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

Monday, November 19, 2012

1891: The Turning Point of Our Time


A dozen decades ago, Dublin and the rest of Laurens County, stood upon a precipice.  As we gazed into the valley of the future, we saw the whole world coming toward us.  That year, 1891, became one of the most pivotal years in the history of our county.  Dublin and Laurens County began its ascent from a sleepy,  lawless  village into one of the most prosperous and progressive locales in the entire state of Georgia. 

In the quarter century after the end of the Civil War, citizens of Dublin and Laurens County struggled to survive.  After the war, more than a decade would pass before a local newspaper was published or a river boat cruised up and down the Oconee River.  Two decades passed before railroad tracks were laid to the edge of the Oconee River.  A devastating fire nearly wiped out the entire business district of Dublin in 1889.   Still after twenty-five years, there was no bridge, either rail or passenger, over the river.  By the end of the year, two bridges would be constructed and a rail connection to Macon would be established with another one to Hawkinsville in the works.

When the rails of the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad, later known as the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, first reached the eastern banks of the Oconee in 1886, freight and passengers were required to be carried by ferry across the river, which was subject to the mercy of floods and drought.  By 1891, the owners of the railroad were determined to construct a bridge over the river to increase their profits.   

Ever since 1883, John T. Duncan, Judge of The Laurens County Court of Ordinary, led the effort to construct a bridge over the Oconee River.  After the electorate failed to approve a bond issue to build the bridge in 1883, private individuals attempted, but failed  in their efforts when the rushing flood waters washed a wooden bridge down river.  Undaunted, Duncan persevered. By mid-July 1891, the first permanent bridge over the Oconee was completed.  It lasted until it was replaced in 1920 and again in 1953.

Pedestrians, horse drawn vehicles and various livestock could now travel over the Oconee without having to deal with long lines, flood waters and costly toll fees at the Dublin ferry.    For the first time ever, citizens of Dublin and Laurens County, as well as the occasional traveler were no longer at the mercy of the raging or shallow waters of the Oconee.  More importantly, passage over the Oconee River was now free.  

The first permanent county bridge, which would last nearly three decades, was  replaced in 1920.

A sign of better times came when the Laurens Lodge, No. 75, F&AM moved into its new lodge in  a brick building which later became the Lanier Building and now occupied by the Courier Herald,   The first lodge of the Royal Arcanum was organized and met in the the Masons' new quarters. 

In another move which signified a revival in the city, Lucien Quincy Stubbs, son of Col. John M. Stubbs - Dublin's first newspaper publisher -  purchased The Dublin People and renamed it the Dublin New Era.   Stubbs purchased the newspaper from Major A.H. McLaws, a Confederate officer and brother of Confederate Major General Lafayette McLaws.

Another good sign was the final prohibition of legal alcoholic beverage sales within the city limits. For more than a decade, the teetotalers and the drinkers waged a see-saw battle over the issue of beer and liquor sales in the city.  By the mid 1880s, the prohibitionists began to move ahead of those who wanted to buy a drink wherever and whenever they wanted to.

Still another showdown between the drinkers and the dry folks came in early March. In a county wide election, the prohibition people defeated the imbibing inhabitants by a scant margin of 131 votes.    Legal sales of liquor within the city of Dublin in bar rooms already licensed by the Dublin City Council continued until the end of the year.  

A new bank, the People's Banking Company of Atlanta, was established, but failed to succeed.  It would take another year until the beginnings of the Dublin Banking Company, began a successful thirty year reign as the city's first permanent bank. 

The year 1891 was a year of new and old.  A new jail replaced the old one which had been burned to the ground by disgruntled prisoners.  The grist mill at Blackshear's Mill Pond,  now known as Ben Hall Lake, burned leaving the county's oldest grist mill in a pile of ashes. 
 
Without a doubt, the most important, non war,  date in the history of 19th Century Laurens County came on July 22, 1891.

Early on the morning of July 22, 1891, Conductor J.B. Maxon guided the first train out of the depot on Walnut Street. D.G. Hughes of Danville, H.S. Morse, president of the Illinois and Georgia Improvement Company, headed the list of dignitaries on board. A second train followed behind the No. 1. The trains chugged along the 54-mile track built primarily for the farmers who lived between Macon and Dublin.  Over $100,000.00 was raised among large and small farmers.  The project's success was assured when H.S. Morse was appointed as the superintendent, and James T. Wright was elected president  and the Illinois and Georgia Improvement Company supplied the rest of the capital investment.  The trains stopped in the growing community of Jeffersonville and picked up more passengers.  Vice president Dudley M. Hughes boarded the train during a celebration at Allentown.  Mercer Haynes, E.E. Hicks, Charles Brantley, and Dr. Wood of Dublin boarded the train which was now handsomely decorated with flowers and evergreens by the ladies of Dublin and Allentown. 

The trains rushed through the infant towns of Montrose and Elsie (Dudley) to the shouts of joy.  Dublin was waiting, ready for the train.  Everyone was dressed in their best.  An estimated three thousand persons gathered around the depot.  Barbecue dinners and over a thousand loaves of bread  were served.  The Dublin Light Infantry led by Lieutenant J.M. Adams performed maneuvers for the crowds, only to be interrupted by a downpour.  Everyone scattered into the stores and the homes in the area.  The grounds that were saturated with people only minutes before were now nearly deserted.  Col. Stubbs's family played host to some honored guests.  His home was located on the farm of Col. Stubbs that then stretched from North Church Street to Calhoun Street and Moore Street on the north.  At 4:00 the train, now carrying all of the passenger cars, returned to Macon.  Following the new railroad to Macon was the first telegraph line running from Macon to Dublin.  

More than two hundred years have passed in the history of Laurens County and Dublin now, but if I had to pick one, the most important one, that year would be 1891.   While many important events have taken place in the last two centuries, it was during that single year when many of the most seminal events in our county's history converged into  a turning point of our time. 


Monday, November 12, 2012

THE NIGHT THE STARS FELL


THE NIGHT THE STARS FELL



On any given clear night you can see roughly 1500 stars with the naked eye.  On a cold November night in the year 1833, residents of the Eastern United States began to believe that the sky really was falling.   It was on that night, one hundred and seventy nine years ago tonight, when it seemed that at least thirty thousand and as many as many as two hundred thousand stars were falling every hour.  And, if the skies are clear this Saturday night you will get a chance to see just a small glimpse of what people all over the country saw on ‘the night the stars fell.

For billions of years, the comet Tempel-Tuttle has been orbiting the Sun.  Every thirty three years or so, the Earth passes through the densest section of the tail of Tempel-Tuttle.  Although the number of visible meteors currently is  substantially lower than in 1833,  the resulting meteor shower,  called the Leonids,  comes to a peak on November 17 of each year.

In the days leading up to November 13, 1833, the weather in Georgia had been somewhat mercurial.  On a rather warm Saturday and part of Sunday a steady rain fell.  After a Monday morning fog evaporated, the skies cleared.  As the sun began to set on Tuesday afternoon, temperatures began to plummet. Wednesday, like Tuesday, was a perfectly clear, crisp autumn day.   As the Sun set, a thin crescent moon hung low in the sky.  

Once the moon disappeared below the western horizon, the pitch black sky was speckled with its usual compliment of stars and planets.  All was normal or so it seemed.


Then about 9:00 that evening and continuing until the Sun came up the next morning, thousands and thousands of stars came screaming out of the calm, northeastern sky appearing to emanate out of the constellation of Leo, the Lion,  traveling at an estimated 156,000 miles per hour.

Those who believed in a higher being were sure that Judgment Day was at hand. Few, if any, people realized what was really happening. 



“The stars descended like snowfall to Earth,” an Augusta resident recalled.

“We were awaked by a neighbor, who had been aroused in a similar manner by one who supposed the World was coming to an end, as the stars were falling. The whole heavens were lighted by falling meteors, as thick and constant as the flakes which usher in a snow storm, ” a Georgia newspaper editor wrote. 

“Stars fell like snow flakes and fireballs darted back and forth in the heavens, like children at play,  making a grand and awe-inspiring display,” recalled  Rev. William Pate, of Turner County.

Settlers came from as far as 15 miles away to visit Rev. Pate’s home.  They stayed up all night singing hymns and praying as Reverend Pate read the scriptures.  Many confessed their most secret sins that remarkable night, truly fearing that the world was coming to an end. 

In an Alabama Heritage Magazine article in 2000, it was written that in a town in Georgia many profane people "were frightened to their knees,  dust-covered Bibles were opened and dice and cards were thrown to the flames.”



In Milledgeville,  the newspapers reported that hundreds and thousands of stars were shooting madly and vertically  from their spheres with several second-long trails of whitish light behind them.  Some thought that they must be fireworks instead of falling stars.  A few observers  swore that several of them had exploded.

A resident of Butler’s Island near Darien, Georgia wrote, “There were innumerable meteors in the skies, all apparently emanating from a focus directly overhead to every point of the compass, of various sizes and degrees of brilliancy, occasioned probably by their different distances.”  

One Morgan County farmer was transformed by the celestial phenomenon. As the shower intensified, the man ran out of his house, dressed only in his shirt and undergarments exclaiming, “The world is now actually coming to an end, for the stars are falling.”  His Negro servant ran after him as his master scrambled to take cover under the house.  

The farmers’ wife followed him outside and chastised her husband for his lack of courage.  The challenged the terrified farmer to come out and live or die with his family.  After he mustered the courage to come back outside, he gazed into the wondrous sight of thousands of burning meteors and vowed to himself and to God, “Well, this one thing I do know, escape or not - live long or die soon, I never will drink another drop of liquor.” 

Some Georgians thought the meteor shower had a more sinister political purpose than an astronomical phenomenon.  A  full scale political war between George M. Troup, of Laurens County, and John Clarke  had been raging for more than a dozen years.  Troup had been narrowly defeated by Clarke in two elections in the early 1820s.  Troup won a narrow victory of his own in 1823 and was narrowly reelected again in 1825 in the first popular vote  gubernatorial election in Georgia history.  

Following Clark’s death from yellow fever in October 1832, the struggle between the two rivals seemed to wane or simply shift to other members of the bitterly divided Democratic-Republican party.  

On Friday, November 8, five days before the meteor shower, Troup tendered his written resignation from the United States Senate from his Valdosta home in eastern Laurens County.  The first written accounts of the political icon’s leaving the Senate two years early circulating throughout the capital in Milledgeville on the 13th.  Although Troup maintained that his resignation was for purely personal reasons, some of his more ardent supporters thought that the evening’s spectacle was a sign of retribution if Clark’s followers regained political power in the state.

The longest lasting legacy of that starry, starry falling night was the beginning of the concentrated study of  meteors and the causes of meteors storms in particular.

So venture outside early this Sunday morning sit back and relax and turn your eyes upward and eastward and try to catch a glimpse of one of the grandest of nature’s fireworks, the Leonid Meteor Shower.  And, maybe one day, about 21 years or so from now, we all will witness the grand and glorious view of the night the stars fell.  

Friday, November 09, 2012

WHEELER COUNTY


NAME THAT COUNTY
Wheeler County Was It in 1912

It was time to chose.  There was no time for bickering, no time to lose.  The newest county in Georgia, cut off from western Montgomery County on the western side of the Oconee River, was either going to be Wheeler County or Kent County.  Funny how naming a county can bring out so much animosity, so much dissension, mixed with a smattering of apathy.

With the beginning of the 20th Century in Georgia, a monumental movement to establish new counties by carving them out of allegedly oversized ones. The process gave self appointed political power to remote regions of larger counties.  Laurens County, the third largest county in the state,  was the target of at least four new county movements.

The residents of western Montgomery County, those living on the western side of the Oconee River wanted to control their own destiny.  Among them was William B. Kent.  Kent, who had been a hero of Georgia Bulldog football back at the end of the 19th Century as the team's captain, but became a legend of sorts when he led the effort to keep the sport after the tragic on the field death of Georgia back  Richard Von Gammon threatened to end the playing of football in Georgia.

After his graduation from Georgia, Kent was admitted to the bar, beginning his practice in Alamo.  In addition to his duties as an attorney, Kent served as both solicitor and judge of the City Court of Mt. Vernon, a state court assigned to handle misdemeanor offenses and minor civil claims.

In 1910, Kent, the former football hero, was elected to represent Montgomery County in the Georgia legislature.  
  
As a resident of the west side of Montgomery County, Kent was urged by his fellow west side friends and neighbors to introduce a bill in the Georgia legislature to create a new county.   New county promoters kicked off a series of big barbecues in Alamo on Memorial Day weekend.  

Kent was more than willing to oblige, even if it meant defeat in the 1912 Democratic primary.  There were no Republicans of any consequence in those days.  

If the move to create a new county so agitated the east siders of Mount Vernon that they voted him out of office, then the victorious Kent's eponymous choice of the county's name would be an eternal consolation prize.   Rep. Kent claimed that the new county was to be named Kent County, not in his own honor, but in honor of his father, an early settler of the area.  

Besides, Kent had more pressing concerns.   He had been fighting his disbarment from the bar for alleged  improper actions.  


Kent was chosen to serve as the first judge of the Wheeler County Court of Ordinary, or as it is today known, the Probate Court. 

It was in early August of 1912  when the leaders of the House of Representatives and the leaders of the Senate hammered out their differences.  Rep. Kent, in the midst of a tight campaign for reelecting, dropped his request to name the new county for himself or his father and agreed to allow the new county to be named for Augusta, Georgia native and Confederate Calvary general, Joseph Wheeler.  Wheeler, was one of the few generals of the Civil War, who served in the United States Army during the Spanish American War.

Most of the opposition to Kent's original proposition came from the residents of Mt. Vernon.  The compromise also called for the new county seat to be in Alamo, which was incorporated some three years prior to the formation of Wheeler County.  

Representative Cook, of adjoining Telfair County, was given permission to rise to speak on a point of privilege during a morning session of the House on August 9, 1912.  Too feeble to actually speak, Cook sent his stern and carefully written message to the Clerk to read aloud before those members in attendance.  Cook charged that his fellow representative misrepresented the population numbers and in conclusion, charged that the whole affair was a result of "demon politics."    

The cutting off of Montgomery County cost W.B. Kent his seat in the legislature.  J.C. Johnson, a resident of the eastern side of the county, narrowly defeated Kent by a margin of 114 votes.

A big part of the deal was that the county's commissioners appropriate $20,000.00 to build a jail and a courthouse, the latter of which was constructed in 1913 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The deaccession of Montgomery left it with a population of 12,000 people while Wheeler's estimated population stood at 10,000.  What made things worse was that within five years, Montgomery County would lose a substantial portion of its northwestern lands to the new county of Treutlen, a move backed by Representative Johnson. 

Despite the approval of the measure creating the new county Wheeler, final approval of the bill creating the new county would be up to the voters of Georgia, who usually, as a whole, cared nothing at all about counties being split, unless of course, the voters were losing a part of their own county.  To boost their chances of winning passage, backers sought out and won the approval of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, F & A.M..  The members of the Masonic lodges were some of the most influential and respected men in the state. 

The general election was held on November 5, 1912.  Wheeler boosters sent out an appeal to approve the constitutional amendment to honor the memory of that glorious Georgian, a hero of two wars.

As expected, the voters of Georgia, in an act of courtesy, passed the constitutional amendment and Wheeler County, Georgia was officially established one hundred years ago.





Sunday, November 04, 2012

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A HERO?


Where Do We Go From Here?

I love what I do.  Every week for the last eight hundred and twenty eight weeks, I have had the blessing to talk to and write about heroes.  Some of them have been witnesses to some of the greater moments in the history of our community, our state or even our world, but the vast majority of the heroes I write about are the ones who excel in what they do in everyday life.   Their admirable triumphs of the human spirit should be  guides to each of us.    

We are in trouble, but we are not dead.  There is hope.  On Tuesday,  the voters of our country will elect a president and quite frankly -  a new Congress or at least one which will work together for the good of the majority of Americans.  We can only hope that the leaders we choose will be  great ones, dedicated to restoring all that is right and good about America.

Webster’s Dictionary primarily defines a hero as “a man (or a woman) admired for his achievements of noble qualities.”  A hero is usually defined as “one who shows great courage.”  Just about any soldier, sailor, airman, or marine whoever put on a uniform will tell you that they are not heroes.  “I was doing my job, my mission, my duty.  The real heroes don’t come home,” they will say.  Any of us who struggled through laboriously long epic novels in high school English will remember that a hero is also a central figure in a literary work, an event, a period, or a movement.  

Finally, a hero can be the object of extreme admiration and devotion.  These are our idols.  Too many times we look for our heroes on the gridirons and diamonds or on the screens of multiplex theaters. Please don’t get me wrong.  We need these idols.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having or being idols.  I recommend that you seek them out and be one yourself.  But, we should not count all of our heroes as the ones who have numbers on their back, or those who have fat wallets from being good looking or having a good singing voice.

For centuries, the people of Laurens County have always come through for each other in times of crises.  Catastrophes come and go.  Our spirits bend, but they never break.  Whether in times of war or peace, storm or drought, or life or death, we are there.  We have to be.  It is the only thing we can do.

You don’t have to look on television or go on the Internet to find a hero.  They are not just featured in history books or on the walls of museums.  Many people  turn back the clock  or look far away for their heroes.  In point of fact, heroes are around us, every day and all the time.

When I was a boy, we were taught by our elementary school teachers who  our heroes were.  They showed us pictures of policemen in neat blue uniforms  and firemen with bright red helmets.   These are the men and women who walk  into incinerators and confront the bad man’s bullets.   They are still our heroes. And, they will always be.  

What we did not stop to realize is that the very ones teaching us who our heroes should be, were actually heroes themselves.  I direct you back to Noah Webster’s lexicographers, “A hero is one admired for his achievements of noble qualities.”   What could be more of a noble profession than that of a teacher?  A lawyer?  A doctor?  A minister? I think not.  Who taught the lawyer, the doctor and the minister  how to read and think in the first place?    

Today’s teachers are vastly underpaid and woefully under appreciated.  They are forced to endure the ridicule of the indifferent and endless, senseless, and useless  government mandates which keep them out of the classroom and sitting at their desks filling out reports.  Yet, every day they show up for work - many with a smile and the bulldogged determination to reach the mind of a child.  They are there every day, sometimes mustering their courage not to scream and walk away, but always with one thing in mind: the children, and yes, even the heroes of our future.

When I was a child, boys played cowboys and Indians and army.    They are your heroes they said.  We shot the bad guys just like our heroes did on our black and white televisions and on the big screen at the Martin Theater. We pretended we got shot and died.  

Then the pretending stopped and real boys were being in killed in Vietnam.  All of sudden we had a whole new group of heroes, but somewhere along the way, too many people forgot to thank them and welcome them home.  It’s not too late; when you see a Vietnam vet, shake his hand, hug him and say “thank you.”  

Today, boys are still marching off to fight wars started by men.  It seems as if it was only yesterday when Thomy Foskey and Brian Palen were marching with the Fighting Irish Band during the half time shows.  They and many of our young people are our heroes, fighting a war halfway around the Earth. There are many, many more.  Let us pray that all our young men and women come back home, soon and safely.

Four years ago, I had a conversation with singer Gary Puckett, who sold more records than Elvis and the Beatles in 1968.  Puckett closes his show by shaking the hand of every veteran in the audience and singing one of  his signature songs Hero.  He told me that he has to sing that song, which he wrote praying for the safe return of the guys in Vietnam back to their homes, their families and their momma’s chocolate cake.  “They deserve to be thanked,” said Puckett, whose own father suffered profoundly from his time in a German POW camp.  

Laurens County is blessed with more than its share of organizations who care about those who can’t help themselves.  There are groups and clubs out there who band together to give others a boost with money, food, clothing, or if nothing else, a shoulder to cry on and great big hug.  Give what you can to these people who care.  With inflated gas and grocery prices and skyrocketing costs of just staying healthy and alive, their donations have decreased.  Give, if only a little.  If every person in this county gave one dollar to twenty-five organizations, more than a million dollars could be distributed to the needy every year. That only amounts to drinking about twenty fewer bottles of soft drinks  and drinking water instead.  It won’t hurt.  You won’t miss it, but your waistline will.  
Everyone has had a hero.  Many of you have been heroes.   You know a hero when you see one.  When we see them, we stand up and cheer.  Sometimes we  smile and wave in admiration.  But, the real heroes are the ones who make you and me cry.  They are the ones who triumph over adversity, the ones who reach for the unreachable star, and the ones who never give up on their dreams. 
Trouble is, we need more heroes.  But you can’t just go through life looking for a hero.  Are you looking for a hero?  If so, go to a mirror, take a look, and see the best hero of all.  Then, just go out and be one.

Put these on your “to do” list.  Feed the hungry.  Comfort the sick. Pray for those who suffer.  Teach. Give. Volunteer.  Serve.  Hug your child.   Don’t ask yourselves, “Do I have the time?”  Don’t say, “I don’t have the money.”  Just do it. 

Being a hero is not very hard.   You don’t have to hit a walk off home run, score the winning touchdown or get killed in a battle.  It is actually very simple.  All you have to do is to give all of yourself to someone else, just when they need it most.

                                                        God Bless America

                                                         Scott B. Thompson, Sr.