones’ acceptance, and his success in that career, set two generations of the family on a path of military service, with brother DeWitt following a few years later at West Point (where he graduated first in his class) and then brother Thomas attending to the Naval Academy; all three brothers became career military officers and had sons who also pursued military careers as well.

Clifford Jones graduated from West Point in 1903. The photo below shows Cadet Clifford Jones with his mother Mollie. It was taken in the studios of the well-known Pach Brothers photography gallery on Broadway in New York City, circa 1902.


Early in his career Jones was assigned to artillery commands in the continental United States, at locations such as Fort Sam Houston (Texas) , Fort Constitution (New Hampshire) and Fort Worden (on the Puget Sound in Washington). He later served on the War Department General Staff, as an instructor in Mathematics at West Point, and as a student at both the Army War College and Naval War College. The photo below shows Col. Jones circa 1927.


While in Texas he met and married Bess Green, and they had one child, a daughter, Sophie, who is shown in the photo below with her grandmother Mollie. The couple later divorced, and Sophie Jones died at a young age.


Colonel Jones married again in 1929, to Estelle Mackay; her photo is shown below. They had one son, Clifford Jr.


Jones’ first assignment outside the continental United States was in 1913, at Fort Kamehameha in the then newly-acquired territory of Hawaii, where he was in charge of commissioning the first battery of coastal defense artillery put in place to protect the naval base at Pearl Harbor. An aerial photo of the fort circa 1925, found in US military archives, is shown below. The battery is the “C”-shaped structure in the lower left.


The facility was named Battery Selfridge in honor of Lt Thomas Selfridge (1882–1908), a classmate of Jones at West Point. Selfridge had been killed in the crash of an early test airplane demonstrated for officials by Wilbur Wright, who was severely injured. (Selfridge had been Wright’s passenger.)

Clifford Jones had an even more remote assignment in the 1930s – he was sent to the Philippine Islands (a territory of the United States at that time) to join the staff of the commander of the US Army forces there, General John L. Hines. In a memoir written late in his life, he recalled many of the people and experiences he and his wife Estelle encountered while on assignment in the Philippines, and in China.

These included:

  • Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the former President, who was the governor of the territory at the time. Governor Roosevelt invited Jones and other officers to official functions and dinners from time to time, allowing Jones to enhance his understanding of local society and culture.
  • The young Chinese warlord Zhang Xueliang (or Chang Hsüeh-liang, 1901-2001). Jones met Zhang Xueliang when Jones was on a trip to inspect United States troops stationed in Tientsen China. Zhang, who had taken control of much of Manchuria and Northern China following the assassination of his father by the Japanese in 1928, was described by Jones as “sleepy” in demeanor. But Jones was well aware of his host’s history of ruthless actions – Zhang was known for having subordinates who strayed from loyalty, or who were found to be corrupt, executed in summary fashion. Zhang is shown in the photo below.
  • Mrs. Wellington Koo, the wife of the former Chinese ambassador to the United States, who educated him in the subtleties of Chinese cuisine, and
  • Generalissimo Chang Kai-shek, the Chinese nationalist leader who led the country during the Second World War, and later lost the post-war power struggle with Mao Zedung and was forced to withdraw to the island of Taiwan.

The Americans’ trip to China included sightseeing with visits to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City in Beijing and other highlights of Chinese culture, and the group also stopped in Shanghai and Hong Kong on their return trip to the Philippines.

After returning to the United States Jones spent that time supervising elements of the Army Reserves and the Civilian Military Training Camp program in the southeastern states, and retired from the army on January 31, 1944. He and his family (including son Clifford Jr., who was a young boy at the time of his father’s retirement) moved to Norcross afterwards and built a home near the intersection of West Peachtree and Autry Streets, shown in the photo below.


Clifford Jones Jr. followed in the family military tradition and entered West Point, graduating in 1955, and achieved the rank of Colonel during his military career. He is shown with his father in the photo below.


Estelle Jones was visiting West Point in 1953, where her son was a cadet at the time, and passed away due to a sudden illness. She is buried there.

Colonel Jones spent 25 years of his retirement as part of the management of the Bank of Norcross, which had been founded by his father and other local leaders in 1903. He was president of the bank for 19 years, and then served for several additional years on the board of directors. He also served as a Ruling Elder in the Norcross Presbyterian Church for much of his time in Norcross.

A few years after the death of his second wife Col. Jones married again, to Mary Virginia Skinner. Col. Jones passed away on 25 Oct 1974, and both he and his wife Mary are buried in the Jones family plot in the Norcross City Cemetery.

Much of the information in this article came from a memoir written by Clifford Jones Sr. in 1970. It was provided to the author by Clifford Jones Jr., as were many of the photographs. Thanks also to Pierre and Sara Levy for their valued assistance.

By Gene Ramsay