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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

FLEETA MITCHELL

BLIND FAITH





Fleeta Mitchell's faith was always blind.

She didn't have to see God or Jesus to know that they were there beside her every day.

She did not need to see the wonders of God's world, the red radiant twilights, flowing fields of fragrant flowers, lush green pine forests or our spacious crystal blue skies.

She knew they were there and could only imagine their glorious splendor.

For more than ninety years, Fleeta played the piano although she couldn't see the keys.

In fact, Fleeta Mitchell could not see any thing at all. She was blind.

Blind from birth, it didn't take long for Fleeta to discover that there was something special in store for her life.

Born on February 28, 1913, one hundred years ago today, to Rev. John and Queen Nichols, of Cadwell, Georgia, Fleeta Mitchell began playing the piano at the age of five. Her parents moved to Rome, Georgia, where her father worked as a farm laborer.


Fleeta Mitchell (courtesy of Art Rosenbaum)

Fleeta, then eight years old, was lucky enough to be enrolled in the Georgia Academy for the Blind. It was there where she was introduced to other blind persons, some of whom shared her gift of music. In particular, Fleeta became friends with William Samuel McTell, known as "Blind Willie" McTell by his legions of admirers as one of Georgia's most talented blues artists.

"I used to love to hear my daddy play a harp. But I'm going to tell the truth. I used to play blues. I played the blues at dances," Fleeta told the Athens Banner Herald. It was in the School for the Blind where she met Nathaniel Mitchell, who was also blind. Fleeta fell in love and the couple talked about getting married. Fleeta recalled it was her husband, who wanted her to give up singing in the blues.

"He didn't want no wife playing the blues. I loved that sweet old thing,'' Fleeta reminisced to an Athens reporter about her husband to whom she was married for 57 years.

"His people didn't want me because I couldn't see. At school I learned cooking. They taught sewing and how to clean up, make up beds,'' she said.

"His mother had a fit when he wrote and told her he was going to bring his wife. She told him, `You can come, but leave her there.' Now wasn't that crazy? I was so hurt and didn't want to come,'' Fleeta continued.

"I'm from Dublin, Georgia, a place called Cadwell. I was born blind. I've never seen in my life,'' Fleeta Mitchell told Wayne Ford of the Athens Banner Herald in a 2002 interview.

"She came out of the old style of singing and playing by ear, but (in school) she learned some classical and more formal music, which she integrated into what she played. She played with deep feeling and had a great style, but she never followed the path of trying to make recordings as some of the people who were as talented as she. She wanted to use her talent for her faith and for the church. She is a powerful singer and very personable. She has a very large repertoire of songs, very old spirituals, gospel and more recent songs,'' said Art Rosenbaum, who began recording Fleeta singing back in the 1970s.

Rosenbaum, an art professor at the University of Georgia, developed a passion for collecting the rapidly disappearing folk and gospel songs of the South. A talented visual artist himself, Rosenbaum often paints pictures of his musical subjects, including several of Fleeta Mitchell.

Rosenbaum went on to win a Grammy Award in 2008 for his compilation of folk, country and gospel music, "Art of Field Recording Volume 1" as Best Historical Album. Rosenbaum's son, Neil, has recently produced a video, "Sing My Troubles By," which features Fleeta's music along with many other artists from Georgia.

"Sadly, the old-timers are leaving us," the elder Rosenbaum lamented.

In the last years of their lives, Fleeta and Nathaniel Mitchell appeared in churches and music festivals in North Georgia.

For nearly a half century, the Mitchells called St. John's Holiness Church as their home church, although Fleeta was raised in a Methodist family and Nathaniel in a Baptist one.

In the latter years of her life, Fleeta, known to all as "Sister Mitchell" or "Mother Mitchell" struck up a friendship with her dearest friend ,Willie Mae Eberhart, who took in the couple when they reached that point in life when they couldn't take care of themselves.




Everywhere she went, people loved her," said Eberhart, (above with Mitchell, @ Online Athens)  who enjoyed her years with the Mitchells.

Fleeta Mitchell passed among the angels on March 7, 2011. She was buried in the cemetery of her church, New Bethlehem Baptist Church outside of Athens.

"She was a wonderful woman, a good friend and a powerful singer and musician and one of the most generous, giving people I've ever met,'' Rosenbaum remembered of his old friend. And on this day, he is glad that Fleeta is being remembered in her home county on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

For nearly a century, Fleeta Mitchell sang the praises of God's Amazing Grace in the pitch black darkness of her world. Fleeta once was blind. Now, as she sits at the keys in God's heaven, she sees all of the glory of his kingdom which she only saw inside her earthly soul.

Hallelujah!

To see and hear Fleeta Mitchell sing, check out her hauntingly beautiful and inspiring, "The Mumblin Word" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2UDcuAViL8. A 1984 version of "Up Above My Head" and "Brother, You Ought To Have Been There," can be found at http://vimeo.com/20970179. To learn more about Fleeta go to: http://www.singmytroublesby.com/





























'

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

IMAGENE STEWART


Compassionate Warrior

(Updated)


Imagene Stewart had many battles to fight. She came armed with a life long cache of compassion. Her morale was high. Surrounded by the mighty fortress of God, she fought against the mortal enemies of time and apathy. Where she felt pain, she healed it. Where she sensed loneliness, she comforted it. Where she saw an American flag, she saluted it. She proved the point that you can proudly hold the American flag real high with one hand and reach way down with the other to held a friend in need.

Born Imagene Bigham in Dublin, Georgia on September 23, 1942, Imagene learned the foundation of her life from her parents, Rev. J.C. Bigham and Mattie Watkins Bigham, who married in Laurens County, Georgia on November 28, 1941. Imagene married Lucius Johnson on August 11, 1958. After her marriage to Lucius "L.C." Johnson ended, she lived in public housing in H.T. Jones Village with her mother, and her two sons, Michael Tyrone Johnson and Jeffrey Lorenzo Johnson. She worked a domestic servant just like her mother. Imagene learned all too well of the injustices of life in the country in the fifties and early sixties. She participated in many civil rights marches in Dublin with the Bates sisters.

It was in 1963 when she began to prepare for the battles to come. She traveled to Washington, D.C. with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a member of the Georgia delegation on the March on Washington. She stayed in Washington and was an active member of the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Recently, she told a reporter for The Pentagram, " I came here to fight racial injustice. I thought that white people were against me, but I realized that there were blacks against me too."

As more and more veterans of the Vietnam War came home, she realized that many of them had no home to come home to. In 1972, she opened a shelter for homeless veterans. " It seemed like some people forgot the Vietnam veterans," said Rev. Stewart, an ordained Baptist minister. She continued, " Those people gave us the freedoms we enjoy everyday. They are the life-line of this country."

Stewart, a harsh critic of the Veterans Administration for its seemingly uncaring treatment of homeless and helpless veterans and their families, refused to accept donations from the federal government. "Veterans are discarded by the military. The country does nothing for its homeless veterans," she said. She accused many other similar shelter operators of bilking the government of funds without really caring for the veterans. Following the success of her six-family center on P Street in Washington, D.C., she opened a ten-family shelter in the Suitland section of the city.

In her twenty room House of Imagene, she provided bunk beds for twenty five people.

There were occasions when veterans came in with the grandchildren, who have been left in their custody by neglective parents. Rev. Stewart welcomed them all with open arms. For more than three decades, she served meals on Thanksgiving Day to the homeless. Thanksgiving Day 2003, when her shelter served three thousand meals, was the last time her shelter served the homeless on Thanksgiving. When her health and her age began to fail her, Stewart kept on giving of all of her self that she could.

Imagene married Albert Stewart, a veteran of the Korean War. Both of her sons served in the military. Imagene told the reporter from the Pentagram, " I always wanted to be a soldier, but in those days the military rarely accepted teenage mothers." She keeps close to the military as much as she can. She visits the wounded and maimed soldiers who are being sent from Iraq to Walter Reed Hospital. "They are babies, 18- and 19-year-olds without arms and legs. What are they going to do when they try to pick up their lives?" she wonders. She has served as Chaplain of the Tuskegee Airman Civil Air Patrol at Andrews Air Force Base.

Mrs. Stewart served as the National Vice President of the Eastern Division of the American Legion Auxiliary from 2000 to 2001. She served as president of her local legion auxiliary as well as on the executive board of D.C. Veterans & Auxiliaries Council Veterans Against Drugs. She has been a member of the U.S. Air Force Mother''s Club, American War Mothers and Amvets Auxiliary. In addressing the convention of the American Legion in 2001, she commented on the suggestion that blacks pledge allegiance to Africa and not the American flag, she brought forth a thunderous standing ovation when she told the gathering of veterans, "Well, honey, I ain''t never been to Africa. . . I was born in the United States of America, very proudly." She has been named by the National President of the Legion Auxiliary as "An Angel in Action" for her decades of showing mercy to homeless veterans.

Stewart was consecrated presiding Bishop of the African American Women's Clergy Association during a Women's History Month celebration March 2, 1996 at the Chapel of Hope, Shilo Baptist Church. She is a pastor of the Greater Pearly Gate Full Gospel Baptist Church, Bishop Stewart was the first African-American minister elected National Chaplain to the American Legion Auxiliary.

Bishop Stewart was awarded numerous accolades for her community service. In 1991, she was commended by President Bush for efforts in meeting the needs of homeless veterans. The next year, she was awarded the prestigious " Living the Dream Award" for her service to battered women. Oh yes, the House of Imagene takes in victims of domestic violence in the D.C. Area. Are you surprised? In 2000, she was awarded a Leadership Award by the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. She has been commended by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has provided his own support of homeless veterans in Washington. On Feb. 8, 2004, she was awarded a community service award by Fort Myer, which Bishop Stewart calls a "thankless job, but somebody has to do it." In her spare time, Bishop Stewart hosted a Sunday morning radio talk show on WOL 1450 AM in Washington, D.C., where she was known to her listeners as "The Georgia Peach."

For decades, Bishop Stewart was a leading advocate for a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from desecration. Despite the fact that most states have asked the Congress to adopt such an amendment, the Congress has failed to act. She served on the board of the Citizens Flag Alliance and urged her listeners to speak out in favor of the amendment to protect the flag.

While Imagene had long been an advocate for the rights of her people, she didn't consider herself an African-American. "Some people tell me my allegiance should be to Africa," she told the Pentagram reporter. "I'm from the USA. I'm an American," she proudly proclaimed. She is often criticized for her support of President George W. Bush, but that doesn't mean she isn't an advocate for social rights. She always has been there to defend and promote the rights of all persons. She has adopted a policy of "love one, love all." She supports President Bush for his strong stance in protecting the freedoms which we enjoy today.

The Rev. Imagene Stewart died in the spring of 2012.

Sam Ford of ABC news in Washington was eternally moved by what he saw in Imagene. "I first met her nearly 30 years ago when I moved to Washington and came to her House of Imagene shelter to do a story on helping the needy at Thanksgiving. I'll never forget her words in the interview. She said she moved to DC from Dublin, Georgia and that she herself had been homeless at one point, sleeping on benches in Lincoln Park. And she told "God and two or three other people" that if she ever got on her feet she was going to help others. And she did. She ran a house for battered women," Ford recalled of his dear friend.

This is the story of Imagene Bigham Stewart, the compassionate warrior, the little black girl from Dublin, Georgia who went to Washington and spent the best years of her lives making a difference in the country she so proudly loved.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

TO THY KINGDOM COME

TO THY KINGDOM COME






The people of Meeks, Georgia were in general, regular, faithful, church going folk. And they believed that when their lives were over, they would go to God's kingdom.

That thought was not in the heads of the Odom brothers as they were playing around the sawmill of Linton Hutcheson near the town of Meeks, in southeastern Johnson County. It was a cool, cloudy day with a slight threat of rain on February 16, 1938, seventy five years ago this week.

Lamar Odom and his younger brother Lanier, the younger of six sons of Mrs. George R. Odom, were supposed to be in school that day. Maybe they were playing hooky and maybe they had a break from the school work. The boys were playing close to the boiler, against the stern and wise advice of one of the mill hands.

Linton Hutcheson, a former Johnson County School Superintendent, was standing nearby, talking to Remer Hatcher. Clarence Pool, Lawton Smith, and Grover Watkins were close by, going about their business just before high noon.

Grover Watkins' fifteen-year-old son, A.J., was firing the boiler when he noticed steam coming out of a crack. Mill owner Hutcheson was summoned and ordered his men to continue operating the boiler until all the steam ran out after which they were instructed to shut down the operation, according to a report published in the Swainsboro Forest Blade.

All of a sudden and without a hint of any warning, a massive explosion blasted the mill and everything around it into kingdom come.

Lamar and Lanier Odom, ages 15 and 8, were instantly killed as they were hurled nearly a hundred feet away in an imperceptible instant, their heads partially ripped from their bodies. Hutcheson was unharmed, though the cant hook in his hand was split into several pieces. Remer Hatcher, just 10 days removed from his 51st birthday, was not so fortunate.

"It was the most horrible thing I ever saw," sobbed Grover Watkins.

His son's body, badly mangled and severely scalded was retrieved from a fence forty yards from where he was standing at the time of the blast.

"Mr. Hutcheson and I were standing within a few feet of Remus Hatcher at the time of the explosion. I could have reached out and touched him. He was killed, but neither Mr. Hutcheson nor myself was even scratched," concluded Watkins, who jumped into a sawdust pit and escape injury from enfilading bricks as they rained down for hundreds of yards in all directions.

Those who witnessed the explosion felt the concussions from hundreds of yards away. The report of the blast, which completed obliterated the mill, was heard as far as four miles away. Those who knew the power they saw unleashed, estimated that the detonation was the equivalent of the explosive power of a ton of dynamite.

To understand the massive power of the blast, the 4000- pound boiler, equivalent in weight to two Volkswagen Beetles, was found 200 feet away. Whole and broken bricks, as well as splintered shards of timbers were found 500 yards from where they once formed the sawmill. Edsel Flanders, climbed on top of the bursted boiler, waiving a handkerchief for a Courier Herald photographer. Five hundred feet away, a self-appointed investigator found a 200-pound section of the smoke stack which flew in the opposite direction from the boiler.

After he gathered his wits, Hutcheson surmised that the explosion was the result of an onrush of cold water into the boiling hot boiler. When the water level inside of the boiler was below a critical level, the influx of cold water, resulted in the massive blast.

Curious onlookers rushed to the scene from all parts of the surrounding countryside. To some, it looked like a war zone. A deafening silence fell over those who gathered around when a reporter picked up a shining object among the bits, pieces and smithereens.  It turned out to be the lunch pail of young Watkins. In the wake of the calamity which had rocked the town, a pair of shoes belonging to one of the Odom boys was found lying against a pillar of a nearby cotton warehouse.

Watkins and Hatcher were taken by vehicle toward a hospital in Dublin. The less seriously injured workers, like Jonah Mathews who was hit by a flying brick, were taken to Wrightsville for treatment. Hatcher, a lifelong, prominent resident of Meeks, died along the way in the vicinity of Carter's Chapel Church in eastern Laurens County.

Young Watkins made it to Claxton Hospital in Dublin alive, but just barely. Not soon after his arrival, he was pronounced dead by Dr. John A. Bell, who reported the horrible affair to the Dublin Courier Herald, which immediately spread the news around the state in its Wednesday afternoon edition.

Four funerals followed.

The Odom boys were buried in the Gumlog Baptist Church Cemetery in nearby Kite, Georgia. Interestingly, their grave markers do not appear on a list of persons buried there. Hatcher was buried, also nearby in the cemetery at Sardis Baptist Church. Watkins was laid to rest at the cemetery of Poplar Springs Methodist Church, between Adrian and Scott.

And today, some seventy five years later, when there are few people alive who remembered that fateful February day, there are still those who have heard the stories and those who still tell the tales, stories of the day that the Kingdom came down from the heavens to take four of their men and boys home.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Story of Laughing Ben Ellington


LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE



















One of the most popular members of the Dublin community in the early years of this century was a Black man known as "Laughing Ben" Ellington. Ben Ellington got his name from his loud laugh and humorous story telling. Ellington toured the
country performing at festivals, fairs, and expositions. For a time he was managed by Captain Hardy Smith. G.P. Houser and Jule Green visited the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901. (One of the three men pictured above. They reported that Ben was one of the more interesting attractions at the exposition. He allegedly celebrated his 100th birthday, while performing at the Centennial Exposition of the Louisiana Purchase. Ben claimed to have been born in 1804 and lived as a slave for sixty years or so.

Ben's favorite story involved his former master. The master promised Ben that he would give him a quarter for every chicken that Ben could fetch. Ben went to the plantation coop and picked up a fat fryer. The master told him to put the chicken in the coop and gave Ben the quarter. Ben had the last laugh. "I stole that chicken seven times that night. Then I went back and stole him again and ate him myself."

Ben took a job with a traveling carnival after returning from the Pan American Exposition. When the carnival went bankrupt at Brunswick, Ben was stranded with no money. Ben telegraphed his friend W.W. Robinson to send ten dollars from his checkingaccount. Mr. Robinson instructed the Brunswick bank cashier that Ben would laugh for his identification. This was probably the only time in history that a cashier required a laugh before cashing a check.

After he returned to Dublin, Ben went to the state fair in Valdosta. He disappeared for several months. His wife finally received a letter from Ben who was performing in San Francisco.

After returning home by stage coach, Ben left for Coney Island, New York, where he was a big hit and made a lot of money.

During his visits to Dublin, Ben was a mail carrier on the Dublin to Stephensville Route. He was loved by everyone he met. While visiting in Dublin, Gov. Bob Taylor of Tennessee invited Ben to come and live on his farm. Ben died at his home in northern Laurens County in 1905. Everyone smiled when they remembered "Old Ben." When Ben's laughter or funny story brought a smile to the face to of someone who was sad, his mission as a comedian was accomplished. It is true what they say - "laughter is the best medicine."

Ernest Camp, editor of "The Dublin Times", penned his
thoughts about Ben Ellington is this poetic obituary:



LAUGHIN' BEN ELLINGTON

He laughed down here in Laurens an' he laughed
throughout the state,
An' jes' everywhere he traveled he would
laugh an' imitate;
He laughed from sunny Dixie to the deep
Pacific shore,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any
more!

He laughed sometimes for money an' he
sometimes laughed for fun,
He would laugh in bleakest weather and
then laugh beneath the sun,
He would laugh in such a manner as you
you never saw before,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any
more!

He would laugh for any person an' he'd
laugh at any place,
There was allers laughter runnin' down each
wrinkle on his face,
He would oftimes laugh at nothing till his
very sides were sore,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any
more!

He laughed because he liked it - ne'er a
shadow out for him,
An' he often carried sunshine where the hope
was growin' slim,
But he laughed his way to glory, far beyond
this mortal shore,
But never in this country will be ha-ha any more!

SUGAR RAY ROBINSON

DUBLIN'S WORLD CHAMPION





"Sugar Ray" Robinson, a world champion boxer whose real name was Walker Smith, Jr., called many places home. Montgomery County, Wheeler County and Laurens County along with New York and California were all home to Ray at different times during his lifetime. Many people don't realize that he was a native of Georgia. As a result, Robinson is not a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Ray's parents, Walker Smith and Lula Hurst, lived in Laurens County and were married here on February 20, 1916. His father was born near Rentz and grew up on the Peterson place south of Ailey. His mother's family roots were on the Hurst plantation in Washington County.

Ray Robinson recounted in his biography that his father, Walker Smith, farmed a small plot of ground, earning about forty dollars a month raising cotton, corn, and peas. In 1920 his brother in law, Herman Hayes, invited the elder Smith to come to Detroit, Michigan to seek a better living. Walker Smith received his first weekly paycheck in the amount of sixty dollars. It did not take long for Mr. Smith to figure out where he needed to work. The family stayed behind until Mr. Smith could establish a home. "Sugar Ray" recounts the trip that his mother, his sisters, and he took from Dublin to Detroit. Sugar Ray didn't seem to remember that he was born in Ailey, Montgomery County, Georgia. When he was seeking his birth certificate for medicare coverage, he found it in the Probate Court of Montgomery County. The house where he was born still stands across the railroad from the Thompson Lumber Company sawmill.

Sugar Ray's parents had their share of marital problems. At the age of six Ray was sent back south after living all but the first of his pre-school years in Detroit. He lived with his maternal grandparents near Glenwood in Wheeler County, just below the Laurens County line. He attended school there. He stayed in Dublin at times with his mother and grandmother before going north in the early 1930s.

Robinson's maternal grandmother, Anna Hurst, lived in a house at 518 South Jefferson Street in Dublin. Laurens County sold the house for taxes in 1935. Robinson's aunt, Maud Ree Hurst, purchased the house in 1938. Robinson fondly remembered the times he spent with his uncle Herschel "J.B." Hurst at the cotton market in Dublin. Uncle J.B. spent a lot of time with Junior buying him a boxes of Cracker Jacks on their trips in to town on Saturdays. The family operated a store next to their home on South Jefferson Street. J.B. and his brother Gus were mechanics in Dublin. Willie Lee Wells, another aunt, was slain by her husband Felix Wells in 1941.

As a boy, Ray was always looking for a fight. His aunt Maud Ree Hurst Foster remembered him saying "I want to find me some body to beat up!" Ray idolized his Aunt Maud Ree and tried his best to be like her. The Hursts have a strong sense of family. Many members of the Hurst family and related families still live in Laurens County. Maud Ree Hurst Foster, a delightful lady, has returned home to Dublin. Anna Hurst loved to watch Ray dance. She often asked Ray "come on 'Sugar', dance for me." The pet name stuck with the young man for the rest of his life. One day Sugar Ray brought one of his friends with him when he stopped in Dublin to see his grandmamma. That friend was a pretty fair boxer himself. Imagine the sight. There was Anna Hurst standing on her front porch asking Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis, two of the greatest boxers ever, to dance for her. Early in his boxing career Robinson, was known as "Harlem's Dancing Dynamite and the Pride of Harlem."

Walker Smith, Jr. took the name "Sugar Ray" Robinson as an amateur boxer. As an amateur Ray won New York City titles in 1939 and 1940 with a career record of 69 knockouts, 40 of which were in the first round, in a total of 85 matches. Robinson's first professional fight was a 2nd round knockout of Joe Echeverria on October 4, 1940. He won his first 40 fights before losing to the legendary Jake LaMotta in February 1943. From then on Robinson was undefeated for over eight years. On December 20, 1946, Robinson won the World Welterweight Championship over Tommy Bell. Sugar Ray successfully defended his title five times. Sugar Ray defeated Jake LaMotta for the World Middleweight championship. That summer he lost the title to Randy Turpin in only his second professional loss in the ring. Ray took the title back in a rematch. Ray defeated Carl Olson and knocked out the great Rocky Graziano in his title defenses. He was knocked out for the first time in his career by Joey Maxim on June 25, 1952.

Sugar Ray retired after the Maxim fight, but returned to the ring on November 29, 1954. On December 9, 1955 he defeated Bobo Olson to regain the Middleweight title. After defeating Olson in a rematch in 1956, Robinson lost the title once again, this time to Gene Fullmer on January 2, 1957. Five months later, Robinson won the Middleweight title for the fourth time in a rematch with Fullmer. He lost the world title again in September of 1957, this time to Carmen Basillio, Ray regained the title in a rematch with Basillio on March 25, 1958. Sugar Ray surrendered his title for the last time against Paul Pender on January 22, 1960. The last five years of his career were spent fighting younger fighters with only moderate success. Sugar Ray Robinson, then 45 years old, lost his last fight on November 10, 1965 to Joey Archer in a 10 round fight.

Over his 202 fight - 30 year career, Robinson only lost 18 fights, most of those being the twilight of his career. After his career in the ring, Sugar Ray appeared in several television dramas. Sugar Ray Robinson, who once showed his athletic prowess on the streets of Dublin, was regarded by many as the greatest boxer of all time. He was a five time Middleweight Champion, a one time Welterweight Champion, and was revered by Muhammad Ali as "the King, the Master and my idol."

THE HARRIET HOLSEY INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL


DUBLIN'S FIRST COLLEGE


     Statewide vocational education in Georgia began during World War I after the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act.  The act was authored by Cong. Dudley M. Hughes of Danville.  Prior to that time, a few  counties and communities provided some courses in vocational education. Most courses in these schools focused on agricultural and domestic subjects.   Funds for public schools were scarce, but industrial/vocational schools were very rare in rural Georgia.

The first mention of an vocational education school for the  Colored students of Laurens County appeared in an advertisement in an 1886 issue of The Dublin Post.  A.S. Dickson, President of the Dickson Institute, invited all of Dublin to join with him and Vice President Pinkney Hughes in a meeting to solicit funds for the school.  In December of 1905, the Congregational Methodist Episcopal Church purchased an acre of land.  Bishop L. H. Holsey appointed Rev. W.A. Dinkins as President of the Dublin Normal and Industrial School.  Rev. Dinkins was a graduate of Paine Institute in Augusta.  The school was located in a small wooden building at 292 East Jackson Street at its intersection with Decatur Street.  School officials planned to model the school after Booker T. Washington's school in Tuskeegee, Alabama.  Poplar Springs Industrial School was established later in that same year of 1906. The Poplar Springs school was sponsored for the most part by the members of Poplar Springs North Baptist Church.

A fair was given for the purpose of promoting the Industrial School in the fall of 1908.   Bishop Henry M. Turner of the Congregational Methodist Episcopal Church gave the address to a crowd of thousands.  Fair exhibits included agricultural products, equipment, and techniques, as well as cooking, laundering, furniture making, sewing, and art work.  The fair committee was composed of Rev. W.A. Dinkins, President, and committee members C.H. Williams, R.H. Ketchum, F.C. Kiler, P.B. Baker, A. Walker, Wm. Blackshear, and A.B. Jackson.  
  In 1908, the school staff was composed of Rev. W.A. Dinkins, President; Professor Noah Clark, Principal; Mamie Dinkins, Music Teacher; Daisy White and Mary Snelson, Teachers; and Mrs. M.J. Dinkins, Matron.  The yearly matriculation fee was only two dollars per student.

      In 1909,  R.A. Carter, A.J. Cobb, and Lee O'Neal, all from the Atlanta area, purchased thirty  acres of land which included the former Dublin Furniture Factory on Ohio Street.  They sold one block  of the land to L.H. Holsey, G.L. Ward, J.H. White, P.W. Wesley, R.A. Carter, A.J. Cobb, Lee O'Neal, W.T. Moore, E. Horne, and C.L. Bonner as Trustees for the Harriett Holsey Industrial School.  The school provided education in agriculture, domestic science, and other technical skills and was open to all of the Negroes of Laurens County.

The college was housed in building of the old Dublin Furniture Manufacturing Company, which was established in 1898.   The area came to be known as Scottsville, named for the Rev. Scott, who was an early resident of the area.  The owners of  the surrounding lands subdivided the furniture factory field into building lots for the workers.  Several cottages and a boarding house were constructed along with a factory building.  The company, headed by J.M. Simmons and several of Dublin's leading businessmen, specialized in medium-priced bedroom suites.  The location was chosen because of its proximity to the Oconee River.  Lumber was transported by river which lies within a half-mile of the factory.  The choice of the location turned out to be a poor one. The waters of the Oconee came flooded the area when the river was high.

The school became known as the Harriet Holsey Industrial School.  The subdivision around the homes was renamed  Holsey Park.  Streets in the subdivision were named after some of the United States.  The college, located in Block 11, was bounded on the north by Georgia Street, west by Ohio Street, south by an unopened portion of Columbia Street, and east by an unopened portion of California Street.  Bishop Holsey was given a lot in anticipation of the construction of his home near the college.   

By the beginning of 1916 the school ended its operations.  While the school was somewhat successful on a local scale, it never progressed as its trustees had planned.  The trustees sold their interest to Katie M. Dickson who planned to keep it open as a convention school.  The dormitory was converted into a workshop and a new building was planned.  Mrs. Dickson still continued the dream to model the school similar in design to that of the Booker T. Washington School in Tuskeegee, Alabama. 

Today, all signs of the Harriet Holsey Industrial School have vanished.  In the early 1950s Charles McMillan and M.C. Mallette, operating under the name of M & M Packing Company,  purchased much of the property, and constructed a meat packing plant and slaughterhouse on the site.  In the latter half of the 1980s Roche Manufacturing Company purchased the property and built a large cotton gin on the college site.  Bishop Holsey's lot is now the site of a small park belonging to the City of Dublin.

So ends the story of the Harriet Holsey Industrial School. It is deserving of more attention and research.  Perhaps there is more information hidden away somewhere that will bring to light more information on Dublin's first college.  

TO THY KINGDOM COME





The people of Meeks, Georgia were in general, regular, faithful, church going folk. And they believed that when their lives were over, they would go to God’s kingdom.  

That thought was not in the heads of the Odom brothers as they were playing around the sawmill of Linton Hutcheson near the town of Meeks, in southeastern Johnson County.  It was a cool, cloudy day with a slight threat of rain on the February 16, 1938, seventy five years ago this week.

Lamar Odom and his younger brother Lanier, the younger of six sons of Mrs. George R. Odom,  were supposed to be in school that day.  Maybe they were playing hooky and maybe they had a break from the school work.   The boys were playing close to the boiler, against the stern and wise advice of one of the mill hands.  

Linton Hutcheson, a former Johnson County School Superintendent, was standing nearby, talking to Remer Hatcher.  Clarence Pool, Lawton Smith, and Grover Watkins were close by, going about their business just before high noon.

Grover Watkins’ fifteen-year-old son, A.J., was firing the boiler when he noticed steam coming out of a crack.  Mill owner Hutcheson was summoned and ordered his men to allow continue operating the boiler until all the steam ran out after which they were instructed to shut down the operation, according to a report published in the Swainsboro Forest Blade.

All of a sudden and without a hint of any warning, a massive explosion blasted the mill into kingdom come.   

Lamar and Lanier Odom, ages 15 and 8, were instantly killed as they were hurled nearly a hundred feet away in an imperceptible instant, their heads partially ripped from their bodies.   Hutcheson was unharmed, though the cant hook in his hand was split into several pieces.   Remer Hatcher, just 10 days removed from his 51st birthday, was not so fortunate.  

“It was the most horrible thing I ever saw,” sobbed Grover Watkins.  

His son’s body, badly mangled and severely scalded was retrieved from a fence forty yards from where he was standing at the time of the blast. 

“Mr. Hutcheson and I were standing within a few feet of Remus Hatcher at the time of the explosion.  I could have reached out and touched him.  He was killed, but neither Mr. Hutcheson nor myself was even scratched,” concluded Watkins, who jumped into a sawdust pit and escape injury from enfilading bricks as they rained down for hundreds of yards in all directions.   

Those who witnessed the explosion felt the concussions from hundreds of yards away.  The report of the blast, which completed obliterated the mill,  was heard as far as four miles away.  Those who knew the power they saw unleashed, estimated that the detonation was the equivalent of the  explosive power of a ton of dynamite. 

To understand the massive power of the blast, the 4000- pound boiler, equivalent in weight to two Volkswagen Beetles,  was found 200 feet away.  Whole and broken bricks, as swell as splintered shards of timbers were found 500 yards from where they once formed the sawmill.  Edsel Flanders, climbed on top of the bursted boiler, waiving a handkerchief  for a Courier Herald photographer.  Five hundred feet away, a self-appointed investigator found a 200-pound section of the smoke stack which flew in the opposite direction from the boiler.   

After he gathered his wits, Hutcheson surmised that the explosion was the result of  an onrush of cold water into the boiling hot boiler.  When the water level inside of the boiler was below a critical level, the influx of cold water, resulted in the massive blast.

Curious onlookers rushed to the scene from all parts of the surrounding countryside.  To some, it looked like a war zone.  A deafening silence fell over those who gathered around when a reporter picked up a shining object. Among the bits, pieces and smithereens was what  turned out to be the lunch pail of young Watkins.   In the wake of the calamity which had rocked the town, a pair of shoes belonging to one of the Odom boys was found lying against a pillar of a nearby cotton warehouse.

Watkins and Hatcher were taken by vehicle toward a hospital in Dublin.  The less seriously injured workers, like Jonah Mathews who was hit by a flying brick,  were taken to Wrightsville for treatment.    Hatcher, a lifelong, prominent resident of Meeks, died along the way in the vicinity of Carter’s Chapel Church in eastern Laurens County.  

Young Watkins made it to Claxton Hospital in Dublin alive, but just barely.  Not soon after his arrival, he was pronounced dead by Dr. John A. Bell, who reported the horrible affair to the Dublin Courier Herald, which immediately spread the news around the state in its Wednesday afternoon edition.

Four funerals followed.

The Odom boys were buried in the Gumlog Baptist Church Cemetery in nearby Kite, Georgia.  Interestingly, their grave markers do not appear on a list of persons buried there.  Hatcher was buried, also nearby in the cemetery at Sardis Baptist Church.   Watkins was laid to rest at the cemetery of Poplar Springs Methodist Church, between Adrian and Scott.

And today, some seventy five years later, when there are few people alive who remembered that fateful February day, there are still those who have heard the stories and those who still tell the stories,  stories of the day that the Kingdom came down from the heavens to take four of their men and boys home.

MARION RODGERS

A Flying Man of Tuskegee



Sometimes it is hard to believe and at the same time so easy to realize that out of the one thousand or so African American men, collectively known as "The Tuskegee Airmen," at least three of those legendary flying men have called Laurens County home.  Laurens County is known far and wide across the state for the inordinate amount of her citizens who have meritoriously contributed to  the service of our state and our nation.  The stories of our three Tuskegee Airmen are a prime example. 

You may already know the story of Major Herndon "Don" Cummings.  Major Cummings, a native of northwestern Laurens County, was assigned to duty as a bomber pilot to train for the anticipated bombing campaign during the thought to be necessary invasion of Japan in the autumn of 1945.  Cummings was among the one hundred or so African American pilots who were arrested for trying to integrate a "white" officers club at Freeman Field, Indiana just days before the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Freed by new president, Harry Truman, Cummings went on to a successful flying career after the war.  His last moment in the limelight came as he sat with other Tuskegee Airmen on the platform during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009.  Cummings died during a hospital stay in the winter of 2010-11.

You probably don't know the story of Col. John Whitehead, a young West Virginia born man, who was raised in Dublin, Georgia in his early youth and who became known as "Mr. Death."  Whitehead is often credited with being the first African-American test pilot in the United States Air Force. His story will come later.

But, now, I want to tell you the story of Marion Rodgers.  Surprisingly there is little written material available online, mainly a biography prepared by Commemorative Air Force in its Red Tail project, from which he is quoted herein.  

"I was born in Detroit on September 23, 1921 and raised to about age eight in Dublin, Georgia, by my mother. We moved to Roselle, NY in 1929 to live with cousins along with my older Brother, Raymond, who raised me from then until after high school. The school system was great. I worked a short while and continued to run track with a team that frequented meets at Madison Square Garden, in Manhattan," Rodgers told an interviewer. 

      "Some running a huge auto repair garage nearby restored a damaged biplane. I was there many days to observe and finally, after weeks, it flew. I was hooked. The big problem was minorities had no place in aviation," spoke Rodgers of his interest in aviation. 

Marion was hooked.  He would make his way to airports, where he would stake out a prime stop to watch planes as they landed and took off.

            When Marion Rodgers learned to his surprise that the United States Army Air Force would be accepting applications for flight school from African Americans, he took the test.  Not surprisingly, the near genius easily passed all of this entrance tests. 

           Not immediately accepted into flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama, Rodgers was first assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery unit and the served a short term as a radio operator.

        "Then I got called, not to Tuskegee, but to Keesler Field, along with 200 other backlogged aviation Cadet-Selectees for basic training again. Finally we went to Tuskegee, the institute, as students. Finally, in May 1943, I'm sent to Pre-Flight Training at Tuskegee Army Air Field and what an experience that was," Rodgers exclaimed!  

But all was not goodness and light.  Flight training was both physically and mentally rigorous.

"We went to ground school every day for military customs, leadership, discipline, navigation, aeronautics, radio code, fuel management, weather, aircraft recognition, mathematics, physical fitness, etc.," remembered Rodgers.

Rodgers trained at Moten Field before returning to Tuskegee where he flew the Vultee BT-131 for the requisite 80 flight hours.  Promoted to the much more powerful AT-6, Marion earned his 2nd Lieutenant wings.

            "I made it, somehow, and was very proud. It was a segregated program. All the instructors in Basic and Advanced Training were white, but most were fair and conscientious. A few should have been somewhere else," recalled Rodgers of his early days in flight school.  

             After flying the P-40, P-39 and P-47, Marion was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, the famous unit eternally known as the "Red Tails."

           "In 69 combat missions I flew 370 hours. We flew escort for B-17s and B-24s with occasional strafing and reconnaissance missions. We never lost a bomber to enemy aircraft and I don't know how we herded hundreds of them into well-protected targets in Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Linz, Salsburg, Stuttgart, Regensburg and Berlin," recounted the former fighter pilot.  

           His  most exciting missions were strafing missions in Southern France, Rumania, Hungary, and Germany, destroying aircraft, locomotives, ammo and fuel dumps, box cars, trucks, and even radar stations. Flying at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour, the P-51s were the fastest thing in the sky.

Rodgers wrote of an August 12, 1944 mission in Southern France, by the 332nd Fighter Group.  "It was my first strafing mission. We went into the target area at 15,000 feet. I was the number four man in the lead flight. Our leader brought us over the target, which were radar stations near the coast. Then he rolled his plane over on its back and went down on the target in almost a vertical dive. I had been nervous up to this time but when I started my dive it all left me. Now my attention was centered on bringing my ship out of the dive because it had gathered tremendous speed and the ground was rushing toward me. I still hadn't located the target. I was slightly to the right of the ship ahead of me and I saw him veer off to the right rather sharply, but I followed the other ships ahead of me while still pushing my own ship through a near split S." 

          "As my ship leveled out about 50 feet above the ground, I had a glimpse of something that looked very much like the picture we had seen of radar stations. I had a chance to hold my trigger down for two seconds, then zigzagged out to sea on the deck. "When I returned to the base, I found out that our flight of eight had lost two ships, one of them being the ship that had veered to my right. I had no vision of the flak," the Colonel concluded. 

After the war, Rodgers was eventually promoted to command the 99th Fighter Squadron "The Red Tails"  at Lockbourne Air Base.  In 1948, the Air Force was integrated under orders from President Harry S. Truman.  Col. Rodgers, a twenty-two-year veteran of the Air Force and a 17-year Civil Service worker, spent one year working for NASA as a program manager on the mission of Apollo 13.  In technical circles, Rodgers was prominent in the development of electronics and communications procedures with NORAD.
   
        Following his retirement in 1983, Rodgers became known for his exceedingly generous contributions of his time  to public organizations in his hometown. He also attended as many events honoring the Tuskegee Airmen whenever and wherever he could.   In his spare time, Rodgers spent many fun times with his wife Suzanne and engaging in his favorite hobby as an amateur radio operator.

So there you have it, a short look at the life of a remarkable man - one of us, a flying man of Tuskegee.

http://www.krdo.com/news/tuskegee-airman-honored-for-service-in-world-war-ii/31182212

Saturday, February 16, 2013

RIVER TRANSPORTATION ON THE OCONEE RIVER



LAURENS COUNTY, GEORGIA
1800-1917



At the dawn of the history of Laurens County settlers, sought out the prized lands along the Oconee River.   Small rafts and canoes were the only method of traveling along the river.  Over a half dozen ferries were established during the first decade.  Laurens County lies near the upper end of the navigable portion of the Oconee River.  While Milledgeville is generally regarded as the terminus of the navigable river, actually boatmen found that Rock Landing was as far as they could travel.  At the southern end of the river was Darien, a prime seaport in early Georgia history.

Furs and hides were highly sought and were shipped to markets in New York and Philadelphia.  Many were brought in by Indians to Fort Wilkinson.  Rates were set at 50 cents per hundredweight for down-river trips and 75 cents per hundredweight for up-river trips. By 1803 there were 16 boats engaged in the shipment of corn, tobacco, and cotton. 

In 1805 the Oconee Navigation Company was granted a charter by the legislature.  The Company sought to make navigable that portion of the river north of Milledgeville to Barrett Shoals near Athens.  Despite the best efforts of its incorporators the company failed.  The pole boat remained the only way to travel on the Oconee for over a decade.   The inhabitants of Dublin would flock to the river when a boat pulled up to the banks loaded with supplies and groceries from Darien.

The lack of good roads elevated river transportation as the primary means of hauling large quantities of agricultural products.  In 1815, the Georgia legislature appropriated ten thousand dollars for the improvement of the Oconee. Two years later a statewide system of river improvements was implemented.  Samuel Howard, who organized the Steamboat Company of Georgia, was granted a twenty year monopoly on Georgia Rivers.  The United States Supreme Court outlawed the practice in 1824.

Before Macon became an established port on the Ocmulgee River, Dublin became the most important inland trading center of Central Georgia.  George Gaines and Jonathan Sawyer had recognized the potential in this area a decade before.  Gaines established the first ferry in Dublin about the year 1806.  New York businessman Redolphus Bogart began purchasing some of the lands along the river in 1811.  Two years later he purchased 174 acres for the unheard of sum of seven thousand dollars.   In those days seven thousand dollars would be the cost of ten to fourteen thousand acres of undeveloped land.  Bogart sold the property to Gilbert Aspinwall in 1814 at a profit of three thousand dollars.   

During the 1815 session of the Georgia Legislature, $10,000.00 was appropriated for the clearing of the Oconee below Milledgeville.  Among the five commissioners appointed to oversee the operations was Gen. David Blackshear, who had just completed two years of fighting the British and the Indians during the War of 1812.  Blackshear and his colleagues Zachariah Lamar, James Alston, Richard A. Blount, and Jacob Robinson,  expended much time and labor without any reward except the knowledge that they were working for the public good.   The latter of these gentlemen may have been the same Jacob Robinson, who owned thousands of acres along the Oconee River in southern Laurens County. An additional ten thousand dollars were expended in 1817.

River boats began plying the waters of the Oconee about 1817.  In that same year a wealthy Savannah mercantile firm purchased all of the land surrounding Gaines' Ferry for eight thousand dollars.  The firm established a store in Dublin which it operated until 1835.  The senior partner of firm was Andrew Low.  His nephew, a Savannah merchant of the same name, was a central figure in Eugenia Price's Savannah novels.  The younger Low's daughter-in-law, the former Miss Juliette Gordon, was the founder of the Girl Scouts.  

"The Williamson" or "The Georgia" became the first steamboat to reach Milledgeville from Darien on April 13, 1819.  Gradually Dublin and Milledgeville, the state capital, rose to prominence as river ports.  The trip took 40 days due to troubles with low water and snags.  Two years later Samuel Howard arrived in Milledgeville after a 18 day voyage from Darien.   Milledgeville's importance was short lived as reliable transportation was only had during the late winter and early spring.  Farish Carter and John T. Roland's bold plan to use several boats failed in 1824.  

The government of Georgia realized the importance of river transportation and frequently appropriated large sums of money to clear the river of obstructions.  An act was passed in 1826 to clear the river below Milledgeville.  Among those commissioners appointed to oversee the operation were Farish Carter of Baldwin County and again David Blackshear of Laurens County.  The project was revived in 1836 and again on January 19, 1852, when Hardy Smith of Laurens County was appointed as a commissioner to clear the river below Milledgville. 

Although cotton production went up rapidly, river transportation practically died until 1836 when "The Wave" began running up the Oconee from Darien.  It took 5 to 6 days to make the trip to Dublin from the seaport city.  Two other Baldwin County men, Richard J. Nichols and George L. Denning, evidently never succeeded  with their Oconee and Atlantic Steamboat Company which was incorporated in 1837.

The State of Georgia once again renewed its plans to improve navigation along the  Altamaha, Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers in 1851.  Ten thousand dollars was appropriated under the management of a board of commissioners.  The commissioners in charge of the Oconee River were Hardy Smith of Laurens County along with William Joyce, John McArthur and P.H. Lowd (sic) of Montgomery County.

In the 1840s, shippers turned to the railroads to transport their goods.  The Central of Georgia Railroad bridged the Oconee twenty five miles or so above Dublin at Raoul Station.  The trip covered twenty two miles over sandy hills and bad roads and on average took two and one half days to complete.  An old black man, known as Free Isaac, did most of the hauling with his six mule wagon.   Dublin and Laurens County would remain without a railroad for nearly a half century to come.  In 1859 there was a 12 by 26 foot boat loaded with 500 bales of cotton transporting cotton from Milledgeville to Dublin.  Just before the Civil War the men of Dublin decided to build their own boat for use on the Oconee.  Freeman H. Rowe and David Robinson built "The George M. Troup".  Rowe and Robinson named their boat in honor of Gov. George M. Troup who had recently passed away.  Ironically, it was Gov. Troup who so bitterly fought the route of the Central of Georgia railroad through Laurens County which would have alleviated the need for river transportation.  Bob Roberson was the captain of the boat.  His crew was composed of three slaves.  Shade, the pilot, was hired in Savannah.  Elex, a slave belonging to F.H. Rowe, was the cook.  Moses, the property of Roberson, kept the deck in order.
After the Civil War broke out, the “George M. Troup” was given or sold to the Confederate government for blockade running. One river boat, "The Everglade", a Savannah River steamboat, was sold to the Confederate government in 1861.  The boat was refitted and named "The C.S.S. Savannah", the first Confederate steamer.  In 1863 a new "The C.S.S. Savannah" was built. The old steamer was renamed "The C.S.S. Oconee." "The Oconee" sunk off the coast of St. Catherine's Island in a hurricane.

During the war years and beyond the Reconstruction period, river boats were seldom seen on the Oconee.  Once again, cotton had to be hauled to market.  The Central of Georgia Railroad was eventually rebuilt, but some cotton planters carried their cotton directly to Savannah.  S. Yopp sold his cotton for gold in 1865.  Sam Yopp carried his to Savannah and brought home one hundred and fifty dollars.    "The Charles Hardee", "The Two Boys", "The Clyde", and "The Halcyon" made a few trips up the Altamaha and Oconee to Dublin.  In the summer of 1867, citizens of Savannah and others living along the Altamaha, Oconee, and Ocmulgee Rivers formed the Altamaha, Ocmulgee, and Oconee Steamboat Company.  The stockholders of each county were to appoint there own directors.  Col. Jonathan Rivers, a Dublin lawyer and former Confederate colonel, represented Laurens County.  Other local representatives were W.T. McArthur, Montgomery Co.; M.N. McRae, Telfair Co.; and Norman McDuffie, Pulaski County. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles to the northeast in Wilmington, North Carolina, the most radical change in the county's transportation methods was beginning.  Colville and Company were building a new boat to replace "The Caswell" which was getting too old for service.   The seventy foot stern wheeler, "The Colville", was named in honor of the company's senior owner and was piloted by Capt. Robert C. Henry.  

Capt. Robert C. Henry, a native of North Carolina, became the father of river boating in Laurens County.  Capt. Henry served in Company A of the Third North Carolina Cavalry during the Civil War.  At the age of forty Captain Henry, for some unknown reason, left North Carolina for Dublin in 1878.  He brought "The Colville" and fellow captain, Samuel Skinner, with him.   John Colville, the builder of the boat which bears his name, died in 1902 at the home of his neice in Eastman. Captain Henry would go on to make a fortune in the riverboat business.  He turned his interest to timber and banking in the late 1880s.  In 1892 Captain Henry became the founding president of Dublin's first bank, The Dublin Banking Company.  Five years later he built an elegant two story building at 101 West Jackson Street in Dublin.  The building became the home to the bank, when it received its state charter in 1898.  Captain Henry and his wife, the former Miss Louisa Gibbs, were founding and faithful members of the First Presbyterian Church.  Captain Henry was chosen as a director of the Dublin Cotton Mill in 1897.  Captain Henry died in 1900 and was buried in the old City Cemetery.  Years after his death his body was re- interred in the Burgaw Cemetery in North Carolina near his home.  

River transportation lived and died with the rain. The wet season usually ran from mid-fall to mid-spring.  "The Colville" set out for Raoul Station in June of 1878.  Its return depended on the amount of rainfall in the Oconee Basin.  The owners of "The Colville" went to great expense in clearing the river upstream.  The dangers of the river were never more apparent on November 20, 1878. "The Colville" set out for Raoul Station on the Central of Georgia Railroad with a load of cotton.  Three miles above Dublin the boat struck rocks which cut seven holes in the hull causing it to sink in five feet of water.  The boat hands set the cotton off on the banks and worked three days to set the damaged boat afloat.  Capt. Henry brought his boat back to Dublin to repair the damage. 

Captain Henry joined forces with Dublin lawyer and newspaper owner, Col. John M. Stubbs to form the Oconee River Steamboat Company.  The Company purchased a site for their wharf from Hayden Hughes for $35.00 on February 5, 1879.  The one acre tract was located along the northern margin of Town Branch where it empties into the Oconee River.  The company secured an ideal site within a few feet of the Dublin Ferry. Today the site is just a few hundred feet north of Riverwalk Park in Dublin.  "The Colville" once again was grounded in the water with a cargo of 200 barrels of rosin in July of 1879. Captain Henry secured a flat boat, "The Cyclone", to accompany his boat and to carry heavy loads of guano fertilizer.  Unfortunately the flat boat sunk on February 20, 1880 with twenty tons of T.H. Rowe's guano on board.   Captain Henry took advantage of the situation, going back home to marry Louisa.  

The company was granted a charter by the Georgia legislature on September 17, 1879.  Other founders of the company were local merchants, William H. Tillery and William Burch.  The company was granted the power to navigate along the Oconee River with boats and barges to own, build, buy or charter vessels propelled by steam, or other power.  Captain Skinner remained with the company only a few years before returning to Wilmington.  

When the water was low, boats couldn't move.  Merchants complained.  Farmers complained.  Everyone complained.  One hungry customer set out his frustrations in a poem.


 "The Colville" is coming! Awaken,
  Ye draymen of Dublin and start,
 To bring up the longed for bacon,
     In haste on your wagons and cart.

 For weeks we have fasted in sorrow,
     No bacon or lard was the cry.
 We ate all the meat we could borrow
and promised to pay bye and bye.

 But the hungry farmers are starving
For western grown shoulders and sides.        
 And the Joneses while smiling and carving
Take greenbacks and cotton and hides.

 Thus Dublin is left without bacon,
While farmers are fed from the store.
 Nothing short than a railroad to Macon,
Will keep us from being ashore.

 Ate bullbats, catfish, and suckers
And eels from a foot to a yard.
 While the "Wool Hats" with Dan, Mose and Tuckers
Were feasting on bacon and lard.

 I've talked to the meat hungry planter
Adjured him with tears in my eyes.
 He raised the jug and decanter
An his lard and bacon he buys.

 Let's haste then thro' hogweed and thistle
To the steamer for a ration of meat.
 Ere the farmers hear "The Colville's" old whistle
And take off the good things to eat.

A Hungry Customer
    Dublin, Georgia
September 9, 1882.

                            

With no railroad within 25 miles, river traffic was flourishing.  Henry, much to the dismay of Dubliners, was banned by federal regulations  from carrying kerosene on "The Colville" in 1882.   With Dock Anderson at the wheel a round trip to Raoul Station still took the better part of a day.  Captain Henry began work on a new steamer in April of 1883.  The 100 foot gunnel boat was powered by two Crockett engines built in Macon.  A new flat was constructed to hold the bulk of the freight.   Henry's company put the second boat, "The Laurens" on the river in August of 1883., 

R.L. Hicks, a Dublin school teacher, a partner in the firm fo Hicks, Peacock, and Hicks, and rival newspaper editor, launched the "William M. Wadley" in August of 1883.  The boat was named for the president of the Central of Georgia railroad.  The boat made only a few trips during its first six months of operation.  The "Wadley" soon became the fastest boat on the river, easily beating the fast "Cumberland" in a 111 mile race from Gray's Landing to Doctortown. In  March of 1884  "The Wadley" brought a 150 ton load of groceries, hardware, cloth, and supplies into Dublin.  It was the largest load ever brought here.   In one year of service "The Wadley", after lying idle for three months, made 62 round trips covering twenty thousand miles.  It carried twelve million pounds of freight without a single accident.  Unlike many other boats, only five dollars in repairs were made that first year.  "The Dublin Times", edited by Mr. Hicks often made snide remarks about "The Colville", calling her "that North Carolina Tub".  Hicks cried foul about the Oconee River Steamboat Company's exclusive contract to haul freight to and from the Central Georgia Railroad.  When "The Colville" sunk in shallow water on September 19, 1883, Hicks lamented her return and regretted that she failed to commit suicide. The sinking was a mystery which resulted in the loss of three to four hundred dollars to the freight and furniture on the boat.  The "Cyclone" was tied to the "Colville" and met a similar fate.

Competition for the hauling of freight heated up.  The Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad was being built from Wrightsville to Dublin. Capt. Henry built a 16 by 80 foot barge to haul 100 bales of cotton during low water.  The railroad reached Dublin in September of 1886.  The Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad, which later merged with the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, was owned by the Central of Georgia.  Raoul Station on the Central was abolished.  The railroad entered into an agreement with the Oconee River Steamboat Company that allowed the riverboats to use the rail facilities in Dublin in exchange for agreeing to haul goods between Dublin and Mt. Vernon only.   When the W&T built its railroad bridge and the county its passenger bridge, the bridges were built to turn their center spans to allow the steamers to pass through. Boat landings were established at the present site of Riverwalk Park, the railroad bridge, and a block below the railroad bridge.

Changes were being made in the Oconee River Steamboat Company.  Captain Henry was succeeded by Jeff D. Roberson, followed by T.B. Hicks, George B. Pope and A.B. Jones. "The Laurens" sunk after a collision with a log raft  at a double bend in the river on June 9, 1887.  The company suffered a complete loss of $10,000.  Engineer John Graham and pilot Norman McCall were carrying 185 barrels of rosin.  Norman McCall, minister of the First African Baptist Church, was known to be a giant of a man.  McCall anchored a pole in the river and managed to save 150 barrels by retrieving the barrels and swimming to the surface while holding on to the pole.  The company temporarily secured a new boat. With "The Colville" being sold and put on the Ocmulgee River, The Oconee River Steamboat Company went out of business, selling its wharf to Foster and McMillan, brick manufacturers, on July 15, 1887. 

J.C. Blaine, master boat builder of Columbus, Georgia, was hired to construct a new boat for Dublin in the late winter of 1887.  The new boat was designed to hold 60 bales of cotton in 15 inches of water.  It was a sternwheeler with two engines, a boiler, and two smoke stacks.  The 115 foot long boat was constructed from Laurens County timbers at the Dublin Ferry with its engines being built at the Columbus Iron Works.  Unfortunately the name of the boat is not known.

A new company, The Louisa Steamboat Company, was incorporated on September 21, 1891.  The organizers included J.D. and M.E. Robeson of Laurens County.  The bulk of the $10,000.00 in capital stock was provided by H.W. Howard of New Hanover County, W.S. Cook, W.A. Robeson, R.M. Nimocks and R.H. Tomlinson of Cumberland County, North Carolina.  The Louisa Company was authorized to ply the waters between Dublin and Red Bluff, Montgomery County.  Other routes, if expedient and profitable, were authorized by the Georgia Legislature.  H.W. Howard was the original president of the company with J.D. Robeson and M.E. Robeson serving on the board of directors.  (Louisa left)

"The Gypsy" and "The Rover" were built by the Forest and Stream Club, but were used by Col. Stubbs for hauling freight.  Captain William Willard Ward was in command.  Capt. Ward, a native of Florida, was one of the few men of Laurens County to enlist in the army during  the Spanish American War.  In 1901, Capt. Ward went in to the business under the name of the Gem City Steamboat Company.    "The Gypsy", the main boat of the Gem City Company was launched in late July of 1901.  Capt. Ward went into business with John Miller Graham. Graham, a native of Laurens,  was unequalled in Georgia for his skill in building light draught boats used on the upper portions of southeastern rivers.  Graham built or supervised the building of most of the light draught steamers used in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina during this period.  


The Rover

The railroads were now too strong with three railroads coming into Dublin and two more on the way.  Competition  between the steamboats and the railroads was never more heated than during the summer of 1902.  The Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad decided to stop accepting shipments of freight at their dock on the river just below the railroad bridge.  Captains Ward and Graham sought and were granted an injunction which required the railroad to repair the hoist and begin accepting deliveries from the steamboats.  While five railroads were bringing in freight into Dublin, "The Rover" of the Louisa Steamboat Company,  remained tied up at Blackshear's Ferry.  The water level at Dublin was 14 inches below zero.  No boats could move.  

When they boats were moving there were often tragic and severe consequences.  Wash Jenkins, an employee of the Louisa Steamboat Company drowned while attempting to carry a barrell of water from the shore to "The City of Dublin."  Two months later the boat sunk after striking a rock at the mouth of Deep Creek opposite Cow Hell Swamp.  The boat was refloated only to sink two weeks later.  Once again the boat was refloated by plugging the hole with a mattress and pumping the water out.


The Rover

It was 1906.  There were good times and bad times.  "The Rover" sunk in the spring and was a total loss.  In Mid October, "The R.C. Henry" sunk at Bonnie Clabber.  The owners enlisted to the aid of "The Southland", the boat of the Simmons Lumber Company - later the Southland Lumber Company. "The Southland" was put into freight service until a new boat could be secured. The Louisa Steamboat Company with no boats followed the course of the Gem City Steamboat Company and went out of business.  Dublin was without a boat.  The good news was the renewed interest by Congressmen W.W. Brantley and Thomas Hardwick along with Senator A.S. Clay in securing funds for improvement of river navigation.

The Oconee River Association was formed in a meeting at Dublin in November, 1906.  The group requested $110,000.00 to improve the river, citing the loss of two boats during the previous six months. While the meeting was going on, Capt. P. J. Keating continued to dynamite snags along the river.   It had been nearly two decades since local congressmen James H. Blount and Charles F. Crisp secured federal money to help in clearing the river. 

Dublin's businessmen got busy and formed a new boat company.  J.E. Smith, Jr., William Bales, O.G. Sparks, J.R. Broadhurst, D.S. Brandon, E.R. Orr, D.L. Emerson, and Izzie Bashinski formed the Dublin Navigation Company.  They hired Capt. Ward to pilot their new boat.  The organizers entered into an agreement with the Altamaha Navigation Company to keep freight moving to and from the Altamaha along the Oconee River.  Before a new boat could be constructed the Altamaha Company sent "The Nan Elizabeth" on a temporary basis.  The Dublin Navigation Company in short order completed "The New Dublin" once again giving Dublin its own boat.  The boat was pronounced the best boat ever built on the river.  "The New Dublin" was sold in 1909 and was put into service on the Savannah River. "The Nan Elizabeth" returned to Dublin.  The legendary boat builder, John M. Graham,  died just before Christmas.  


John M. Graham


As Dublin and Laurens County prospered, pleasure trips along the Oconee were common.   Many of the freighters were quickly converted into passenger boats.   J.A. Jackson, owner of "The Nina" gave trips up the Oconee to the mouth of Big Creek, a favorite swimming hole. Champagne, claret, and other liquids were served.   When a large group of visitors came to town they were often treated to boat rides down the river to the mouth of Turkey Creek, Well Springs, or Bonnie Clabber.  The ladies of the Episcopal Church sponsored a moonlight boat ride on the Oconee.  The price of a ticket was 50 cents. With the sinking of the unsinkable "Titanic" in 1912, river steamboats were no longer allowed to carry passengers on excursions.


The Katie 


Mrs. Harry Hill had fond memories of her trip up the Oconee River from Lothair to Dublin.  In a November 21, 1963 article, Mrs. Hill remembered riding on “The City of Dublin” from Poor Robin Landing.  “Captain Fitchett was the master of the vessel and stopped every few miles to take on cords of wood for his wood burner and freight to transport to Dublin.  She fondly recalled the delicious meals cooked by Uncle Joe Hudson, who later owned a popular restaurant on North Jefferson Street.  “Uncle Joe and Captain Fitchett kept a flock on hens on board for eggs to serve the passengers and crew, and every time the boat docked they would let the chickens off.  When it came time to pull anchor the whistle would blow and the hens would obediently run scramblingly and squawkingly back to the boat and into the pen provided for them,” Mrs. Hill said.

Dublin experienced a tremendous industrial growth during the first decade of the 20th century.  Many of the companies involved in wood and wood products used their own boats. "The Nan Chappell" was put into service by the Georgia Cooperate Company in January of 1910.  The Simmons Lumber Company and its successor, The Southland Lumber Company used their own boat, "The Southland" to bring in hardwoods cut from the banks of the Oconee.  J.A. Kelley, Dublin's premier builder, built "The Nan Allen" for the stave plant to ship its hardwood timbers in and the barrel staves out to market. Kelley also built the last boat, "The Katherine S." which made its maiden voyage in 1917.  "The Dorothy T", the new steamer of the Southern Cotton Oil Company, was commissioned here in 1923.  Emily Rentz, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. A.T. Coleman, christened the boat which was named for Dorothy Tennille, daughter of the Vice President of the Southern Cotton Oil Company.  It was used for hauling timber to the stave mill of the  cooperage department of the company. Capt. Woolvin was in charge of the construction with help from Capt. W.W. Ward.  

J.E. Smith, Jr., Dublin's premier businessman, formed his own company, The Oconee Navigation Company in 1911.  A new steamer was built and named in honor of Smith's daughter, Clyde.  "The Clyde S" was captained by J.F. Pritchett and W.W. Mobley.  The 96 feet by 24 feet boat with a tonnage capacity of 124 tons was built by W.W. Ward.  Clyde Smith, daughter of the company president, christened the new boat with a bottle of grape juice, since she was a member of the temperance movement. It worked in connection with "The Katie C.".  Within two months the boat nearly sank when it struck a snag in the river.  A hole in the boat was plugged with a mattress but nearly 200 sacks of guano were lost.  "The Clyde S." was rebuilt in 1915, making it the first boat designed especially to carry passengers.  Before long "The Clyde S." met her inevitable fate.  She was beached on the east bank of the Oconee just below the ferry.  Today you catch a glimpse of her remains opposite the  River Walk.

The river men made one last attempt to improve river navigation with the organization of the Oconee River Improvement Association in the winter of 1911.  During World War I and the severe economic depression which followed the old river boats died away.  During the next two decades one might see a pleasure boat or a boat loaded with plywood plying its way along the waters of the Oconee.  The sound of the whistles were gone forever.  

                 ALONG THE OCONEE
Ernest Camp


On down the noble Oconee they sped,
  The boats well rationed and freighted,
Under skies wondrous fair and serene overhead,
  Through winds with fragrance well weighted -
    Two human cargoes,
    From whose hearts then arose
  A greeting to friends and forgiveness for foes!

On past the white cypress, the willow and gum,
  On past the grand poplar supernal,
On, on with a song and a shout and a hum,
  With the shriek of a whistle infernal -
    On, on did they speed,
    Past the brush and the reed,
  To explore and behold scenic beauty indeed!

On past the broad acres, both fertile and grand,
  On past the by-brooks and the streams,
On past the broad bars of spotless white sand,
  On, on, on their journey of dreams -
    Of sin there was dearth,
    But the gladness and mirth
  Encircled the waters and painted the earth!

When the landing was reached and they rambled away,
  'Mongst the scenes of wild beauty around,
They thanked the great God for the birth of that day -
  For His works of nature profound;
    Then the birds up above -
    Both the mocking and dove,
  Burst out in a greeting of joy and of love!

Then the aged, bent cypress - historic sublime,
  Tall, towered above the old gum,
and majestic like poplars, the markers of time,
  Now swayed in an effort to hum;
    And the twisted bamboo,
    Prone to rock and to woo,
  But muttered in unison, "Remember me too!"

When at last, at a signal, they boarded the boats,
  To return on their trip of delight,
With uncovered heads and moss-entwined coats,
  They looked on the fair and the bright,
    And the zephyrs that strayed,
    Through the locks of the maid,
  Soon had on her cheeks rarest roses arrayed.

On, on, past the willow, now weeping with joy,
  On past the white cypress they sped,
On, on, with the hopes of the man and the boy,
  As the green leaves sighed for the dead -
    on, onward they pressed,
    With the sun to the west,
  As it gave benediction to the day it had blessed!

But the journey is over!  The whistles are blown;
  A loud, ringing cheer is now heard;
The passengers land, and the song of the bird,
  Now stilled, is rembered , I own,
    And the joy of that ride,
    In our hears will abide,
  For 'twas grand and inspiring, and noble, beside!

(Boat ride given the County School Commissioners of Georgia, upon the Oconee River, Wednesday afternoon,
May 4, 1904, by the people of Dublin.)  





The Louisa





-----------------------------
END NOTES


Bonner, James C., Milledgeville, Georgia's Antebellum Capital,
Mercer University Press, Macon, GA 1985 Reprint Edition.

Coleman, Kenneth, A History of Georgia,  University of Georgia
Press, Athens, GA, 1977.

Cowart, D.T., Thought You Might Be Interested in Knowing, 
Laurens County Historical Society Collections.

Goff, John H. "The Steamboat Period in Georgia", "Georgia
Historical Quarterly, Vol. 12, 1928.

Hart, Bertha Sheppard, The Official History of Laurens County
Georgia, 1807-1941, Agee Publishers, 1987 Reprint
Edition.

Miller, Stephen, Memoir of General David Blackshear,  J.B. 
Lipincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1858.

Georgia Historical Quarterly, Georgia Historical Society, 
Vols. 12, 18.

The Southern Recorder, Milledgeville Newspaper.

The Dublin Post, The Dublin Courier Dispatch,  Dublin
Newspapers.
Georgia Laws, 1812, 1836, 1837, 1851, 1879, 1891.