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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

1910: A Benchmark Year For Laurens

The year 1910 was a pivotal and notable one in the history of Laurens County. That year ended the first decade of the 20th Century and Laurens County's growth to become one of the state's top six counties in population. In the previous 20 years, the county's population nearly tripled and increased five times since the end of the Civil War.

The county and its seat of Dublin were often the sites of state conventions and gatherings. One of those meetings, the Laymen's Missionary and Christian Worker's Conference, billed as the greatest meeting ever held in Dublin, was held in Dublin during the week of March 15-20, and featured Methodist bishops, W.N. Ainsworth and Warren A. Candler, along with ministers from Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois.

The Elks Lodge in the city was established on the third floor in the western part of the Brantley Building at the corner of W. Jackson and N. Lawrence Streets. The Elks, led by Exhalted Ruler Thomas R. Ramsay, built rooms for a lodge, billiards, and reading along with a parlor.

The year marked the premier issue of the Laurens County Herald, which in three years would merge with the Dublin Courier as the city's main newspaper.

In the spring, the City of Dublin enjoyed one of the biggest building booms in its history, with more than a third of a million dollars in new buildings in the first three months of the year alone. Among the largest projects was Izzie Bashinski's construction of the five-story Consolidated Phosphate Company. The year also saw major additions to the Methodist Church and the construction of the Catholic Church. Financier A.W. Garrett, built one of the last grand houses on Bellevue Avenue. The New Dublin Hotel, the city's largest, underwent a major expansion and improvements to its existing facilities.

Among the big shows of the year was the appearance of Howe's Great London Circus, one of the country's largest and most popular traveling circuses. Eugene Laurant, one of the country's greatest magicians performed for the Lyceum Course at the Opera House.

Mrs. John M. Stubbs, Mrs. Attys P. Hilton and Lilly Hightower led the formation of the Women's Civic Improvement Club. That same month of March, the wives of the Masons formed the Order of the Eastern Star.

The emergence of the automobile, especially driving them at high speeds became a popular pastime among the wealthier men of the city. The events drew spectators of all economic statuses across the county.

The Farmers and Merchants Bank was established in Brewton by James L. Keen, J.W. Jones, H.T. Bush, F.C. Brantley, B.F. Maddox, F.H. Brantley, N.W. Josey, J.M. Lovett, I.E. Thigpen, O.D. Cobb, J.H. Curl of Brewton, Ga; E.B. Jones of Dublin, Ga; and R.M. Holmes of Scott, Ga.

The Earth passed through Halley's Comet with no damage except some interruption of telegraphic communications. There were a few sunspots and meteors, but not the expected cataclysms.

The funds for the construction of the Federal Courthouse and Post Office were appropriated. The project would take two years to complete.

A new charter for the City of Dublin was adopted the state legislature. Among the notable provisions of the bill were the designation of councilmen as alderman and the moving of the city limits of Dublin to the high water mark on the eastern bank of the Oconee River.

Improvements to the infrastructure of cities and towns throughout the county were hastily being made. In Dublin, Southern Bell, the dominate leader in telephone service, still in its infancy, was making major improvements to its lines and equipment. The City began the use of coal instead of wood to burn for power at the light and water plant. By the end of the year, the city stopped the practice of selling light bulbs to its customers.

Six companies of Laurens County Confederate veterans (50 men) and one company of other veterans (102 men) formed at the courthouse. Judge John H. Martin of Hawkinsville was named Colonel of the Brigade. W.C. Davis was elected Chief of Staff. Hardy Smith commanded the Laurens County Companies and L.A. Matthews the Miscellaneous company. The Dublin Band led the parade down Jackson Street to Church Street and then to the pavilion in Stubbs Park. Major T.D. Smith organized the event.

Doctors H.T. and C.A. Hodges opened a sanitarium, the city's first true hospital, in the J.E. Smith, Jr. house on the corner of Franklin and Columbia Streets.

A bond election was held in December. Voters overwhelmingly approved the issue by a vote of 311-4 for $25,000 for the light and water plant and $5,000 for paving Madison from Lawrence to Franklin Street.

Thomas E. Watson spoke to a large crowd at the Opera House on November 4. Watson, a perennial Populist presidential contender, spoke on the need for better moral and spiritual attitudes. He also spoke on the need for foreign missions. The Dublin Band provided the music. Mr. Watson spent the night at the home of Charles H. Kittrell (at the corner of Academy Ave. and Palmer Streets).

The shooting incident with John, Tal, and Claud Thigpen being killed by Rockledge Marshal Ras Raffield rocked the sleepy county-line community for generations to come.

As I end my fourteenth year of writing Pieces Of Our Past, I want to thank all of you for your interest in the stories I bring to you each week. I encourage you to study your own past and write it down. No one's heritage is more important than any one else. I also encourage you to remember the words of writer David McCullough, who said, "If you think about it, no one ever lived in the past, they lived in the present." Our most important history is yet to be written. It is up to all of us how that history will be written. Let us all use the past as a guide to mold our present into our greatest history, the history of the future.

Friday, December 24, 2010


O Hear the Angels Sing

T'was the morning before Christmas and throughout the town of Rockledge, Georgia, people were scurrying about making last minute preparations for Ole Saint Nick. The day was December 24, 1910. What follows is a story of a tragedy. No one there that day is alive to tell the truth about the story I am about to tell. Witnesses, hearsay hearers, and townsfolk differed as to what really happened and who was truthfully and legally to blame. Townsfolk still differ.

There was trouble in Rockledge, big trouble. One town marshal after another was tucking his tail between his legs and running away. Many blamed the three Thigpen brothers, Claude, Tella, and John, as incessant instigators who were known to have bullied and clubbed former marshal Autry, just the week before. It was alleged that the trio made life miserable for the town's lawmen and forced them to leave town in short order. Claude had been seriously wounded during a violent disagreement with a Mr. Grier only some three months earlier. Rockledge's city leaders hired one Thomas Lee Rastus "Ras" Raffield, known to have been a man with no fear, to stop the rowdiness and bring peace back to the town by cleaning out all of the troublemakers before Christmas. Raffield, also known as Erastus E. Raffield, rushed back from Savannah to accept the mission to restore peace in Rockledge.

It was a Saturday morning. Blustery north winds bowed the bare hardwood branches. Evergreen pines swayed as a cold weather front approached just in time for the much desired chilly Christmas. There is a story, still told by many in the Thigpen family, that Martha Thigpen begged her three sons not to go into town that day or to at least eat their lunch first before they went looking for trouble. One of her boys responded by stating that they may soon be eating their lunch in Hell.

Marshal Ras Raffield, on his first full day on the job, was making his rounds. The Thigpens approached the intrepid Raffield and told him in no uncertain terms to leave the town immediately. Tempers temporarily boiled. Tensions soon dissipated. The quarreling quartet parted ways, albeit momentarily.

As he was standing on the platform at the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad depot, Raffield noticed Claude Thigpen at the top of the steps. Thigpen was engaged in a loud confrontation with a Negro man, whom Thigpen claimed owed him a much disputed debt. Eyewitnesses stated that Thigpen was badgering the man. Raffield, a lifelong carpenter by trade, approached the men and asked Thigpen to leave and go home. He threatened to arrest Thigpen if he failed to comply with his orders.

Thigpen made a sudden move. Raffield attempted to arrest the twenty-four-year-old Claude by grabbing him by the arm. A melee ensued. Thigpen, according to witnesses at the scene, reached for his pistol. Raffield pushed Claude Thigpen from the platform, a flat fall of four to five feet. Thigpen came up from the ground firing his pistol. Raffield fired back simultaneously. Thigpen's first shot nicked Raffield's left pinkie finger. Raffield's first was more effective, striking Thigpen in his neck. Though the bullet lodged in his back and severed his spine, Claude managed to fire a second time.

As the commotion crescendoed, Claude's brothers, John and Tella "Tal" Thigpen, rushed to the scene, only to find their brother staring into the clearing noon day sky, bleeding, lying on the still wet ground, and writhing only from his chest up. Both brothers opened fire. Tal was ten feet from Claude, firing up at Raffield. John ran up the steps and straight toward Raffield. The 31-year-0ld marshal fired back. Raffield's first shot instantly and mortally wounded Tal, a fortnight shy of his 22nd birthday. Raffield, turning in one quick and smooth motion, stopped John dead in his tracks with his second shot. Witnesses reported that John, a thirty-four-year-old Free and Accepted Mason, cried out that he had been killed as he was falling to the ground. There were reports that during the fracas, Raffield suffered a second wound in his left arm.

When a fourth brother, James, heard of what was happening, he started looking for his gun. His wife Mattie, not wanting another funeral to attend, hid her husband's pistol in the loft of the house, recalled their grandson Jimmy Thigpen as he repeated the account of the tragedy.

Raffield, oblivious to his bleeding wounds, made his way into the depot office to reload his gun. After pulling himself together, Raffield left the depot and went to telegraph Laurens County sheriff James J. Flanders of what had just happened. Raffield told the sheriff to come to Rockledge and place him under arrest. Flanders came down in his automobile and took the shuddering marshal back to Dublin. Fearing for Raffield's safety in the jail, Sheriff Flanders decided to place the marshal under guard and not in a jail cell. On the day after Christmas, a member of the Thigpen family came before a Justice of the Peace and swore out a warrant against Raffield for the murder of his kinsmen.

Raffield issued a statement that he was sorry that the circumstances were such as to force him into the action he took. But, he maintained he shot in self defense while in the performance of his duty as a marshal. A commitment hearing was scheduled on Tuesday, December 27. Judge K.J. Hawkins granted a two-day continuance. On Thursday, the prosecution once again announced it was not ready to proceed. Claude Thigpen was still lingering near death. Dr. Williams, the physician attending Mr. Thigpen and also an eyewitness to the tragedy, was unable to come to court due his attendance to Thigpen's impending mortal wounds. Other witnesses could not be secured for the hearing. Judge Hawkins, after hearing arguments from the lawyers for the defendant and the state, ruled that there were enough witnesses present to present sufficient evidence that the defendant should or should not be bound over for trial for the murders of the John and Tal Thigpen. The state's attorney, fearing that he did not have enough evidence to meet the legal standards and in light of strong public sentiment in favor of Raffield, voluntarily dismissed the case. No new charges were filed against Raffield and no trial was ever had to determine exactly what happened that Christmas Eve morning in Rockledge. Raffield rejoined his wife Eugenia and their children in hopes of salvaging some semblance of Christmas.

The bodies of Tal and John were carried to the Thigpen home where they were washed and cleaned on a kitchen table. "That table remained in the family of their sister Shelly for many years," Jimmy Thigpen remembered. Shelly Thigpen Beacham always had a cloth over the table to cover the blood stains, but never the memories, of her dead brothers.

The event cast a pall over the Rockledge community. Claude Thigpen died on December 29th in an Augusta hospital, just three weeks before his 25th birthday. Ras Raffield never returned to his duties in Rockledge. The three Thigpen brothers, who ironically lost their lives in accomplishing their purported goal of running another marshal out of Rockledge, were buried a little over a mile south of town in the hallowed burying ground of Mt. Zion Methodist Church. Surrounded by the immortal remains of family, friends and loved ones, their granite obelisks, crowned with draped urns, stand high into the air in a sanctuary where they sleep free from pain, grief, and anxious fear.

L-R: Claude, Tal and John Thigpen
Mount Zion Methodist Church Cemetery
Rockledge, Georgia

Lena Graham, of nearby Lollie, Georgia, composed a touching poem about her dear departed friend, John A. Thigpen, a married man and father of two sons, Laron and James. Mrs. Graham wrote:

He is gone but not forgotten,
Never will his memory fade;
Sweetest thoughts will ever linger
Around the grave where he was laid.

A precious one from us has gone,
A voice we loved is stilled;
A place is vacant in our heart
Which never can be filled.

All is said within our dwelling
Lonely are our hearts today;
For the one we loved so dearly
Has forever passed away

It is sad to part with loved ones,
And so hard to see them die;
But we hope some day to meet him
In that home beyond the sky.

‘Tis hard to break the tender chord,
When love has bound the heart;
‘Tis hard, so hard, to speak the word:
We must forever part.

Farewell, dear, but not forever,
There will be a glorious day;
We will meet to part, no never,
On the resurrection morn.

Asleep in Jesus, far from thee,
Thy kindred and thy grave, maybe
But thine is still a blessed sleep,
From which none ever wake to weep.

Dearest, one we must lay thee
In they peaceful grave’s embrace;
Thy memory will be cherished
Till we see thy heavenly face.

Far beyond this world of changes,
Far beyond this world of care;
We hope to find our mission one
in our Father’s mansion so fair.

We hope some day his lovely form
in a glorious robe to behold;
To sing with him in the angel’s songs,
With harps of gold.

Three sons of Melancton Joseph and Martha McLendon Thigpen were dead. Seven brothers and sisters; James, Ennis, William, Joanna, Martha, Jennie, and Shelly were grieving. Joe Thipgen, said to be one of the finest men in the community, had seen his share of killing before as a corporal in the 57th Georgia Infantry in the slaughter at Baker's Creek and in the opening salvos of the Battle of Atlanta. He had seen suffering before as a guard at Andersonville prison and in a Tennessee field hospital where he and his brothers James, Richard and William watched their brother George slowly die of pneumonia. None of these horrors compared to the nightmare of losing three sons in one senseless moment of madness.

There is another story, quite unsubstantiated, in the family that Ennis Thigpen, Claude's twin brother, sought to kill Raffield for the murder of his brothers. Another story comes from an unnamed source that one of the surviving brothers decades after incident was still looking to kill Ras. The source, who has followed the case for most of his life, said that the brother went by a country store on the northeastern outskirts of Adrian and asked the storekeeper for a gun to kill the former marshal. That man refused to give Mr. Thigpen a gun. That man was Henry Thompson. That man was my grandfather.

The tragedy lasted only a few moments. The anguish endured for decades. Newspaper accounts of the tragedy, upon which this story is based, were published in newspapers around the country, even as far away as Reno, Nevada. The story has been told and retold for a hundred years. If there is anyone alive three hundred years from now, the story will still be told.

Ras Raffield, a forty-year-old son of John Winston Raffield and his wife Susan Fordham, returned to his trade as a carpenter. In 1920, Ras and his family were living on Barnard Street off Telfair Square in Savannah. He may have lived in Jenkins County in the 1930s as well. Thomas L. "Ras" Raffield died on May 31, 1938. Those who knew Raffield in his later years, knew him to a broken man following the murder.  "He never was the same after that day," said Javan Garner.  His body is buried in Northview Cemetery in Dublin beside his son Cordie, a World War I veteran, who died two years earlier. His obituary writer ignored his instant of infamy and simply summarized his life by stating, "Mr. Raffield was a native of Dublin and spent his entire life here. He was a carpenter and a farmer and a member of the Methodist Church." Raffield's other children, Atys, Herschel and Thomas, Jr. , moved away from Dublin.

Christmas Eve wasn't the same a century ago in Rockledge. To all it was not a good night. All was not calm. All was not bright. As the cold clear midnight came, angels with their golden harps descended through the cloven skies, through the solemn stillness, down to the mournful and frozen plain. Man, at war with man, heard not the tidings they brought to hush the noise of the men of strife. Those who believed heard the angels sing. And once again, there was peace on the Earth and good will toward men.

Post script:  At twenty minutes to noon on December 24, 2010, one hundred years to the hour after the tragedy in Rockledge unfolded, my son Scotty and I returned to the scene of the moment of madness.  It was indeed ironic that instead of angels flying in the sky above where the old depot once was located, there was a venue of turkey vultures circling looking for their lunch.  There was no ceremony to mark the anniversary.  One man was working in his yard, oblivious to what transpired exactly one hundred years ago in front of his house.  Upon a visit to the Mt. Zion Cemetery, there were no flowers.  Of all of the 730 plus stories I have written, this is one of my favorites.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The Father of the SEC

Now that the Southeastern Conference football champion for 2010 has been crowned and is headed to the national championship game, let me take a few minutes to introduce to you, Dr. H. Boyd McWhorter, who has been called "The Father of the modern day SEC."

Boyd McWhorter, a native of Cochran, Georgia, was another member of one of the royal families of the University of Georgia athletic programs. Kinsman Bob McWhorter was the first. Bob was the university's first All-American and a four-term mayor of Athens, Georgia. Born on May 8, 1923, Boyd McWhorter graduated from North Georgia College in 1942. McWhorter attended the United States Naval Academy during World War II. During the Korean War, Captain Boyd McWhorter, United States Naval Reserve, was given a leave from his teaching duties to return to the service of his country.

After earning his master's degree in English from the University of Georgia in 1949, McWhorter received his doctorate from the University of Texas in 1960. McWhorter then joined the faculty of the English department at the University of Georgia, where he taught for 22 years. Known more for his work in athletics, McWhorter was known by many of his students as a outstanding teacher. "He enjoyed teaching English in the classroom as much as anything he'd done," said son Hamilton McWhorter.

McWorther served on the university's athletic board from 1963 to 1972. For seven years, he served as faculty chairman. During his tenure at Georgia, McWhorter served as Assistant to the President in 1965 and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1968.

In 1967, McWhorter was elected Secretary of the Southeastern Conference. He was elected by the universities and colleges of the NCAA as the organization's Vice-President for two terms.

The members of the Southeastern Conference named McWhorter as the fifth head of the Conference in 1972. Upon taking office just before the 1972 football season, McWhorter said, "I consider the Southeastern Conference the best and it will be my determination to keep it that way." The new commissioner made it his goal to prevent the abuse of athletics standards by relaxing academic ones. "That's why we call them student-athletes," McWhorter frequently said.

Determined to keep the conference strong, McWhorter was disturbed that most of the attacks on the institutions were a result of those on the inside who were there to protect the conference contributing to the problems.

Commissioner McWhorter retired in 1986 as the second longest serving commissioner in conference history.

Following his retirement due to health reasons in 1986, McWhorter returned to his alma mater as a consultant to the President on issues of academic and athletic affairs following the turmoil created when English professor Jan Kemp was fired for criticizing the university for its favoritism toward athletes and the subsequent trial demanding her reinstatement.

McWhorter was elected to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, along with Tommy Aaron, Zeke Bratkowski and Maxie Baughn.

Boyd McWhorter died on July 23, 1994 and is buried in the Oconee Hill Cemetery in his beloved Athens.

Friend, colleague and sportswriter Loran Smith wrote that one of McWhorter's most distinguishing characteristics was his infectious laughter which would literally turn a dreary mood into one of uplifting gaiety. Of his love of English and the Bulldogs, Smith said, "He could quote the poets, but he could quote from the Georgia media guide - a learned man who appreciated both intellect and smooth athletic talent."

"Boyd McWhorter took his job seriously, but never himself," said Smith, a native of Wrightsville. Smith knew his friend as a bright person who never looked down on another by illustrating the point that McWhorter, who preferred his first name and not doctor, maintained that a PhD was on campus to serve the institution and not the other way around.

"He believed strongly in the value of intercollegiate athletics, but with an underscoring of honesty and integrity. He didn't find fault, he looked for solutions. He carried his own bag, he fixed his own drink. When the joke was on him, he laughed the loudest," Smith concluded in his eulogy to his dear, dear friend.

In his illustrious career, Boyd McWhorter brought the SEC through the first years of integration and into serious contention for national championships in many sports. McWhorter negotiated the conference's first major television contract and rejuvenated the post-season conference basketball championship.

So, when you cheer for your favorite Southeastern Conference team in any sport, remember that the man who brought the universities together and helped to transform them into one of the nation's greatest collegiate athletic conferences, once called Bleckley County, Georgia home.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


And Men Who Don't Have a Clue

Got ants? Want to get rid of them? Are you tired of fleas biting your legs when you walk through the house? Are flies eating your dessert before you do? You can call your local pest control company or log on the Internet and google what you need to do. But, a century ago, folks didn't have the modern day technology to fight insects in the home, so they had to improvise and use what was around to rid their homes of the bothersome bugs.

I recently happened upon the 1920 edition of The Household Dictionary by Winnifred S. Fales. Mrs. Fales meticulously compiled every known trick, cure, and helpful hint she could find to make housekeeping an easier chore. I started reading. I was hooked. And, before I knew it, I read the book from Acid Stains to Zinc to Clean.

Particularly fascinating were the ways to get rid of insects. If you want to get rid of red ants, at night simply smear a plate with lard in a place where ants congregate. All you have to do the next morning is to pick up the plate covered with the irritating insects, immerse it in boiling water, and presto, no more ants. If that doesn't work, sprinkle snuff, red pepper, or a mixture of sugar and borax where the ants crawl. Then, if there are still more ants, saturate a sponge with sugar syrup, squeeze it partly dry, and tie a string to it, and when the ants fill up the sponge, pick it up and dip the sponge into a boiling pot.

Fleas bite dogs, cats, and most of us. You can clean your house, but the best way to get rid of the fleas, other than getting rid of your pet, is to put your pooch in a tub. Put four tablespoons of creolin to the quart and wash the dog throughly. Don't try this with your cat.

Houseflies were the peskiest pests of early 20th Century houses. Fly swatters and sticky fly paper were the weapons of choice. Mrs. Fales suggested making a preparation of half milk and half water with two teaspoons full of the poison formalin. The recipe calls for soaking blotting paper with the mixture and then coating it with brown sugar. Once the devices are spread around the house, out of the reach of hungry children and curious pets, flies swarm to them and their death.

Worse than fleas and houseflies are the irritating mosquitos. Among the preventatives for skeeters was the wiping of screens and doors at twilight with kerosene, a liquid favored throughout the book for killing all sorts of creatures. Fales suggested holding a cup of kerosene attached to a stick just below mosquitoes which alighted on the ceiling. If that doesn't work, try rubbing your face and arms and even your pillow with spirits of camphor. Oil of lavender sprayed throughout the room or hanging a towel saturated with camphor, citronella and cedar oils over your bed might work as well. If these repellants don't work and you began to itch, try washing your bites with moistened toilet soap.

Roaches are particularly annoying, disgusting, and somewhat unhealthy. Most of the measures to rid your house of roaches involving filling your house with all sorts of poisons which will kill the prehistoric pests. A more effective, environmentally friendly method calls for placing pinches of plaster of Paris and wheat flour in equal parts on pieces of cardboard throughout the house beside water-filled saucers. When the roaches eat the mixture, they drink. Then the plaster and the roaches harden into statues. You could also try placing a slice of bread in a well-greased shallow basin. Darken the room for an hour. Go in the room, turn on the light, and then start squirting away with your good ol' bottle of kerosene spray.

If my speaking of roaches and rats makes you nauseated, try chewing on small and frequent doses of cracked ice.

If you happen to get bit by a bee, try rubbing moist clay, bruised plantain leaves or catnip leaves (not available at most pharmacies and grocery stores), ammonia or baking soda. You can also chew some Red Man and apply a poultice to the sting. But remember, don't swallow the juice.

This was my favorite cure. It's not exactly an insect, but if someone gets struck by lightning, try laying the patient flat and dash cold water on his face and chest. Make sure you stay back several feet in case there are too many electrons floating around. If not, apply a mustard poultice to the stomach, rub the body and limbs, and apply hot water bottles to promote circulation. If the patient regains consciousness, then Mrs. Winifred suggests a good cup of hot coffee. Then, if that doesn't work, begin artificial respiration. And if that still doesn't work, you might want to call 911.

If someone is choking on a bone and the Heimlich maneuver doesn't work, try pouring an unbeaten raw egg down the throat. If that doesn't work, see above.

Painful splinters can be easily removed by filling a wide mouthed bottle with scalding hot water and placing the affected finger over the opening. The steam and suction will draw the splinter to the surface of the skin.

If you are around fire often, the homemaker's guide suggests you soak your clothes in a solution of a pound of ammonium phosphate to a gallon of water. The author suggests this will prevent your children's clothes from bursting into flames, especially on the Fourth of July.

Many of you know this, but if something on your stove catches on fire, don't throw water on the flames, try some nearby flour or meal or go outside and grab some handfuls of dirt or a find a nearby potted plant.

On a more pleasing note, if you want to keep your sandwiches fresher longer, wrap them in a dry napkin, then in a towel wrung out of cold water, and put them in the refrigerator or a fireless cooker. If molded cheese is not your thing, wrap your cheese in a cheese cloth wrung out of vinegar. Finally, to keep your cakes fresher longer, put an apple in the cake box, but remove it when it begins to rot. Oh, by the way, if you burn your cake, remove the crust with fine sandpaper.

These are some of things our grandmothers and great grandmothers used to do to make life around the house just a little bit easier in a time when life was a little bit slower and there was no Google or Home and Garden TV.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Keeping Up With the Baptists

Original Methodist Church
prior to 1910 rennovations

Competition is a good thing. In the race to have the biggest sanctuary in the Emerald City, the Methodists won. The Methodists built their first brick church in 1894, some 14 years before the Baptists completed their bigger and better church. Not to be out done and to be the biggest church in Dublin, the Methodist immediately launched a building program which would allow the West Gaines Street sanctuary to be the first choice of mass meetings in the city, not only religious ones, but social, scientific and musical ones as well.

Dublin was a growing city. The city was growing so fast that its backers dubbed it, "Dublin, Georgia, the only city in Georgia which is doublin' all the time." In fact, Dublin was one of the ten largest cities in the state and was often the site of state wide conventions and meetings. The necessity of large meeting facilities was critical to the economic welfare of the city and a large church met the needs of the community as well as the needs of church goers.

First Baptist Church 1910

After the Baptist Church completed a major building program, leaders of the Methodist Church realized the desperate need for more Sunday School class rooms. The contract was let to John A. Kelley on October 25, 1910 for $19,000.00. Kelley was already working on the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception which was located a block away. Kelley agreed to complete the work within four to five months for twice the original cost of the church.

Originally, the church hired a Mr. Lockhart of Columbus to design the additions. But, with the Rev. George C. Thompson, a former pastor and Dublin District Supernumerary, being an architect, church leaders hired Thompson to create a design to revamp the front facade and add Sunday Schools rooms in the rear. Thompson came up with an ingenious idea to accommodate the wishes of those who wanted the largest sanctuary in town. The moonlighting minister designed a movable partition, which, when removed, allowed the congregation of up to 1100 persons to view services in the sanctuary from the Sunday School area.

Nearly from the start Kelley's short completion schedule came into doubt. The main part of the church expansion was the construction of Sunday School rooms to the rear of the steep roofed sanctuary. In digging the foundation for the class rooms, workers discovered human remains in a fine state of preservation. To their amazement, the diggers found the body's skull, arms and legs in nearly perfect condition, only a few ribs had begun to decompose.

At first, workers thought they may have dug into the city cemetery, although they were two hundred feet away. Who the man was and how he got there remained a mystery. Most speculated that he was buried at least a half century before, though the freshness of the body seems to contradict that theory. Others thought the man was killed, but there had been no mysterious deaths since the church was built in 1894 and before then a murderer trying to hide a body would have buried in the thicket behind the cemetery and not in front of it. It wasn't the first time that buried bodies were unearthed during construction of buildings in the city, it being a common practice to bury the dead in the yards of houses, which once occupied many of the lots in the downtown area.

By the end of November, work was progressing nicely. When it came time to lay the first brick, that honor went to Rev. John M. Outler. Outler deferred to his toddler son, Albert to lay the first brick. With a little help from his parents, Albert placed the first brick on the foundation. More than thirty thousand more bricks would be cemented into the new addition.

Little Albert would grow up in his father's footsteps and become a Methodist minister. Actually, Albert Cook Outler would grow up to become one of the greatest Ecumenical Methodist ministers of the 20th Century. Albert's brother, John, Jr., would become a successful chief executive with WSB Radio in Atlanta.

Kelley still believed that he could complete the project before the following spring. But when delays occurred, more than ten more months elapsed before the first services were held in the newly renovated sanctuary.

New Methodist Church, 1911

The unexpected delay gave the members more time to plan a Jubilee to celebrate the opening on September 24, 1911. Every living former minister of the church was invited to attend the seven-day celebration. Only one, Rev. W.A. Ainsworth, the President of Wesleyan College, was unavoidably absent due to the future Bishop's absence from the state.

The festivities began early on Sunday morning with children and adults attending Sunday School in their new rooms, brighter and better than ever with electric lights and concrete walls.

The opening sermon was given by the Rev. Outler, who had headed the building program before being assigned the Thomasville District as it's Presiding Elder. That evening, ministers of other denominations in the city welcomed guests and fellow ministers.

Every day at 3:30 and 7:30, a former minister took to the pulpit and addressed large crowds, the largest ever to attend church services in the city's first century. The highlight of the week came on Tuesday evening when the Rev. John B. McGehee, the church's first minister, spoke. Rev. McGehee, who served the church in 1854, delivered a lecture which compared the Methodist Church in 1911 to the Methodist Church in 1854. McGehee returned to the pulpit the next afternoon with a sermon he dubbed, "Old-fashioned Love Feast."

And, as I honor the 100th anniversary of the construction of the First Methodist Church, both the First Baptist and First Methodist churches are undergoing another rehabilitation of their facilities. Alphonse Karr said it first, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."