It was the year 1888, one and one quarter centuries ago. Out of the mire of stagnation, Dublin was merging from a cocoon of apathy, mediocrity and drunkenness. As towns go, Dublin appeared to visitors as it had four decades prior - a decaying, lifeless and lawless town. As the righteous and forward minded seized control of city affairs, the shroud over the village by the Oconee was lifted. And order, progress, vibrancy and prosperity came forth, leading the town, which had doubled its population four times in the decade, to becoming Dublin, Georgia, "The only city in Georgia, which is doublin' all the time" and one of the foremost population and economic centers of the Empire State.
The greatest catalysts to Dublin's meteoric growth were the railroads. With the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad's terminus across the Oconee in what would become known as East Dublin and revived river boat traffic up and down the river, a three-decade period of unfettered growth was just beginning. Three railroads, the Macon and Dublin, the Savannah, Dublin and Western, and the Empire Railroad, were making plans to complete their rail lines into the port city. Other railroad entrepreneurs had their dreams on paper while they were awaiting financial backers to begin construction. It took law suits to delay the completion for three more years.
The greatest need in the city was for a permanent river bridge. Judge of the Court of Ordinary, John T. Duncan, had been pushing the project for five years following the defeat of a bond issue. Despite continued token opposition to a bridge, five thousand dollars in bonds were issued in 1888 to begin the process of building the only bridge over the Oconee south of Milledgeville. The project obtained the requisite Federal approval in the summer and the emboldened bridge boosters never looked back.
A fine brick true hotel was constructed on the north side of the courthouse square situated to accommodate prosperous guests. Z.H. Broughton built the first brick store in the spring. Five more were under construction by the fall. Several of these buildings would be destroyed by a massive conflagration when a large part of the city burned in May 1889.
Agricultural exports began to fuel the local economy. More than 10,000 bales of cotton were ginned. The Dublin Brick Company proudly boasted that it produced a million bricks, mostly used in new brick structures going up in the city.
Major improvements in education in the city dominated the news in 1888. The City of Dublin used funds from the newly enacted alcoholic beverage tax to increase funding. A large, wooden, two-story school house was constructed under the direction of architect Alexander Blair of Macon. The new building, in the rear of the current location of Club 604, gave rise to the name of "The Academy" and consequently the name of the street upon which it faced, "Academy Avenue."
For the first time ever and in a rare expenditure for small cities around the state, the city council increased funding to Negro schools to a level of one-third of the entire education budget. A new school for African-American students was constructed on the Telfair Road, near the present site of the National Guard Armory.
The key to unleashing unprecedented growth in the city was the abolishment, or near abolishment of alcohol sales in the city. The "wet" and the "dry" folks squared off in an election in April.
One traveler reported to the Savannah Morning News, "The local option election in Laurens County was a disgraceful exhibition of demagoguery and corruption." The visitor observed processions of drunken men wearing red badges inscribed "for sale," flaunting red tickets, yelling like fiends and boasting that they were "bosses of the ballot box." The teetotalers and the city's coffers were the big winners. To keep those criminals who drank too much, harmed others and stole things, Judge Duncan ordered a fence built around the jail to prevent the many escapes so that desperate criminals would not need to be sent to Macon.
Later in the fall, the voters of the county decided to go wet by a scant majority of 41 votes. The Prohibitionists protested, but after careful prayer, temporarily abandoned their mission of ridding demon rum from the county despite much evidence of illegal voting by the drinkers of the county.
The saddest day of the year came on a Monday, November 5, 1888. On the Sabbath evening the night before, for some unknown reason, W.M. Scarborough, in a stuporous state took offense to his arrest by Dublin Town Marshal N.K. Watson. As Marshal Watson pronounced that Scarborough was to submit to arrest for being drunk and disorderly, Scarborough plunged a dagger into Watson's neck, severing his jugular vein, spewing blood everywhere. For five agonizing minutes, the city marshal lay dying. It was the first time in the recorded history of our county that a public safety officer was killed in the line of duty. Nearly two years later, Scarborough was exonerated by a jury of his peers.
The town leaders were Dr. Robert Hightower, Dr. Charles Hicks, Rev. W.S. Ramsay, G.W. Maddox, attorneys Mercer Haynes, T.B. Felder, Jr., David Ware, Jr., T.L. Griner, Judge John T. Duncan and Julius Burney.
For those who kept up with such matters, one observant citizen pronounced Dublin as a "heavy weight town," due to the fact that of the 1507 people in the town, sixteen men weighed well more than 200 pounds. It was estimated that there were about 27 more men who weighed in right at a tenth of a ton, leading the editor of the Dublin Gazette to proclaim, "Very few towns in Georgia can make a better show for weight, population taken into consideration."
In politics the year was not so extraordinary. Among the shining new stars of the political world was Dublin's future mayor, Thomas B. Felder, Jr. Felder, who went on to an illustrious and infamous legal and political career, was selected as a Presidential Elector for President Grover Cleveland in his unsuccessful campaign for reelection.
In the area of trivial news, it was published that a Maltese cat, belonging to Wm. B. Jones, caught two rabbits and cared for them lovingly as if they were her very own kittens. It was a big year for floods, old timers observed that the river was at its highest level since the Harrison Freshet of 1840. Richard Niles, who was born at the turn of the 19th Century and was a slave for most of his life walked about the streets of town showing off his gourd dipper with a thirty-six-inch long handle.
The ninth year of the 1880s was important in the sense that it featured major advances in education, infrastructure and prohibition and accordingly marked the time when Dublin accelerated its rise to eminence in Georgia.