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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

MEANWHILE IN DRY BRANCH

Tales of a Twiggs Town


They call this place Dry Branch, Georgia. There hasn't been a flood here in millions of years since the Atlantic Ocean pulled away from the fall line. But, eight to a dozen decades ago, the liquor flowed freely to the lovers of moonshine, while the teetotalers took no shine to the whiskey at all. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't the only place in Georgia or the country where folks took a drink. Like everywhere else, if they needed a drink, they usually found someone who would be willing, for a fee, to give them a snort of spiritous liquor.

T.J. Butler wanted to a make a living. And that living was selling liquor to all the thirsty throats he could on the outskirts of Dry Branch. On January 6, 1892, he paid his one hundred dollar license fee to the court in Macon believing that his establishment was at least three miles from the nearest church. He was wrong. Though he just made it according to the surveyor's calculations, T.J. Butler came up some sixteen feet as measured along the nearest public dirt road. The decision of the city court judge was clear, "The defendant is ordered to pay the sum of $50.00 for violating the inviolate laws of the state."

There was nothing that T.J. Butler could do about his store, especially the department where he kept his intoxicants. The anti-liquor crowd apparently took matters into their own hands. After much consternation of the part of Dry Branch residents, someone or a group of irate teetotalers set the place on fire. As a result of the midnight blaze, not a shingle was left. Though Butler had his establishment insured, the insurance only covered half of the $3000.00 loss.

Without a place to sell his spirits, the convicted criminal took issue with the fine and took his case to a higher authority, the legislature of the State of Georgia. On the winter solstice in 1892, the General Assembly voted not to allow him to sell liquor two miles, five thousand two hundred and sixty four feet from the nearest church, but to reimburse him for two-thirds of his license fee.

It seemed that it was illegal in the city of Macon to sell liquor. So, those who wanted their liquor to consume or sell made arrangements with depot agents in surrounding communities, including Dry Branch. Once the whiskey arrived, every night it would be placed on the Bibb County side of the line where the Maconites could come and pick it up. When no one came to pick it up the next morning, the agents were forced to retrieve the barrels of booze and bring them back to the station - a task which worried them much if a revenue agent came snooping around.

It was a cool night on the morning of March 29, 1916, when an ingenious group of whiskey drinkers figured a way to get their hooch without breaking into the depot in Dry Branch. They called under the building, took soundings to locate the barrels, and drilled holes through the floor directly into the whiskey barrels above. The contents were drained into some sort of container until the barrel was empty. The plan worked until it was uncovered by railroad detectives, who put an end to the scheme by exposing the whole brilliant plan.




Old store building in Dry Branch.










Reginald Claypole Vanderbilt, son of Cornelious Vanderbilt, one of the world's richest men, came to Dry Branch on Groundhog Day in 1915 to visit P.W. Martin as his country home, "Ashantee," near Dry Branch. The visit was purely social, though the two men were former business partners. Vanderbilt partook of the fruit of the vine too often, dying of liver failure at the age of forty-five after squandering his seven million dollar inheritance. His greatest legacy was his daughter Gloria, who became a successful actress, artist and socialite.

Serpent admirers will love this story. If you don't like snakes, then skip this paragraph. Out on the Martin place, a short distance from Dry Branch, a man and his wife were walking around when he noticed a large Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake coiling his body and preparing to strike. Just as the viper rared back, it was struck with a mortal blow.

For all of the afternoon and most of the next day, the man took the snake all over Dry Branch to show it off. He had reason to be proud of his reptile. Someone laid it on the ground and marked off seven feet and six inches, an insignificant half foot short of an all time record. Curios collectors offered the man as much as $5.00 for the snake which had a girth of a whole foot at its longest.

Rev. Willie Barber had the devil after him. No, not the red horned underworld demon, but a widowed church sister, who had been hoodwinked by the wrong reverend. Barber organized a church in Dry Branch. His charisma charmed the widow so much that an instant bond between them led to the lady giving the pastor the hog and a cow to sell with the understanding that he would return the proceeds to her. Pretty soon, the minister was gone and so were the livestock and the money. After investigating the matter and finding that her trusted clergyman had gone down to form another church near Elberta, Georgia, where she suspected he was gone to swindle some swine from another trusting widow lady. She reported the crime and swore out a warrant for the arrest of the evil evangelist.

Most of us would never imagine a possum hunt would become a social event, but in early 1920s, it was the thing to do on cool Friday night in the fall. The men would forge ahead with their shot guns and dogs. The boys went out to E. Mallary's farm and bagged three fine possums for a supper with their ladies at Ed Loh's Caf‚ on Saturday night. Sometimes, both the ladies and the men would motor out to the woods, eat an early evening picnic and return home in the moonlight.

The clay hills of Dry Branch and its environs often reveal remarkable treasures, such as fossilized shark's teeth and sea animals. Luckier ground lookers have found diamonds and even tiny pieces of gold. Police officer Layfield was out walking when he spotted a good sized unusual stone shimmering in a creek bed. It turns out the object of the officer's eye was a moonstone, a silicate of potassium and aluminum. Layfield was so intrigued by his gemstone that he took it to a jeweler in Macon, who sent it to New York, where it was polished and fashioned into a scarf pin. Layfield's son had it set in a ring, which he wore for many years, not because of it's monetary value, but because moonstones are good luck symbols.

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