Monday, September 29, 2014


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.


                 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.


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.