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

Thursday, April 22, 2010


An Age-old Problem

There's nothing new about gangs, they have been around as long as man has been on the Earth. The trouble is that in today's world, they are multiplying beyond our control. A century ago, most gangs were merely bands of thieves. One of the most famous gangs in our area was captured one hundred years ago last week when they tried to steal too much too often.

The stealing spree began just before Christmas 1909. First the thieves burglarized the hardware store of H.E. Barwick in Adrian. After a merry Christmas and a happy new year, the thieves decided to try again, this time hoping to pick up a few fresh pieces of Barwick's new stock. A month later, the trio broke into the office of the Central of Georgia Railroad, where they picked up a cool $250.00 in cash and a booty of goods from J.D. Hussey's store.

Emboldened by their smooth and successful stealing capers, the crooks moved down to Soperton where they cleaned out two stores, before moving up the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad to Rockledge, where they snatched the cash and valuables from the express office.

Fearing that the stores in the larger towns of Adrian and Soperton were too much of a risk, the larcenists moved west up the Brewton and Pineora Railroad to the hamlet of Scott, Georgia. There they found stealing places easy to enter. After grabbing a large stash of loot in John W. Cheek's store, the bandits decided to take what cash they could find in the Bank of Scott. Much to their disappointment, they were only able to retrieve a few dozen pennies - copper cents were worth more then than now, but still relatively useless to unsatisfiable thieves.

Lovett, another small town on the northeastern margin of Laurens County, was next. The thieves robbed all they could from the store of Dick Hardaway. Inexplicably, the looters adopted a new modus operandi by torching the buildings they had just burglarized. Sadly, when Hardaway's store was reduced to ashes, the flames also destroyed the town's Masonic Lodge.

The bandit's binge began to climax in the early morning of April 13, 1910. About half past two in the morning, insomniac residents of Brewton saw flames raging from the store operated by Charles Keen and owned by Mrs. John L. Keen. Nothing could be done by bystanders but to watch the conflagration as it unfolded. Keen's Store, valued at $2600.00, was insufficiently covered by a thousand-dollar policy. Additionally, Dr. W.C. Sessoms, who rented a place in the back of the store, suffered a total uninsured loss of his books, instruments and medicines.

Warren Carter, a leading citizen of Scott, Georgia, decided to take matters into his own hands by beginning his own investigation of the gang's crime spree. Carter, believing that the burning of Keen's store was a coverup to yet another burglary, went out to look after his stock. He found that one of his horses was covered with sweat along with other signs of over exertion in the past few hours, although it was later reported that Carter's stolen horse was found wandering in the woods.

Carter followed the trail of the horse's tracks toward the home of one Berry Bartley. Confident that they had found the villain, Carter confronted Bartley as he was working in his field. The captor refused Bartley's repeated requests to allow him to return to his home to change out of his work clothes. Carter took his captive to the nearest constable for surveillance.

It wasn't long before suspicions were directed toward Will Burton and Tom Cannon as accomplices of Bartley. Both of the suspects were immediately arrested.

A thorough search of Bartley's home revealed a virtual "box car load of goods." Investigators identified goods from the stores of Barwick, Carter, and Keen. A missing gun from the Bank of Scott was found hidden among the booty. Stacked neatly in the cache was an arsenal of pistols, Winchester rifles and assorted firearms.

With a mountain of incontrovertible evidence before them, Burton and Cannon quickly confessed to five burglaries. The duo admitted that Keen's store burned but maintained that the fire resulted from an accidental overturning of a kerosene lamp. Bartley remained staunchly defiant and refused to speak. The ring leader pleaded innocent stating that he was merely storing the goods for friends. Officers questioned Burton and Cannon about additional accomplices, a fact which they admitted to, but refused to disclose their identities.

Marshal George Granger charged all three men with arson and robbery. The marshal escorted the prisoners to Wrightsville, where they were immediately thrown into jail.

A hasty commitment hearing was held by Justice of the Peace Thomas L. Harris. Bartley, despite his earlier claims of innocence, joined his associates and plead guilty to the charges before them. Justice Harris confounded prosecutors and lawmen by sentencing all three defendants on the spot to twelve months of hard labor on the chain gang. Harris' sentence was surprisingly light in view of the fact of the number of burglaries which the prisoners admitted to.

A dispute arose between officials in Johnson County and Laurens County. Sheriff Flanders thought it was improper for Justice Harris to sentence the men on a lesser charge when a more grave offense had been committed upon the property of Laurens County residents. Flanders traveled to Wrightsville to retrieve his prisoners, but was told that they would remain in the care of Johnson County until their sentences were served.

Justice of the Peace Harris did allow Laurens County's court system the right to deal with the men after their other kind of gang experience, the chain gang, was over. The prisoners were sent to the Court of Ordinary where Judge Wiggins put them under the direction of Captain Kemp in his camp in the eastern part of the county.

The convicts did not spend the rest of their lives in jail like the majority of the people in the area thought they should. Within ten years, Berry Bartley was back on his farm in Emanuel County. Sound familiar? In case you didn't get it, that was an editorial comment.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Making the South Better

Azaleas, daffodils, magnolias, camellias, dogwoods, and tall pines swaying in the wind. It doesn't get any better in the South in the spring. It got better when Prosper Julius Alfonse Berckmans showed up. The young Belgian gathered every seedling, sprig, bulb, root and seed that he could get his hands on and planted them in the sandy clay soil of his farm outside of Augusta. He studied the plants and nurtured them, trying to find the right ones which would thrive in the temperate climates of Georgia and the South. What he achieved was nothing short of amazing.

For those of you who watch golf and for those of you who watched the Master's golf tournament this past Sunday, how many of you looked beyond Phil Mickelson as he played the last few rounds and saw the magnificent gardens which surround the eighteen holes of the Augusta National golf course? Who among you know that after winning the Masters Mickelson donned his third green jacket, all of which were made at J.P. Stevens in East Dublin? Who among you noticed any similarity between Augusta National and a place in Dublin? Nobody? I know it's a stretch, but did anyone say Stubbs' Park? Now, I will tell you why I say so.

Prosper Julius Berckmans was born in Belgium in 1830. He came to the United States in 1850. Seven years later, Berckmans settled in Augusta, Georgia, where he established the Fruitland Nursery. Berckmans dedicated all of his life to study and promote horticulture in the Southeast. Berckmans' love of plants came from his father, Dr. Louis Berckmans, a leading horticulturist from Brussels.

It was in 1876 when P.J. Berckmans was elected as the first and only president of the Georgia Horticultural Society until his death in 1910. Among the founding members of the society was none other than Col. John M. Stubbs of Dublin. The young Dublin lawyer, in addition to his aversion for the law, journalism, transportation and politics, was fascinated with horticulture and all things which grew from the earth. Berckmans and Stubbs became life long friends.

Meanwhile, Berckmans continued his horticultural work. He was elected president of the American Pomological Society in 1887 after twenty-seven years of service to the organization. Berckmans represented the United States at worlds' fairs and expositions around the world.

When Prosper Berckmans came to Georgia in the years before the beginning of the Civil War, it was estimated that there were some 100,000 peach trees, primarily located on family farms throughout the state. After fifty years of seeking the perfect peach tree, Berckmans' research led the planting of more than three million trees, a feat which led to Berckmans being dubbed "the father of the peach tree culture in the South."

When Col. Stubbs began to develop the lands around his home, which he named Liberty Hall, he asked Berckmans to help him design his gardens and orchards which stretched along Bellevue Avenue from the Baptist Church westward to Duncan Street and northward to Moore Street.

Berckmans and Stubbs studied which plants would be suited for the young Dublin lawyer's suburban farm. Dozens of the finest fruit bearing trees and aromatic shrubs graced the finest lands in the city. All the while, Stubbs planned to leave a portion of his lands after his death to the City of Dublin.

Stubbs, also an active leader of the society for more than two decades, expanded his operations to include vast acreages of peach trees in western Laurens County in the Montrose area. The Honorable Dudley M. Hughes, of Danville, worked with Stubbs in planting fruit trees wherever they grew best in small patches or very large orchards.

Following the death of Col. Stubbs in 1907, his widow and children deemed it only proper and fitting that they donate a particularly beautiful section of the family farm to the City of Dublin, dedicating it as a park in memory of the late phytophiliac.

The area chosen for the park was located along the banks of Stubbs Mill Branch between North Church Street and North Calhoun Street. The stream provided the water for a grist mill located at the far eastern end of the park. J.T. Pope, a pioneer miller in the Dublin area, built the first combined grist mill and cotton ginnery for Col. John M. Stubbs on the property in 1901, following a fire which destroyed the old mill. The new mill contained two sets of grist rocks, three seventy-saw cotton gins, and a planing mill.

Despite the failure of a bond issue, city fathers moved ahead with the plans for a park on the Stubbs's property. The Stubbs family signed the deed giving the park to the city on October 10, 1908. M.J. Guyton, the first city engineer, surveyed the area in October 1908.

The P.J. Berckmans firm, of course, was hired to design the park. P.J. Berckmans, then officially retired, sent his son Robert to work with local officials and the Stubbs family. Robert Berckmans' initial plan called for the draining and filling in of the lake with seats and fountains placed throughout the park. The city of Dublin agreed to accept the donation of the land for the park in April of 1909. The council appropriated three thousand of the five thousand dollars needed to complete the ten-acre park in May of 1909. One of the first improvements would be a small pavilion located just north of the Catholic Church in the area now known as the Grady Wright section of the park.

In the 1930s, golfing icon Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts wanted to build one of the world's finest golf courses. They bought Berckmans's old Fruitland Company lands and his home and set out to improve the home and the grounds. Louis Alphonse Berckmans, a son of Prosper, was solicited to help with the design. Over the last eighty years, the course has grown into one of the most beautiful sports venues in the world. The Berckmans' home was remodeled into the club house of the Augusta National Golf Course.

Signs of Berckmans's work still remain; the large oak tree behind the clubhouse, the privet hedge around the club house, which was imported by Berckmans from France, and the wisteria vine, generally accepted as the largest vine of its kind in the country.

So the next time you watch the Master's golf course or if you are one of the lucky ones who get to see the tournament up close and in person, think about our little piece of Berckmans's work and the generous gift of Col. John M. Stubbs and his family to the people of the city they loved so dearly.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010



Some sportswriters say that he was the best manager in the history of the Mexican baseball leagues. Old time Pirate fans remember Oceak as the first man to shake the hand of Bill Mazeroski as the rounded third base to complete his walk off home run trot to defeat the powerful New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series. Others, may remember him as the crewcut, gray-haired skipper of the Dublin Irish minor league team way back in 1953.

Frank John Oceak was the most famous person ever born in Pocahontas, Virginia. He was certainly the most famous man to ever hit and throw a baseball from that coal mining town of western Virginia. In 1920, at the age of eight, Frank moved with his family to Cliffside Park, N.J., where he graduated from high school during the height of the great depression in 1931. With little or no decent paying jobs anywhere to be found, Frank Oceak turned to what he loved best - baseball.

The New York Yankees signed Frank to a contract, assigning him to their Cumberland, Maryland team in the Middle Atlantic League. From Cumberland, Frank would play for teams in far away places such as Wheeling, Binghamton, Akron, Norfolk, Beaver Falls, Oil City, Hornell, Lafayette, Fayette, Selma and Keokuk.

Oceak was a decent infielder, leading the Middle Atlantic in fielding for four years, playing both sides of the keystone combo. A fine batting average of .297 was not enough to warrant a promotion beyond the AA level of the minors. In 1936, Frank left the Yankees and joined the St. Louis Browns' farm system. Two years later, the owner of the Lafayette White Sox hired Frank to lead the team in the 1938 season. The Sox went 69-69, not a bad start to a managerial career. In the following season, Frank's Fayetteville Angels finished atop the Arkansas-Missouri League. His Beaver-Falls team lost in the finals of the 1940 Penn State League tournament.

The year 1942 was the turning point on Frank's career. Banned for all of 1941 by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis for assaulting an umpire, Frank joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, a move that would result in more than three decades of an association with the team, except for a brief stint in the armed forces in the last years of World War II and one year with the Reds.

After the war, Frank returned to the managerial reins in Selma, Alabama. After four mediocre seasons, Oceak got the best job of his early career as manager of the Charleston Rebels of the South Atlantic League. On the heels of a poor start to the 1953 season, Frank was demoted to an assignment as the manager of the Class D Dublin Irish of the Georgia State League.

Oceak replaced Johnny George, whose team was two games under .500, on June 18. Leading the Irish that year was Parnell Ruark, one of the franchise's best players ever. Pitching for the 1953 Irish was young Walker "Bo" Whaley, a future Courier Herald columnist. After a 20 and 49-season and a 7th place finish, Oceak's career in Dublin ended on a less than stellar note. Nevertheless, Oceak was promoted to the Brunswick, Georgia team in the Georgia-Florida League.

In his first two seasons in the Shrimp Capital of the World, Oceak's Pirates finished in first place. After disappointing 7th place finishes in Brunswick in 1956 and AAA Columbus in 1957, it appeared that Frank's career as a manager was all but over.

But hold up for a moment. In the 1956 winter season, Oceak's Poza Rico team captured the Mexican League championship. Oceak was coaching a team in the Domincan Republic when his old roommate Danny Murtaugh was named to manage the big league team in Pittsburgh. So, in 1958, Frank and Danny resumed their life long friendship when Frank, wearing jersey # 44, joined the Bucs as third base coach and infield instructor. His pupils were Dick Groat (1960 NL MVP), Bill Mazeroski (1960 Player of the Year), and Ted Kluszewski, whose upper arms were so huge that he had to cut off his sleeves to put on his jersey.

In his first two seasons, Frank's team finished in the upper half of the National League. The year 1960 was to become a different season. It was the year when the Pirates returned to the World Series. The last time the Pirates had been in the series, it was 1927,when they were swept by the Murderer's Row Yankees with Ruth, Gehrig, Lazerri and Combs, Koenig, and Meusel and arguably, at (110-44), the best team in the history of baseball.

The day - October 13, 1960. The place - Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, PA. Pirates go ahead in the bottom of the 8th inning with five runs. Yankees tie the game with 2 scores in the top of the 9th. Bottom of the 9th inning. Score: New York 9 - Pittsburgh 9. The series is tied 3-3. Ralph Terry, for the Yankees in relief, is on the mound. The count - 1-0. Oceak, the third base coach, takes off the take sign. Batting for the Pirates; Mazeroski, hoping for a miracle, got one. Mazeroski swings. He smacks the ball toward left center. It's ------ gone! Home run! The Pirates win the World Series! Fans race toward Maz as he rounds second base, hoping to get a pat on the back or grab a souvenir cap. The first Pirate to congratulate the fine defensive second baseman was his mentor and third base coach Oceak, his own cap on the ground or in the hands of a lucky scavenging fan.

When Murtaugh resigned for health reasons as manager after the end of the 1964 season, Oceak found that the only way he could remain in the major leagues was to accept the offer of the Cincinnati Reds as a coach. Pete Rose credited Oceak with helping him to become a better second baseman just as he did with Bill Mazeroski in 1958, when Maz cracked the starting lineup for the first time.

After one season with the Reds, Frank longed to return to the Pirates, who named him to manage the Clinton Pilots of the Midwest League. Oceak returned to Middle Georgia in 1967 to manage the Macon Peaches of the Southern League. His last two seasons as a minor league manager came in 1968 and 1969 came with the Gastonia Pirates.

When Danny Murtaugh returned to the Pirates in 1970, he asked Frank to come back to the big club and take his old spot in the third base coach's box. The Pirates returned to the top of the National League, capturing first place in the NL East. In 1971, the Pirates returned to the World Series.

In a bit of deja vu, the Pirates and Orioles were locked in tight game with the series tied 3-3. As he congratulated Roberto Clemente as he homered and rounded third to put the Pirates ahead, Frank thought back to the series 11 years before. The Pirates took a two-run lead into the 9th inning, just as they had done against the Yankees. This time they held the lead, winning the game 2-1 and the series, four games to three. Once more, Frank and the Pirates were world champions. Frank Oceak stayed on with the Pirates after Murtaugh retired again.

Frank Oceak, after four decades of playing, coaching and managing, hung up his cleats for the last time following the 1972 season. He died in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on March 19, 1983 at the age of seventy.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


A crow takes a moment to rest atop the head of the Confederate soldier's monument, Dublin, Georgia.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Making the Right Call

color photos @ Referee Magazine, March 2004.

From her very first dribble, Sally loved the game of basketball. And now, some forty plus years later, she has seen millions of dribbles, most of the time making sure that none of them were of the double kind. Today, it is Sally's job to find, train and assign the right people to be in the right position to make the right call all of the time.

Sally Smalley Bell, daughter of Dr. Derrell and Nell Smalley, was born and grew up in Dublin, Georgia. "I loved basketball from day one," Sally said as she thought of the days when she began playing when she was in the fifth grade. "Back then, we played half court, three guards and three forwards, but during my senior year we went to a rover system - two players played full court," Sally remembered.

As he was to millions of other kids back in the 1960s, Pete Maravich was Sally's idol on the court. "I was just totally in awe of his skills. He was so far ahead of his time. It was just amazing to me," said Sally would often hop in her car and drive to Atlanta to catch a glimpse of her hero.

Before she graduated from Dublin High School in 1971, Sally played in the band and performed on the sidelines during half time shows as a majorette. She was captain in her senior year. Her father was a well known and respected veterinarian, a founder of Smalley's Animal Hospital. Her mother's paintings were truly works of art and can still found in places around Dublin.

After Sally graduated from the University of Georgia, she took a job with the Habersham County Recreation Department, doing whatever job she was called upon to do. "One night we had no refs, so I had to call the game," Sally remembered. The coach started screaming at her. His objections, Sally admitted, were probably right. After all, it was her first time as a real referee. And, as anyone whoever slipped on one of those zebra shirts and blew a whistle can tell you, officiating a basketball game is no easy task.

"I went over to the coach and said, 'We may not be right, but you are not going to yell at us. Either sit down and shut up, or leave," Sally ordered. There wasn't another peep from the coach that night. The next day, Sally discovered that the coach, Cecil Huff, who was chewing her out was actually the head of the local high school officials association. Sally had made a good first impression. For, on that day, her career as a basketball referee began. "He called me and asked me to join and I became the first female referee in the Georgia Mountain Officials Association," Bell fondly remembered. The two became mentor and student and very close friends.

Sally even married a referee. Her husband Jack Bell, a Gainesville attorney has been officiating at the high school and college level for several decades. In fact, they met for the first time when they called a basketball game together. "Jack didn't have two words to say to me at that game," Sally told a reporter for Referee magazine. "Jack is basically a shy guy and I was nervous as heck," Sally laughed. But Jack saw something in Sally and asked their mutual friend Cecil Huff for a return assignment. They were married a year or so later.

Determined to succeed, Sally attended every officiating camp she could. "That put me in the loop," Sally said. Assignors in attendance began to notice Sally. How couldn't they notice, she was often the only female on the court. To catch the attention of college coaches, Sally worked AAU summer tournaments. That's when the exposure led to recommendations and then to assignments.

In the early days, Sally worked as many as six to eight games a week. "I just couldn't think of anything I'd rather do," she said. "I became consumed by it. By the end of her seventh year as an official, Sally had climbed the ladder from rec. ball to Division I.

Sally's first big break came in 1984 when she was assigned to call the National Junior College tournaments. She was called back for the next two years.

All the years of hard work and dedication paid off in 1989 when Sally was chosen to officiate the NCAA Division 1 Final Four tournaments. It would be the first of fifteen assignments to the high point of women's collegiate basketball. Only twice (1991-1992) in seventeen years (1989-2005) did Bell not get the assignment for the highly heralded tournament.

Although she didn't make the final four in 1991, Sally Bell received the penultimate honor of being named the Naismith Female Official of the Year. During her first decade and a half, Sally had called games in major conferences such as the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big East. Reporter Rick Woelfel wrote of Sally, "She is unobtrusive on the court, but somehow she always manages to be in the right place at the right time. What she lacks in pure athleticism, she makes up for with court sense and hustle. In a very real sense, she reads and feels the game, bending with it like a rooted tree in the wind."

Former officiating partner and NBA official Dee Kantner agrees, "When I talk to prospective female officials, I tell them you don't have to be that perfect athlete. Look at Sally Bell, she looks like a housewife out there." Kantner adds, "Her game management skills are subtle. She has a subtle calming presence." Fellow WNBA official Bonita Spence admired Bell's willingness to thank her partners for making calls they saw in her zone while many officials often chastize the partners for calling a play outside of their area.

Perhaps one of the most exciting tournaments came in 1996, when Sally traveled a short distance from home to officiate the games of the 1996 Summer Olympics. She had been to the 1989 Junior World Championships in Spain and the 1990 World Championships in Malaysia and the 1994 Goodwill Games in Russia, but nothing can compare to being an official in the greatest of all amateur basketball games.

Always wanting people to remember that Sally Bell was a good referee, Sally left the game while she on top of her game. Today, Sally serves as supervisor of officials for the Sunbelt, Southland, and SWAC conferences. Her goal is to see the successes of the officials whom she supervises.

In looking back over her career on the court, the biggest difference from when she started until today is the athletic abilities of the players. Sally sees the ability to communicate between partners, coaches, players and supervisors as the biggest challenge.

When she is not working, Sally can be found near a golf course or planning her next trip to golf's Ryder Cup tournament. She hasn't missed a single one since 1997.

So, during the madness of March, let's all salute Sally Smalley Bell for a career well done.