Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at

Friday, October 09, 2015

I SAW IT. I KNOW I SAW IT. Once Upon an Anecdote

Some folks said that Earl and Eleanor were seeing things.  They said the couple had seen things that did not or could not exist.  And, to top it all off, Earl and Eleanor lived in a haunted house for six years.  And,  they unabashedly  told several people of the strange and mysterious goings on inside their old antebellum home and strange things in the sky.

Earl and Eleanor didn’t live the easy life at first.  They lived in public housing for awhile before Earl decided to take up farming full time.  They bought an old house which had been built before the Civil War.  Earl spent most of his adult years  in college and the Navy. He knew only a little about farming, so he took classes to learn more on how to make a living  in agriculture. Eleanor took accounting classes to learn how to manage the farm’s books.  As Earl’s farming business continued to grow and grow, he began to pay it forward by serving others.

It was on Friday morning on September 14, 1973  when Earl stopped in at the Dexter CafĂ© to say hello to his good friends, Levi and his bride - the former Miss Collins.   He came to Dexter and Dublin to find out how could help  the people here and make some new friends.

Eleanor had kin people here in times past.    Eleanor’s great grandfather was born in Laurens County and lived on a large farm at the southwest corner of the Old Macon Road and Highway 338 near  what has long been  been called Lybrand’s Store.

Earl and the coffee drinking crowd talked about crime and the recent robbery of the Knight State Bank in Dexter.  They also talked about the dangerous traffic on Highway 257 and the alarming number of accidents and deaths along that twisting thoroughfare.

As Earl was comparing Dublin and Dexter as similar to his own hometowns,  he told the folks in Dublin that he was definitely planning to get out of political office for good.

Then a newspaper reporter asked Earl about a potentially embarrassing event which happened in Earl’s past some four years before. Somehow the story of the event had leaked out.

Earl told the reporter that  he saw a blue, disc-shaped object during a visit to Leary, Georgia near Albany while Earl and about a dozen members of the Lions Club were standing around outside of the school cafeteria just after dark on a cold, fair, winter night waiting for the meeting to start.

“All of a sudden, one of the men looked up and said, 'Look, over in the west!' And there was a bright light in the sky. We all saw it. And then the light, it got closer and closer to us. And then it stopped, I don’t know how far away, but it stopped beyond the pine trees. And all of a sudden it changed color to blue, and then it changed to red, then back to white. And we were trying to figure out what in the world it could be, and then it receded into the distance," Earl remembered.

Earl and the men watched for about ten minutes or so as the mysterious object, which Earl described as about the size of a full moon, flew  about 30 degrees above the horizon.

Earl’s  military training told him to run to his car, pull out his tape recorder and dictate exactly what he had observed.

That day in Dublin Earl remembered the object as a very remarkable sight,  but began to discount the sight as simply  “an electronic occurrence of some sort.”

It was on that day in Dublin when  the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) wrote to Earl about the mysterious object which he saw back on January 6, 1969.  Four days later after he left Dublin, Earl filled out a form in his own handwriting detailing what he observed was a UFO in January 1969 and mailed it back to the NICAP.  

Later people tried to discount Earl’s sighting as the  extraordinarily bright planet of Venus above the horizon. Earl retorted by stating that he was somewhat of an amateur astronomer and what he saw was definitely not Venus nor any known heavenly object.  Seven years after that January 1969 sighting,  only one person could be found who was present that night. And,  he told authorities it looked something like “a weather balloon.”

Earl and Eleanor had long  moved out of their old  haunted house for some 14 years.  But the folks in town kept talking about the house.  Today they still talk about the house, which Earl and Eleanor recently had preserved as one their county’s oldest and most historic houses.   The house was known to have been haunted since the end of the Civil War.  The sources of the apparitions are said to be Union soldiers who were killed while hiding in the house.  Others in the town said the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad where escaped slaves came to find refuge.

"I never saw any ghosts - I don't believe in them - but I heard something in the attic every night that sent shivers up my spine. Those eerie noises gave me goosebumps," Eleanor said back then.

"One day while my son was playing he found two loose bricks in the attic fireplace. When he picked up the bricks, he discovered a room beneath the fireplace, four feet deep and six feet wide. There was nothing in the room but a chair," Eleanor recalled.

Unlike Earl’s story about seeing a UFO, most folks in  town tended to believe Eleanor’s story about their haunted house because some of them saw the secret rooms with their two seeing eyes  and heard the mysterious noises with their very own listening ears.

Earl kept his promise to leave office. But,  he could not resist his yearning to get back into politics.  After winning his next election, Earl continued to maintain that what he saw was not an astronomical object nor was it a weather balloon.  After all, this observer was more than a peanut farmer from Southwest Georgia.  This man was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, who spent ten years in the Navy -  part of the time as a nuclear engineer.

At the time of his visit to Dexter and Dublin, Earl was considered to be a highly credible witness.  After all, he was the Governor of the State of Georgia.  A little more than three years later, James Earl Carter was elected as the 39th President of the United States.   Joining him in yet another very old house in Washington, D.C., said to be haunted by the commander in chief of the Union Army during the Civil War,  was his wife Eleanor Rosalyn Carter, a great granddaughter of a Laurens County man, Drury Murray.

Oh, by the way, those dear friends of Carters  in Dexter were Cecil Leon Passmore, Jr. and Faye Passmore.

So now you now  know the story of the day when  the future President of the United States first publicly admitted right here in Laurens County to a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution  that he really did see an unidentified flying object.

Jimmy Carter and some of his Laurens County Friends, The White House, 1980. 

Here is President (Governor) Carter's report of his sighting of an Unidentified Flying Object.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Oil in Georgia

Black Gold!  Texas Tea!  Uncle Jed Clampett never found any oil in Laurens County.  It is here, but no slug of Jed’s trusty rifle could penetrate the ground deep enough to bring up the bubbling crude which is there and has been there for hundreds of thousands of years.  During the waning years of the Cretaceous period, millions of years ago, oil began to form from the remains of dead sea animals and
plants along the receding coast line of the Atlantic Ocean.

For nearly three hundred years, oil had not been a necessary commodity for Americans.  It was not until the horseless carriage came along, that the slippery substance, which had only been used for lubricating stationary engines, become such a highly prized  viscous and highly valuable liquid.

The first two oil wells in Georgia were drilled four and one half miles northwest and eight miles west  of Rome in 1902.  Neither of them were successful. In 1908 and for three successive years, oil seekers worked to strike a gusher seven miles south of Madison in Morgan County.  At a depth of 1,015, the drillers gave up and went back home.

The most common instances of the location of oil in Georgia are in seeps, which are places where oil rises to the surface, usually along streams or the banks of springs.  The majority of these seeps seem to follow a line from south of Augusta on the Savannah River, through Louisville, Sandersville, Wrightsville, lower Laurens County, Scotland, and Hawkinsville, along the line separating the lower and upper coastal plain.
Seeps weren’t known to be indicative of any underlying geological formations, which usually indicate the presence of massive pools of oil underneath.    In nearby Johnson County on the old Ed Spell farm, some four crow-fly miles north-northwest of Wrightsville,  Oil was found in globules and thick films in and around a small spring.  Geological tests from the seepage on the Spell farm to be greater than any other place in the state.

Two oil seeps, one twelve miles west and another a half mile east of Hawkinsville, were noted for their massive amount of oil globules seeping up from the watery ground.

Perhaps the most celebrated oil seep ever discovered in Georgia was found in northeastern Telfair County near the village of Scotland.  In the fall of 1919, a team of geologists conducted a series of tests on the farm of H.G. Sample, eight tenths of a mile south of the town on the road to Lumber City.  State Geologist Dr. S. W. McCallie collected a pint sized sample which tested about sixty percent kerosene  - a level comparable to California crude, but somewhat inferior to the oil found in Texas and Oklahoma.

The unexpected discovery led to eager, but reserved, excitement in the state capital in Atlanta, where a meeting of the Geological Board took place to discuss future plans for testing.  McCallie, in an attempt to restrain wild stake grabbing, issued a public statement confirming the presence of substantial seepage, but warned that  no substantial evidence of a workable  pool of oil was yet found. Folks in Telfair County had been noticing the seepage for more than a quarter of a century, but never drew any conclusions as to its sources.  After discounting that the oil was simply the excess oil used to treat hogs for cholera, McCallie was convinced that the oil was naturally occurring.  He ordered an expanded examination of a hundred square mile area.  With inclusive results in hand, McCallie believed that a test well would yield oil somewhere at a depth of 1500 to 3000 feet in the cretaceous strata.

It didn’t take long for the profiteers and exploiters to spring into action. Within a few days of the announcement of the potential find, R.L. Kinchen, of Scotland,  led the organization of a dozen investors who rapidly acquired four thousand leased acres with their fortune-seeking eyes on as many a hundred thousand more acres of potential oil sites.  Speculation was wild.  Wildcatters, skulkers and the pure greedy were descending on Scotland like ants at a dinner on the grounds at the Smith family reunion.  Bidders piled on top of each other hounding Mr. Sample and his flabbergasted wife with lucrative and unrefusable offers, said by some to have amounted to fifty thousand dollars or more.

By the opening of spring, the Telfair Oil Company was beginning the final preparations to begin drilling.  With more than a half million dollars in capital, the company imported drilling equipment from Kentucky and  piping from Pittsburgh. Saw mill workers began to fashion beams to erect a derrick.    The experiment failed. No large quantities of oil were ever found.  Investors, some greedy and others poor farmers trying to keep their families fed in the pre-Depression years, lost life  long
fortunes, which  evaporated in a matter of weeks.

McCallie and his staff continued to explore for oil in eastern and central Georgia.  A possible location was found in the northern part of Emanuel County, but no potential sites were found near Millen, despite some signs to the contrary.

One Laurens Countian got in on the action. I.E. Thigpen spent $50,000.00 to purchase 3,400 acres of a promising oil field  in Jeff Davis County in 1920.   His descendants will tell you that he never struck oil.

In the years preceding World War II,   owners of large tracts of land in Laurens County reserved all mineral rights to the lands they sold.  One such tract, which is still under lease rights today, is occupied by the neighbors of Quail Hollow Subdivision off Academy Avenue Extension.

In February 1971, Texaco, Inc. petitioned the Commissioners of Laurens County for permission to explore the possibility of oil deposits in the county.  The commissioners granted the company the right to conduct seismographic tests along the right of ways of county roads.  Texaco’s engineers placed explosive charges in the ground, ignited them and  then looked for signs of the presence of geological structures which might tend to support the presence of oil.

F.W. McCain and George Nicholson were granted permission a year later to drill for oil on the property of R.T. Gilder, sixteen miles below Dublin.  With a standing reward of  a quarter of a million dollars to the first person to begin commercial production of more than 100 barrels per day, the State of Georgia was inundated with drillers looking to make millions for themselves and millions more for the state’s coffers .   As was the case with the 139 previous attempts, McCain and Nicholson were unsuccessful in their venture.

In the 1980s, the Southeastern Exploration Company signed leases for tens of thousands of acres of land in eastern and southern Laurens County in one final attempt to strike it rich.  No oil was ever found.

And now, more than a century after the first oil wells were dug in Georgia and when we need more oil that we can import from around the world, our gas guzzling auto’s  thirst for more oil and gas  may lead us back to beneath the ground we walk on, and for those who still do, shoot rabbits  on.  Maybe one day, one of us will strike it rich, become a millionaire,  and move to Beverly Hills.   Then we and all your kin will load up our trucks and SUVs, take off our shoes,  sit a spell with you, take a dip in the cement pond, and see a few movie stars.  But as for me,  I have been to Beverly Hills twice. And,  right here in this locality, hospitality and all, is  where  I want to be.

Saturday, October 03, 2015


        It was on a mild, cloudy,  late autumn  night when they came to see him play.  They came to see  man who was known around the county and the world as the “Poet of the Accordion.”   Lloyd could play his accordion as well as and as uniquely like few others had ever done.

At the age of five in the late 1920s, he  began to study under the tutelage of his Russian father, Joe.  Lloyd, then six years of age, joined his father to form the act, “The Two La Vaux,” and traveled throughout North America where they appealed to a wide variety of audiences.

Lloyd moved from Amherst, New York to the Bronx in New York City to study his craft.  By the age of seventeen, Lloyd was performing in Carnegie Hall.  As one of the first graduates from Mayor  La Guardia's High School of Music and Art, Lloyd began his study music in Brooklyn College, where he also concentrated in the classical foreign languages and literature.

Reaching new heights as an accordion player, Lloyd played many compositions of the great classical composers to become one of the more famous accordion players in the country as he performed in dozens of national tours in the United States and Canada.

After the end of World War II, Lloyd returned to the United States and returned to stages in big cities and small towns around North America and the world.  After performing for President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the King of Cambodia, Lloyd eventually made his home in Toronto, Canada.

He opened a music school, “The La Vaux School of Music,” which he operated until his move home to Amherst in 2008.  He died two days after his 87th birthday in 2011 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Erie County.

The members of the Laurens County Concert Association had been working for more than three years after forming their group in the lobby of the Fred Roberts Hotel in November 1949.

It was the goal of the association to seek out and obtain many of the best musical performers in the country within the means of their budget from among more than 400 performers available.

This group and others like it have consistently brought the finest musical talent in America to Dublin under the banners of the Dublin Community Concerts Association, the Dublin Fine Arts Association and the Dublin-Laurens Art Council.

The Dublin performance took place in the auditorium of Central Elementary School, currently the home of Dublin City Hall. The auditorium was the city’s primary performance center from its early days as the high school auditorium in 1902 until its remodeling in the 1980s.

The twenty-eight-year-old master of the bellows presented his unique style on an accordion especially designed to simulate the individual and combined sounds of  an entire orchestra.

Lloyd, actually Lloyd La Vaux, was touring the nation raising funds to benefit Italian War Orphans Relief and other charities in Italy.  After his American tour, La Vaux was scheduled to perform in a dozen of Italy’s largest cities.

What the audience that night did not know back in the days when we only had adequate encyclopedias and no Google searches, hardly anyone knew the whole story of La Vaux’s life as a teenager.

For you see, the highly talented accordionist  known around the world as “The Poet of the Accordion,” was actually a boy hero of World War II.

        Lloyd entered the United States Army at the age of seventeen in the Allied Intelligence Service during WWII.  As an Army intelligence agent, Lloyd  accompanied the first wave of troops in the D-day invasion of Utah Beach on the coast of Normandy.  

“On 15 June 1944, Private La Vaux, as a member of the 90th Infantry regiment,  volunteered to accompany his lieutenant in an attempt to gain information from a Civilian who was taking refuge in a house some distance beyond the American lines. During the interrogation of this civilian, a fire fight developed in the vicinity of the house and Private La Vaux found that they were 200 yards
behind German positions. Realizing the importance of the information obtained if received in time, Private La Vaux left his place of comparative safety and worked his way back through the enemy positions and through 400 yards of intense small arms fire to his own lines. The meritorious achievement and devotion to duty of Private La Vaux aided materially in the subsequent successes at Valognes and Cherbourg,” read his citation issued by the President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

”Toward September of 1944, I must have been a little less intelligent than my London mailing address indicated. Volunteering for an intelligence mission alone in advance of Allied fighting lines, Lloyd ran into some difficulties and was, on September 7, 1944, arrested by German police forces. After some of the most fabulous experiences on record, he landed in Stalag IIIC in Prussia from which he promptly escaped in January of 1945. The return trip was made the hard way -through Eastern Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union to Odessa, then Istanbul, Greece and Naples and finally back to Paris,” La Vaux recalled of his most trying times during his military service.

Described as “A young man with an engaging personality, a fine musical background and imagination,” Lloyd La Vaux thrilled the Dubliners present that night nearly  63 years ago on December 8, 1952.  They saw his brilliance flowing out of his special  accordion.

        And, now you know what an American hero this brilliant young man truly was. 

Friday, October 02, 2015

The Crystal Theater

The Crystal Theater

It was in the month of September, a century ago, when Dublin's first truly permanent movie theater opened.  Mrs. Eugenia "Miss Gennie"  Hightower, the widow of the late Dr. Robert H. Hightower of Dublin, opened her Crystal Theater in the building now occupied by the highly heralded Italian restaurant Deano's on West Jackson Street in Dublin.  For the first time, Dubliners could attend a movie in a theater which was specially and solely designed to be a theater, and not just an empty hall where movie goers sat in temporary seating and watched  on a makeshift screen.

The first theater in Dublin, known as "The Theatorium,"  opened about 1905.  The next theater was the Amusu,  which was located in the old section of the Courier Herald Building next to the Hicks Building.  The Amusu's movies were supplemented with live singing by touring professionals. The manager also sought business by announcing baseball scores and election results received through special telegraph wires.

      As the popularity of silent movies began to rise, many new theaters sprang up.  The Gem, The Lyric, The Star, and The Bijou theaters featured movies with local singers and musicians accompanying the films.  The Lyric Theater was located in the Brantley Building or the Lovett and Tharpe Building on the corner of West Jackson and North Lawrence Streets.  The Star and The Bijou were located in the Opera House on the corner of South Monroe and West Madison Streets.  The first talking picture was shown in Dublin in 1914 at the old Bertha Theater.  The sound came from a record player played in synchronization with the film.  The Bertha Theater originally started out as the store building of Stephen Lord and C.W. Brantley.  Mayor E.R. Orr asked the gentlemen to add another story and to convert it into a theater and auditorium to replace the Chautauqua Auditorium which burned in 1911.

 In March 1913, Mrs. Hightower and her son, Bob Hightower, Sr.
(left) , opened their motion picture house under the new banner of the Crystal Palace or later, simply as the  Crystal Theater. The new building featured a common lobby with an arched ceiling separating the ice cream parlor on the left side of the complex.  Movie goers could walk through an arched entrance and consume the most delicious and thirst quenching refreshments.  The 40-foot deep lobby was located in front of the enlarged auditorium, which was 205-feet deep. New projectors and a plate glass screen were installed. The 30-foot ceiling provided ample ventilation.  A $2500.00 piano and pipe organ were purchased. Later two new projectors were purchased to insure continuous viewing of the movies. Mrs. Hightower always searched Savannah, Atlanta and Macon for new ideas to improve the Crystal, which she did in a major way in September 1915.

"My dad operated the first movie theater in town next door to where the Peppercorn Sandwich Shop (now Stone Horse Tavern) is now located long before 'talking pictures.' A large organ stretched all the way across the theater in front of the screen," Robert Hightower, Jr.  told Dr. John Belcher in a January 1989 interview.

"The organist would look up and watch the movie. If a horse was galloping, she pushed the right key and there was the sound of a horse galloping. Another key and one could hear several horses running at breakneck speed.  My father beat his desk to demonstrate these sounds. The organ was a truly remarkable instrument which could duplicate the noise of thunder, rain, bombs of war, the bubble of a brook, crowing roosters, the patter of children's feet plus martial, classical or any other kind of music," the junior Hightower recalled.

In an interview with the Courier Herald, some thirty years earlier in 1959, master movie man, Bob Hightower, Sr.  proclaimed, "Not all the silent movies were shown in movie houses. With a live electrical connection, a "picture show" could be held any place. Quite a few men made the rounds with a projector and screen showing the marvel of "moving" pictures. Speakers were not necessary. The proprietor could supplement the printed subscripts for those who could not read. I personally recall seeing one movie at school where a phonograph record was played simultaneously with the exhibition of the film. I do not remember if this was strictly background or a crude attempt at a "talkie."

Although he was just a young child at the time, Hightower recalled that his mother had a piano and music store on the site. "She became interested in those new fangled moving pictures, so she moved the pianos, installed a screen in the rear and put on a five- ten cents theater.  She named' It "The Picture Show," the affable manager recalled.

"The town's electric lights  didn't come on until sundown, so Mother couldn't open up until dark. She had a phonograph beamed out  of a window in the operating room and we'd play that to ballyhoo the show." "There was no accompanying music for the picture, which was run on a one-picture  Edison machine, a "one-pin," Hightower said.

Mrs. Hightower rented the films from  Dan Holt of Macon, who operated the Theatorium in that city, the first such theater in Macon.  Bob Hightower, Sr. recalled that  Holt obtained his films from Chicago by freight, getting a month's supply at a time, which he rented to Mrs. Hightower for $1.00 per reel.  During those early days,  Mrs. Hightower  ran the first multiple reel picture ever made, The Great Train Robbery by Biograph.

"We kept a barrel of water under the operating room, to which a cable which was run from the rheostat, ending in a crow's foot grounded in the water," he continued. "Every time the picture dimmed, we'd throw in a handful of table salt which charged the water and the light would clear," Hightower remembered.

Hightower was recognized far and wide as a master of promotion.  Sometimes he was known as the master of commotion as well.

In the spring of 1921, manager Hightower offered a free movie ticket to a "Tin Can Matinee" for any kid bringing in five tin cans in an effort to alleviate the shortage of fishing bait cans and cleaning up the city in the process.  Five thousand cans were collected.

In 1922, a fantastic fight card was held at the Crystal matching up Dublin's Bill McGowan, a somewhat successful boxer and future Hollywood stuntman, against a Chicago fighter and another bout featuring "Baby" Stribling, younger brother of the great boxer, Young Stribling of Macon.

In 1920, Hightower was arrested and fined $25.00 by Dublin police for painting bear tracks on the sidewalks leading to the Crystal, which was showing "Back to God's Country."

When Hightower went into the service during World War I stationed at Hampton Roads, Va. with the U.S. Navy, his mother operated the Crystal. In her son's absence, she was assisted by Pickette Bush Clark, who worked with Hightower for at least four decades.

As the only movie theater in town, business was great for many years.   Bob Hightower, Jr. firmly believed  that after Al Jolson appeared in the first "talkie" in 1927, his grandmother and father decided that their movie business was doomed and closed the  Crystal, which was replaced by the Rose Theater, the city's first talking movie theater.  Bob Hightower remained in the movie business until 1959 as the manager of the Ritz and lastly, the Martin Theater.  The Crystal's organ was removed and placed in the alley.  After several months of exposure to the elements, curiosity seekers and vandals, the magnificent instrument was beyond repair.

So as you dine at Deano's, close your eyes and travel back in time to the days of yesteryear when movies were silent, short and simple  and swashbuckling swordsmen, violent villains  and handsome heroes of the Old West thrilled movie goers, young and old.  And, I might add, remember all of the neat, wonderful  and handy things you could find in the three decade home of Cater's five and dime store, Dublin's last mom and pop variety store.

For more information on this subject, visit the Dublin-Laurens Museum's exhibit on our local theaters and  movie and television stars opening this weekend at the museum at 702 Bellevue Avenue in Dublin.  

Thursday, October 01, 2015


A Promise Unfulfilled

“What if’s” are the things that dreams are made of.  Whether mere conjecture or near reality, pondering what might have happened “if” has long been the preoccupation of historians and sociologists alike.  Laurens County is not immune from such speculation.  In the 1830s, county leaders blocked an effort to run the Central of Georgia Railway through the heart of the county, the effect of which would have been a long lasting economic boom to a decaying and overlooked river port town.  The negative impact would have been a total destruction by General William T. Sherman’s right wing as it passed through the area on its “March to the Sea.”

In the post World War II years, the Defense Department was surveying sites for the location of the Air Force Academy.  Milledgeville congressman, long time supporter of Laurens County, and supplier of Federal monies, Carl Vinson, wanted the new installation to be located in his district and particularly in Dublin.  Though Dublin was one of 582 possible sites, Vinson was the most influential congressional Democrat when it came to military affairs.  After the project faltered for six years into a government in control of the Republican president and Congress, Vinson failed, but he wasn’t deterred.

As the Cold War continued to heat up after the end of the Korean War, military strategists stepped up their plans for global warfare.  In 1946, the Pentagon established the Strategic Air Command, or “SAC” for short.  The flagship of the command was the highly dependable and long range bomber dubbed the “B-52.” More than fifty-three years later, these heavy bombers remain as an integral part of the United States Air Force.

These flying fortresses needed places to stay when not in combat or engaging in training missions.  Once again enter Carl Vinson.  No longer yielding the power he had during World War II as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Vinson, the leading  minority member, was highly regarded as an expert on military affairs.

Seeing his chance to give his district an eternal economic boost, Congressman Vinson inserted into a joint House-Senate committee resolution a proposal to build a huge base in Dublin as the headquarters for strategic bombing operations.

The 838-acre site of the base would be centered on the former Naval Air Field northwest of Dublin and which is now the Laurens County Airport. With three near mile-long runways already in place and configured in a triangle, the site was much preferable to a secondary site on the Laurens/Johnson County line in the Buckeye District.   Built in 1943, the old airport was originally designed to accommodate flights in and out of Dublin for staff and patients of the United States Naval Hospital,
the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center.

If the largest base, a bomber wing facility, was built, a total of 5,000 acres would have been necessary.  The mid-sized choice, designed for a squadron, was the most likely choice.  Even if an emergency landing facility, the smallest of the three options, had been constructed, its runways would have needed to be extended to a distance of 12,000 feet, or more than two miles long.

The conference committee, chaired by Vinson, approved the new base as a part of the government’s plan to decentralize the operations of the B-52 in the event the bombers were necessary to carry out retaliatory strikes against nuclear attacks on the United States - in other words against the Russians.

Local officials were beyond ecstatic.  Mayor Felton Pierce proclaimed that the air base would be of such magnitude it would help Dublin considerably.  Pierce further stated, “even Macon and other Middle Georgia towns would feel the effect of such a thing.”   Initial estimates anticipated the location of 15 to  45 planes manned by 270 officers and 1800 airmen and aided by 1700 to 5200 civilian employees, the latter representing one-sixth of the entire county population.

In June of 1956, Vinson and his colleagues appropriated 6.5 million dollars for the project in which the existing runways would be lengthened and reinforced with stronger concrete.  Pierce and others didn’t seem to mind that the community’s private airport would be obliterated, believing instead that the city and county could work together and build another one well away from the flight paths of incoming and outgoing bombers.

The early July deal between the two houses wasn’t a done deal.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn’t happy with the projects in the bill.  He threatened to veto the measure, and he did.  The resident stated that Congress had overstepped the constitutional line between the legislative and executive branches because the legislation provided that the Defense Department could have not spent money on missile sites without congressional approval.    Remember Georgia was a solid Democratic state and even though he was a hero of World War II, he was a Republican.  In that year when racial relations came to the forefront of the legislature, many Georgians simply didn’t “like Ike.”  The big problem was that the Air Force hadn’t even requested the base in Dublin as well as two others.  In order to get the military spending bill beyond an Eisenhower veto, the conferees dropped
the projects at Mitchell, South Dakota, Hobbs Air Force Base, and in Dublin from the compromise bill.   A contingent of Air Forces officials came to Dublin on August 1 to determine the propriety of locating the installation in Dublin.  Vinson continued to adamantly promise the location of the base, either presently or in the future.  He was once quoted as saying that the base would be built, “as sure as Christmas comes.” Many Christmases came, but the base never did.

Though there were  promises of future surveys and Vinson’s determination to build some sort of military installation in Dublin, the plans were officially dropped in the winter of 1957, when an Air Force report determined that there was no military need for a base in Dublin.

Carl Vinson had tried.  Though the base was never built, the Congressman did give us a Naval Hospital, an Interstate highway, the funds to build the first Federally funded county courthouse in the United States, and one of the first Federally funded county libraries in the country.

Thus begs the inevitable hypothetical questions.  What if the government had built the base?  What would Dublin and Laurens County have looked like today?   Would we have looked like Warner Robins?  We probably would.  Our athletic teams would have been nearly unbeatable. Our highways would be wider and busier. Our neighborhoods would been denser and more numerous.

But is that what we really wanted?  Yes, progress is nice and necessary, especially moderate growth with the ability to expand our infrastructure.  But an overnight life-altering and radical changes in our county wouldn’t be right for me or you.  I love where we live just the way it is.  With our eyes and hearts continuously focused on improving our community,   we have fared much better than if the
bombers shook and rattled our lives as they kept the World at peace.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Western Laurens County's Oldest Town

You may have never heard of Hartford, Georgia.  If you have, you may have never thought of it as being in Laurens County.  But from December 10, 1807 to December 10, 1808, this ancient and dead town of Central Georgia lied within the bounds of Laurens County.  Located at an important crossing spot on the Ocmulgee River, Hartford became the first county seat in Georgia named for a woman.   By the slimmest of margins, Hartford  failed to become one of the most important cities in Georgia history.

The area which became Hartford, Georgia was located on the eastern banks of the Ocmulgee River, opposite Hawkinsville.    The State of Georgia acquired all of the land between the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers from the Creek Nation under the treaty of Ft. Wilkinson in 1801.  Hartford, located at  the extreme southwestern limits of the state at a point where the Lower Uchee Trail crossed the Ocmulgee River, became an important and strategic location for the location of a trading post and frontier defense outposts.  Many historians believe that the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came to the Hartford area.  Early authorities believed the Spaniard's expedition traveled along the Lower Uchee Trail crossing the Oconee River in northern Laurens County.  Recently, historians have theorized that DeSoto traveled north from Hartford to Macon, where he turned northeast and crossed the Oconee below Milledgeville.    An 1806 survey shows the confluence of two trails just east of the town.

With the opening of the new lands to the Ocmulgee and in anticipation of the acquisition of additional lands beyond the river, the Georgia Legislature contemplated the  relocation of the capital at Louisville.  Forward-looking legislators realized that a new capital should be located on a navigable river.  The finalist locations were Milledgeville on  the Oconee and Hartford on the Ocmulgee.

Milledgeville was selected by a mere one vote.  Supporters of Hartford, which was located on navigable waters, had the last laugh, when after the location of the capital at Milledgeville, it was discovered that the new city was several miles above the limits of the navigable portion of the Oconee River.

Laurens County was created by an act of the legislature on December 10, 1807.  The original limits of the county extended to the upper line of Telfair County near the mouth of Crooked Creek on the southwest and just above the mouth of Shellstone Creek the lower line of what would become Twiggs County.

Just one year after the creation of Laurens County, a new county, Pulaski, was carved from the western portion of Laurens on December 13, 1808.  Named for Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish soldier who gave his life in support of the American independence, Pulaski County originally included all of present day Bleckley and Dodge Counties and all of present day Pulaski east of the Ocmulgee.

Counties weren't organized overnight.  A legislative act of December 13, 1809 fixed the site of the public buildings of the new county in Land Lot 394 of the 21st Land District.  A year later, George Walker, Jacob Snell, Allen Tooke, William S. Lancaster and Josiah Everett were chosen as commissioners of the town of Hartford.

The commissioners were given the authority to sell lots for the building of a courthouse and jail.    The new town was named in honor of Nancy Hart, Georgia's heroine of the American Revolution.  Hart County, also named in honor of Hart in 1853, is the only county in Georgia named for a woman.  In 1811, Thomas A. Hill, Solomon Hopkins, Elijah Wallace, Malbourn Lyon and Henry Simmons were named town commissioners until an election could be held in 1813.

Hartford, it was believed, was going to be a thriving port city.  Physicians and lawyers  moved there in hopes of building their practices, and consequently, their fortunes.

During its first six years of the county's existence, residents of Hartford and Pulaski County found themselves in constant perils from Indian tribes living across the river.  Four forts were constructed.  Fort Mitchell was located near Hartford. Fort Greene was located six miles to the south.  Many Laurens Countians volunteered for and were called upon to do his share of frontier duty.  General David Blackshear, of Laurens County, was placed in command of the troops along the Pulaski front.

It was once said that all roads led to Hartford.  The Lower Uchee Trail ran through present day Cochran and followed Georgia Highway 26 west of Dublin and crossed the Oconee River between the Dublin Country Club and Blackshear's Ferry on a northeasterly course to the Augusta area.   A Federal Road was constructed from Milledgeville through Longstreet down to Hartford. The Chicken Road ran from Hartford  to what became Empire.  After running a few miles south of present  day Dudley, the Chicken Road (still in existence) entered Dublin along Moore Station Road.

In addition to old Indian trails, four military roads were constructed during the War of 1812.  The first road was built by Major Elijah Blackshear of Laurens County.  This road ran northeasterly along the Chicken Road to Empire. From that point, the road generally followed U.S. Hwy. 23 to the Georgia coast near Darien.

A second road was used by General David Blackshear to transport troops along the eastern banks of the Ocmulgee northward to Camp Hope near Macon.  The General also constructed a road running southeast along the Ocmulgee through Jacksonville, the ancient capital of Telfair County, and down the Altamaha to the coast.  The fourth, and most famous Blackshear Road, ran westerly from Hartford through Indian territory to Fort Early.  This road provided a vital way of passage during the
Indian troubles of 1818.

It was during 1818, when Hartford became the center of military operations against the Seminoles in Florida and southern Georgia and Alabama.  General Andrew Jackson and his army spent a week in Hartford in preparation for military actions.

By 1836, the need to move the county seat across the river became apparent. With most of the county lying on the west side of the river and the land around Hartford not being suitable for expansion, the legislature voted to establish Hawkinsville as the new capital of Pulaski County.

Today, there are few, if any,  remnants of Old Hartford.  Though the area is still known as the Hartford District, the ancient cedars which once surrounded the courthouse are gone as well.   The next time you travel to Hawkinsville, think back two hundred years ago to a time when this tiny hamlet of Hartford nearly became the capital of Georgia.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


George was born on August 16,  1899  in the tiny town of Weed in Otero County in what was once called the New Mexico Territory.  As a youngster, George grew up in another tiny town,  Cross Cut, Texas - south of the cattle towns of Ft. Worth and Abilene.  As he became a teenager, George decided that he cared not at all for being a bartender nor a cowboy as his father had been.  Playing music was what he wanted to do when he grew up. 

George picked up a fiddle and a guitar and by the age of twelve, was a favorite performer at cowboy dances in Brown County in central Texas.   George, of Irish and Cherokee descent, had no formal training in learning how to play his musical instruments.  He listened and watched and became a pretty fair fiddler and guitarist.   In 1928, George was performing on the radio over in the big city of El Paso.  Still anchored to his father’s ranch, George made the fateful decision to leave home.  

Off he went out to Hollywood as a member of the Arizona Wranglers, joining his cousin “Cactus Mack” in the group, which sung on radio programs and performed at rodeos in the Southwest.    As George began to learn more about music, he began to write and perform his own compositions. 

To help pay the bills, George joined Hoot Gibson’s Rodeo.  His friends and colleagues penned the name of “Pee Wee” on Georgia during his brief career as a rodeo rider with Hoot Gibson’s Rodeo show. 

George then made a career changing, life altering decision.  He left his musical career and took a role with Gibson in a western called, “Wild Horse” in 1931. It was during the year 1932 in the darkest days of the Great Depression when George got a minor role in a twelve-chapter serial movie, The Hurricane Express, starring a very young John Wayne. (above) 

For most of the 1930s, George could be seen in a long litany of western movies, playing mostly villains, henchmen and cattle rustlers.  In that decade, George appeared in at least 112 movies, mostly westerns, but did have a minor role in the iconic science fiction serial Flash Gordon. 

In the 1940s, George’s career as a cowboy in the movies, with occasional appearance in a war movie or  crime dramas, continued for about 75 more pictures until he made another career changing move.

George with Boris Karloff

George accepted Universal Studios’ offer for a completely new role for him.  Playing opposite John Carradine as Dracula and Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolfman and Boris Karloff as Dr. Niemann,  George starred in the title role as Hollywood’s second Frankenstein monster in 1944's “House of Frankenstein” another of  Universal’s classic series of monster movies.

George reprised his role the following year joining Chaney and Carradine in a sequel, “House of Dracula.”   In 1948, George returned to the big screen as he scared all of  the wits of Lou Costello and Bud Abbott in “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” Lon Chaney, Jr. returned as the Wolf Man and Hollywood’s number one Dracula, Bela Lugosi joined George in Hollywood’s most classic trio of monsters. 

As the 1940s came to end, George continued to work often in films, but as television began to rise in popularity, George began to accept roles on the small screen. In one of earliest roles, George portrayed “Butch Cavendish,” (left) the evil. fiendish villain, who killed a party of Texas Rangers, except “John Reed,” who managed to survive the attack and become “The Lone Ranger.”  George repeated his role for seven more episodes as the masked man’s, most wanted antagonist. 

Appearing in episodes of The Cisco Kid, Kit Carson, Judge Roy Bean, The Restless gun, Wyatt Earp and Annie Oakley, George, in high demand as a character actor in western tv shows which dominated the air waves in the 1950s, finally found his longest and most well known role.

George was invited to audition for the role of Sam Noonan on a highly popular western show.  He would play that role for a dozen plus years until his death in 1973.  

For you see, the once rancher and son of a bartender, who left Texas behind to become a musician and a singer, took on the role of Sam, the bartender, in TV’s most successful western ever, Gunsmoke. 

 As the most famous bartender in television, the strong silent and steadfast Sam, George Glenn Strange from behind the bar kept order in the Long Branch Saloon until Matt Dillon, Festus or a host of deputies arrived to put an end the ruckuses. 

The man whom his friends once called “Pee Wee,” was actually six foot five inches tall and weighed in at more than 200 pounds - a size which made him an excellent choice to play Dr.  Frankenstein’s monster. 

Glenn George Strange, "Sam Noonan," Gunsmoke

     In his forty-four years in movies and television, Glenn Strange played good guys, bad guys, mostly bad guys in as many as 500 roles. 

A television’s most famous bartender, Sam Noonan  poured thousands of shots of whiskey.  In reality, Glenn Strange was teatotaler and rarely drank any alcohol. 

The man, who was described as part Irish and one-eighth Cherokee,  was more than just part Indian.  After spending a career portraying cowboys fighting Indians, Glenn Strange was the seventh great grandson of John Rolfe of Virginia, and his Pamunkey Indian bride, Pocohantas. 

Regrettably, Glenn Strange has no ties to our area, but he is definitely a piece of our past.  I hope you enjoyed my new style of telling you stories under the banner of “Once Upon an Anecdote.”  As a fifth generation Braswell story teller, I can promise you there will be more interesting and fascinating stories to come.  And yes, many of them will relate to Laurens County and East Central Georgia. 

Friday, September 18, 2015



Doug Hall - Dublin Courier Herald, June 4, 1976

A chapter in local history closes at 4:30 p.m. today when Lollie joins Lime Sink, Condor, and Wylly, Tweed, Inez and Ha toff, Dodo, Pearly and Brutas, Maggie, Itville and Nameless, Catlin, Thairdell and Walkee as defunct post offices.

Originally there were 53 post offices in Laurens County, now there will be seven, and one of those is threatened. Remaining will be post offices in Dublin, Dexter, Rentz, Cad well, Dudley, Montrose and Rockledge, another post office that might be In the same boat as Lollie soon.

In many ways, the closing of the tiny post office is no different than hundreds of cases across the USA where small town post offices are being shut down as part of an austerity move by the Postal Service.

But Lollie is something special, too.

To the 35 or so families who could find their way blindfolded to the familiar one-room building, the U. S. Post Office at Lollie, Ga. is a place to pick up a bit of news about a neighbor, wait for the school bus, while away some peaceful moments or just catch one of those ever flashing
smiles from the beloved postmistress, Pearl Wynn Spivey.

She's been handing out the mail in Lollie for 32 years. Before she took over, her father was postmaster for 18 years. The Lollie Post Office has been in her family for 50 of its 84 years. Today is her last day. "I'll be like a fish out of water," she said pressing firmly on the worn out rubber-
stamp postmark.

"I kind of hate to give it up," she sighs as she scans to old place. Her husband suggests they will go to Hawaii if the price of cows rises enough that be "won't have to give 'em away." She shakes her head and says no. But Florida would be nice.

Mrs. Spivey had planned retirement even before the news came that the post office would be closed.

As much as the Spiveys hate to give up the post office, the patrons do too. Maybe more.

One fellow doesn't "like the damn idea at all." Said Helen Ricks, "1 don't like it a bit. What we ought to do is all get together and write our congressman. "The post office has been here 84 years and they give you one week to get up a clean pair of britches and say, 'let's go,' " griped S. B. Hester.

Mrs. Spivey was told only last Friday that the place would be closed.

A notice tacked on the door says the post office will be "temporarily discontinued" at the close of business today, but everybody knows that is only a polite way of saying the days of the little post office are over.

Dublin postmaster Hartley Hobbs who now has responsibility of the Lollie area would not argue with the sentiment attached to the community post office. But Hobbs says the people who used the Lollie Post Office will get the same service now on Rural Route 6.

"Before they close one of these post offices they study it all out. Where a rural route or contract station can take over just as well, they go ahead and close it." he explained. The closing of the post office runs deeper than surface complaints over lack of service.

"You can't even buy a gallon of gasoline here." Mr. Spivey remarked. Jumping to Lollie's defense, Mrs. Spivey argues unconvincingly, "We do have a little bit of excitement around here on Saturday night: we have an auction."

Earlier this year a hatchery In the crossroads town closed. Only a farm center remains open. There was a time when the little community eight miles southeast of Dublin on Ga. 29 had five grocery stores. But no more.

"I hate that the little town has gone down," Mrs. Spivey, who has lived at Lollie longer than anyone else, said.

Like many places that are only crossroads, Lollie claimed to be a town and rested its case on having a post office.

Really there has been no Lollie for a long time. The town was named Minter when a station of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad was established there many years ago. But the post office has always been called Lollie in honor of Lollie Pritchett, wife of a big landowner and sawmill operator, George Pritchett.

It is probably true that some Washington bureaucrat gave official confirmation to Lollie's classification as a ghost town by closing the post office.

Mrs. Spivey has fond memories of the days when trains made four stops a day at Minter station. The mail service was prompt and dependable.

"I don't think those post office fellows would like to hear me say it but in those days you could order something from Sears-Roebuck and it would get here In two or three days," the postmistress remembered.

"But today, well, I don't know..."

The post office was always general delivery. There were no rented boxes. Mrs. Spivey notes that proudly. Numbers on post office boxes would never do in a place as friendly as Lollie. The rickety post office building will now be used for storage. Sacks of seeds and bales of hay will rest where seven chairs — some ladderback with worn cowhide seat covers — now sit. The counter made of hard-planed lumber years ago will grow dusty.

The locals who have leaned back in those chairs against that counter for more years than Mrs. Spivey can remember will be around no longer to keep the place looking alive. And pretty soon Lollie Post Office may look about like a deserted grocery store next door — vines and weeds taken over with little to suggest what an important place it once was.


      Frank Corker was building his dream up into the sky, straight up to the sun.   That dream eventually evaporated into a nightmare.  For five score and two years, her frame has endured. Through a pair of successor banks and a legion of professionals and businessmen, the  seven-story stone tower has stood as a sturdy sentinel against incessant apathy and the eroding winds of time which have blown and blown in a futile attempt to bring her to the ground.   Now is the time that  the long dormant, towering hive of gnawing rodents, perching pigeons and  creepy crawlers of the night will awaken and Frank Corker’s dream will once again, and hopefully forever more, come true.

Frank Gratton Corker was born in 1869 in Burke County, Georgia.  His father, Stephen A. Corker, was five years removed from leading his company up the slopes of Gettysburg’s Cemetery Ridge in an initially successful, but quickly fatal, breaking of the Union lines late on the evening of July 2, 1863 - a success which led to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s belief that a full out strike on the Union center led by Gen. George Pickett would be successful the next day.

Corker, as the son of a wealthy plantation owner, attorney, state representative and congressman, enjoyed the rudiments of a fine education.  Growing up with his two brothers, Stephen, Jr. and Palmer, gave Frank a great advantage in his studies. Following in his father’s footsteps of practicing law and serving others, Corker was a champion debater in the University of Georgia’s Few Society and a prominent member of Alpha Tau Omega. Corker later helped to establish a chapter of that latter fraternity  at Georgia Tech.   Frank graduated from the law school at Emory College.

Frank Corker married Alice Lillian Cole of Savannah  in 1890 and  moved to Dublin. Corker joined his brother Stephen, who was described in an 1888 Augusta Chronicle article as “an enterprising merchant of Dublin.”

Corker chose to live in and practice law in Dublin because it was on the cusp of an economic boom, where lawyers would be needed and fortunes could be made.  And, best of all, it was not too far from his favorite resort, Savannah’s Tybee Island.

Within three years, Corker became so popular that he was elected on the Citizens ticket as Mayor of Dublin in 1893, defeating the equally popular Lucien Q. Stubbs, a local military leader and newspaper editor who was elected many more times in the future.  The Citizens party was determined to stem the ever rising tide of crime and immorality in the burgeoning city.

Corker, in addition to his daily duties as a practicing attorney, served as the Solicitor of the County Court.  Corker, who continued to practiced law in the booming city, turned to commercial interests to boost his ever growing fortune.   Along with his brothers, Stephen and Palmer, Frank Corker formed the Dublin Cotton Oil Company, which was sold at a handsome profit in 1901 to Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company, which became Southern Cotton Oil Company.

One of Corker’s most lasting contributions to the Emerald City of Dublin was as the president of the Dublin Free Public Library.  In 1904, Corker, on behalf of the board, accepted mega philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s $10,000.00 donation to build a public library in Dublin, one without a charge to its patrons.

Corker’s public interests were strongly rooted in education.  As a member of the Dublin City  Board of Education for more than a decade, Corker, who served many terms as the board’s president,  worked with the library in its early years and oversaw the construction of the High School (now City Hall) and the Johnson Street and Saxon Heights elementary schools.

Original First National Bank of Dublin, ca. 1902
125 W. Jackson St.

In the year 1902, Frank Corker founded and opened the First National Bank of Dublin, the city’s third bank.   The first order of business was the construction of a building made of stone and brick and terra cotta and located  at the intersection of West Jackson and North Lawrence Streets.  The bank opened on August 18, 1902 with three thousand dollars being deposited on the first day.   It shall be noted that Frank Corker’s brother, Palmer, was the founder and first president of the First National Bank of Waynesboro.

Within a decade the bank had outgrown its quarters.  The directors decided to erect a seven-story bank building on the southwest corner of South Jefferson and West Madison Streets, on the site of the post office.   A. Ten Eyck Brown, prominent Atlanta architect and designer of the Fulton County Courthouse and the Atlanta Post Office, was chosen to design the new building.   The towering structure, seven stories tall and made of nearly fireproof materials, dominated the skyline of Dublin.   The architect designed the building’s foundation sufficient enough to support an additional three floors. Sixty offices for business and professional men were constructed above the bank's offices.  Nearly from its beginning, the First National was Dublin's leading bank.

Corker’s elegant, Ionic columned, neo classical home at 712 Bellevue, now owned by Griffin Lovett, is considered the crown jewel of Bellevue Avenue.  Corker occupied the three-story home from about 1903 until his removal to Atlanta.

Corker Home, Bellevue Avenue

A founding member of the Dublin Board of Trade in 1902, Corker was also a founding member of the Chamber of Commerce in 1911.   His business expertise and economic power and influence led to his appointments as a director of the Dublin Cotton Mill and the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad - the latter  position which allowed him free passage on his trips to his favorite destination on Tybee Island.

1903 Dublin's Post Office on the site of 
The First National Bank Building

In August 1903, Corker built Dublin’s first permanent post office on the southwest corner of S. Jefferson Street and W. Madison Street.  The salmon and steel gray brick structure complete  with lots of light to satisfy the postal workers inside.   Before the move, the post office was situated inside the Corker Building, a two-story office/department store building at 111 W. Jackson Street, which was built by Corker in 1899.

Frank Corker was, among many things, a car afficionado.   Corker was among the first men in Dublin to own his own automobile, a White gasoline car.  In 1911, Corker promoted car tours across the state by the state’s wealthiest and most influential men.

Northview Mausoleum

Corker’s final and enduring gift to the city was the construction of the mausoleum at Northview Cemetery.   Construction began in 1915 on one of the South’s first public mausoleum’s and the first public mausoleum in the state.  Little did Corker know that  when he began the project,  that his dear mother, Margaret Myrtis Palmer, who died on May 13, 1916, would become the first person to be interred in the sandy stone structure, which was built in the same style and with many of the same materials as the First National Bank building.

Corker and his family moved about 1920 to Atlanta, where he could manage his commercial interests in that city.  The financial magnate owned many commercial properties in the capital city including the Cecil Hotel.

A Methodist by birth who later attended Druid Hills Baptist Church during his latter years in Atlanta, a  Mason and a Shriner, Corker enjoyed many outings at the Druid Hills Country Club near his home.

One winters’ day, Corker, a successful real estate dealer, both in Dublin and Atlanta, came home  from his office in the Hurt Building in Atlanta.  Not feeling well, he took leave of his supper and retired to bed early.  He was found dead in his bedroom of his home at 1347 Fairview Road  the following morning of Christmas Eve 1931.    Frank Corker was buried in Westview Cemetery, leaving behind his widow Alice, who died in 1961, along with his  daughters - May, Lula, and Myrtis - and sons - Paul Gratton, Frank Burke, William B.  and Isadore Newman.

Frank Corker’s dream became a nightmare in the autumn of 1928.  The once powerful First National Bank, the largest country bank in Georgia which occupied the ground floors of the tallest building between Macon and Savannah, failed.

And now, some eighty-seven autumns later, Corker’s dream lives again.

Photo @ Gil Gillis

Saturday, September 12, 2015



The Largest Country Bank in Georgia

During the score of years between 1895 and 1915, the city of Dublin, Georgia grew astronomically from a new railroad depot town to one of the largest economic centers in Georgia. In order to thrive, the progressive minded businessmen of the city divided into groups to organize banks to finance their personal business interests. At the zenith of Dublin's rise, Laurens County was home to more banks than any other county in Georgia, with the exception of Fulton and Chatam counties. At the top of the list in Laurens County was the First National Bank, which was billed as the largest country bank in Georgia. Regardless of the validity of that claim, the First National, and in particular its board of directors, played a profound role in the growth and development of Dublin during its golden age at the dawn of the 20th Century, the age of the Emerald City.

Five of Dublin's most influential and successful businessman formed the nucleus of the First National Bank. Frank G. Corker, a Waynesboro, Georgia native and University of Georgia law school graduate, was the first and only president of the bank. While Mayor of Dublin in the early 1890s, Corker led the final push to rid the city of illegal alcoholic beverage sales, which had stymied the growth of the town for nearly two decades and which had given Dublin the reputation of being a lawless town. While being an astute businessman and highly successful attorney, Corker realized the importance of education and lent his skills as President of the Board of Education. J.E. "Banjo" Smith, Jr., Dublin's leading businessman of the first decade of the 20th Century, was the first Vice-President. After Smith left to form his own bank, "The City National," the First National had two vice-presidents; William S. Phillips and William B. Rice. Phillips, , who came to Dublin from Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1892, established a large livery and livestock business and in doing so established a small fortune. William B. Rice, known as Captain Rice by the people of his day, was a leader manufacturer of turpentine and a saw mill operator. Rice, who hailed from South Carolina, operated out of the pine rich Adrian, Georgia area, before coming to Dublin in 1900. He too amassed a small fortune, partly from his skills as a planter. Corker, Phillips, and Rice chose Andrew W. Garrett, former exchange clerk of the Dublin Banking Company and cashier of the Laurens Banking Company, as the cashier. Garrett, the only member of the quartet, with previous banking experience, was a former timber dealer from Hancock County. He was respected by all for his financial ability, as well as his stalwart character and unimpeachable integrity.

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. C.W. Brantley and A.B. Jones, directors of the Dublin Banking Co., and W.W. Bush, director of the Laurens Banking Company, were chosen to be directors, along with B.H. Rawls, W.S. Phillips, D.W. Gilbert, F.M. Daniel, S.M. Kellam, and John Wilkes. of 1st National, and W.W. Bush, director of Laurens Banking Company. T.O. Dupree, former bookkeeper for the Star Store, was the bookkeeper.

The First National's directors chose a prime location on the northeast corner of North Lawrence (Laurens) Street and West Jackson Street. The location was a part of the Farmers and Merchants Bank for nearly eight decades. The directors chose the highly respected Atlanta architectural firm of Bruce and Morgan, who also designed the Laurens County Courthouse, the Carnegie Library, and the First Baptist Church to design the one story brick building. I.C. Huffman was selected as the contractor. The outside of the building was made of stone and Virginia brick. The floor was built in the Roman masonic style and had to be laid by outside craftsmen. Delivery of the vault was late forcing a delay in completion of the building until September 10, 1902, one hundred years ago today.

In the early decades of the 20th Century, National Banks were allowed to circulate their own currency with their name imprinted on the bills. The First National Bank initially issued $12,500.00 in denominations of ten and twenty dollars, for which the bank purchased an equal amount in U.S. Bonds. Of the thousands of bills issued by the bank less than a dozen are known to remain. Most of the bills were exchanged when the Federal government down sized the size of currency in 1929 and made the "horse-blanket" bills worthless, except to collectors.

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 agri-businesses, which sprung up during the city's golden age.

The bank secured the services of A. Ten Eyck Brown, an Atlanta architect, who was one of the leading architects of the Southeast. 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, which was 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, constructed primarily of concrete, stone, and steel, was itself virtually fireproof. Above the bank were sixty four office spaces, equipped with the modern conveniences of lighting and heating, but alas 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 was completed in February of 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.


Designer of Dublin's Skyscraper

A. Ten Eyck Brown loved to design tall buildings. When the directors of the First National Bank began looking for an architect to design their new bank building, they knew they wanted someone who could design something more than just an efficient office building. They wanted someone who could design a building, which could make a statement about their bank and their community as well. The board didn't have to look beyond the capital city of Georgia. Considered a master architect of his era, Brown designed several of the most famous public buildings in the southeastern United States. What Brown gave the board was the most magnificent building ever constructed in Dublin and one which was known for nearly a century as the tallest building between Macon and Savannah.

Andrew Ten Eyck Brown was born Albany, New York in 1878. His family was of Dutch origin. He was born to be an architect, just like his father, who was prominent in architectural circles in New York's capital city. Brown received his formal training at the Academy of Design in New York. He practiced architecture in New York, Washington, D.C., and Nashville before moving to Atlanta in the early 1900s, where Brown established his offices in the Forsyth Building. His career in Atlanta spanned nearly four decades until his death in 1940.

The First National Bank of Dublin opened for business in 1902 on the northeast corner of West Jackson Street and North Lawrence Street on the site later occupied by the Farmers and Merchants Bank. The board of directors, led by bank president Frank G. Corker began to look for a site to build a new building which would also house professional and business offices. They chose a site on the southwest corner of South Jefferson and West Madison Streets on the site of the old post office. In March of 1912, the board selected A. Ten Eyck Brown to design their building. Corker, in a letter recommending Brown for another project, said of Brown, " believing him to be better equipped after a careful study of his references than anyone else of whom we had knowledge to do our work."

Brown's design of the six-story building included a basement. Brown utilized a technique often used on sailing ships to bring natural light to the basement. Small glass bricks were placed along the sidewalk above shafts, which descended a few feet and turned at a right angles into the basement. There was a mezzanine above the bank's offices, which were situated on the twenty-two foot tall first floor. The floors of the main banking room were made of Georgia marble, while the walls and ceilings were made of ornamental plaster. The elaborately decorated main vault was placed in plain view for all to see. The tellers stood behind an impressive bronze and marble screen. Above the first floor were sixty-four offices, which could be reached by stairway or with a modern elevator, the first of its kind in Dublin. The exterior three-foot tall base of the building is composed of granite, while the remainder is made of terra cotta limestone. The building is supported by a combination of steel beams and reinforced concrete. Very little of the original building contained any wood, making it for many years the only A-rated insurance building in Dublin. Another attractive feature of the building, especially to the tenants, workers, and customers were the modern steam heating and plumbing systems. Cooling was not particularly a problem. Electric fans did well. On the upper floors many people often opened the windows to pick up a cool breeze without the aggravation of flying insects which rarely flew to such heights. Brown designed the building with a foundation which could have supported three more floors. Brown further anticipated future growth of the area and designed the southern face of the building with less expensive brick and with less ornamental features, just in case a neighbor decided to build a twin tower.

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.

Brown's other courthouse design which was completed in 1914 was the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. Brown collaborated with Thomas Henry Morgan, whose firms Morgan and Dillon and Morgan, Dillon, and Bruce designed the Laurens County Courthouse of 1895 and Carnegie Library. The Fulton courthouse building, which is still used today, is said to be "the finest example of beaux's arts classic architecture in the South." This massive structure, which was one of the tallest buildings in Atlanta at the time of its construction, was the first "million-dollar" courthouse in Georgia. Brown designed two other courthouses in Georgia; the Spalding County Courthouse in Griffin, which was completed in 1911, but was tragically destroyed by fire in 1981, and the four-story white marble, Cherokee County Courthouse in Canton, which was completed in 1926 and is said to be one of the finest public buildings in Georgia. Brown designed the courthouse in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1911. His design and architectural skills were applauded by city officials who recommended his services to the mayors of Dallas, Texas and New York City for the design of their new courthouse buildings.

Brown is widely known among architectural historians and preservationists as the designer of several other major buildings in the Atlanta area. In 1918, his design of the two-story granite building to house the offices of the Federal Reserve Bank on the old site of the First Presbyterian Church was completed. The building has gone through a series of renovations and expansions over the years. The original building was too small to house the government offices, but not because of Brown's design, but more likely because of limited funds during the economic depression during and following World War I. Thirteen years later in1931, Brown designed the new Atlanta Post Office Building to handle the ever expanding volume of mail coming through the Atlanta office. Today the building is known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building. One of the most unique and popular buildings in the Atlanta area is the Cyclorama Building in Grant Park. The lead architect in the 1921 project was J.T. Browning. Browning utilized the services of other architects, including Ten Eyck Brown.

Other noteworthy 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

Ten Eyck Brown, in his day, was one of the best governmental and commercial architects and his buildings were tall and grand. Many of them were so well designed that they should continue to be used for more than a century. The next time you are downtown, look, up in the sky, and see the glory and grandeur of Dublin's skyscraper, Ten Eyck Brown's gift to the Emerald City.