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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010



There is a story, said to be true, about an Army officer traveling from Jacksonville, Florida to Macon, Georgia in the late afternoon of a day in the middle years of World War II. Parts of it I have to explain to those of you who have not lived in or near Dodge County for a long time. For those who have, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

It was getting dark and the officer decided it would be a good idea to stop in Hawkinsville to get something to eat, fearing that there would no place open by the time he got to his destination in Macon. So, he pulled in at a roadside eating joint. Beside the front door were two older gentlemen sitting on a bench. As he approached the men, the officer saw one of them reading a newspaper with a big headline on the front page. The man read out loud, "Germans take Milan." Here's the explaining part. The man pronounced the word "Mi-lun," a reference to a small town in southeastern Dodge County, once known far and wide for its toughness and lawlessness, instead of the Italian city, "Mi-lon." The other old gentleman quickly responded, "Yeah, but they'll never take Rhine!" (A town in southwestern Dodge County, a German sounding place also once known as far and as wide for its toughness and lawlessness.)

Rhine, Georgia was incorporated as a town on September 1, 1890, one hundred and twenty years ago tomorrow. Named for a large river in western Germany, the community of Rhine long held a reputation for being a raucous place in southern Central Georgia. Listening to these stories will make you believe, but if you look closely enough, you'll find that these kinds of bad boy behavior happened in many places across the state and our country.

John D. McRanie and Henry Lancaster didn't like each other. They met first in the court room. Then they stepped outside into the streets of Rhine to settle their differences. Both men grabbed each other with their left hands, reached in their pockets, grabbed their pistols, and began firing with their right hands. Lancaster struck McRanie five times. Lancaster somehow managed to come out of the fracas with a harmless glancing blow to his scalp. McRanie went to his grave in the summer of 1903.

Somehow money always seemed to figure into the killings in Rhine. In the days before January 27, 1905, temperatures had fallen to the coldest levels in years, but the tempers of several Rhine residents were as hot as ever. It was reported that Bailiff W.P. Livingston, W.B. Bryant, and W.T. Bryant attacked and severely beat a son of M.A. Burnham, all over a dispute regarding a tract of land. The following day, friends and family of the victim gathered at the assembly area to prepare for an attack on the scoundrels. Shots rang out. Mrs. Ray, a sister of one of the Bryants, rushed to the scene of the battle, only to be struck by an errant shot. Bailiff Livingston was killed. In addition to Mrs. Ray, M.A. Burnham was injured, along with both Bryants and Tom Coffee.

H.G. Everett and Manly Peacock hated each other much worse than McRanie and Lancaster. Peacock had alienated the affections of Everett's wife. Not taking too kindly to Everett's advances, Peacock's response to the incident erupted from a scuffle to all out carnage. Everett filed a damage suit in the amount of $20,000.00. When Peacock traveled to Rhine to settle the matter, the melee began. As the men were sitting on the steps of a store in the cool afternoon of November 7, 1905, Everett told Peacock he had written letters to his wife. Peacock rose to his feet and screamed, "you lie!" Peacock drew his gun and fired a blast into Everett's side. As he fell, Everett returned a single shot, striking Peacock in his head just above his ear. Peacock died an hour later. At first, doctors feared that both men would die of their wounds, but miraculously Everett, the non-aggressor, survived.

Town Marshal Tom Burnham, a son of M.A. Burnham, was making his rounds on New Years Eve 1913. Burnham had tried to put a lid on the illegal liquor selling activities of the ubiquitous "blind tigers" in the town, which had the potential of elevating revelry into chaos. Walking with Burnham, who had himself been acquitted of a murder at Bowen's Mill, was M.A. Davenport. Marshal Burnham was cut down by a volley of bullets which broke his thigh in two places. Davenport was hit by shrapnel which had passed through Burnham's body. Speculators believed that the lawman was killed by spirit sellers or angry relatives of the victim at Bowen's Mill.

Just five years later, in the days before Christmas, the same Tom Burnham met death on the streets of Rhine. Tom Burnham, also a restaurant owner, was gunned down by 19-year-old James Cullen Dowdy. The two got into a scrap when Burnham demanded payment for some syrup he sold to Dowdy. Dowdy exclaimed, "this syrup won't make Kennesaw liquor!" The men exchanged curses until Dowdy picked up his walking stick and whopped Burnham up side his head. Bystanders broke up the fight, if only for a little while.

Dowdy was outside the barber shop when Burnham walked up. "I'll kill him," the ego hurting youngster screamed! Burnham, urging a truce to discuss the matter, turned to go inside the barber shop. Then, Dowdy unloaded his revolver into his antagonist's abdomen, killing him dead on the spot.

New Year's hootch was again the catalyst for a near fatal fight in the early days of 1922. Cleve Studstill, a former town marshal, was working in his butcher's shop late on a Saturday afternoon. A ferocious hail of shots rang out from the direction of Mr. Stuckel's store across the way. As Studstill and his 15-year-old son ran out to see the nature of the commotion, they were ambushed by unknown assailants. After the firing of more than fifty shots, both Studstills, William Harrold, Dan Smith, George Smith, and six or seven others were lying wounded in the streets. Cleve Studstill, the most severely wounded combatant, was taken to a Dublin hospital for treatment.

It seems that it was always open season on the marshals of Rhine. J.J. Lancaster had only been on duty for a few weeks in February 1923, when an unknown assailant hiding under a small bridge attempted to assassinate him right on the town's main street. No motive was found for the attack. Authorities later arrested B.W. Smith and his sons, Joe and J.B., for the attempt to murder the marshal.

The Dowdys were back in the news in November 1923, when Mrs. Oscar Kirkland shot H.A. Dowdy after he allegedly made some unflattering remarks about her. Mrs. Kirkland, believing the maxim that some men need killing, emptied a load of buckshot into her nemesis, breaking one of his legs.

The Germans had heard these and many more reports about the residents of the namesake of their homeland. And, they completely abandoned all plans to invade the lower Ocmulgee valley. But, if the Germans, or any other invading army, ever decide to attack us, I am digging my foxhole in downtown Rhine, where it is said, "all the good people have killed off all the bad people."

Monday, August 23, 2010


In Pursuit of Trivia

YOU'RE GREENING ME. - I think that this was a St. Patrick's day alibosh of a printer's devil, but in newspapers across the country it was reported that Patrick Ireland of Dublin, Georgia attempted to enlist in the Marine Corps, but was turned down on account of the fact that he could not recognize the color green. Florence Morning News, March 18, 1931.

WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT? - An ingenious Laurens County farmer, who had not enough mules to plow his field, decided to hook his plow up to his coupe automobile, an idea which worked very well. He plowed 30 acres of peanuts in a single afternoon. Florence Morning News, May 31, 1942.

JOIN THE CROWD - The New York Times reported that a Laurens County minister wanted to know how his congregation stood on the issue of whiskey. So, he polled them one day during a church service. The pastor asked all of those in favor of the sale of whiskey to rise. One man did. Feeling confident that his flock had seen the light, he asked how many of those present were against the sale of whiskey. No one moved. Devastated at what had occurred, the preacher vowed that if his parishioners did not change their minds within a month, he would resign from the pulpit. Obviously, he could not join the crowd. New York Times, June 29, 1884.

WHO'S FOOLING WHO ? James Charles was afraid of burglars and robbers. As he was old, Charles couldn't grab a gun and fire at thieves like he used to. So, Charles rigged a shotgun to his door, hoping that any uninvited intruder would receive a rude welcome. I know you are ahead of me. Yes, Charles forgot and walked right in his front door. The buckshot hurt his pride more than his hide. Middlesboro Kentucky Daily News, August 4, 1942.

SHINE ON, SHINE IN - Charlie Williams, a Dublin shoe shine boy, was known for his shoe shines. Customers would line up for a good black shimmer on their shoes. One day, police noticed the line at Charlie's shoe shine stand was a little longer than usual. Upon a further investigation, the cops noticed a five-gallon can strategically hidden out of view. Every once in a while, Charlie would open the lid and give his customers a cool drink. Trouble was, the liquid inside the can was also shine, moonshine. Helena Independent Record, November 1, 1954.

LOVE TAPS - Joseph Conway married his bride when she was only thirteen years old.  Conway, an army master sergeant, taught his wife Morse Code while they were courting. The couple would tap out messages to each other, sometimes in front of their families and friends. The Conways celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in Dublin in 1960. Both confined to wheelchairs, the Conways renewed their wedding vows. Conway, 93 years old, deaf and blind, was oblivious to the outside world. Mrs. Conway reached out and tapped in dots and dashes,  "We are still sweethearts." Conway, put his hand on his wife's knee and tapped, "Sure, we are still sweethearts." Appleton Wisconsin Post Crescent, February 18, 1960.

MATERNAL INSTINCT - Folks from far and around came to see it. They couldn't believe it at first. Seems as if a Dublin nanny goat, whose kids had died, instinctively wanted to keep nursing. So, the goat adopted two orphan hound dog puppies as her own. Every day, she would come to the gate of their pen, bleat out loud, and wait for the hungry pups to come get their daily feeding. Marion Ohio Star, April 3, 1889.

SEEMS LIKE WE HAVE HEARD THAT BEFORE - During his one-hour and forty-five minute argument to a Laurens County jury, a Dublin lawyer used the phrase "gentlemen of the jury" a total of one hundred and seventy-seven times. Atlanta Constitution, August 18, 1882.

THE CREATURE FROM THE OCONEE RIVER SWAMP - Residents along the Old River Road in southeastern Laurens County tried to kill what they believed was a supernatural monster which had been seen in the Oconee River Swamps near Rufus Beacham's home. The Dublin Gazette reported that dogs and guns were useless in the effort to stop him. Atlanta Constitution, August 18, 1882.

ON THE EDGE OF PARADISE - A decade and a half before Gen. James Oglethorpe ever sat foot on Yammacraw Bluff, men were dreaming of a colony below South Carolina. Thomas Nairne proposed to establish the colony of Georgia to be settled by Swiss immigrants. Sir Robert Montgomery petitioned the proprietors of South Carolina to establish the Margravate of Azilia in the area southwest of South Carolina. Montgomery published a pamphlet on his colony, which was bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, south and west by the Altamaha/Oconee Rivers, north by the mountains, and northeast by the Savannah River. Laurens County was located on the edge of the colony which lay on the same latitude of Palestine, "God's land" and which abounded with woods and meadows. The air was healthy, the soil fruitful.  Vines were abundant in the hills. Montgomery proclaimed that the seasons were regular with no excess of heat or cold. Evidently, the gentleman never came to Georgia in July. Georgia Voices, Spencer B. King, Jr., pp. 5-6.

THE BIG ONE THAT GOT AWAY. The center piece of the railroad collection of the Savannah Chamber of Commerce Visitor's Center is a Baldwin locomotive. It was built in 1890 for use on the Sylvania Central Railroad. It was later brought to the Dublin rail yard, where it remained until 1954 when it was moved to Savannah. Although it never saw use here, it would have looked great at the railroad park.

LOCAL BOY DOES WELL. Thomas Moore is generally credited with being the first physician in Laurens County. He made his first appearance in the legal records in 1818 and married Elizabeth McCall, daughter of Surveyor General Thomas McCall in 1819. Thomas Moore went on to serve as the third Clerk of Laurens Superior Court. Thomas Moore's son by his first wife was James Seaborn Moore. James Moore entered West Point Military Academy in 1825 and graduated in July of 1829. Educated as a physician, James Moore resigned his commission later in the year and returned to Dublin to practice medicine. Dr. James Moore left Dublin and lived the last three decades of his life in Alabama, where he died on July 25, 1869.
Moore graduated 42nd in his class. You might remember the number two man - a young Virginian, Robert E. Lee. Another of Moore's classmate was Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, C.S.A.. Graduating the year before Dr. Moore was a young Mississippi cadet by the name of Jefferson Davis. "Register of Graduates, U.S. Military Academy, 1962, p. 177."

Monday, August 16, 2010


A Significant Shortline Railroad

Although it was only around for a third of a century, the Wadley & Mt. Vernon was the most important thing to come to the extreme ends of Laurens and Johnson County in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th Century. Only some thirty-six miles in length, this shortline railroad brought about brief, but vital and long lasting, spurts to the towns and communities where its tracks ran. When it was gone, those towns were never the same again. Here is the story of the Wadley & Mt. Vernon Railroad and how it created the towns of Rockledge, Adrian and Kite. And, why its owners never quite saw their long range plans come true.

The Wadley and Mt. Vernon Railroad originated at the Old Town Plantation of Capt. Thomas Jefferson James in Jefferson County, Georgia. James, a master builder of railroads in East Central Georgia, drew a lot of his success in building railroads through the newly authorized use of buying convicts from prisons to do his labor. With a crew of up to three thousand bought and paid for hands, T.J. James took credit for building more than six hundred miles of railroad, a distance sufficient to run tracks from Dublin to Washington, D.C.

Captain James envisioned a railroad that would initially run from Wadley to Mt. Vernon. Wadley was a small commercial center in lower Jefferson County, but was strategically positioned on the great Central of Georgia Railroad. Mt. Vernon, the commercial center of the lower Oconee River Region, was scheduled to be on the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery Railroad. With each of its termini being on the vital major rail lines, James and his investors hoped to capitalize on the new markets this new road would open. In the beginning, James planned extensions northward to Augusta and southward through Valdosta onto the Gulf Coast.

James, a member of the large timber firm Donovan & Perkins, applied to the state to incorporate its logging road into a full-fledged railroad. Although the Wadley and Mt. Vernon had not then been incorporated, three passenger trains per week traveled between Wadley and Kite by March 1889. The state legislature finally approved. And, on June 25, 1889, the Wadley and Mt. Vernon was incorporated with a capital stock of $200,000.00. Within the year, a 13-mile extension was completed to Ricksville on the Old Savannah Road.

The Wadley and Mt. Vernon Railroad ran from Wadley south through Tom, Kite, Ethel, Meeks, and Odomville. The railroad crossed the Big Ohoopee at the Nazarene Campground just a few hundred feet west of the Highway 80 bridge. It ran southwesterly to a junction with the Brewton and Pineora Railroad in the center of Adrian. Capt. James, in moving his home to Adrian, made that once non existent community into a boom town and the headquarters of the railroad.

The railroad was completed through Ricksville, located at the intersection of the Old Savannah Road and current Georgia Highway 15 and just north of Blackville on Georgia Highway 86. The road turned in a more westerly direction through Orianna and onto the vicinity of Rockledge around the turn of the 20th century to become Laurens County's sixth railroad. By that time, James had the company's charter amended to extend the line to Valdosta, the most important rail center in Southwest Georgia. Capt. James extended the road to join with the newly constructed extension of the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad in 1902. Houses and businesses sprang up. Rockledge boomed. The new railroad gave the citizens of the area a closer route to the Central via Wadley. Engineers laid out an extension of the line to Mt. Vernon.

The company's directors changed their minds and instead of running the railroad down the eastern side of the Oconee River to Mount Vernon, the line was changed to continue in the same direction crossing lower western Laurens, Dodge and bridging the Ocmulgee in Telfair County before heading onto Valdosta. The ambitious 200-mile extension of the railroad hoped to capitalize on the vast forests of virgin timber, still left uncut in the upper Wiregrass regions of the state. In 1903, Congress granted the Wadley and Mt. Vernon's request to build a bridge over the Ocmulgee River. Once in place, plans were accelerated to complete the railroad. Work began on the railroad from Barrow's Bluff on the Ocmulgee to Douglas in 1902, but no work was ever completed beyond the grading to the Oconee River, southwest of Rockledge. Before 1907, the extension to the Oconee was completely abandoned. The cost of bridging both the Oconee and the Ocmulgee rivers was beyond the budget of the railroad, which mainly hauled freight and only a few passengers between small towns.

In the early spring of 1905, the Atlantic and Birmingham Railroad bought the assets of the Wadley & Mt. Vernon Railroad Company and renamed it the Wadley Southern Railroad. The new line also included a second shortline track from Wadley through Swainsboro and Stillmore to Collins, Georgia in Tattnall County. Railroad men speculated that Captain William Raoul of the A & B RR purchased the company to bolster his vast network of railroads in South Georgia. That news preempted a report two days earlier that the Douglas end of the Wadley & Mt. Vernon and two other local railroads had been purchased by J.E. Wadley, J.S. Bailey and G.G. Parker of Waycross. In 1906, the Central of Georgia Railroad purchased the Wadley Southern and moved its headquarters to Savannah.

The Wadley Southern was dealt a near fatal blow in 1915, when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against it in a dispute with the State of Georgia. From the very beginning, the Wadley and Mt. Vernon was bound to fail. Good times wouldn't and couldn't last. The railroad lived and breathed with the timber industry. After twenty-five years, there were no more trees to cut. Naval stores in the Rockledge and Ricksville areas were then being transported to market or railroad depots by truck. When the towns began to wane, so did the number of persons riding the passenger cars through the dead towns of Odomville, Ricksville, Tom and Ethel.

The road from Adrian to Rockledge was closed first and by the mid twenties the tracks along the Adrian-Wadley end were taken up forever. The Wadley Southern officially went out of business in the early 1960s after closing its remaining lines.

In its day, the Wadley & Mt. Vernon and its successor, the Wadley Southern, were the lifeblood of the towns they served. When it folded, the towns did not die. They are all still there. And, on windless night, if you listen real closely, you just might hear the cry of the old freight engines as they chug through the woods.

Monday, August 09, 2010


Slithering Snake Stories

One day Israel Johnson was out walking near his mill pond in the Oconee District of Laurens County when he observed a moccasin crawling out of a hole. Johnson reached for the nearest stick and impaled the water loving serpent right there on the spot. In a moment, another moccasin came slithering out of the same hole. Then came another and then another. This went on until Johnson's pile of dead moccasins totaled thirty-four, all about fourteen inches in length. Macon Telegraph, Sept. 17, 1887.

When most people go out into the woods, one of the reasons they wear boots is to keep snakes from biting their feet. W.H. McLendon, of Rockledge, had his boots on when he went out squirrel hunting with some of his friends. At the end of a successful day, McLendon, who had felt something in his boot but ignored it, noticed a small hole in one of his boots. Just then, a small snake, several inches in length, came squirming out of his boot. Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 25, 1942.

C.G. Gunnin was proud of his snake. He brought it into the offices of the Courier Herald to show it off. Killed near Norristown in Emanuel County, the snake had a short hard point on its tail shaped like a rattler's fangs, instead of the normal horn. The people in Norristown said the snake used its tail to kill its prey. Similar in appearance to a rattler, the snake was more than five feet long. Atlanta Constitution, May 21, 1914.

Smith Williams was proud of his snakes too. He put three of the rattlers in his suit case and headed from Wrightsville to the District Fair in Dublin to show them off. One was five feet long with eight rattles, while the other two were much smaller. Williams had raised the snakes from neonates. Although he removed the fangs from the largest rattler, the younger vipers were capable of deadly bites. On the trip, the bouncing passenger car annoyed one of the smaller snakes. Its defiant rattling caused much consternation among the passengers until they discovered that the snakes were confined to William's securely locked baggage. No one asked to see inside.

To keep the snakes company, Williams brought along a five-year-old dog and six-month-old fox. Williams had also raised them from birth. Now, you might say what is unusual about a dog and a fox. The fox, one of the grey variety, was said to be tame and possessed the ability to understand his name when called. Well, the dog was just a dog, but when Williams put his five animals on display, the crowd got a chance to see the canines play with each other like puppies. Macon Telegraph, Nov. 5, 1913.

In the category of "Maybe I should move," J.C. Jones told another true tale about another snake he found in his yard. One of his most valuable hounds was bitten by a rattler. In order to save the dog, Jones drenched its wound in kerosene. The old remedy worked and the dog survived. Apparently Jones had not learned his lesson as it was the fiftieth time in three years that a rattlesnake was killed inside his dog pen. Macon Telegraph, June 28, 1886.

For nearly fifty years, it was said that a huge rattlesnake lived in the cliffs of Jennie's Creek in Johnson County. Many people tried to find the legendary rattler and kill it. No one succeeded until one day when a cow, belonging to Mr. Dan Davis, was found to be bitten by a large rattler. Davis offered a handsome reward of $25.00 to anyone who would bring him the lifeless corpse of the dastardly diamondback. One of his farm hands fetched two .38 caliber pistols and set out to follow the distinct trail of the snake back to its den. The man climbed a tree in front of the cave where he suspected the snake to be resting. He waited. After a four-hour stakeout, the snake appeared. The man fired nine shots into the venomous monster. After making sure it was dead, the bounty hunter measured his prize to be eighteen feet in length and twenty-nine inches in circumference. The rattle end of its tail measured two feet long and was eight inches wide. Senior citizens of the area remarked that they had heard of the monster reptile since their childhood. I am not saying that Mr. Davis and his friends were exaggerating, but my research indicates that the largest Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake ever found measured only eight feet in length. Maybe this was a freak of nature. Who knows? But, if I see a rattlesnake which is at least eight feet long, it won't matter at all if he has another ten more feet of tail added on. I am out of there! Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 16, 1897.

In a more believable story, Nannie Rushton, of Laurens County, killed a seven-foot rattler with eighteen rattlers in the fall of 1908. Washington Post, Oct. 25, 1908.

There were plenty of reports of people getting bit by snakes and dying from their wounds, but undoubtedly the most tragic story came in the spring of 1887. Two miles below Dublin a man was out working in the field. He discovered a large copperhead snake. Afraid of an up close and arms length attack on the snake, he ran back to his home to fetch a pistol. His niece, Ella Griffin, ran back with him to watch her uncle shoot the snake. When the copperhead was aroused, it maneuvered itself into position to attack. This frightened the little girl who ran toward her uncle for safety. Just as the man fired, the girl ran straight into the path of the bullet, which struck her in the abdomen and inflicted severe internal bleeding which was thought to have been ultimately fatal. Atlanta Constitution, May 25, 1887.

Jess Jones and Henry Barry, Jr. were in the swamps of Gum Creek squirrel hunting one day when they noticed a peculiar squirrel running up and down the side of a tree. Every time the squirrel went down the tree, it would go a little closer to the ground. Their curiosity aroused, the boys moved in closer to investigate. At the base of the tree, the hunters found two large rattlers eyeing their supper. The boys shot the snakes and the squirrel lived to tell its own snake story. Washington Post, Sept. 28, 1913.

Usually, snakes are charmed by gifted and misguided snake charmers. But over in Dodge County, there was a story about the snake being the charmer and Giles Melton's ol' dog being the charmed and last victim of a devilish rattler. Melton noticed his dog approaching him in an unusual manner. The dog was crouching down, whining, and refusing to notice his master as it was slowly moving away. Melton noticed that his dog was slowly creeping toward a coiled rattlesnake. He had seen his dog kill snakes before, but he had never seen it trembling and mindlessly drifting toward a deadly snake. As the dog got within striking range, Melton feared that it was being charmed by the snake. So, Melton fired his gun and killed the snake. The dog collapsed to the ground and began to foam at the mouth. It eventually recovered, but the next morning Melton found his prized dog in an advanced state of hydrophobia. He had no choice. "Mad dogs" had to be killed. Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 22, 1888.

So watch where you step, even after Dog Days are gone. Snakes don't go blind and strike at anything just during Dog Days which end on August 11. They don't watch the calendar. They are watching you!


Tuesday, August 03, 2010


The Splendid Oil of Cotton

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and girls! Come one, come all! Step right up and taste for your self the finest new product on the market. It is the greatest cooking oil ever discovered by man. So, before it is all gone, get your sanitary can of hog-less lard right here for an unbelievably low, low price.

Cotton was king in Laurens County a century ago in 1910. In point of fact, the county's farmers ginned more than 37,323 bales, each weighing approximately a quarter of a ton. Do the math and you will see that the total produced weighed nearly 18.7 million pounds. The bales, if placed end to end, would stretch for more than 32 miles. That's a lot of cotton. That state leading mark would nearly double by 1912 when Laurens County's cotton fields yielded more than 30 million pounds, a state county record which stood until the late 1990s when machine picked mega farm counties in South Georgia broke the mark.

But what do you do with those pesky seeds? Well, you run the picked cotton through a gin and separate the seeds from the fibers. And, that's where this story begins. About two centuries ago, one enterprising young farmer discovered that after his cotton was ginned, he could crush the seeds and spread them into the soil to fertilize the next season's crops. That man, Henry C. Fuqua of Laurens County, is credited by many as being the first person to discover a use for the once considered useless by-product of cotton. Maybe he wasn't the first, but since he was one of us, we'll give him the credit until more convincing proof comes along.

Cotton oil, or should I say "cottonseed oil," is derived from crushing cotton seeds and extracting the oil. But, beware. You have to first treat the excretion. For if left untreated, cotton oil becomes a paralytic pesticide. Cotton oil was first used in cooking in the mid 1850s when cooks discovered that it supplemented lard to improve the pure hog fat substance. Cooks soon began to substitute it for olive oil, declaring it to be of equal quality. And besides, it was much, much cheaper.

The first documented cotton oil company in Dublin was the Dublin Oil Mill & Ice Company, which was purchased by the Southern Oil Company in 1901. M.E. Burts took over the management of the company from B. Aycock in the following year. Burts was known across the South as being one of best cotton oil men in the business.

The Southern Cotton Oil Company was one of the largest companies of its kind in the United States, with major offices in New York, Chicago, Savannah, and New Orleans. One of its main products was Wesson Snowdrift, the standard American shortening, healthful and nourishing. The company established its office on the southern side of East Jackson Street, one block from the courthouse. With its four batteries of four seventy-saw gins, the company could turn out thousands of gallons of cotton oil per day. In 1909, the company added a fertilizer plant which produced 600 tons of fertilizer per week. It was the city's third plant. Along with the Middle Georgia and the Dublin fertilizer companies, one hundred hands produced 375 tons of fertilizer per day in the city.

In the summer of 1910, the manager of the local branch of the Southern Cotton Oil Company staged a demonstration of its top product under the direction of Misses DeLettre. These culinary experts set out to prove the company's claim that its hogless lard was more economical than butter or lard for cooking and than olive oil for salad making. To prove their point, the sisters accepted standard recipes and substituted their product in the place of cow butter and hog lard. The ladies handed out a large supply of free copies of the company's cook books. You can still find them on Ebay for the buy-it-now price of $9.99.

In the winter of 1910, J.E. "Banjo" Smith, Jr., one of the top five leading business men of the Emerald City, convinced M.E. Burts to leave his position with the Southern Cotton Oil Company and join forces to establish the Laurens Cotton Oil Company on East Madison Street between the Artesian Bottling Works and Pope's cotton gin. When Burts came to Dublin, he earned a salary of $100.00 per month. Smith lured Burts to the new company by doubling that figure. A number of the county's biggest cotton farmers invested in the new project as a truly "local" operation.

With a daily capacity of 2,500 to 3,500 tons of cotton seed, the company boasted that it operated the largest cotton oil company between Macon, Savannah and Augusta. In the two-story brick building, two scales, with a capacity of 100,000 pounds each, were the envy of any cotton oil company anywhere in the country. The Laurens company also opened a fertilizer plant, bringing the city's total to five.

In 1912, Burts, who had been offered positions in Birmingham, Atlanta and Little Rock, took over the management of the Empire Cotton Oil Company, which was located on East Jackson Street, near Truxton Street. The company, in 1914, boasted that it was a full line cotton company. With a ginning capacity of 150 bales per day, the byproducts amounted to 45,000 tons of fertilizer and 450,000 gallons of cotton oil annually, along with large quantities of linters, and cattle feed consisting of meal, hulls, and cakes.

In November of 1920, the owners of the Empire and Southern Cotton Oil companies announced that they were closing their mills. The lack of seed was given as the reason for the closure. The lack of raw materials came from a near total collapse of the cotton market in Laurens County after the boll weevil nearly annihilated the cotton crop during World War I and its aftermath. The Southern Cotton Oil company remained in business here until the 1940s. You may have seen one of its billboards on the western wall of the H.H. Smith building on the courthouse square.

Today, Americans now produce more than a billion pounds of the light, tasty oil each year. Cotton oil is used in the manufacture of salad oil, margarine, whipped toppings, marinades, doughnuts, cookies, mayonnaise, and salad dressing. It is also one of the most common oils used in the frying of potato chips. And, you can still buy it in cans and bottles at selected stores across the country and online.

Some studies indicate that cotton oil, high in unsaturated fat, actually lowers LDL cholesterol more than corn oil and contains unusually high and healthier amounts of Vitamin E. Boosters claim it doesn't burn at higher temperatures and stays fresher longer, and naturally, it tastes great. Of course, some health experts disagree. Experts always disagree.

So, the next time you feel the urge to fry, scan the grocery store shelves and pick up America's first and oldest vegetable oil, the healthy, the crystal clear, the tasty, the wonderful, hogless lard.