Shaping Our Lives
For seventy-five years, it has stood watching the daylight come and bidding hello to the man in the moon as he rises above the horizon. For seventy-five years, it has occupied the nucleus of The Emerald City. It is a hall of justice, where the bad men were sent to jail and precious legal rights were upheld. It was the place where kids mailed their wishes to Santa Claus and picked up big birthday packages from grandma. It was a place where young men joined up to serve America and a place where mothers of those same men mailed cakes and cookies to far away places like Belgium, Tarawa, Seoul and Saigon. The United States Federal Building, and lately the J. Roy Rowland, Jr. Federal Courthouse, has been an integral fixture of our lives for the last three quarters of a century. But for now, its future is in immediate and very real doubt.
When the Federal government built its first post office building in Dublin in 1912, it was just that, a post office. As the number of moon shining cases began to escalate in the mid 1920s, the government yielded to pressure from the Justice Department by adding a courtroom above the main work room of the post office.
It was not long at all before Congressman William Washington Larsen, Sr., a resident of Dublin, was inundated with requests to build a new Federal building. Congressman Larsen began the process in the early 1930s. When Larsen retired from the Congress in 1933, his replacement, the venerable Carl Vinson, of Milledgeville, picked up the torch of the new building for Dublin, the home of his sister and her husband, Dublin Postmaster M.J. Guyton.
At first, the government planned to build the new building on the site of the existing building on the southwest corner of East Madison and South Franklin streets. Obviously, the government's not so well thought out plan would require the securing of a temporary post office while the newer building was being constructed. When more practical minds found the plan to be somewhat beyond foolish, other options were explored.
Requests for proposals were sent out to the businessmen and the city and county governments for the location of a new building. It came down to a choice of two sites. One was Ellison Pritchett's 124-foot by 180-foot lot known as the Wolfe Corner at the intersection of North Franklin and East Gaines Streets. The other option, the one which the government would eventually choose, was a win-win proposition for both the Federal government and especially the government of Laurens County. It was a 150-foot strip off the northeastern end of the courthouse square.
The three-story building, originally estimated to cost between $85,000.00 and $90,000.00, would preferably be located on a corner lot with at least 34,000 square feet of ground space.
County commissioners were thrilled at the idea of a swap of rarely used area in the rear of the Laurens County Courthouse for the former post office on East Madison Street to house many county offices. In saving thousands of dollars in not having to rent space from private landlords, the Board of Commissioners were jumping at the bit to sign the exchange agreement with the Post Office Department.
As he always did for the local folks, Congressman Vinson went to bat for his constituents and pushed for the courthouse square switch. After a detailed review and with only a need for a minor adjustment in the plans, the Post Office Department agreed to the exchange.
Federal Buidling, December 1936
Although the deal was accepted by most citizens, one traditionalist strenuously objected to the plan. The concerned citizen filed a request to restrain the process claiming, unsuccessfully in the end, that the erection of a Federal building would ruin the look of the courthouse square. Meanwhile, a prerequisite condemnation action was filed in Federal court to appropriate the land for Federal use.
Marble, a product of Georgia, was an integral part of the building from the beginning on both the interior and exterior of the massive structure.
When the bids were opened in August 1935, Worsham Brothers Construction of Knoxville, Tennessee was awarded the contract with a bid of $126,237, substantially lower than the other bidders.
By Christmas 1936, the building was basically complete. Postmaster Guyton developed elaborate plans to insure that the transfer from the old building to the new building would be a smooth one, with absolutely no interruption of service. Post office box holders were invited to come in on Saturday before the Sunday move to pay the twenty-cent deposit on each box key and to familiarize themselves with the new building.
On Monday morning, February 1, 1937, the post office on the courthouse square opened for the first time. E.G. Simmons, a Dublin businessman, was the first in line to purchase three-cent stamps. A long line of customers and curiosity seekers filled the lobby. It was a site never before seen anywhere in the area.
Once the post office vacated its old quarters on East Madison Street, county officials rushed into to their new facilities to begin their plans for new offices.
For nearly three quarters of a century, the post office continued to operate out of the Federal Building. When the main operation of the post office shifted to Bellevue Avenue in 1964, the post office became a station office to serve old conservative customers reluctant to change and downtown business owners before closing in 2011.
In 1997, the United States Congress re-designated the building as the J. Roy Rowland United States Courthouse to honor the former six-term Congressman, Georgia state representative, and Dublin physician.
The building is now near the top of the endangered list of building closings by the budget cutters in Washington, D.C.. It has been on that list before. But this time, the future of the building is reaching a critical stage. Community support for keeping the building open as a place for Federal court cases is both requested and desperately needed. Praying wouldn't hurt.
A lot of things have changed since the Federal Building first opened way back in February 1937. Technological advances have made a lot of things which were once integral parts of our daily lives now a thing of the past. There is overnight mail, faxes, email, and texting. You can hardly find a mail box or a phone booth anymore. Maybe when future scientists learn how to instantly transport our molecules to Augusta for court appearances it will be time to shut her down.
But, there is one constant in Dublin. And, it is this magnificent building. There is scarcely a soul who has lived in Dublin for a long time who has not been affected by the goings on in the Federal Building. Sir Winston Churchill said it best and most appropriately, "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."