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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

OUR INFAMOUS INFERNOS - 1889-1894

         Back in the old days, when fires were put out by brigades of volunteers throwing buckets of water or by fireman hand pumping small streams of water, a fire in the downtown area was often quite cataclysmic. Dublin's first major fire occurred on  May 26, 1889.  One hundred and twenty five years ago today, Dublin's business district was one mass of charred timbers and smouldering ashes of once bustling businesses. There was no hope in sight. Gloom, despair and agony permeated the smoking ruins.

When the business section of Dublin began to expand, stores and other places of business were expanded well beyond the original plan of four lots/buildings  per block.  The closeness of buildings to each other , coupled with the fact that brick buildings were somewhat scarce, even in the early 1890s, led to massive fires in the downtown area, some fueled by drought and wind, others fed by insidious incendiaries.

Dublin's first "great" fire (great fires are never great)  began early on a quiet Sunday morning.  A westerly wind was howling down the main street from the west.  It had not rained in weeks.  Water was scarce.  Napoleon Baum was only beginning to erect the town's first public well on the northeast side of the Courthouse Square. With the two requisite elements for a catastrophic conflagration present, the smallest spark would ignite a firestorm. 

Investigators focused on the source of the fire and determined that the flames emanated from the Post Office causing  the whipping winds to leap from one wooden structure to another.  For nearly nine hours, townsfolk futilely  sought t0 extinguish the rolling mass of flames.  The Dalton Hotel was sacrificed by dynamiting it to save the Tillery and Burch houses.



The fire burned everything from the corner of Lawrence Street around the block and down Jefferson Street stopping before reaching the Troup House.  Among the buildings suffering substantial losses were the Post Office, the old Hooks Hotel,  Roughton's store, B.F. Duggan's Grocery, C.W. Brantley's house, F.W. Shelton's general merchandise store J.W. Gilder's building, P. Hillman's restaurant, Peter Franklin's barber shop, Jesse Cowart's grocery, George Bang's Dublin Jewelry Store,  H.P. Smith's shoe store, Susan Tillery's store house, Nathan Burch's building, Willis Dasher's restaurant, L.C. Perry's stables and buggy shop, and M.L Jones' store, which was the highest valued loss at $4000.00.  Jones came out smelling like a rose because he had $3000.00 in insurance.  No other building owner did.  G.W. Maddox's furniture store suffered the most damage with $3000.00 in uninsured losses. 




Only the slightly damaged brick office of Dr. R.H. Hightower (where Deano's is now located) survived the fire in the entire block southwest of the courthouse square.    The final total of damages ranged from $25,000.00 to $50,000.00 with eleven business houses being totally engulfed in flames.  The total figure was most likely at least $40,000.00.  Two or three weeks later, the rains finally came and the town was safe, at least for a while.

One of the burned buildings belonged to H.C. Roughton of Sandersville.  Upon hearing of the fire, Roughton rushed to Dublin by train, arriving  just before the fire was finally under control.  He sought out L.A. Chapman, the owner of the brickyard.  The next morning before the ashes cooled Mr. Chapman began delivering bricks to the site.  What resulted may be the oldest building in downtown Dublin.  It is occupied in 2014 by New York Fashions.  

It was another Sunday and another fire. It was the evening of September 21, 1890, just before the autumnal equinox.  It had been relatively wet, a condition which had severely damaged the year's cotton crop.  Just about 9:00 in the evening, a wood stove caught on fire.  The flames spread across the street from the Troup House on the first block of South Jefferson Street consuming all of the houses in their path.  T.F. Newman's harness shop, J.S. Lewis' ice and soda saloon, the barbershop, the bottling works, and the newspaper offices of the Dublin gazette were totally destroyed. Much to the chagrin of the liquor and beer drinkers, both J.M. Rinehart's and W.J. Hightower's bar rooms were incinerated when the flames hit their flammable stock.    Luckily, hardly $50.00 of  Miss Susie Bearden's millenary was scorched.

New Year's Day 1894 was not a happy one, not at all.  

On the last day of 1893, the citizens of Dublin were looking forward to a better economic year following the economically disastrous Panic of 1893.    Just before midnight, flames began to fly out of the Whitehead-Watkins Building on the corner of West Jackson and South Jefferson Streets.   Thoughts immediately turned back to May 26, 1889, when the entire block was virtually burned to the ground.

The first story stores of G.W. Bishop, E.J. Tarpley, G.W. Maddox and Tarpley & Kellam were gutted.  Upstairs, the medical offices of Dr. A.F. Summerlin, and Dr. Charles Hicks, along with the legal offices of  Peyton Wade, Frank Corker, Joseph Walker, Joseph Chappel, and Mercer Haynes. were destroyed except for a few pieces of furniture and books of Dr. Summerlin and Attorney Wade, which were carried out before the flames totally engulfed the newly constructed brick building.  Amazingly, none of these erudite professionals carried insurance.

Dr. Hightower's building, which survived the Great Fire of 1889, was severely damaged when the adjoining burning building collapsed upon it.    The fire was so intense that the heat broke windows across the street in the bank.  The proprietors of Lord & Brooks covered the front of their building with wet blankets to keep the heat from damaging their store next to the bank.  

No clues were ever found to determine the origin of the New Year's fire, although preliminary investigators believed it to be of an incendiary nature.  

In today's world of high tech fire fighting equipment and highly trained firemen, we would like to hope that we are exempt from such infamous infernos.  But as you know, history has a way of repeating itself.  It is important to all of us to follow simple and basic fire prevention guidelines to protect our families, friends and our homes and buildings. 

  
DUBLIN GEORGIA FIRES

Sunday, May 25, 2014

HERE'S TO THE GALLANT! THE DHS CLASS OF 1943.

         They pledged allegiance to the United States, for liberty and justice for all.  As the Class of ’43 stood on the stage of the school auditorium, each and every member of the class  carried the words of that pledge in their souls as they began to face daunting challenges that few previous graduates had ever encountered.   In just a few months, the war would become their war to carry forward.  As the teenage boys began to ponder their future military service, the girls wondered just how they too could serve their nation.

“Twenty four out of the twenty five boys in our class joined the military,” recalled Gene Scarboro.  They knew the risks.  Many  of their friends were already serving.  Some had already lost their lives.  Despite the danger, the boys, mostly 17 and 18 years old, signed up for America.

Twenty two boys returned home. Two did not.

As the boys received their assignments, some went to Europe, some to the Pacific and some remained stateside.  Some joined the Army or the Air Corps,  others signed up to serve in the Navy.   One of the most dangerous duty assignments were given to the members of the United States Marine Corps.  The Marines would bear the deadly brunt of as the jumped from one island to the next across the wide Pacific.

American military leaders believed that to end the war in the Pacific, it was critical that the Japanese island of Iwo Jima be secured.  Though the capture of the wasteland of the volcanic island was considered inconsequential by some modern historians, at the time it was crucial to establish a base for the launching of the inevitable invasion of the main island of Japan.

Randall Robertson, who was still 16 years old at graduation,  was the youngest son of J.W. Robertson and his wife Nettie Couey Robinson.   Randall’s father was well known about town and was always addressed as “Chief Robertson” during and after his long service as Chief of the Dublin Police Department.    The Robertsons lived in the second block of North Elm Street, a short distance from Calhoun Street School.  Moffett Kendrick remembered that in the neighborhood lived himself, Randall and his older brother Rudolph, Frarie and Derrell Smalley, Burke Combs, Frank Hodges, Charles and George English, and Cecil and David Walters.

Randall was big for his age,  the biggest boy  in his class.  His large frame made him the ideal football player.  At six-feet, six-inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, Randall was the anchor of the offensive line of the 1942 football team.  Coach Wally Butts, of the University of Georgia, showed an interest in Randall, but the Dublin lineman wasn’t interested.  There was a war going on, and playing football wasn’t what the gentle giant wanted to do.   The red-headed titan wanted to be a Marine just like his older brother Rudolph.

Randall graduated Dublin High School in May of 1943.  He had been the Vice President of his Senior class and head of the Victory Corps at Dublin High School.  Students in the Victory Corps participated in a variety of activities to promote the war effort.   In those days, students graduated after completion of the eleventh grade.  Though he went to work with the Atlantic Ice Company after graduation, his classmates predicted he would join the Marine Corps like his brother Rudolph had done a year earlier. Rudolph joined the Marines and participate in the horrific battles of Bougainville and Guadalcanal.




The war in the Pacific was drudging toward the epic battles of 1944 and 1945.  Randall and his good friend Bill Shuman turned eighteen in the late spring of 1944.  They had only two choices.  One was to join the armed forces and select their branch of service.  The other was to sit back and be drafted and end up who knows where.  Bill chose the Naval Hospital Corps and was assigned to Jacksonville, Florida.  Randall, following in the footsteps of Rudolph, joined the Marines and headed off to intensive training at Paris Island, South Carolina and Camp Lejune, North Carolina. Bill and Randall both wound up in the Pacific.  They exchanged letters a few times.  Randall’s last letter to Bill came while he was enjoying an all too brief R&R.   After telling his father than he wanted to join the Marines like Rudolph, Chief Robertson instructed Rudolph to “take care of the kid.”  Rudolph nodded and agreed to his assignment.

Rudolph Robertson, who emerged from his twenty-six month hitch in the Marine Corps with only a few cuts, scrapes and bruises,  was a member  of the 3rd Marine Division.  The 4th Division, to which Randall was likely attached, launched the main offensive of the invasion of Iwo Jima on the morning of February 19, 1945.  Four days later the American flag was raised atop Mount Suribachi.  But the fighting didn’t stop there.  Rudolph looked for Randall among the pandemonium on Iwo Jima.  He never found him alive.  Following an early morning artillery barrage, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Division attacked northward on February 25 . All day long the Marines and the entrenched Japanese fighters slugged it out along the  East-West runway of the Central Iwo field and about two-thirds of the North-South runway.

They say it was a sniper that fired the shot that killed Randall.   His height and size, which led to success on football fields, made him an easy target on the dying fields of Iwo Jima.  The shocking news reached Dublin on March 13th.  Randall Robertson, described by his neighborhood friend Moffett Kendrick as a “big, slow-footed jovial kid,” was dead.  He was only eighteen years old.  But then again, wars are frequently started by men and fought by boys.  His body was brought home and laid to rest in Northview Cemetery.  His family never overcame their sorrows. Their dreams weren’t supposed to end this way.




James Boyd Hutchinson was not a standout athlete like Randall.  He was a quiet, shy young man who played the trombone in the high school band.  His classmates voted him the cutest boy in the Class of 1943.  James was born on February 26, 1926 in Dublin.  His father Perry Hutchinson operated a barber shop on South Jefferson Street. His mother Etta kept house at the Hutchinson home at North Franklin Street.  James attended elementary school at Johnson Street School.

             On March 14, 1945, the 5th Marine Division made it’s final push to drive out enemy soldiers who had been hiding in caves for nearly a month.  The United States flag was formally raised to effectively end the fighting.  But the dying continued.  That same day, just two days before the U.S. Marine Corps officially took control of Iwo Jima, James B. Hutchinson was killed in action,  just three weeks after his 19th birthday. His body was returned home and buried in Northview Cemetery within a short distance of his classmate and fellow Marine, Randall Robertson.


There is an old myth that bad things come in threes.  That maxim nearly came true on Iwo Jima.  Joel Robert Fountain was at the top of the Class of 1943.  He was Senior Class President and an honor graduate.  His classmates voted him the most popular, most studious and most industrious.  Joel enlisted in the United States Navy Medical Corps.  As a Pharmacist’s Mate, Third Class, Fountain was assigned to a Marine unit for the invasion of Iwo Jima.  As the action heated up, the 18-year-old Fountain was frantically trying to evacuate the wounded back to the rear of the battle.  As he was carrying a wounded Marine to safety, a Japanese sniper’s bullet struck Joel in the right shoulder.  He fell to the ground and was one of thirteen hundred wounded soldiers who were evacuated by air to safety.

Another member of the Class of ’43, Asa B. Smith, Jr., took an alternate service  choice and joined the Merchant Marine.  Smith made a career in the civilian manned branch, which was affiliated with the U.S. Navy.  Smith served in the Merchant Marines for 21 years before he was murdered in the Middle East by a fellow seaman aboard the S.S. Wilderness in 1965.  His body lies not too far from his classmates Hutchinson and Robertson.

On this Memorial Day and on all days to come, let us pause to remember and honor the intrepid, the patriotic, the gallant Class of ’43, especially those teenagers, Randall Robertson and James Hutchinson, who sacrificed their promising lives so that we can still  enjoy the freedoms we enjoy today.

















Friday, May 23, 2014

MONTROSE NATIVE TURNS 115!

JERALEAN TALLEY

      Today, Jeralean Kurtz Talley turns 115 years old.  Mrs. Talley, a native of Montrose, Georgia, holds on to her official title as  the oldest living person in the United States and the oldest living person outside the country of Japan.

Mrs. Talley was born on May 23, 1899 to Samuel James Kurtz and Amelia Kurtz.  William McKinley was President of the United States.  On May 23, 2014, some nineteen presidents, fourteen hundred plus full moons and 41,725 sunsets later, Ms. Jeralean  reaches yet another milestone in the time line of her longest life. 

Jeralean, who was among a dozen children of Samuel and Amelia Jones Kurtz, grew up in the outskirts of Montrose, Georgia in western Laurens County, Georgia.  Her grandfather, Andrew J. Kurtz, husband of Rachel Kurtz, was most likely a slave owned by Dr. William J. Kurtz,  who owned nearly two dozen slaves during the Civil War.

Jeralean and her family moved to Inkster, Wayne County, Michigan during a vast migration of African-American farm workers who left Laurens County in the 1920s for Detroit, Michigan. That group includes the family of world champion boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ford Motor Company inventor and innovator, Claude Harvard.  

Jeralean married Alfred Talley, who died in the 1980s.  Although she was from large family,  Jeralean had only one child, a daughter, Thelma Holloway, who is now seventy-five years old. She has three grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. 

As for Talley, she credits her God for her longevity.  When asked by Congressman John Conyers as to what her secret to a long life was, she pointed upward and said, "The good Lord up above. If it wasn't for Him, none of us would be here."

Talley was almost 107 before she moved out of her home and into her daughter's home.  She gave up bowling when she was a mere 104.   And, she scored a very respectable 200 in her last game.
  
With 115 years behind her Jeralean has many stories to tell.  One of her favorites is the tale of her first and only attempt to drive a car. 

"I tried that one time," in her 30s, she said. 

"I  didn't hit the right one to make it go forward and it went backwards," Talley told Elisha Anderson of The Detroit Free Press.

When her husband Alfred yelled at her, she opened the door and got out of the car and never drove again.

A verified supercentenarian is a person who is at least 110 years old and whose age is documented by at three or more reliable documents as determined by an international body - the most respected organization being the Gerontology Research Group.

The world's oldest verified person ever was a French woman Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days.   Today, the oldest living person is a  Japanese woman,  Misao Okawa, who is 14 and one half months older than Talley. As of today, Jeralean Talley stands as the 31st  oldest verified living person since 1955 and is poised to move into 25th place within nine weeks. If Talley lives until July 18 of next year, she will be the 10th oldest verified person since 1955.  Verification before 1955 was often difficult because of unreliable or non-existent birth records. . 

Happy Birthday Ms. Jeralean! 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

PROJECT BLUE BOOK


The Search For UFOs

Could four Dublin women, who saw five strange objects flying over the western skies over the city, really believe that what they had actually seen were unidentified flying objects? To them, they were real.  They had to be.  After all, they saw them with their own eight eyes.


The year 1952, it has been said by those people who study such things, was the year of the UFO.  It was no wonder that with movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still,  The Man From Planet X, The Thing, It Came from Outer Space, and The War of the Worlds that a wave of sightings of flying saucers flowed into law enforcement offices and air force bases across the land.  Many believed that the mysterious things out there were flying saucers with little green men inside.

In 1952, the U.S. government established Project Blue Book.  This top secret project had two goals.  First and primarily, the agency set out to determine if these objects were threats to national security. And secondly, the Air Force wanted to gather as much data as possible relating to the sightings to explain their true identity.  Of the 12,618 sightings over an eighteen-year period, 701 still remain as a mystery, even to the most highly trained investigators.

It was about 5:30 on a warm Wednesday afternoon, the third day of September 1952.  Four young ladies were visiting with each other in their front yards, somewhere in the northwestern section of Dublin, probably around or near the Moore Street neighborhood.  The sky was clear except for a few small cumulus clouds.   Visibility was measured at 15 miles.

Government officials would later black out the names of the witnesses of what was about to unfold.  So, I will call them Mrs. X, Mrs. Y, Mrs. Z and Lady M.    Mrs. X, a 23-year-old woman, had just taken her kids for a stroll around the block, she sat down to rest a minute before preparing supper.  She stood up for a moment when her neighbor Mrs. Y asked her to look at a large open space with no trees.  She noticed five peculiar objects approaching from the southeast and moving in a straight line at an angle of 45 degrees above the southern horizon.  Mrs. X assuredly described the quintet as five distinct objects, flat and round, with a bright aluminum color,  further noting that they were as brilliant as diamonds and appeared to be two to three miles away.  Investigators noted that she was not intoxicated and did not wear eyeglasses.  Mrs. X told air force officials that she had no particular interest in “flying saucers,” but only knew what she had read about them in newspapers.  When asked to illustrate what she saw, Mrs. X drew five elliptical shapes with one flying in front and two rows of two following close behind and appeared to be as large as bicycle tires.





Mrs. Y, who had been out in her yard for forty-five minutes,  saw the objects first and quite by accident.  “I looked twice before I brought it to the attention of Mrs. X,” said Mrs. Y, who asked Mrs. X  to take a look at the object which appeared to flying in the direction of the V.A. Hospital.  Mrs. Y reported that the objects first appeared to be a dull color and seemed to look as if they were the size of an ashtray at the limit of her arms.  When they simultaneously tilted, they all became a brilliant color for a few seconds and then turned back to their initial dull appearance.  After five minutes, she said the objects, with two in front followed by three in the rear of the formation, disappeared into the southwestern skyline. Mrs. Y concluded her written questionnaire by stating, “I have never seen anything in the air that looked like these things.  I have no idea what they were,” the assured witness wrote.


Mrs. Z was talking with her neighbor, Lady M, when she shouted, “Look at those funny things!”  In confirming Mrs. X’s description of bright, shiny, round, and flat  objects with one object flying in the front of the formation, a true depiction of what the ladies saw began to take shape.

Twenty-eight-year-old Lady M confirmed the depictions of Mrs. X and Mrs. Z and added that they appeared to be two-feet wide as compared to something at the limit of her reach.



After the initial excitement, one of the ladies ran into her house and called radio station W.M.L.T.  She reported what she saw to Sara Orr Williams, the station’s secretary, who promptly alerted the station engineer, the most scientific minded person in the station that day, and they set out to the scene of the sighting.  Mrs. Williams, a former secretary to three United States senators and who also worked as a newspaper journalist, listened to their stories, paying attention to details, as she had been trained to do.  Nearly three weeks later, she reported to Major Robert E. Kennedy at the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.  Mrs. Williams told the major that although she didn’t see the objects, she earnestly believed their stories.  “So earnest were they in their stories, and so apparently convinced what they had seen was not jet planes, etc.,” said Mrs. Williams. “I deemed it proper to telephone the Air Force base at Warner Robins,” Mrs. Williams wrote.  Williams was met by two officers from the base the next day and took them to interrogate the ladies who saw the mysterious objects.

Reports of the sighting were broadcast during the evening news at 6:00  and  7:45.  After the last broadcast, a caller, who refused to divulge his identity, called into the station and reported that he saw five jet air planes flying toward Dublin around 5:00.

Air Force officials immediately contacted the control tower at Warner Robins to inquire as to the presence of both military and civilian aircraft in the area at the time of the sighting of the objects by the four women in Dublin.  Weather balloons were immediately ruled out.  It was reported that a bulldog flight of five B-29 bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana were flying in the vicinity of Warner Robins on a circuitous route from Albany to Macon to Athens to Atlanta and back through Tuscaloosa.  Lt. Col. Ben Crain contacted Cochran Field in Macon and found that the first plane was over Macon at 4:21 p.m. and the last came over at 5:33.    With this flight record in hand, the Air Force concluded that what the ladies saw in Dublin were the five bombers.

But how could it have been?  Each of the four ladies reported that the planes were flying in a tight formation.  It seems certain that the first plane was not seventy-two minutes ahead of the last one.  If the planes were flying from Albany over Macon to Athens, they would have been flying on a northeasterly course and not a westerly one.  The one doubter in Dublin reported that the planes were 12 miles from town at 5:00.  Even flying as slow as the fastest car, the planes could have traveled sixty air miles in the next thirty minutes.

And what about the massive sightings for more than one hour  in Marietta just two days before by 37 people, including an artillery officer and B-25 gunner? And what about  eight people, including a pilot and bombardier, in Warner Robins two weeks later who saw a bright yellow-white light moving over the skies for twenty minutes?

No one knows what these ladies saw.  It may have been extraterrestrial and it just may have been a formation of military aircraft.  No one will ever know.  But perhaps, if you are one of the four ladies that were out in your yard on the afternoon of September 3, 1952 and saw these objects, call me immediately!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

OLD TIMES IN ORIANNA


Good Folks at Home 

  The community of Orianna is what was once called a line town.  Situated in both Laurens County and Treutlen County, the community was split by political boundaries, but in a united effort overcame its lawless reputation to become a home for good folks.  Orianna was established as a post office one hundred and seven years ago today on May 16, 1899.  Lucien Thigpen served as the first postmaster.  Dora (Mrs. John M.) Thigpen took over the duties of the postmaster on March 8, 1900 and served until December 15, 1904 when all mail was ordered to be sent to Adrian.  Postmasters had the privilege of naming their post offices.  Lucien Thigpen chose the name of Orianna, which was derived from the Latin word meaning "golden" or "dawning," a highly appropriate choice at the dawning of the 20th Century.

In the latter part of the 1890s, the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad, which had been completed into Dublin in 1891, began acquiring the necessary rights of way to continue its railroad to Vidalia, where the road would connect with another which lead to the port of Savannah.  At the same time, Thomas J. James was planning a railroad, known as the Wadley and Mt. Vernon, which would run from Wadley, in his home county of Jefferson, through Kite, Meeks, Adrian, Orianna, Rockledge, and onto Mt. Vernon, a commercial center of southeast Central Georgia.   The railroad continued to operate into the 1920s when it folded for lack of use.


At the end of the first decade of the 20th Century, Orianna was known as a den of wickedness cultivated by gambling and illegal liquor sales.  Good people had been staying away.  Orianna was so far out in the boondocks that once law enforcement officials arrived from Dublin or Mt. Vernon, the rogues had run away from the scene of their crimes.  Despite the evil influences, good people started to come to Orianna to farm her fertile lands.  Newcomers joined with old timers and drove the scoundrels away.

The centerpiece of the Orianna community was the local school.   A fine school was a necessity for attracting residents to the area.  Line schools, schools which were supported by two counties, were generally underfunded and consequently understaffed.  But the Orianna school was an exception.    Local residents supplemented state and county funding by hiring the best teachers they could afford.   Smaller area schools were consolidated into one large school.    The driving force at the school was teacher J..L. Poston, who later became the principal.  The project was a success, but area residents wanted an even better facility.

The original one room school became woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the burgeoning school population.  The school boards of Laurens and Montgomery counties appropriated a third of the cost toward the new school forcing the community to raise the remainder of the three thousand dollar price tag.   Nearly everyone responded resulting in one of the most modern and handsome schools in that section of the state.  Behind the leadership of school trustees J.E. Page, J.A. Youngblood and E.A. Avery of Laurens County, and B.B. Thigpen, J.A. Curry and R.B. Avery of Montgomery County, the new facility became the envy of schools everywhere.

The new school, completed in the summer of 1913,  was well finished with four large classrooms, each of which was equipped with a blackboard, teacher's desk, heater and modern desks.  Two of the rooms were separated by a folding wall, which when thrown open, converted the rooms into the school auditorium.  Each of the teachers enforced the lessons of morality and principles of everyday life.  Normally teachers were forced to obtain quarters from area residents either for free or pay from a portion of their relatively pitiful salary.  But the school trustees arranged for erection of an adequate dormitory for the teachers, which was placed on the edge of the expansive four acre school yard.  The new venture was so successful that within the first term after its construction, the trustees considered adding a second floor to the building.

Equally important as the school to Orianna were her two churches, one Baptist and one Methodist.  The Baptist Church, through its trustees J.M. Hattaway and J.A. Curry, acquired its first church property from P.M. Johnson on August 21, 1903.  The land adjoined Rose Hill School.   W.H. Toler and his wife Elmina Rebecca Braswell Toler donated the land for the Methodist Church in the northern part of town on October 11, 1910.  Most of the two hundred fifty citizens of the community were church going people.    The prohibitionists in the community decided that a temperance union was the best weapon to fight the abundance of "blind tigers," a name given to establishments which illegally sold spiritous liquors.  Leading the fight was a young man by the name of L.O. Mosely.   In a short decade, Mosely's star soared when he became the secretary to Congressman W.W. Larsen of Dublin and later as a writer for the Atlanta Constitution and as manager of the finest hotels in Atlanta.  Moseley obtained the written pledges of every member of the community to refrain from the use of tobacco, whiskey and profanity.

Some of the early families who lived in the environs of Orianna were the families of Jonathan and Julia Smith, John M.  And Dora Thigpen, Lucien and Sarah Thigpen, Willis and Mary Beckworth, Richard and Elsey Thigpen, Thomas and Pearcy Frost, Jordan and Julia Norris, Howard and Orley Courson, Andrew and Laura Thigpen, James and Sallie Hammons, Walter and Pansy Thigpen, A.L. and Kate Thigpen, Sol and Wannie White, John W. and Trudie Greenway, Mack and Elene Foskey, J.S. and Mary McDaniel, William and Minnie Pope and Lewis and Mary Pope, as well as the families of W.H. Toler, J.A. Youngblood, W.F. Avery, E.A. Avery, G.W. Spivey, J.D. Wilson, W.W. Dent, J.A. Curry, John Gillis, Ben Gillis, J.T. Blankenship, Emmett Thipgen, J.J. Leach, J.T. May, J.R. Clements, F.M. Youngblood, J.H. Bailey, W.V. Thigpen, J.B. Ricks, H.L. Hicks, J.C. Flanders and Hardee Thigpen.

One of the area's most famous residents was the venerable Methodist minister, the Rev. Bascom Anthony, who lived northeast of Orianna on the Thigpen Trail and Wadley Southern Railroad where it crossed the southern bank of Pendleton Creek.

Today, the Orianna community is only a faint shadow of its past nearly a century ago, but one thing remains constant.   The Methodist Church is gone, but the Baptists still gather on Sundays.  And the good folks, they're still there.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

THE STRUGGLE FOR IWO JIMA


The Gallant Class of  ’43

When teenagers go to the beach, it is supposed to be in the summertime, not the dead of winter.  They are supposed to sun on subtropical beaches, not die on the sands and volcanic lava flows of  north Pacific island shores.  This is the story of two Dublin teenagers whose promising lives ended more than sixty years ago in a conflagration, which will forever be known as the Battle for Iwo Jima.

American military leaders believed that to end the war in the Pacific, it was critical that the Japanese island of Iwo Jima be secured.  Though the capture of the wasteland of the volcanic island was considered inconsequential by some modern historians, at the time it was critical for a base for the launching of the inevitable invasion of the main island of Japan.

Randall Robertson was the youngest son of J.W. Robertson and his wife Nettie Couey Robinson.  Randall was born on June 29, 1926.  Randall’s father was well known about town and was always addressed as “Chief Robertson” during and after his long service as Chief of the Dublin Police Department.    The Robertsons lived in the second block of North Elm Street, a short distance from Calhoun Street School.  Moffett Kendrick remembered that in the neighborhood lived himself, Randall and his older brother Rudolph, Frarie and Derrell Smalley, Burke Combs, Frank Hodges, Charles and George English, and Cecil and David Walters. 

Randall was big for his age,  the biggest boy  in his class.  His large frame made him the ideal football player.  At six feet six inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, Randall was the anchor of the offensive line.  Coach Wally Butts, of the University of Georgia, showed an interest in Randall, but the Dublin lineman wasn’t interested.  There was a war going on, and playing football wasn’t what the gentle giant wanted to do.   The red-headed titan wanted to be a Marine just like his older brother Rudolph.

Randall graduated Dublin High School in May of 1943.  He had been the Vice President of his Senior class and head of the Victory Corps at Dublin High School.  Students in the Victory Corps participated in a variety of activities to promote the war effort.   In those days, students graduated after completion of the eleventh grade.  Though he went to work with the Atlantic Ice Company after graduation, his classmates predicted he would join the Marine Corps like his brother Rudolph had done a year earlier. Rudolph joined the Marines and participate in the horrific battles of Bougainville and Guadalcanal.

The war in the Pacific was drudging toward the epic battles of 1944 and 1945.  Randall and his good friend Bill Shuman turned eighteen in the late spring of 1944.  They had only two choices.  One was to join the armed forces and select their branch of service.  The other was to sit back and be drafted and end up who knows where.  Bill chose the Naval Hospital Corps and was assigned to Jacksonville, Florida.  Randall, following in the footsteps of Rudolph, joined the Marines and headed off to intensive training at Paris Island, South Carolina and Camp Lejune, North Carolina. Bill and Randall both wound up in the Pacific.  They exchanged letters a few times.  Randall’s last letter to Bill came while he was enjoying an all too brief R&R.   After telling his father than he wanted to join the Marines like Rudolph, Chief Robertson instructed Rudolph to “take care of the kid.”  Rudolph nodded and agreed to his assignment. 
Rudolph Robertson, who emerged from his twenty-six month hitch in the Marine Corps with only a few cuts, scrapes and bruises,  was a member  of the 3rd Marine Division.  The 4th Division, to which I believe Randall was attached, launched the main offensive of the invasion of Iwo Jima on the morning of February 19, 1945.  Four days later the American flag was raised atop Mount Suribachi.  But the fighting didn’t stop there.  Rudolph looked for Randall among the pandemonium on Iwo Jima.  He never found him alive.  Following an early morning Marine artillery and Navy ships off shore, the 3rd, 4th and 5th attacked northward on February 25 . All day long the Marines and the entrenched Japanese fighters slugged it out along the  East-West runway of the Central Iwo field and about two-thirds of the North-South runway.

They say it was a sniper that fired the shot that killed Randall.   His height and size, which led to success on football fields, made him an easy target on the dying fields of Iwo Jima.  The shocking news reached Dublin on March 13th.  Randall Robertson, described by his neighborhood friend Moffett Kendrick as a “big, slow-footed jovial kid,” was dead.  He was only eighteen years old.  But then again, wars are frequently started by men and fought by boys.  His body was brought home and laid to rest in Northview Cemetery.  His family never overcame their sorrows. Their dreams weren’t supposed to end this way.

James Boyd Hutchinson was not a standout athlete like Randall.  He was a quiet, shy young man who played the trombone in the high school band.  His classmates voted him the cutest boy in the Class of 1943.  James was born on February 26, 1926 in Dublin.  His father Perry Hutchinson operated a barber shop on South Jefferson Street. His mother Etta kept house at the Hutchinson home at North Franklin Street.  James attended elementary school at Johnson Street School.  

             On March 14, 1945, the 5th Marine Division made it’s final push to drive out enemy soldiers who had been hiding in caves for nearly a month.  The United States flag was formally raised to effectively end the fighting.  But the dying continued.  That same day, just two days before the U.S. Marine Corps officially took control of Iwo Jima, James B. Hutchinson was killed in action,  just three weeks after his 19th birthday. His body was returned home and buried in Northview Cemetery within a short distance of his classmate and fellow Marine, Randall Robertson.

There is an old myth that bad things come in threes.  That maxim nearly came true on Iwo Jima.  Joel Robert Fountain was at the top of the Class of 1943.  He was Senior Class President and an honor graduate.  His classmates voted him the most popular, most studious and most industrious.  Joel enlisted in the United States Navy Medical Corps.  As a Pharmacist’s Mate, Third Class, Fountain was assigned to a Marine unit for the invasion of Iwo Jima.  As the action heated up, the 18 year old Fountain was frantically trying to evacuate the wounded back to the rear of the battle.  As he was carrying a wounded Marine to safety, a Japanese sniper’s bullet struck Joel in the right shoulder.  He fell to the ground and was one of thirteen hundred wounded soldiers who were evacuated by air to safety. 

On this Memorial Day and all days to come, let us pause to remember the gallantry of the teenagers like Randall Robertson and James Hutchinson who sacrificed their promising lives so that we could enjoy the freedoms we enjoy.  This column is dedicated to Randall Robertson, James Hutchinson, Joel Fountain and all the members of the Dublin High School Class of 1943 for their service to our community during times of war and times of peace.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

THE VORTEX OF DESTINY


The Impact of the Civil War on the 21st Century

On May 2, 1862, my life changed forever.  Yes, I said May 2, 1862, not 1962.  It was  a rather quiet day around Yorktown, Virginia, where just eight decades before the Revolutionary War was about to spiral to its climax.  Confederate forces were fanning outward from Richmond in a series of defensive positions across the peninsula of Virginia.  Union forces were engaging in their final troop movements to make what was believed to be the first, and hoped by Union generals to be the  last, offensive action of the Civil War.

Just how did that day change my life?  First let me point out that my story is personal, the subject of my story was my third great-grandfather.   His importance beyond his local community and family was of no consequence to the greater world.  I tell this story to illustrate  that during the Civil War, our lives and the lives of all generations to come were forever altered during the fifteen hundred day war in which more Americans were killed than in any other war in the history of our nation.

I first saw his name written in my grandmother Thompson’s tablet.    She had carried her pencil with her when she visited the grave of her great-grandfather.  It simply read, Asa Gordon Braswell, born January 13, 1827, died May 2, 1862.  Carefully written along the notations of the span of his life were the words, “Remember me as you pass by.  As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, soon you will be.  Prepare for death, and follow me."   I was still a young teenager, far from the time I would become enveloped into the quest for determining where I came from.  His name fascinated me.  Who was this man?  What did he look like?  What happened in the mere thirty-five years that he was alive.  My grandmother’s notes didn’t reveal who his parents were.  I only knew that his son John Arthur Braswell came to the area around Kea’s Church east of Adrian sometime after the war.  Through the genes of his son, his namesake grandson Asa Gordon Braswell, II, great granddaughter Claudie B. Thompson and great-great grandson H. Dale Thompson, I am here now writing what you are reading.

More than a quarter of a century ago I set out to discover the lives of the Braswell family, a name which I carry along with two other surnames of my heritage.  Asa was born in Washington County to Arthur and Patience Pearce Braswell.  The Braswells weren’t particularly wealthy, though they did have a moderately sized farm adjoining Piney Mount Methodist Church below Tennille along the Old Savannah Road.

Like many boys of his day he worked on the farm.  At the age of sixteen, he married Jane Ellen Bridges.   Many of the families in this area had migrated along a trek from eastern North Carolina to Georgia during the early 1800s.   Asa and Jane were founding members of Piney Mount Church when it was established in 1847.    When he was about to come of age, the Braswells and many other families in the community set out to go to Texas, where the lands were said to have been fertile and jack rabbits were as big as dogs.    After an arduous journey of several months, the caravan reached the Mississippi River.  Asa’s mother had become seriously ill.  She could go no further.  A few days later, she died and was buried.  The family, without the guidance and care of the mother, moved on. Asa and Jane’s two-year-old son George died as well.  The family made it to Texas, only to find it wasn’t the paradise they had been led to believe.  With the heart of their family  stolen away by the angel of death, Arthur and Asa decided to return home to Washington County.

     In the 1850's Asa began to serve his community.  Because of the lack of court records there is no direct evidence to prove that Asa was a lawyer.  His children always said that he did practice law.  In the days before certification by the state, a man could practice law by studying the law, apprenticing under a lawyer or judge, and appearing before three lawyers to prove his ability to practice law.     During the years 1853 through 1855 and possibly before that time, Asa G. Braswell operated a general store near his home.  He sold all types of dry goods and merchandise to Mary Peacock, Guardian of the minor children of Asa P. Peacock.  The goods were clothing, candles, postage stamps, eggs, fish hooks, hardware, pencils, cake, and pills.  Some of the more unusual items furnished for minor children were whiskey, tobacco, cigars, and snuff.  In 1856 his brother, William M. Braswell, took over the operation of the store. 

     In 1855 Asa G. Braswell was elected Tax Commissioner of Washington County.  The following year Asa was elected to represent the people of Washington County in the Georgia Legislature and  was appointed to the House Committees on Public Education, the State Penitentiary and the Committee on New Counties.  He also served as a trustee of Indian Hill School which  was located on the hill at the intersection of Highway 15 and Indian Hill Road and Road Commissioner of Washington County.

     Asa and Jane Braswell lived on a 600-acre farm , a fourth of which was cultivated,  place on the Old Savannah Road.  The farm implements and equipment were worth $200.00.  Asa's livestock, valued at $600.00, consisted of 15 cows, two horses, six mules, two milk cows, and 50 hogs.  During the 1859-60 crop year Asa produced 40 bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of corn, 4800 pounds of ginned cotton, 10 bushels of peas and beans, 100 bushels of sweet potatoes, 50 pounds of butter, and 2 tons of hay.  To help him work his farm, Asa used a 48-year-old male slave, a 24-year male and a woman, who was probably his wife.  A ten-year-old boy was the family’s only other slave.   His father employed a young slave couple and their child.   The low number of slaves was common among most farmers, who primarily used slaves to farm on a small scale and to help with household chores.   

All of our lives began to change on April 12, 1861 with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, S.C..  Though Washington Countians had favored remaining in the Union and seeking cooperation on the issue of slavery in the western states, the county produced more volunteers per capita than any other county in Georgia.   On April 29, 1861, Asa was appointed ensign of the Irwin Volunteers of the Georgia Militia, which was formed in defense of the state and named for  of Gov. Jared Irwin of Washington County. The Company prepared for battle  at their muster grounds at Langmade's Mill one mile south of Sandersville on July 17, 1861. They also trained at Camp Stephens near Griffin before going on to Richmond, Virginia.
    
    2nd Lt. Asa Braswell served as the Recruiting Officer and Assistant Quarter Master.  Asa Gordon Braswell died of disease in a military hospital on May 2, 1862 in the vicinity of Yorktown.  More of the deaths in Confederate ranks in the first year of the war came as a result of disease and not battlefield wounds.   Unlike many who died during the war, Asa’s body was returned by train and interred in the Peacock Cemetery near Peacock’s Cross Roads with full military and Masonic honors.   My family would never be the same again.  John Arthur was held out of service by his mother until he reached eighteen.  He joined the reserves and saw action in the defense of Macon.  He accompanied the retreating Confederate army after Gen. Sherman’s 60,000 man right wing marched ravaged through the heart of his homeland.  He stole a horse in South Carolina and returned home when he became sick of washing undigested grains of corns out of horse manure just to get something to eat.  

What would have happened had Asa Gordon Braswell lived?  Who knows?  No one ever will.  Though slightly different, whether you were a descendant of a soldier, a noncombatant or a slave, the story of 2nd Lt. Asa Gordon Braswell, C.S.A. and your stories are all the same.  They are all inextricably linked to those times more than fourteen decades ago when the deaths of more than a half million others and well as the lives and fates of tens of millions of other Americans were forever altered as they were funneled through the vortex of the Civil War.   

Friday, May 02, 2014

FIRST CENTURY FOR FIRST BAPTIST



For two centuries, the Baptists have been the dominant denomination in Laurens County.  A century ago, the county’s largest church celebrated the day when their new church was officially debt free.  Although most of its early records have been destroyed, Dublin’s First Baptist Church was one of the leading non-big city churches in the state of Georgia in the first two decades of the 20th Century.  A century ago, this week, the congregation of the First Baptist Church celebrated the burning of the mortgage on their seven-year-old sanctuary. 

The Baptists were already congregating on a flat piece of land in the rolling hills of northern Laurens County at the place they called “The Poplar Springs” when Laurens County was created in the late autumn of 1807.  Although worship services were randomly taking places in the county seat of Dublin, twenty years would pass before a movement to establish a Baptist church began.  In fact, churches at Bethlehem and Blue Water would begin services before the Baptists in Dublin.

Very little is known of the early years of the First Baptist Church, the records having  long been destroyed.   The earliest services, conducted by visiting ministers,  were held in private homes and in the courthouse. The church goes back at least to 1826.  The first building, a primitive structure for a still somewhat primitive community of the mid 1820s, was built in 1827 or in the next couple of years on what is now Bellevue Avenue between North Church Street and Maiden Lane. 

According to tradition, the First Baptist Church was chartered on the first Sunday, September 6, 1829 by Mrs. Thomas Moore, Mrs. Eli Warren, D.G. Daniel, Mrs. D.G. Daniel and Mary J. Bettison Daniel.  

In the winter of 1831, Baptists, a good mid day’s ride from existing churches, asked the membership of Poplar Springs to help them organize a new church in Dublin.  That same year, the church was invited to join the Ebenezer Baptist Association.  By 1840, the church counted 37 members.  The following year,  Jeremiah Yopp donated an acre of land  on the western end of the town where the church was already located to Bolling Hobbs and John Woodard, Deacons of the First Baptist Church. 

Membership numbers hovered around the 50 to 90 mark until the beginning of the Civil War.  Ironically in 1857, there were 39 Negro members of the church.  The aftermath of the war saw the end of integrated churches.  Former slaves formed their own church, the First African Baptist Church a few blocks away, in the years just after the end of the war. 

As Dublin’s townsfolk sought to recover from the literal destruction of their ways of life after the war, the Baptists scraped together enough money to construct their second building on the site, located closer to the intersection of Bellevue with Maiden Lane than the present structure.  The 40 foot by 60 foot wooden building, shared with the Methodists until they completed their first church building in the mid 1890s, lasted until 1908 when the current church was completed.  The old structure was moved to North Decatur Street and used by the Congregation of the Second African Baptist or Scottsville Baptist Church.
The first minister was simply known as Rev. Buchanan, his first name being lost to eternity.  Jordan Baker came next followed by Rev. Hammack.  The fourth minister, Rev. James Williamson, whose Scottish brogue “added interest to his sermons,” was a native of Glascow who traveled from Nova Scotia to New Orleans to Savannah preaching the gospel.  Rev. J. McDonald, of whom very little is known, came next.

The Rev. David Garnto Daniell, the first native of Laurens County to serve as minister, began preaching in the mid 1830s.  Rev. Daniell left for Atlanta, where he became the first pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta.  The Rev. Larry Hobbs, also a native of Laurens County, served from 1839 to 1840, until he was succeeded by his brother, Rev. Bolling Hobbs, who served from 1841 to 1854.

Among the early church officials were deacons, Bolling Hobbs, John Woodard, F.C. Hightower and Nunae Scarborough. Bolling Hobbs, Elijah Benton, Wright Stanley, M.L. Stanley and R.A. Stanley were the earliest clerks. They were followed by W.B. Lee and William Jordan Baker and William D. Horne. There are no surviving records to indicate who served the church during the Civil War.

At the end of the war, the Rev. Edward B. Barrett took over as the pastor of the church.  Rev. Barrett, who had served under Generals Jackson and Hill as Chaplain of the 45th Georgia Infantry, served the church for four years and the community and as a school teacher and a state representative. Washington Geiger completed the 1860s as the pastor.



Rev. Washington L. Geiger





Without a shadow of a doubt, the most well-known and well-liked pastor of the church was the Rev. Whiteford S. Ramsay, (Left) who came to Dublin as an 18-year-old school teacher, briefly served as Lt. Colonel of the 14th Georgia Infantry during the opening months of the Civil War.  Rev. Ramsay returned to Dublin to devote his time to God and teaching school. In 1870, he began his 22-year-tenure as the Pastor of First Baptist Church, the longest in the church’s nearly two hundred year history.  Rev. Ramsay organized the current day Laurens County School system.  It is said that when he died as many as 10,000 people came to pay their respects.

Ramsay was succeeded by Needham Hurst, C.W. Minor, J.Ware Brown and E.W. Marshall during what has been described as a troubled time of the church’s existence.  As Dublin rose to prominence in business, agricultural, and political stature in the state, the First Baptist Church was able to hire many of the outstanding ministers in Georgia, including  James C. Solomon, Robert E. Neighbor, Millard A. Jenkens, Allen Fort, William A. Taliafero and Timothy W. Callaway.      

The crowning accomplishment of the membership of the First Baptist Church was the construction of the present church in 1908.  This Gothic-style architecture church, modeled after Melrose Abbey in Scotland, borrowed designs from superior functional churches around the country.  


The sanctuary’s original seating capacity was 650, exclusive of the gallery seating.  The Baptist were right proud of their new building, and rightfully so.  The new structure was the first church building in the Southern Baptist Convention to have an Educational Building and a departmentalized Sunday School. The Sunday School auditorium seated more than 200 people. The Sunday School rooms numbered fourteen.  The original church called for a 75' x 100' structure, covered with repressed brick and trimmed and capped in Georgia marble.  Two 40 foot towers adorn the North and South corners, while a 60-foot tower accents the church’s main entrance. 

So, on this the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Dublin’s First Baptist Church, here is to a third century of serving our community and our Lord.