Saturday, November 22, 2014

REMEMBERING DUBLIN WITH RED COWART



Reminiscences of Red Cowart


Red Cowart loved Dublin.  Red did what we all should do and that is to write down  what meant the most to us during our lives.  You don't need any special skills, just write what you remember.  If you do so, the remotest of your descendants and the most avid of  future historians will forever be indebted to you.


D. T. "Red" Cowart  grew up in Dublin on the edge of the city's first industrial complex.  His parents, Andrew A. Cowart and Ida Williams Cowart, lived in a home on the northeast corner of East Madison and South Washington Streets on the corner occupied for many years by Rawls Welding Shop.  Red's father operated a lumber mill further down South Washington Street.  Andrew Cowart dug the first artesian well in Laurens County.  Cowart dug his well in the rear of his home and later constructed an indoor swimming pool, also the first in the county,  to capitalize on the abundant supply of fresh and virtually pure water.   Mr. Cowart came up with a brilliant idea.  The spring water was cold and not ideal for swimming.  Across the street at the ice plant, the plant needed cold water to condense steam into pure water for ice making.   So they struck a deal.  Cowart pumped cold artesian water to the plant and in turn the plant piped steam across the street to his pool and presto, a heated indoor swimming pool.  The Cowarts enjoyed the pool all during the year.  Their friends, both old and new and invited and uninvited, enjoyed visiting the Cowart home.

Red prefaced his memories by saying, "The good old days were just that.  They were good to everyone. Everyone was friendly and neighborly. Living conditions, while a bit uncomfortable at times, were never excessively cruel.  All had just about everything they needed and lived well without being forced, against their wills, to live, act and struggle as they are being forced to today?"

The railroads were the most important aspect of our history around the turn of the 20th Century.  The first trains had to stop on the eastern bank of the river.  Passengers and freight were then hauled to town by buggy, wagon or hack.  Judson Jackson and his family were among the first spectators to witness the arrival of the first passenger train into Dublin.  Jackson's son took the wagon and tied the mules under a tree.   The alarming bells and whistle blows so startled the youngster that he began to flee with the wagon shafts in his hands.  His flight ended in disaster when the he lost control of the wagon, which was a total loss.

Red remembered how much fun everyone had on the excursions to Tybee Island on the Central of Georgia railroad.  As many as eight to nine railcars full of passengers boarded the trains early in the morning to enjoy an afternoon frolic in the surf and sun, which ended as nightfall came.  There were Saturdays when passengers disembarked from the train to shop in the many stores of downtown Dublin.  One of his most fond memories was the day the legendary passenger train, "The Nancy Hanks," detoured from its normal route.  Hundreds of persons gathered along the tracks to see "the last passenger train to pass through Dublin."

Despite the large numbers of shoppers and visitors in the downtown area, there were no parking problems.  There was a large parking lot in the first block of North Jefferson street on the site of the old Piggly Wiggly grocery store.  Situated throughout the town were  stables where a farmer could park his wagon.  While he and his family shopped and tended to their business, the horses were fed and watered.  Some persons brought their purchases back to the wagon for safekeeping, while others picked them up on their way out of town.  In the "good old days," there were never any parking meters and no parking tickets," Red remembered.

One of Red's most favorite stories actually had to deal with Laurens County and World War II.   Cowart was a close friend of Judge Jim Hicks.  One day Jim Hicks took Red out to his farm in the Buckeye District.  The judge showed Red a grove of huge pine trees growing along the banks of the Oconee River.  Red asked Judge Hicks why he didn't cut them down and not take a chance on losing them to fire or disease.  The judge said, "Red, I am saving these trees to help the United States whip Japan."  About eight or so years later, Red noticed a small convoy of trucks passing through town.  Each truck carried a single humongous log, there being not enough room to throw another on the truck bed.  Red asked around and found out that the trees were some of the same trees that the judge had shown him in 1935.  The year was then 1943 and the United States and Japan were in the midst of a horrific war in the Pacific Ocean.  The trees, well they were on their way to the planing mill and then bound for transport to the shipyards where they were fashioned into landing craft for invasion of the islands of the South Pacific.


Red wrote of fond memories of river boats, which were the sole means of transportation of freight before the coming of the railroads and automobiles. He vividly recalled the names of the boats, the Rover, the Katy C, the City of Dublin and the Clyde S.  Many a kid would spend hours watching the boats as they pulled up to the docks and unloaded their freight into elevators which took bales of cotton, lumber and other valuable goods up to the level of the river bank.  Especially exciting were the times when new boats were launched into the mighty Oconee.    All of this came to an end when the Clyde S. was beached on the end of a sandbar about eight hundred to nine hundred yards above the river bridge on the East Dublin side of the river, left there to be washed piece by piece back into the river she served so well. 

Dubliners were most proud of the only brick yards in this section.  Located between the old Georgia Plywood Company (Riverwalk Park and Roche Farm and Garden Center) and the mouth of Hunger and Hardship was L.A. Chapman's brick yard, which supplied Dublin and cities around the southeast with fine bricks.  Once the yard's supply of clay was exhausted, the city of Dublin took over the property and filled the pits with trash and garbage, much to the delight of bottle hunters for many decades.  A second brickyard was located about a mile and a half down river.  Those who remember the hexagonal stones which once lined the sidewalks of Dublin and other cities of the state, might not remember that they were fashioned from sand pits of the Georgia Hydraulic Stone Company in East Dublin along Nathaniel Drive.

Finally, Red remembered the time that a group of sailors were gathered in a pub in a Mediterranean port.  One man got up and dared anyone to name a city he hadn't visited.  Wooten Cowart stood and said, "ever hear of Dublin, Georgia?"  The man laughed loudly and said he formerly lived in Dublin and worked at the Carter Iron Foundry.  "I was once arrested for drunkenness," he boasted.  The man who arrested him was Police Chief Cowart, father of Wooten Cowart.    As they say, it is indeed a "small world."

Monday, September 29, 2014

DUBLIN AND LAURENS COUNTY IN 1906


1906
Looking Back a Century Ago

The year 1906 represented another year of progress in Dublin and Laurens County.  Primarily marked by extensive infra structural improvements, the sixth year of the Twentieth Century marked the end of railroad construction in the county, an event which in hindsight may have been an indication of the looming economic depression, an unlucky thirteen years in the future.

The railroads were still king in Laurens County, but several factors indicated that they were beginning to reach the peak of their utility.    On the plus side, the M.D. & S. RR added more freight trains to their schedules.  Locals asked the railroad to add another passenger train to allow for short visits to Macon.   An attempt by the City Board of Trade to erect a Union Depot in Dublin to accommodate four rail lines coming into town resulted in a bitter controversy, which killed the worthy idea.  Plans to extend the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad to Cordele fizzled.  The construction of a railroad from McRae to Dublin through Cedar Grove also never came to fruition.

The year was highlighted by extensive improvements to Dublin’s infrastructure.  Congressmen W.G. Brantley and Thomas W. Hardwick and U.S. Senator A.S. Clay came to Dublin to confer with the Oconee River Improvement Association to make plans to secure a $110,000.00 grant to make improvements to the Oconee River.  River traffic came to a near screeching halt when both the R.C. Henry and the Rover both sunk, leaving the Louisa Steamboat Company without a boat.  The loss of the two boats sustained the need for more funds to clear the numerous and treacherous snags in the river.  Izzie Bashinski,  J.E. Smith, Jr., E.R. Orr, D.S. Brandon and W.W. Ward formed a new company, the Dublin Navigation Company.

Years of planning culminated in the construction of a large auditorium on South Monroe Street for Chautaugua and other entertainment and political events.  The City of Dublin completed renovations to the old Hilton Hotel to become the city’s first brick city hall building.   The city purchased a tract of land across Hunger and Hardship Creek as a second cemetery for its black citizens.  The cemetery, known as the “Cross the Creek” cemetery, was established to alleviate the crowded Scottsville cemetery on North Decatur Street.

Perhaps the most lasting improvement to the city began in 1906.  City officials first began to discuss the idea of a public park of the city.  Through the generosity of the Stubbs family, the construction of Stubbs’ Park would become a reality within the next two years.  The first granite sidewalks were laid in Dublin, replacing the old wooden sidewalks which had served the city for more than a half century.  Several of Dublin’s streets were ditched to provide a healthier environment.   Andrew Carnegie continued his generous  support of the city of Dublin.  Mrs. J.A. Peacock wrote to the philanthropist requesting a contribution of $750.00 to aid in the purchase of a new organ for the Methodist Church.  Carnegie granted the request, but when Mrs. Peacock found herself on the wrong side of the minister’s wife, she was asked to leave the church.  Mrs. Peacock was graciously welcomed at the Episcopal Church until a new minister came to the Methodist church.    The beloved lady was promptly invited to return to the church she loved so dearly and remained in the organist’s pit until her retirement.

Dreamers were busy coming up with new ideas to improve the city.   With the increased automobile traffic in the city, a plan was promoted to establish a street car system along the main traffic arteries of the city.  The plan, boosted by fourteen of Dublin’s wealthiest businessmen drew little support and quickly failed.  Another plan to capitalize on the increasing popularity of the automobile involved a proposed sixty-feet-wide and five-mile-long speedway beginning on Robertson Street and running across the northern extremities of the city to the Oconee River.  H.H. Smith and Clark Grier’s dream failed to materialize for lack of financial support.

Many new businesses began in 1906.   Several such as the Dublin Brokerage Company and  H.K. Stanford Brokerage were organized a result of the increased cotton trade.  Ironically, weather conditions that summer were so devastating that many farmers simply abandoned their fields.   Harvesting of timber in the county began to soar.  The Dublin Brick and Lumber Company,  The Yellow Pine Lumber Company, Southland Lumber Company  and The Laurens Lumber Company were established to profit from the abundance of pine timber reserves in Laurens County.

Other new business to open were the Rentz Trading Company, David &  Grinstead Grocery, W.W. Bradley Grocery, T.J. Taylor Mercantile Company  and Lovett Mercantile Company.   Middle Georgia Fertilizer, The Jackson Stores, Dublin Printing Company were started and flourished throughout the next decade.  Two stalwart mercantile businesses, The Sam Weiscelbaum Company, under the management of N.B. Baum  and the Four Seasons Department Stores, under the management of J.E. Smith, Jr.,  expanded their operations as the town’s most dominant department stores.  The Citizens Bank became the city’s second national bank and changed it’s name to the City National Bank.

Among the highlights of the year were the marriage of soon M.J. Guyton of Dublin and Leila Vinson, a native of Milledgeville and a Dublin school teacher.  Mrs. Guyton’s brother Carl Vinson, would later be responsible for major contributions to Laurens County including the Naval Hospital, the county airport, the Laurens County Courthouse, the Laurens County Library and the location of Interstate Highway 16 near Dublin.     Plans were being made to establish the Harriett Holsey Industrial College.   The institution for black children became the city’s first college.   The Georgia Association of County Commissioner’s met in Dublin in June.  The meeting feature a visit to the Chautaugua and a ride aboard the steamboat Louisa down to Wilkes Springs for a barbeque.  The Dublin Rifles, a local militia company under the leadership of Captain W.C. Davis and lieutenants L.C. Pope and Douglas Smith, traveled to summer camp at Fort Oglethorpe in North Georgia.

As I come near the end of my ten years of writing and penning some five hundred columns, I again want to thank all of my readers for their encouragement.  Your appreciation of my work keeps me going when compiling my columns after a long day’s or week’s work.  Thank you all and remember as we as a county approach our two hundredth anniversary that our most important history is not the history of our past, but the history of our future.

THE CHAUTAUQUA AUDITORIUM



                 If You Build It, He Will Come
                             
     Chautauqua fever was spreading across the country around the turn of the 20th Century.  No, Chautauqua fever wasn't some rare and deadly tropical disease, a Chautauqua was a summer festival which featured a week of educational, scientific, social, and musical programs.  The City of Dublin presented its first Chautauqua festival in 1901.  Every year the planning committee struggled with ideas and the necessary funds to secure the most popular performers and speakers on the Chautauqua circuit.  The most sought after speaker was William Jennings Bryan.  But Bryan didn't perform in just any one-horse town and any shoddy lecture hall. To lure the country's most famous orator to its festival, the committee had to build an impressive auditorium designed to hold hundreds if not more than a thousand paying patrons.

     When the committee on entertainment met in the winter of 1904, those who believed strongly in the future of the festival knew that a permanent home for the festival must be built and to ensure that the festival would grow into a profitable event, the appearance of William Jennings Bryan was critical.  At first, the committee believed that the hall should seat at least three thousand.  To save money, it was decided that the building be rough on the exterior, but comfortable on the inside.   The dreamers knew that the building could also house a large number of other attractions throughout the year.

     At a meeting at the jewelry store of Dr. Charles H. Kittrell, those present appointed Hal M. Stanley, H.G. Stevens, Herman Hesse, T.L. Griner, C. Grier and Dr. Kittrell to a fund-raising committee.  The committee hoped to have "some of the brainiest, most entertaining lecturers on the American platform appear before Dublin audiences" in time for the festival in the summer of 1904.   Despite the untiring efforts of Dr. Kittrell and Messers Hesse and Stevens, the building could not be readied in time.  After a profitable return was paid to the festival's investors, interest in building an auditorium swelled.  

     After two years of planning, plans to build an auditorium began in earnest in the
spring of 1906.  Dublin tycoon J.D. Smith, the first person outside of the organizing
committee to be solicited about the endeavor, pledged $200.00 of the estimated $2500.00 cost of construction.    H.G. Stevens, Hal M. Stanley and W.L. Mason were appointed to the building committee.  Local contractor John A. Kelley was awarded the contract to build the auditorium in time for the festival in June.  

     Many who doubted the feasibility of the project believed that the building would be nothing more than an outdoor pavilion.  The architect designed the building to be one of the coolest in town. Remember central air conditioning was decades away.  To alleviate the accumulation of hot air in the building, Kelley and his crew built an unbroken series of five- foot tall windows around the perimeter of the building, which faced and abutted the western side of South Monroe Street, across from the former location of the studios of TV-35.  The building went back for a short distance before turning in a fan shape to the right in the main auditorium area.  

     After the remaining roofing materials arrived in late May, the contractors began to complete the major portions of the building by  the first of June.  The first  major portion of the building to be completed was the stage.  With the dimensions of twenty-four by forty-eight feet, it was proclaimed that it would be the best in this section of the state.  The stage would accommodate one hundred seated musicians.  The dressing rooms, first intended to be placed adjoining the stage floor, were moved to the rear of the building instead.  In the interest of time, the committee decided to install a temporary dirt floor covered with sawdust and line with primitive benches.   Reserved seats, no better than any other seat except for their proximity to the stage, were sold for $3.00 per seat during the Chautauqua. Once the stage and floor were completed, Kelley and his men began installing the fifty windows, which opened in transform form to create a breeze throughout the facility.   Kelley installed the windows as high as possible to allow the hot air to flow out and the cooler air to flow in from as close to ground level as possible.

     Though one-third smaller than originally planned, the completed building could house nearly two thousand patrons.  The well-ventilated building was illuminated at night by ten dozen electric lights.  All of the window sash was not installed in time for the opening night of the festival.  Contractor Kelley improvised and installed a canvas above the windows which ran down at a 45-degree angle to prevent any rain from coming inside, but at the same time allowing the hot air to leave the building and the cooler air in. 

     Season tickets for the week were sold for $3 for the 508 reserved seats and $2 for the 1114 regular seats.  Chautauqua times were always busy ones in town for the innkeepers as well as the merchants. Thousands of persons came into town by foot, wagon and train to see the shows.  The musicians were housed in the Patillo House on East Gaines Street and the rest of the performers stayed at the more luxurious New Dublin Hotel, just two blocks away from the auditorium on the corner of North Jefferson and East Madison streets.   Special trains hauling hundreds of customers came from Eastman, Tennille and Hawkinsville.  

     The fifth annual session, billed as the best ever, was held from June 17 through June 22, 1906.   The session opened with the sermon "Seeing Him Who is Invisible" by Dr. L.G. Herbert on Sunday morning.  Dr. Herbert, a relative newcomer to the Chautauqua circuit, was known as a forceful orator, a humorist of rare ability and a lecturer of power.  Edward Amherst Ott, of Chicago, Illinois, opened the first full day with his lecture "The Spenders." Dr. Herbert returned to the podium on Monday night with his lecture "A Man Among Men" and again on Wednesday morning with his most popular lecture "A Trinity of Power."
  
     A large crowd attended the Tuesday morning session to listen to the return of Prof. Kaler to Dublin.  Kaler, a former popular music teacher in Dublin, had to leave the city on account of his ill health.  After his recovery, Kaler assembled some of the state's best musicians to form Kaler's Orchestra out of Macon.  The orchestra was joined by The Royal Male Quartette of Des Moines, Iowa and the Star Entertainers of Danville, Michigan.  The members of the quartette also entertained the audiences with solos, duos and trios playing the trombone and the piano as they performed.   The Star Entertainers, led by C.L. Abbott and H.G. Morris, featured players playing twenty musical instruments and musical comedy skits.  Encore performances were held on Wednesday morning and Thursday night. Professor Ott, at the request of those who attended the 1905 lecture,  returned for an repeat of his lecture "The Haunted House" on Tuesday night.  

The highlight of the festival came on Wednesday night with the appearance of Congressman Richard Pearson Hobson.  Congressman Hobson, of Alabama, was one of the country's greatest heroes of the Spanish-American War in 1898.  Hobson risked his own life in sinking the Merrimac in an effort to bottle up Spanish admiral Cevera's fleet.  He was arrested and placed in a Spanish prison but was soon released on account of his bravery. Upon his return to civilian life, Hobson entered the political ring and defeated long time Alabama congressman Bankhead.  Nearly fifteen hundred people paid to hear one of the most popular lecturers in the history of the Chautauqua in Dublin. 

     Herbert L. Cope, the well-known humorist from Chicago, entertained a large audience on Thursday morning with his monologue, "The Smile That Won't Come Off."   At the appointed time, Cope was a no show and nervous directors kept the orchestra on the stage while anxious audience members wanted to stop the music and get on with the fun.  But just as the orchestra ended its first number, the whistle of the M.D. & S train signaled the arrival of the main act.   The final day of the festival featured an old-fashioned song service led by J.A. Warren.  Singers from all church choirs were invited to participate.  Mr. Warren was assisted by C.C. Hutto, E.W. McDaniel, J.R. Daniel and G.N. McLeod.  The afternoon session featured an inter-public school declamation contest by students in the city  and county systems as well as those from Washington, Johnson and Bulloch Counties.  Medals were awarded to the best boy and best girl in the 6-11and 12-20 year old categories.  Mr. Cope returned to close the festival with his hilarious program "The Religion of Laughter."

     By design the annual convention of the Georgia County Officer's Association was held in conjunction with the festival.  Mayor A.R. Arnau, along with L.Q. Stubbs, John M. Williams, R.H. Stanley and Dr. C.H. Kittrell, entertained the visitors with a boat ride on "The Louisa"  down the Oconee River and a barbecue  at the picnic grounds at Wilkes Springs, one of the usual destinations for prominent guests in Dublin.  

     The festival was a critical, as well as a financial success. Investors enjoyed a return of 42 cents on every dollar invested.   After the last person left the building and all the profits were calculated, it was time to finish the project.  On September 12, 1906, the directors of the Chautauqua voted to contract with the Garing Scenic Company to improve the stage.   Scenery, totaling forty-five pieces,  for a street, a garden, a parlor and a kitchen was ordered.  A new drop curtain was purchased.  The old one was retained for scenery. It was said that the new curtain was the second largest in the state, only smaller than the one used in the Grand Opera House in Atlanta.  Mr. Garing suggested that the sides of the building be clothed and painted. The supports and the roof were painted a white or light color.  Two large stoves were put in to keep the customers warm in the winter months. 

     Dr. C.H. Kittrell, the guiding force behind the auditorium, wasted no time and booked a variety of acts for the fall season.  The first show, "A Trip to Atlantic City," was performed by the John B. Willis Company.  Next up was the "The Denver Express."  During the rest of the season, there were performances of "The King of Tramps"  and one by the Edwin Weeks Company.      More improvements were made in 1908. Two thousand dollars was spent on a new floor.  Five hundred opera seats were placed near the stage.  A vestibule was installed in the front of the building.  A
twelve-man orchestra pit was improved to enhance the view of the stage.  The number of lights was increased three fold. The stage was enlarged by twenty feet to the rear.  Two large dressing rooms were added.  

     The results of the democratic primary in Georgia were announced in the auditorium in the spring of 1908.  Musical entertainment filled the intermissions between the announcements of vote totals.  In the fall of that year there were performances of "At the Village Post Office," "La Pooh," and "The Other Woman."   Manager Schiff announced that the Star Theater relocated to the building after its facility on Jackson Street became too small.  To boost business some suggested that the management install a roller skating rink in the building. 

     The successes of the Chautauqua festivals finally came to an end.  The first five sessions were profitable, but after the auditorium was constructed, the profits decreased slowly, then rapidly.   The property was sold for $5,500.00, but the levy and sale was invalidated as being too excessive.   In December of 1909, the Chautauqua Association was forced into receivership.  Dr. Kittrell and J.E. Burch
were named as receivers to gather up and dispose all of the assets of the association.  On the first Tuesday in January 1910, the receivers sold the building and all of its contents to Thomas W. Hooks for $3,377.50, a figure which represented half of its original cost.  Hooks, a public minded man, resisted suggestions that he convert the building into a warehouse and sell the furnishings.  

     Hooks might have asked himself, what about Bryan?  In the beginning, it was believed that if the city built a large building, Bryan would come.   The dream was still alive, but barely.    The convention of the Laymen's Missionary and Christian Workers Association was held in the auditorium in March. It was enough to pay the bills and keep the building in operation.

     A year went by and still no Bryan.  And then it happened.  Bryan had agreed to the terms of an appearance during his tour of Georgia in June 1911.   With the Chautauqua Association out of business, it was decided to name the program "The Summer Festival."  The program was composed of a concert by the Dublin Concert Band, a performance by the DeKoven Male Quartette and a solo presentation by Mrs. William C. Chilton.  There was also a stage performance by the Porter-Johnson Company and arousing performance by Tom Corwine, billed as the greatest one man act in America.   The festival ended with a program of local actors, led by Maggie Rawls.  Among those participating were Teddie Grier, Candler Brooks, William Brandon, Leah Kittrell, John Shewmake, Elizabeth Garrett, Freeman Deese, Joe Mahoney, Florence Simmons, Harrison Fuller, Saralyn Peacock, Elizabeth Arnau, Frederica Wade, Ethel Pritchett, Vince Mahoney, Pickette Bush, Maud Powell, Pauline Brigham and Ray Ballard, the pianist. 

     But the highlight of the festival and the highlight of the existence of the auditorium came on the evening of June 12, 1911.  Bryan, a four-time presidential candidate, was the country's most famous orator. Five special trains from Macon, Hawkinsville, Tennille, Eastman and Vidalia were scheduled.   Bryan spoke to the largest crowd in the history of the city.  His subject was "The Prince of Peace," which was well received by the throng in attendance.  After spending the night in Dublin, Bryan traveled east on the Central of Georgia railroad for appearances in Claxton and Statesboro the following day.  

     He was here! William Jennings Bryan, the ultimate oratory master, admired by millions actually came.  Then in a matter of weeks, perhaps months, the auditorium fell silent.  At some unknown date the auditorium burned.  Whether it met its death by arson or accident, the dreams of Bryan had come true.  So now, when you attend outdoor concerts at the new Farmers Market and sit in your lawn chairs as you listen to the music coming from the stage, turn back your thoughts to a century ago when the country's greatest performers entertained thousands and thousands of us a century ago.

OUR FIRST AIRPORTS


Runways to the Skies Ever since the first Laurens Countians read about the Wright Brothers they dreamed of flying. In the middle of the second decade of the 20th Century, daredevil pilots barnstormed across the nation, entertaining crowds of people in large cities and small cities like Dublin. This is the story of the first airports in Dublin. They were primitive by today’s standards. Most of them were just long narrow cleared strips of land located at various locations on the edge of town. It would be 1944 before Dublin would acquire a first class airport. It was in the middle of World War II that the United States Navy constructed the present Laurens County Airport in preparation for the transportation of patients to and from the Naval Hospital in Dublin. It was in the spring of 1919, just six months after the end of World War I, when the first true aviation activities began in Dublin. Three men from Dublin traveled to Souther Field in Americus to enlist in the Air Service. It should be remembered that it was at Souther Field where Charles Lindbergh made his first flight in an airplane. Sergeant Ruff, the recruiting officer in Macon, flew to Dublin to secure even more recruits. While in the city, Sergeant Ruff found a frenzy of activity surrounding the construction of a city airport, which was being rushed to completion just in time for his visit. Businessmen were anxious to solicit flyers to come to the city and performing aerial circuses. It was suggested that all in the roofs in the business section be painted with the word “Dublin” to make it easier for pilots to know where they were. Though no official Dublin airport existed in the 1920s, there were flights in and out of the city. The members of the Lions Club met in May 1928 to discuss the location of an airport on “the pulp mill site,” now occupied by Riverview Golf Course. A party of airline officials of the Dixie and Northern airline stopped in Dublin on a tour of the state in 1928. Beeler Bevins and C.F. Dieter flew into Dublin on July 2, 1929 during their “All Georgia Air Tour,” which was sponsored by Georgia Power Company. The fliers were entertained with a luncheon at the Fred Roberts Hotel. The men urged those in attendance to build an airport. The flight spurred city officials to construct a first class airport in Dublin. Negotiations began immediately for an ideal site, one which was near the heart of the city and one which was close to the existing electrical lines serving the city. On July 17, 1929, the Dublin City Council voted to enter into a lease to construct an airport on 42 acres across from the W.T. Phelps place on what would become Claxton Dairy Road. The mayor and council suggested that arrows be painted on top of the city hall, the First National Bank building and the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad depot indicating the direction to the airport. Mayor T.E. Hightower urged that “Dublin be put on the air map of the United States Aeronautical Association as soon as possible.” “All the world has taken wings and Dublin must take to the air, too, or be left behind,” Hightower added. City officials hoped that Dublin would become a regular stop on the Atlanta to Savannah air mail route, since the city was located at the midpoint of the two cities. The site was an ideal one since the ground was virtually level and only needed slight grading to put it in shape for landings. The work of clearing the field and putting it in compliance with the specifications of the National Aeronautic Association was apparently never fully completed. L.G. Clarke, an experienced airplane builder, came to Dublin in hopes of advancing the building of an airport. Another landing strip was on the west side of town on the E.T. Barnes place on the Macon Road. This primitive landing strip, probably located near the Dublin Mall, accommodated a Ford Tri Motor plane which carried P.M. Watson, Marshall Chapman, B.J. Daley, Blue Holleman, Lehman Keen, Charles E. Baggett and George T. Morris on a flight to Macon in February 1931. The road was lined with cars filled with spectators hoping to get a glance of the largest plane ever seen in Dublin until that time. It was revealed that George T. Morris was actually afraid to fly, but didn’t want to back out since he sponsored the flight. Morris wrote a letter to his wife informing her of the secret location of a cache of money hidden under a stump - just in case he didn’t make it back home safely. Upon its safe return, the pilot solicited all those who desired to ride in the giant airplane. Five hundred and ten people took him up on the offer, including twenty-five young boys who were the guests of Jim Kendrick. Herbert Moffett took his entire family for a ride and commented that “the plowed fields were the best view.” The pilot, Ray Loomis, urged Dublin citizens to build a better airport. Loomis said, “the field you have now is very good and should be enlarged and stumped to allow two runways. Engineers from the CWA came to Dublin in the spring of 1934 to survey the site on Highway 80 West as a permanent site for a municipal airport. Morris Motor company continued to sponsor Ford Tri-Motor plane rides through 1935. The kids of Dublin formed a Junior Birdmen Club in February 1935. Emory Beckham was elected the wing commander, while Jack Baggett was chosen as the club captain. Billy Keith served as the secretary-treasurer. Other members of the club were Earle Beckham, Luther Word, Owen Word and Jimmie Sanders. The club, organized to promote an interest in aviation, was the only club between Macon and Savannah. The enthusiasm of the Junior Birdmen inspired city officials to begin construction of a municipal airport two miles south of town on the Dublin-Eastman Highway south of the present site of Mullis’ Junkyard. With the support of Monson Barron, the city’s oldest aviation afficionado, Clafton Barron, and Ellison Pritchett, who had worked for Boeing, Lockheed, and Douglas, a four plane hangar was constructed on the site. Local officials continued to push the Barnes site on Highway 80 West, as well as the Cullens site in East Dublin on Highway 80 East. Neither of the three sites ever attained the status of a first class airport. By the end of 1930s, aviation fever had reached its peak. Thirteen young pilots had earned their pilot’s license and six more were in training. Though still without adequate landing facilities, these young men landed and took off in pastures on flights no longer than fifty miles. Among the first to obtain licenses were Emory Beckham, Earl Beckham, Emmett Black, L.A. Mitchell, W.H. Barron, Jr., Izzie Lease, Nat Lease, Lenwood Hodges, Ross Moore and Robert Werden. Ed Hobbs, Claxton Edenfield, Bill Sanders, Sterling Lovett, H.C. Coleman and Joe Lord were working diligently in obtaining their licenses. These men shared two airports, mere pastures, with two Piper Cubs owned by Ross Moore and Izzie Lease and a Avon two-passenger open type plane owned by W.H. “Bud” Barron, Jr. It would take the political power of Congressman Carl Vinson to bring a permanent and high class aviation facility to Dublin. Built by the U.S. Navy in 1943 in connection with the establishment of the U.S. Naval Hospital, the airport, renamed the W.H. Barron Airport after its greatest promoter, was turned over to Laurens County. The airport continues to maintain one of the longest runways in Georgia.

Monday, June 30, 2014

THE DUBLIN COTTON MILL



The Birth of a Dream




 When Dublin's Kings of Cotton gathered together in May 1897, it seemed only natural that Dublin and Laurens County should establish its own cotton mill.  Cotton mills in Georgia were a new and coming thing.   The New England states had been the first to establish mills to weave cotton fibers into threads going back to the latter half of the 18th Century.  One hundred years later, businessmen in the South figured that it was far easier for Southern companies to mill their own cotton to save on shipping costs.  The same was true of the business leaders of Laurens County.  For the first time in the history of our county, a large non-exlcusive group of local businessmen and one woman assembled together to form a local company to mill cotton to take advantage of the vast amounts of locally produced cotton.   In Georgia, all but ten percent of Georgia's mills were located above a line from Savannah to Columbus.
  
 Then the cotton industry was less than stable.  With drastic variations in supply, resulting from weather conditions and demand based on market conditions, the price of cotton could rise or fall rapidly in a matter of weeks.   And with the fluctuations in the price of cotton, so went the fortunes of the mill's owners.
 The company's first informal meeting resulted in the contribution of $50,000 in capital investments with much more to come.   J.D. Smith, the city's richest man, pledged $1000.00 to open the stock subscriptions.  The money kept coming.  Eventually, more than $150,000.00 or 4.3 million in today's dollars would be invested in the venture.   

 The Dublin Cotton Mills, Inc. was incorporated on July 27, 1899, by virtually the entire "who's who" of Dublin's businessmen, namely Capt. R.C. Henry, J.D. Smith, T.J. Pritchett, Wm. Pritchett, F.W. Powel, J.M. Finn, W.F. Schaufele, L.A. Chapman, Gilbert Hardware Co., Lord & Brooks, T.D. Smith, W.S. Burns & Co., M.A. Kendrick, H.D. Weaver, J.A. Spann, T.H. Smith, J.T. Bales, G.S. Hooks, F.W. Garbutt, W.W. Robinson, W.B. Rogers, A.A. Cowar, J.E. Smith, Jr. J.A. Jackson, Courier Publishing Company, E.R. Orr, A.W. Garrett, W.G. Day, Dr. Wm. Brigham, A.G. Hightower, W.A. Hood, J.M. Reinhardt, Joe M. Fordham, E.S. Baker, W.S. Ramsey, T.E. Freeman, Frank G. Corker, and Mrs. E.M. Whitehead.  P.L. Corker of Waynesboro joined the company as its only outside investor.

 The directors of the company chose a site some 2.5 miles west of the courthouse along the tracks of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad.  The building itself was located some 100 yards from the center of the railroad at the southwestern intersection of today's Kellam Road and Marion Street. The plant encompassed nearly 65 acres, which stretched beyond Academy Avenue Extension (The Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad) on the southwest.  

 Construction began on August 8, 1900.  President Pritchett laid the first of the estimated 200,000 brick to be used in the mill.  Frank G. Corker, a former mayor and a mill director, laid the second one.   The bricks, if stretched from end to end, would span the entire 25-mile width or height of Laurens County. The new mill, originally intended to make wool threads as well, was substantially completed in November 1901.   President William Pritchett personally bought the first 100 bales of cotton to test the mill's equipment.   Frank Corker, President of the First National Bank, traveled to New England in hopes of implementing the successful practices in its mills, while other officers traveled to other mills in Georgia and South Carolina to observe the processing of cotton.  The board of directors implemented the use of day workers, which had allowed the school board to complete the new high school quickly and less expensively.  

 After an unforseen and long delay in the completion of the plant, The mill, designed by the Wrigley Engineering Company, went into full operation under the direction of Superintendent P.L.  West, formerly of Eufaula, Alabama,  on January 5, 1902 with 160 looms supplemented by 5000 spindles were in full operation.  James Pritchett, son of the company's president, turned on the steam engines for the first time at 6:00 in the morning.  Maude and Lyton Stanley, children of the company's first chairman of the board, Hal Stanley, ceremoniously placed the first the first cotton in the hampers.  Twenty workers started working that day.  Thirty more were added by the end of the first week of operation.

 The two-story brick building was supplied with water by a 50,000 gallon cistern fed by an artesian well and a 20,000 gallon, eighty foot tall brick water tower.  Two large warehouses, supplied with cotton with rail cars along a side railroad track,  were located on the eastern end of the complex to supply the mill.  

 After 18 months of daily operation, the mill was forced to temporarily shut down in August 1903 because of the lack of cotton.  

 The area around the cotton mill soon developed into a village of its own known to locals as West Dublin.  A new road, Marion Street, was constructed from Academy Avenue parallel to the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad to the mill site.

 The stockholders re-elected Wm. Pritchett as President in 1903.  H.E. Pritchett served as vice-president.  J.M. Finn was elected as the corporate secretary.   The directors were T.J. Pritchett, Furney Bartow Stubbs and Frank G. Corker.  The same officers served at least though 1905. 

 In the spring of 1904, Dublin Cotton Mill's president, William Pritchett, helped to lead the effort to build  the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad (D&S RR,)  the last  railroad to be constructed in Laurens County, began operating its trains in and out of Dublin.  Like the Oconee and Western Railroad,  the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad originated from a tram road.  The Williams Lumber Company built a tram road from Eastman to the future site of Rentz, Georgia,  where the mill of the Georgia Shingle Company was located.  

The original plan called for a railroad that would intersect the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad near the Dublin Cotton Mills in West Dublin and run in a southwesterly direction to Eastman, terminating at Abbeville on the Ocmulgee River.  Among the early backers of the project were the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad with Col. J.M. Stubbs being the driving force behind the project.  E.P. Rentz, a Dublin banker, owned a saw mill in Rentz and took a keen interest in the project, becoming the main owner. Pritchett, a director of the new railroad, invested part of his fortune in hopes of more profits for the cotton mill by running the railroad along the southern end of the mill's land.


The Death of a Dream

 By the end of 1904, more than 200 workers were employed in two shifts and processing from 1,800 to 3,500 bales per year at Dublin's Cotton Mill.  As Laurens County's cotton production skyrocketed, the potential profits began to soar.

 Even before construction began, the members of the First Baptist Church began a discussion about building a mission church near the site of the mill.  The deacons of the First Baptist Church authorized a new church, West Dublin Baptist Church.  W.C. Floyd and J.A. Stinson were elected to serve as the church's first deacon.  Rev. Brady G. Smith, was selected as the church's first pastor in the summer of 1904.  First and third Sunday services were held in a tent while the new church was being built.

 The church building was constructed on a triangular lot given by Mrs. Fannie M. Robinson at the intersection of present day Kellam Road and Marion Street on the site of the present day city water tower. 
 Brother W.E. Harvill took over the role as Pastor in 1905.  The Rev. T. Bright, served as pastor from 1908 until the church closed down in 1909.  With no prospects for a thriving mill, the church was all but abandoned until 1912 when work to repair the church and appoint a new pastor was  initiated. Rev. Reginald Russell was selected to serve as the last pastor, serving at a reduced salary of $10.00 a month, down from the usual annual salary of $200.00 per year.

 The Methodists, under the direction of Presiding Elder Rev. George W. Mathews, assigned Rev. J.L. Scruggs as the first pastor of The Second Methodist Church of Dublin in the spring of 1907. 

 W.E. Duncan was put in charge of the commissary to help feed and supply the workers and their families, many of whom lived in newly constructed homes around the mill.

 Just as the mill was reaching its pinnacle of success in 1906, the country suffered from a financial crisis in 1907.

 The Georgia Cotton Mills, which purchased the mill for $123,000.00 in March 1909,  was incorporated in February 1909 by J.C. Cooper, W.P. Jackson, Athens, C.C. Cooper of Eatonton, and John R. Cooper of Macon. C.A. Penton of Houston, Texas, was hired as the new superintendent.

 A series of misfortunes followed.  At the request of several of its creditors, the Georgia Cotton Mills was forced into involuntary bankruptcy in the autumn of 1911. 

 During the next thirty months, the mill saw steep declines in revenue.  Despite the efforts of W.D. McNeill of Fayetteville, North Carolina, the Citizens and Southern Bank foreclosed and sold the 8,000 spindle, 260 Lowell Machinery loom mill to James McNatt of Montgomery County, Mrs. Maude Stubbs (Mrs. William) Pritchett of Dublin, and the Southern Cotton Mills and Commission company for a bid of $85,000.00 in December 1911.  Seven months later, the mill changed again when it was sold to Oconee Cotton Mills.  

 Oconee Cotton Mills was incorporated by President W.N. Leitch of Eastman, Vice President M.H. Edwards, Secretary C.H.Peacock,  E.S. Smiley manager,  James McNatt of  Ailey, and  R.L. Denmark, Vice President of Citizens and Southern Bank of  Savannah,
 The beginning of the end of the Oconee Cotton Mills came in the summer of 1913 when Superintendent Ed Turner and three other men were indicted by the Laurens County Grand Jury for working children under the age of twelve and sitting idly by without paying them even a pittance.   

 By early spring, the Oconee Cotton Mill was shut down for lack of cotton to process.  Despite the leadership of its principal owners, the plant closed for good.  President Leitch had been a successful Dodge County businessman, a director of the Dublin-Laurens Banking Company and an owner of the Citizens Bank of Eastman.  C.H. Peacock was the organizing President of the Citizens Bank of Eastman.  Mills B. Lane, the founding President of the Citizens and Southern Bank.  

 On a Wednesday morning, June 10,  1914, the night watchman discovered that lightning from a strong electrical storm ignited the store room and offices of the mill destroying all of the company's business records and eventually the entire vacant structure was enveloped in a mass of flames.    The losses of $150,000 could have been prevented or limited had the specially designed water works been functioning. 

 The principal owners of the Oconee Cotton Mills did not choose to rebuild despite their $ 133,000.00 in insurance payments.  With something less than stellar credit and the erratic prices for cotton, the company went into default on its $90,000 loan from the Citizens and Southern Bank of Savannah.  The bank took exception to the mill owner's claim, winning its case after an appeal by the mill owners to the Georgia Supreme Court.  Undaunted the primary principal operating investors concentrated their efforts on their Eastman Cotton Mill, which was thriving a decade after the disastrous fire in West Dublin.


 The bank held the title to the property until 1936, when it sold the land to Dublin business tycoon, Cecil E. Carroll, who eventually removed all signs of the former cotton mill with one exception.  When W.R. Werden constructed his Mediterranean style home on Bellevue Road, he used a great deal of the brick salvaged from the remains of the Dublin Cotton Mill, which died on June 10, 1914, one hundred years ago today.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

THE FIRST CENTURY FOR THE FIRST BAPTISTS


For two centuries, the Baptists have been the dominant denomination in Laurens County.  A century ago, the county’s largest church celebrated the day when their new church was officially debt free.  Although most of its early records have been destroyed, Dublin’s First Baptist Church was one of the leading non-big city churches in the state of Georgia in the first two decades of the 20th Century.  A century ago, this week, the congregation of the First Baptist Church celebrated the burning of the mortgage on their seven-year-old sanctuary.



The Baptists were already congregating on a flat piece of land in the rolling hills of northern Laurens County at the place they called “The Poplar Springs” when Laurens County was created in the late autumn of 1807.  Although worship services were randomly taking places in the county seat of Dublin, twenty years would pass before a movement to establish a Baptist church began.  In fact, churches at Bethlehem and Blue Water would begin services before the Baptists in Dublin.



Very little is known of the early years of the First Baptist Church, the records having  long been destroyed.   The earliest services, conducted by visiting ministers,  were held in private homes and in the courthouse. The church goes back at least to 1826.  The first building, a primitive structure for a still somewhat primitive community of the mid 1820s, was built in 1827 or in the next couple of years on what is now Bellevue Avenue between North Church Street and Maiden Lane.



According to tradition, the First Baptist Church was chartered on the first Sunday, September 6, 1829 by Mrs. Thomas Moore, Mrs. Eli Warren, D.G. Daniel, Mrs. D.G. Daniel and Mary J. Bettison Daniel.



In the winter of 1831, Baptists, a good mid day’s ride from existing churches, asked the membership of Poplar Springs to help them organize a new church in Dublin.  That same year, the church was invited to join the Ebenezer Baptist Association.  By 1840, the church counted 37 members.  The following year,  Jeremiah Yopp donated an acre of land  on the western end of the town where the church was already located to Bolling Hobbs and John Woodard, Deacons of the First Baptist Church.



Membership numbers hovered around the 50 to 90 mark until the beginning of the Civil War.  Ironically in 1857, there were 39 Negro members of the church.  The aftermath of the war saw the end of integrated churches.  Former slaves formed their own church, the First African Baptist Church a few blocks away, in the years just after the end of the war.





As Dublin’s townsfolk sought to recover from the literal destruction of their ways of life after the war, the Baptists scraped together enough money to construct their second building on the site, located closer to the intersection of Bellevue with Maiden Lane than the present structure.  The 40 foot by 60 foot wooden building, shared with the Methodists until they completed their first church building in the mid 1890s, lasted until 1908 when the current church was completed.  The old structure was moved to North Decatur Street and used by the Congregation of the Second African Baptist or Scottsville Baptist Church.

   

The first minister was simply known as Rev. Buchanan, his first name being lost to eternity.  Jordan Baker came next followed by Rev. Hammack.  The fourth minister, Rev. James Williamson, whose Scottish brogue “added interest to his sermons,” was a native of Glascow who traveled from Nova Scotia to New Orleans to Savannah preaching the gospel.  Rev. J. McDonald, of whom very little is known, came next.



The Rev. David Garnto Daniell, the first native of Laurens County to serve as minister, began preaching in the mid 1830s.  Rev. Daniell left for Atlanta, where he became the first pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta.  The Rev. Larry Hobbs, also a native of Laurens County, served from 1839 to 1840, until he was succeeded by his brother, Rev. Bolling Hobbs, who served from 1841 to 1854.





Among the early church officials were deacons, Bolling Hobbs, John Woodard, F.C. Hightower and Nunae Scarborough. Bolling Hobbs, Elijah Benton, Wright Stanley, M.L. Stanley and R.A. Stanley were the earliest clerks.    They were followed by W.B. Lee and William Jordan Baker and William D. Horne.   There are no surviving records to indicate who served the church during the Civil War.



At the end of the war, the Rev. Edward B. Barrett took over as the pastor of the church.  Rev. Barrett, who had served under Generals Jackson and Hill as Chaplain of the 45th Georgia Infantry, served the church for four years and the community and as a school teacher and a state representative. Washington Geiger completed the 1860s as the pastor.





Without a shadow of a doubt, the most well-known and well-liked pastor of the church was the Rev. Whiteford S. Ramsay, (Left) who came to Dublin as an 18-year-old school teacher, briefly served as Lt. Colonel of the 14th Georgia Infantry during the opening months of the Civil War.  Rev. Ramsay returned to Dublin to devote his time to God and teaching school. In 1870, he began his 22-year-tenure as the Pastor of First Baptist Church, the longest in the church’s nearly two hundred year history.  Rev. Ramsay organized the current day Laurens County School system.  It is said that when he died as many as 10,000 people came to pay their respects.



Ramsay was succeeded by Needham Hurst, C.W. Minor, J.Ware Brown and E.W. Marshall during what has been described as a troubled time of the church’s existence.  As Dublin rose to prominence in business, agricultural, and political stature in the state, the First Baptist Church was able to hire many of the outstanding ministers in Georgia, including  James C. Solomon, Robert E. Neighbor, Millard A. Jenkens, Allen Fort, William A. Taliafero and Timothy W. Callaway.    



The crowning accomplishment of the membership of the First Baptist Church was the construction of the present church in 1908.  This Gothic-style architecture church, modeled after Melrose Abbey in Scotland, borrowed designs from superior functional churches around the country.







The sanctuary’s original seating capacity was 650, exclusive of the gallery seating.  The Baptist were right proud of their new building, and rightfully so.  The new structure was the first church building in the Southern Baptist Convention to have an Educational Building and a departmentalized Sunday School. The Sunday School auditorium seated more than 200 people. The Sunday School rooms numbered fourteen.  The original church called for a 75' x 100' structure, covered with repressed brick and trimmed and capped in Georgia marble.  Two 40 foot towers adorn the North and South corners, while a 60-foot tower accents the church’s main entrance.



So, on this the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Dublin’s First Baptist Church, here is to a third century of serving our community and our Lord.
























Saturday, January 4, 2014

LOOK! UP INTO THE SKY!

       
A hundred autumns ago, its stone-covered facade rose high into the Emerald City sky.  It was the tallest building between Macon and Savannah.  It is still one of the tallest buildings between the Central City and the Hostess City of the South. A century ago, the six-story super structure represented the zenith of Dublin's meteoric growth as a regional agricultural, economic and political center of east-central Georgia.  Today, she stands on the cusp of her former glory, awaiting the day when she will rise as a phoenix once again.
The First National Bank was chartered in April 1902 with an initial capital stock of fifty thousand dollars.  The principal stockholders were Frank G. Corker, William S. Phillips, and J.E. Smith, Jr., the latter being one of the top three movers and shakers in town.  

The First National's directors chose a prime location on the northeast corner of North Lawrence (Laurens) Street and West Jackson Street.  As Dublin grew, so did the First National Bank.  The board of directors began to look around for a site to build a new bank.  They were looking for a site which would be close to the leading commercial concerns.  At that time, the commercial center of Dublin lay between Jackson Street on the north, Washington Street on the east, the railroads on the south and Monroe Street on the west.  The center of the district was at the intersection of South Jefferson and Madison Street and that's the spot where Corker chose to build the new bank.  Corker chose the old post office site on the southwest corner of the intersection.  The directors wanted to erect an impressive structure, not just one which would draw customers from competing banks, but one which would also lure professionals and businessmen from the agribusiness, which sprung up during the city's golden age.

The bank secured the services of A. Ten Eyck Brown, an Atlanta architect and  one of the leading architects of the Southeast.   Although he was primarily known as a designer of public and office buildings, one of Brown's earliest designs was the fabulous Georgian Hotel in Athens, Georgia, which was completed in 1909. The hotel was as elegant as any hotel outside of Atlanta. Five years later, the Clarke County Courthouse, a four-story yellow brick building, was completed next door to the hotel. The courthouse in Athens was one of three major courthouses designed by Brown and completed in 1914. Brown designed the Neo-Classical Revival style courthouse in Salisbury, North Carolina. The Rowan County Courthouse features huge Ionic columns on its portico. 

Other noteworthy Brown buildings in the Atlanta area include: the Ten Park Place Building near Five Points, which features the rare modernistic style of architecture; the Cooper Street School and various schools built in the 1920s while Brown was the supervising architect of Fulton County Schools, Spotswood Hill - the home of Georgia's premier historian, Lucian Lamar Knight - The Atlanta Municipal Market, St. Anthony's Church, the Luckie Street YMCA, and the Thornton Building on Pryor Street. Brown also designed the Third National Bank and the Guarantee Trust Bank. Countless other buildings designed by Brown have fallen victim to the agony of progress.

        Brown's most famous design outside of Georgia was the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. Construction on the twenty-seven story, three hundred fifty foot tall, building began in 1925. A powerful 1926 hurricane delayed the construction period to a total of three years. The base of the courthouse is made of Stone Mountain granite, while the upper portion is constructed of terra cotta, much like the First National Bank building in Dublin. Brown designed the four-million dollar building, which was once one of the tallest buildings in Florida, in collaboration with August Geiger.


While standing nearly one hundred feet tall, the building was narrow, only thirty-one feet in width.  The first story, twenty-two feet in height, featured a mezzanine over the main floor of the bank.  As one entered the lobby, the president's office and the cashier's office were located on the right.  Behind the main office of the bank in the center of the first floor were the vaults.  The director's room was situated at the front of the mezzanine level.  The clerical staff kept the records at the rear of the mezzanine.

Most impressive were the marble floors and walls of the main banking room.  In the lobby was Dublin's first elevator, one which ascended six floors of the tallest building between Macon and Savannah.  Ornamental plaster patterns and elaborate bronze teller screens, as impressive as any in a metropolitan bank, were Brown's finishing touches to Dublin's first skyscraper.  The vaults, which included four hundred safety deposit boxes, were designed to be fireproof.  As a matter of fact, the building was constructed primarily of concrete, stone and steel and was itself virtually fireproof.  Above the bank were sixty-four office spaces, equipped with the modern conveniences of lighting and heating. However, there was no air-conditioning, except in the form of electric fans and open windows, the latter of which was most effective on the upper floors which were impervious to flying insects.  Construction of the building was completed in November 1913.  Tenants began moving in on December 5, 1913.  

The First National Bank, the last Dublin bank to survive the economic collapse following the coming of the boll weevil in 1917, closed its doors in 1928.  A receiver was appointed to disburse the remaining assets between depositors.   Mills Lane, President of the Citizens and Southern Bank of Savannah, came to the rescue of Dublin's remaining business interests by first establishing a private bank, and then in the early thirties, establishing the Citizens and Southern Bank of Dublin, which remained in the First National building until the early 1950s.

When George T. Morris incorporated Morris State Bank in the 1950s, he looked around to find a prominent location of what was then Dublin's fourth bank.  Morris State Bank occupied the bottom floor while many of the professional offices remained.

As the boom of modern banks and professional buildings began in the early 60s, the skyscraper's tenants slowly began to move out to newer quarters.  

In the late 70s, the building began a four-decade long decline.  Apathy set in.  Investors feared the cost of remodeling.   

The solid structure stood resolute against the sands of time.

Enter Gainesville attorney's Dan and Chandelle Summer.   One day, the Summers were driving home from Dexter, where Chandelle's grandfather, Cy Dozier lived.    Lights went on in their heads.  The bought the building and set out to restore it to its former grandeur, as they have done with a couple of buildings in Gainesville.    Their attempts were all for naught. 

The Dublin Downtown Development Authority has been working with a developer to renovate the old First National Bank Building for mixed commercial and residential uses. Architect Robert Brown of BBTB, Inc., in Macon, Georgia, has drawn conceptual plans for each floor, ranging from a grand bank lobby on the ground floor to a sprawling 7th floor penthouse apartment. These plans would bring the building up to 21st century fire code while retaining its historic elements. 

"The key to the DDA's plan is the ability to qualify the plans for historic tax credits, which would save the developer hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovation costs," commented Joshua Kight, the Executor Direct of the DDA. 

"While the project is still in its early stages, the DDA is working hard to give Dublin's landmark historic building another century of life," Kight added.


As she starts her second century, we can all hope once again that the no longer silent sentinel will mark the dawn of a new Golden Age for our community.  What a fitting tribute it would be to the new Emerald City for the First National Bank for all to see as we look up into to sky.

THE LAST CHRISTMAS

THE LAST CHRISTMAS
Christmas in Laurens County in 1940


The year was 1940.  It would be the last Christmas before the war.  It was a Christmas when Dubliners and Laurens Countians put their differences aside and celebrated the birth of Christ in its true form. A little commercialism could be found, but the main focus was the religious aspect of the 25th of December. Many were worrying about the impending war in Europe.  More than a hundred local men and boys in the Georgia National Guard were training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina for a war they hoped would never come.

A county-wide celebration began on the courthouse square in the late afternoon of the 12th.   Several thousand citizens gathered in downtown.  Streets were blocked off for several blocks in all directions.  Late shoppers were serenaded by the bands of Dublin High School and the Laurens County Marching Band seated on a specially constructed grandstand.  Music filled the air -  broadcast from loud speakers in the courthouse tower.  The boys of Cadwell, Dudley, and Rentz vocational classes aided Georgia Power employees in stringing the lights on trees and the courthouse itself.  A manager scene was constructed on the grounds.  The lighting also included the traditional tree of lights on the Carnegie Library grounds (now the museum).  Another part of the display of lights was a new neon sign placed on the steel frame of the river bridge wishing new comers a "Merry Christmas!"  Later the sign was change to read "Welcome to Dublin" for west bound travelers and "Thanks, Come Again" for east bound visitors on their way out of town.

Dr. C.H. Kittrell, President of the Dublin Lions Club, served as the master of ceremonies.  He hailed the gathering "as the most impressive Christmas display our community has ever had."  Dr. Kittrell praised the unity shown by members of the community and its significance in the Christmas season.  The Rev. Claude E. Vines prayed for world peace in his invocation.    Bob Hightower, chairman of the event, praised the spirit of cooperation by the business and professional men of Dublin, except the five "scrooges" who refused to donate to the program.  In all, Hightower and his associates raised more than fifteen hundred dollars.   Rev. W.A. Kelley, Superintendent of the Dublin District of the Methodist Church, called for a renewed observation of the spiritual significance of Christmas.  By then, children began tugging on their parents sleeves asking "when are they going to turn on the lights?"  Mae Hightower made here way to the stage where she threw the lights, just at the moment of dusk.  In eclectic voices the crowd filled the air with "oohs", "aahs", and "wows." 

The second phase of the celebration came five days later.  The ladies of the Dublin Garden Club, led by its president, Mrs. Carl Nelson, sponsored a city-wide outdoor Christmas lighting contest.  Mrs. Howard L. Cordell, Sr. and Mrs. Marion Peacock headed the committees which were able to secure out of town judges to evaluate the fifty-four contestants.  The judges made their decisions based on the suitability of the lights to the type of home, the size of the decorations in proportion to the size of the house, and the total artistic and color effect of the decorations.

Mr. and Mrs. O.L. Chivers, whose home still stands on Bellevue Ave. across from the Piggly Wiggly, won the first prize.  The George T. Morris home, now home to the Chamber of Commerce, finished in a second-place tie with "Green Acres," the home of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Geeslin.  Third place was awarded to Mr. and Mrs. James F. Nelson, Jr.

Rev. Ralph Gilliam led an impressive and inspirational candlelight service at Henry Memorial Presbyterian Church on the Sunday before Christmas.  Participants in the program included Blanche Coleman, C.C. Crockett, Leah Kittrell, Charles Alexander, Sara Veal, Noble Marshall, and the music club of Dublin High School.  The choir of the First Baptist Church presented a cantata at the regular Sunday morning worship service. Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus came to Buckhorn Methodist Church for an "Old Time" Christmas.

The third major event of that Christmas was a county-wide Christmas Carol program on the courthouse square, just two days before Christmas.  A.J. Hargrove, the master of ceremonies, presided over a program which featured thousands of local school students.  The children assembled at the school building downtown (now the City Hall.)  One group, after another, formed on the school grounds and marched to the courthouse serenading parents, shoppers, and merchants along the way.  At the courthouse they did an about face and marched back down the other side of the street. At four o'clock many church choirs assembled at the courthouse for the main part of the program which featured the traditional songs of Christmas, featuring soloists Mrs. Annelle Brown and Blanche Coleman.

An integral part of that Christmas in 1940 and each one since then has been the giving of gifts, especially the toys for the children.  Smith's Jewelry had special last minute gifts for momma and daddy or for the special girl or man.  Silverware sets sold from $15 to $150.00.  Bill folds and belt sets were popular at two dollars or so.  Bulova, Waltham, and Elgin watches were the most popular, all for less than forty dollars.  A solitaire diamond engagement ring sold for $49.75 with the matching wedding duet for only $24.75.  America's finest glassware sold from 25 cents up to $12.00.  

Across the street at Lovett and Tharpe, shoppers could shop until 10:30 on Christmas Eve for the last minute gifts.  For the boys, Daisy air rifles were a dollar, Wilson basketballs were two dollars and seventy-five cents, and Wilson footballs sold for a dollar and twenty-five cents.  The Westfield  bicycle, the top of the line, went for the sum of twenty-eight dollars.  Tricycles were four dollars and wagons brought three dollars apiece.  For the lady of the house, a husband could pick up a new Frigidaire refrigerator, range, or water heater for $120.00 and up.  Tree light strings, the old-fashioned kind with larger light bulbs, sold for fifty cents to a dollar.

Santa Claus came that night.  Toy lead soldiers, baby dolls, comic books, and tea sets, along with the requisite new sets of clothes found their way under the trees.    For the last two decades the county and city had suffered through a long and dark economic depression.  Things were beginning to change.  As Charles Dickens said in his "Tale of Two Cities," "It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times."  Our country was about to enter into a world war that would change the course of the history of man forever.

That joyous season of Christmas had  two sad postscripts.   Homer Jordan and M.C. Kincey broke into McLellan's Department Store.  The two men helped themselves to the contents of the store early on Christmas morning.  Otherwise, Sheriff I.F. Coleman and Chief J.W. Robertson reported that the day passed quietly, the only Christmas in recent memory that they didn't have to lock up a few drunks."  While all but ten local National Guardsmen returned home for Christmas, two Monroe Georgia soldiers were passing through Dublin on their return to Camp Stewart.  Just as Sgt. Roger Malcom and James Peters passed under the Merry Christmas sign on their way to Hinesville, they lost control of their car and crashed into the bridge.  Sgt. Malcom didn't survive. It was his last Christmas.  Christmas is a time to cherish with your family and friends.  Remember the true "reason for the season" and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

THE 12TH DISTRICT FAIR OF 1913

The Greatest Fair in Our County's History

When the air is cool, when most of the cotton had been taken to the gin, and when the kids were back in school, residents of Laurens County turned their thoughts to one of the most highly anticipated events of the year.  No, it wasn't the November general elections.  It was the Fall fair, held each year in each of Georgia's twelve congressional districts.  During the second decade of the 20th century, most of these fairs were held in Dublin.  Along with the Chautauqua festivals in the summer months, these district fairs were often the highlight of the year in the host cities.

The first 12th District fair was held in Dublin in 1911 on the second floor of the Gilbert Hardware Building at 123 W. Jackson St., the former main office of Farmers and Merchants Bank.  The second fair was held at the southwest corner of West Madison Street and South Monroe Street behind Theatre Dublin and the Fred Roberts Hotel.   The rapid growth of the fair caused the organizers to look for a permanent and larger site to hold the annual event.  The leaders purchased a tract on the north side of Telfair Street between Troup and Joiner Streets on the old Fuller property.  Peter S. Twitty, Jr. was chosen to manage the fair that year under the overall leadership of pioneer fair organizer and farmer, W.B. Rice.  N.G. Bartlett, Dublin school superintendent, served as secretary of the organization.

Fairs of the early Twentieth Century were a far cry from the fairs in the latter half of the century.  Planners often staged different events and exhibits daily in order to attract repeat fair goers. The fair began on Monday and lasted until Saturday, often the biggest day of the week.  The first day of the fair featured a series of speeches and musical numbers.  The second day of the fair was designated as "Good Roads Day," and visitors were induced to attend through free admission.  Transportation experts from all over the state came to town to discuss the importance of good roads in Laurens County.  The big event on Wednesday was the Kit Carson Wild Wild West Show.  "Big Sing Day" featured the best in local school musical talent,  organized by Prof. J.M. Spivey of Adrian and Prof. A.M. Pace of Eastman.  Prizes were awarded to the best school class in amounts of fifty, twenty-five, and ten dollars.   Friday was set aside to salute the school children of the district.  Saturday, the day when most of the country folks came to town,  was devoted to the farmers and agricultural products of the district.

One of the biggest events of the fair, possibly one of the biggest in the early history of the county, was the exhibition of daredevil flying skills by aviator Gene Heth.  The airplane, which  was still a novelty in East Central Georgia,  brought out three thousand people to the air strip and many more thousands to the fair grounds  to witness Heth's flight.  Heth took off from the Pritchett field, which was located between the Laurens County Library and Dublin Jr. High School, for a circular trip around the city, across the Oconee River, and back to the starting point.  After a little difficulty getting started, Heth, who held the world altitude record for a passenger carrying plane, thrilled the crowds in the airplane, which was built by Wilbur Wright. The plane was put on display for everyone to view  between flights.

The other big event on Wednesday was the Kit Karson Wild West Show at Stubbs Park.  The show, the second largest in the United States, featured sixteen railroad cars of animals, one car of horses and buffaloes, Russian cossacks, Spanish gouchos,  and scores of cowboys, cowgirls, and real sure enough Indians.   The highlight of the show was a re-enactment of the Battle of Wounded Knee.  Trick shooting, lassoing, and an attack on a stage coach were also featured.  One of the negative aspects of the show was the large number of empty wallets and purses found around where the railcars of the show were parked, undoubtedly lifted by light-fingered grafters working the crowds.

F.W. Stanley of the U.S. Department of Agriculture put on an demonstration of irrigation equipment on the W.B. Rice farm, which was located west of town on the present site of the Vinson V.A. Medical Center.    During fair week, the newly opened Bertha Theatre presented a live production of George M. Cohan's "The Little Millionaire," starring Burt Leigh and Hazel Burgess. Another popular and thrilling exhibit was the motordrome, which was an oval track, twenty one  feet wide at the base and forty  feet wide at the top. Four motorcycle riders raced each other at speeds up to sixty miles an hour on the nearly vertical track.  The Coney Island Company's tent featured top Vaudeville performers.  Among the other big shows were the Merry Makers Vaudeville shows, Colliers Famous Old Plantation Minstrel Show, McFall's Dog and Monkey Circus, Harry Kojan's Theatrical Girls Show, and a Big Street Parade.  Those attending the fair could stop in at the telegraph of the Courier Herald to catch up on the latest scores in the World Series games between the Athletics and the Giants. 

In addition to being "School Day," Friday was also the day that the politicians made their off year election speeches to the crowds.  Georgia Governor, John M. Slaton, and 12th District Congressman, Dudley Hughes, arrived at the M.D. and S. depot, greeted by thousands of supporters and serenaded by the Dublin Band.  The men were taken up the street to the New Dublin Hotel for the formal welcome by Dublin's leading businessmen and professionals.  The local folks liked to show off their city, so they took the men on a ride around town which wound up at the fairgrounds.  Slaton and Hughes were treated to a dinner following their speeches to the crowd. The speeches were congratulatory and laudatory in saluting the accomplishments of the district and the state during the past year.

The final day of the fair was a salute to the heart and soul of the district, agriculture.  Houston County won the first place award for agricultural display, followed by Twiggs and Laurens Counties.  Hundreds of prizes were awarded in a multitude of categories, including agricultural products, livestock, cooking, canned fruits and vegetables, pickles, sewing, crafts, painting, flower arranging, and wood working.  Among the prize winners that week were Carl Nelson for the best handmade hammer handle; Kellie Ballard for the best cakes; Dorothy Hooks for the best cornbread and biscuits (my personal favorites); and Mrs. W.C. Faulk of Jeffersonville for the best lace display.
Attendance at the fair was truly remarkable.   Special trains from all points in the district made runs into Dublin several times a day.   Each edition of the Courier Herald was devoted to the fair.  Businessmen put out an all out effort to attract the visitors to their establishments.  Every motel and boarding house room in the city were full for the entire week.  Seventy men spent the night in the City Hall for most of the week.  The crowd was estimated to be at least five thousand persons per day with at least twenty thousand coming on Wednesday for the big events, bringing the total attendance to approximately fifty thousand people, many of them, repeat visitors.  The county fairs of that era are a now a bygone part of Americana.  In today's "rush-rush" world, such an event wouldn't be possible, but it surely would be a welcome change.