A dozen decades ago, Dublin and the rest of Laurens County, stood upon a precipice. As we gazed into the valley of the future, we saw the whole world coming toward us. That year, 1891, became one of the most pivotal years in the history of our county. Dublin and Laurens County began its ascent from a sleepy, lawless village into one of the most prosperous and progressive locales in the entire state of Georgia.
In the quarter century after the end of the Civil War, citizens of Dublin and Laurens County struggled to survive. After the war, more than a decade would pass before a local newspaper was published or a river boat cruised up and down the Oconee River. Two decades passed before railroad tracks were laid to the edge of the Oconee River. A devastating fire nearly wiped out the entire business district of Dublin in 1889. Still after twenty-five years, there was no bridge, either rail or passenger, over the river. By the end of the year, two bridges would be constructed and a rail connection to Macon would be established with another one to Hawkinsville in the works.
When the rails of the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad, later known as the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, first reached the eastern banks of the Oconee in 1886, freight and passengers were required to be carried by ferry across the river, which was subject to the mercy of floods and drought. By 1891, the owners of the railroad were determined to construct a bridge over the river to increase their profits.
Ever since 1883, John T. Duncan, Judge of The Laurens County Court of Ordinary, led the effort to construct a bridge over the Oconee River. After the electorate failed to approve a bond issue to build the bridge in 1883, private individuals attempted, but failed in their efforts when the rushing flood waters washed a wooden bridge down river. Undaunted, Duncan persevered. By mid-July 1891, the first permanent bridge over the Oconee was completed. It lasted until it was replaced in 1920 and again in 1953.
Pedestrians, horse drawn vehicles and various livestock could now travel over the Oconee without having to deal with long lines, flood waters and costly toll fees at the Dublin ferry. For the first time ever, citizens of Dublin and Laurens County, as well as the occasional traveler were no longer at the mercy of the raging or shallow waters of the Oconee. More importantly, passage over the Oconee River was now free.
The first permanent county bridge, which would last nearly three decades, was replaced in 1920.
A sign of better times came when the Laurens Lodge, No. 75, F&AM moved into its new lodge in a brick building which later became the Lanier Building and now occupied by the Courier Herald, The first lodge of the Royal Arcanum was organized and met in the the Masons' new quarters.
In another move which signified a revival in the city, Lucien Quincy Stubbs, son of Col. John M. Stubbs - Dublin's first newspaper publisher - purchased The Dublin People and renamed it the Dublin New Era. Stubbs purchased the newspaper from Major A.H. McLaws, a Confederate officer and brother of Confederate Major General Lafayette McLaws.
Another good sign was the final prohibition of legal alcoholic beverage sales within the city limits. For more than a decade, the teetotalers and the drinkers waged a see-saw battle over the issue of beer and liquor sales in the city. By the mid 1880s, the prohibitionists began to move ahead of those who wanted to buy a drink wherever and whenever they wanted to.
Still another showdown between the drinkers and the dry folks came in early March. In a county wide election, the prohibition people defeated the imbibing inhabitants by a scant margin of 131 votes. Legal sales of liquor within the city of Dublin in bar rooms already licensed by the Dublin City Council continued until the end of the year.
A new bank, the People's Banking Company of Atlanta, was established, but failed to succeed. It would take another year until the beginnings of the Dublin Banking Company, began a successful thirty year reign as the city's first permanent bank.
The year 1891 was a year of new and old. A new jail replaced the old one which had been burned to the ground by disgruntled prisoners. The grist mill at Blackshear's Mill Pond, now known as Ben Hall Lake, burned leaving the county's oldest grist mill in a pile of ashes.
Without a doubt, the most important, non war, date in the history of 19th Century Laurens County came on July 22, 1891.
Early on the morning of July 22, 1891, Conductor J.B. Maxon guided the first train out of the depot on Walnut Street. D.G. Hughes of Danville, H.S. Morse, president of the Illinois and Georgia Improvement Company, headed the list of dignitaries on board. A second train followed behind the No. 1. The trains chugged along the 54-mile track built primarily for the farmers who lived between Macon and Dublin. Over $100,000.00 was raised among large and small farmers. The project's success was assured when H.S. Morse was appointed as the superintendent, and James T. Wright was elected president and the Illinois and Georgia Improvement Company supplied the rest of the capital investment. The trains stopped in the growing community of Jeffersonville and picked up more passengers. Vice president Dudley M. Hughes boarded the train during a celebration at Allentown. Mercer Haynes, E.E. Hicks, Charles Brantley, and Dr. Wood of Dublin boarded the train which was now handsomely decorated with flowers and evergreens by the ladies of Dublin and Allentown.
The trains rushed through the infant towns of Montrose and Elsie (Dudley) to the shouts of joy. Dublin was waiting, ready for the train. Everyone was dressed in their best. An estimated three thousand persons gathered around the depot. Barbecue dinners and over a thousand loaves of bread were served. The Dublin Light Infantry led by Lieutenant J.M. Adams performed maneuvers for the crowds, only to be interrupted by a downpour. Everyone scattered into the stores and the homes in the area. The grounds that were saturated with people only minutes before were now nearly deserted. Col. Stubbs's family played host to some honored guests. His home was located on the farm of Col. Stubbs that then stretched from North Church Street to Calhoun Street and Moore Street on the north. At 4:00 the train, now carrying all of the passenger cars, returned to Macon. Following the new railroad to Macon was the first telegraph line running from Macon to Dublin.
More than two hundred years have passed in the history of Laurens County and Dublin now, but if I had to pick one, the most important one, that year would be 1891. While many important events have taken place in the last two centuries, it was during that single year when many of the most seminal events in our county's history converged into a turning point of our time.