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

Monday, June 30, 2014

MULLIS, GEORGIA


A Centennial History

A century ago today, Mullis, Georgia was officially put on the map.  One of Laurens County's most obscure towns, Mullis enjoyed a brief, but successful, life before it was enveloped by her neighbor and chief rival, Cadwell.  

The community of Mullis evolved around the lands of J.M. Mullis.  Mullis was also the  home of William Henry Mullis.  Mullis, one the county's most prolific men, was the father of twenty-two children.  Eighteen of his offspring lived until adulthood.  His brother Eli was the father of twenty.  Mullis, a leading citizen of the Reedy Springs Militia District, served a one of the county's commissioners of Roads and Revenue.  He amassed a relatively large fortune of twenty thousand dollars, which obviously  was diminished by the number of mouths he fed.  

The community of Mullis was located at the northern end of a region virtually covered by virgin pine trees.  The Williams Lumber Company built a tram road from Eastman through Mullis to Rentz where the mill of the Georgia Shingle Company was located.  Local entrepreneurs sought to establish a permanent railroad from Dublin to Eastman.  
Grading of the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad began on March 2, 1904 near the cotton mills in Dublin under the supervision of E.P. Rentz and superintendent, Frank S. Battle. Battle's crews began laying rails.  Construction was delayed by legal actions by some Eastman citizens.  Conductor B.W. Hightower guided the first freight train out of Eastman on May 5, 1905.   Within in a week the first load of freight was received in Eastman.  President E.P. Rentz arranged the inaugural passenger service to coincide with the May term of Dodge County Superior Court.    A stop was established at Mullis where passengers could board the train for either of the terminal cities and beyond.

A post office at Mullis was established on June 17, 1905.  Hiram Mullis,  one of W.H. Mullis's nineteen-year-old twins, launched an all out effort to get a post office for the community and was named its first postmaster.  He was succeeded by his cousin Arthur W. Mullis on July 14, 1908.  The town began to grow rapidly.  J.J. Mullis began erecting a handsome home and a commodious storehouse.  J.M. Mullis erected a mercantile store.  Henry Tate operated a third store, one which housed the town's barber shop.  Any town needed a cotton gin to capitalize on the county's main cash crop.  W.H. Mullis and his sons erected a sufficient gin in short order.  A fourth store was operated by W.H. Mullis, first with D.E. Mullis, and then with his twin sons, Hiram and Homer under the banner of W.H. Mullis & Sons.  Later Buchan & Smith and W.F. Jackson would go into the mercantile business in Mullis.  The Bedingfield Mercantile Company was forced into bankruptcy after less than six months of business. 

The town of Mullis was officially chartered as a town on August 1, 1906.  The law provided that J.P. Barrs would be the first mayor.  W.H. Tate, W.H. Mullis and D.E. Mullis were named the first councilmen to serve in office until a regular election could be held on the first Monday in January 1908. A.R. Barrs was named to the board in 1907.  Hiram Mullis served as the city clerk and W.F. Jackson was the town's first policeman.   Mullis was a very small town, encompassing 275 acres and  extending six hundred and fifty yards in each direction from the town well. 

The council were given the standard powers and duties which Georgia's laws provided.  Liquor sales were banned.  The mayor presided over the police court with the authority to try offenders for ordinance violations and levy fines of up to fifty dollars or thirty days in jail. 

Among the early residents of Mullis were J.J. Mullis, D.E. Mullis, J.P. Barrs, A.R. Barrs, J.W. Bass, W.H. Mullis, W.H. Mullis,Jr., W.H. Tate, A.W. Smith and A. McCook.  In 1907, the town boasted not one, but two, boarding houses for travelers.  These homes away from home were operated by J.J. Mullis and J.W. Bass.  While not tending to guests, Bass operated a barber shop.  J.P. Barrs maintained the town's livery stable.   Hutton and Barrs were the town blacksmiths.  Doctor Buhan moved his practice from Eastman and established the first drug store.  

There was a town, or more aptly a community, school in Mullis.  The school, attended by more than 180 pupils, thrived under the direction of Principal J.B. McMahan, who was assisted by his wife and Professor Heard S. Lowery. 

Just down the railroad, Rebecca Lowery Burch Cadwell was rapidly attempting to establish her own town of Cadwell, named after her second husband, the name of her first husband already being taken by another town in Georgia.  For three years, the towns of Mullis and Cadwell competed with each other.  The first salvo in the war came in the fall of 1906.  Mrs. Burch sought and was granted an injunction against the mayor and council of Mullis.  Mrs. Cadwell owned the land between the two towns and had no desire to allow Mullis to expand through her lands toward Cadwell.

A year after Mullis was created, the Georgia legislature amended its charter to allow the mayor and council the power of eminent domain to enlarge the boundaries of the town, but in no event could any lands lying in land lots 11 and 20 of the 17th Land District of Laurens County could be included, apparently a result of a prominent citizens desire to be excluded from the town.  The new law appeared to be a compromise between the competing towns.

The great prize in the battle for supremacy in lower Laurens County was the establishment of a railroad depot.  Each size promised railroad officials with incentives to locate in their towns.  Mrs. Burch promised just a little more and Cadwell eventually won the battle.  Mullis was eventually absorbed by the victorious Cadwell.  Actually the battling did not end until a major skirmish occurred between the leaders of both towns engaged in a "shoot 'em up" street gunfight, an affray which resulted in the death of Mayor H.L. Jenkins of Cadwell in 1920.  

If you want to visit the town of Mullis, travel on Georgia Highway 117 South toward Eastman.  Just as you are about to enter Cadwell, Georgia Highway 338 will enter from the right.  Then, you are in downtown Mullis.  

THE FIRST NEWSPAPER


The Beginning of a Tradition

As you read one of the thirty thousand plus newspapers ever printed in Laurens County, have you ever wondered when the first periodical came off the press?  This is the story of the premiere edition of "The Student," a student newspaper published by the students and teachers of a Dublin Academy in the middle of the 1870s.

To get news from the outside world, a Laurens Countian used to have to subscribe by mail to newspapers from Milledgeville, Macon, Sandersville, or as far away as Augusta and Savannah.  Since there were no trains coming into the county until 1886, delivery of newspapers was expensive.  Papers were generally read by the elite business and professional men of the day.  Many of them came preprinted on one side with news of national and world events.  On the blank side publishers would print local news and advertisements.  The first traditional paper in Dublin was known to be the Dublin Gazette, which was published by Col. John M. Stubbs in 1876.  Issues of the Dublin Post hit the streets in 1878.  The Post evolved into the Dublin Courier Herald, which is in its ninety third year of operation.

But the first newspaper ever printed in Dublin was not your traditional daily or weekly paper.   It was published by the students of Lee Academy and its headmaster, Richard "Dick" Lowery Hicks.  Hicks was a son of James Hicks, who wrote a Geometry textbook and furnished the first academy in Wrightsville.  Richard Hicks was born in 1848 and came into manhood just as the Civil War ended.  He attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.  The president of the university during those years was none other than General Robert E. Lee.

Hicks returned to Georgia and moved to Dublin with his brothers, Henry and Charles, both of whom were doctors.    The Hicks were ingrained by their parents to believe that education and public service were paramount. In the early 1870s, Dick Hicks decided to open an academy in Dublin for boys.  Public schools were considered inadequate for the needs of the sons of the town's most prominent and erudite families.    The school, a meager two-room building, was known to have been located on Bellevue Avenue, about where the radio station offices are now located.  Hicks promoted his school where the courses were composed of thorough philosophical instruction.

Volume 1, Issue 1 of "The Student" was published in February 1875.  The monthly paper carried a subscription price of fifty cents per session, payable in advance.  The editors were C.J. Hicks and J.R. Fuqua.  All articles were solicited from the students and friends of the academy and could not be submitted under any anonymous or pen names. The smallest ad cost five dollars per inch per session, while an entire column cost the advertiser a healthy sum of fifty dollars.  Under the banner on the front page was the phrase "Excelsior" a reference to higher education.  Gymnastics and music were also an integral part of school day activities. 

The front page of the premier issue carried articles entitled "Desultory Reading" from The Saturday Review, "The Follies of Great Men," "Early Rising" from Hall's Journal of Health and "Reflections in Westminister Abbey," from Addison.

In greeting their readers for the first time, editors Hicks and Fuqua acknowledged their youthful faith and enthusiasm but promised to afford the students of Lee Academy  with pleasant and profitable recreation.  The editors saw the venture as a way of giving the students an opportunity to write a newspaper of their own.  They believed that writing a single article for the paper would encompass more thinking power than an entire session of regular school writing assignments.  The primary goal of the paper was to encourage the establishment of an adequate library.

The paper's editors realized that they were publishing the only newspaper in the county, but vowed to maintain the paper as a student paper, though items of local interest would be highlighted.    The first edition carried the news that the road in front of Captain Smith's (Gaines Street) had been put in good condition and requested that the same be done for the other streets in the city.  The river was up and the time for boating was right.  Rounding out the items of local interest was the tidbit that Col. Stubbs' ram was the only sheep in Dublin.

Advertising was and still is essential for the profitable operation of any newspaper. The editors praised their main advertisers.  L.C. Perry & Company was saluted as one of the best establishments outside of Georgia's main cities.  The same was said of dry goods merchant M.L. Burch.    Other advertisers were Dr. R.H. Hightower, Lawyer J.A. King, buggy dealer R.M. Arnau, liquor dealer O.J. Beale, and Richard A. Odom, the proprietor of the Troup House, the town's only hotel.

The paper carried the news that Dr. J.T. Chappel, Laurens County's representative in the Georgia legislature, had introduced a bill to abolish the County Court.  The editorial praised the act which would rid the county of a court which was established only in the interest of a few office seekers and pettifoggers. 

Of utmost importance to the county in the 1870s was the rejuvenation of steamboat traffic along the Oconee River.  With no railroads even in the planning stages, river transportation was essential to the future of the local economy.    It was reported that Capt. Day had raised his boat "The Clyde" from her watery grave along the coast line between Darien and Savannah and had her rebuilt so that she could continue to serve the needs of Dubliners.  

There were greetings to old students and news of their life after leaving the academy. J.G. Wright, Jr. had "gone west." Weaver, the medalist of the class of '73, was studying medicine, while Jack was shooting rabbits in Texas and Holmes was fiddling and farming. "Toob" was selling goods.  "Little Peacock" had no particular employment, but it was reported that he intended to return to school soon.  J.H. Hightower was teaching the "young ideas how to shoot," and W.J. Hightower was teaching "the shoots how to idea."

After the closing of Lee Academy, Richard Hicks joined the firm of H. Hicks & C0mpany, which operated a drug store on the southwest corner of the courthouse square and maintained a profitable river boat company.  Dick joined forces with J.W. Peacock & Company in 1878 to publish the Dublin Post, which in 1887 was absorbed by the Dublin Courier, which evolved into the Dublin Courier Herald and which is today published by Dubose Porter, Dick Hicks' great-great-great-nephew. And the stories, they go on and on.

CLIPPINGS FROM OUR SCRAPBOOKS


Saving Our Past One Piece at a Time

Scrapbooks have been around for just a little more than two hundred years.  President Thomas Jefferson was one of the more notable early scrap bookers.  Jefferson clipped newspaper articles pertaining to his presidency for future compilation into a book.  Today, scrap booking is undergoing a revival.  It has become an art.  Entire stores are devoted to its most passionate participants.  The greatest compliment I receive from my readers is that they “cut my column out of the paper and saved it.”  No other blessing justifies the fruits of my passion for the past.  Let’s take a look at some pieces of scrap paper assembled by a foresighted ladies, who clipped previous pieces of our past so that we can remember them today.

Corporal punishment, brutally severe by today’s standards, was the order of the day in the early years of Laurens County.  In1812 a cattle thief was found guilty by a Laurens County judge.  The judge ordered  the convicted man be taken immediately to the public square and that his shirt be stripped off his back and his hands tied to a tree.  Thereupon the officer of the court administered thirty-nine lashes across his bare back.   The process was to be repeated the following day and the day after that.  After the third round of lashings, the court ordered that the thief be branded, much like the cattle he stole, with the letter “R” on his shoulder.  There was a way out.  The defendant could escape the lashings and the branding  if he paid the court costs, the sheriff’s fee and the charges of those who popped the whip and pressed the branding iron against his naked, bruised and slashed back.  Though “cruel and unusual” punishment was banned by both the Federal and Georgia constitutions, the practice of lashing wasn’t terminated until years later.

In order to protect escapes between lashings and other punishments, the Inferior Court of Laurens County ordered improvements to the jail in 1832.  The justices ordered that a ditch, five feet deep, be constructed around the perimeter of the jail.  The ditch would be of sufficient width to hold a vertical line of one-foot-thick timbers, which were to protrude from the ground to a height of three feet along the exterior walls.  The interior walls, also to be made of the finest heart pine timbers, were constructed of timbers laid in  horizontal positions to a height of one foot above the surface, to prevent tunneling by those who feared the whip.

In one of the most unusual cases of grand theft ever reported in Laurens County was the actual theft of a church. No, I did not say a theft of something in the church. I said the entire church building.  On September 12, 1952, the Deacons of Ebenezer Baptist Church appeared before Justice of the Peace Hill G. Thomas to swear out a warrant for the thief, or should I say the alleged thief, whom they accused of stealing their church building.  Deacon Ivey Stanley testified that when he was ill during the month of August when he abandoned his work on repairing the church.  Upon his return to the job, he found, much to his dismay, that the church building was gone.  Stanley formed his own one member posse and scoured the countryside for the missed church.  He found the transformed structure in the southern part of the county.   After an intense interrogation, the deacon found that Belle Coley sold the building to a Jab Haynes.  Haynes then dismantled the structure, moved the materials to a remote location and assembled them into his personal residence.  The duo was convicted of the theft and receiving stolen goods respectively.

In the days before our country became cognizant of our homeland security, airplane hijacks were fairly common events, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  A Delta Airlines Super DC-9, carrying a crew of five and seventy-seven paying passengers, was headed to Savannah.  The flight, which originated out of Chicago, was about halfway from the Atlanta airport and its destination when an armed male passenger in the rear seat informed a stewardess that he was armed and wanted to go to Havana, Cuba.  At the time the plane was flying in a southeasterly direction directly above Laurens County.  The pilot of Flight 435 radioed F.A.A. officials and reported that the plane was being hijacked.  He yielded to the hijacker, who was carrying a bomb, and turned the plane in a southerly direction toward Havana, where the aircraft  landed at 10:34 p.m., some seven hours after it took off from Chicago.  The hijacking, which occurred on August 20, 1970, was the first of four hijacking of American planes in a five-day period.

It was a hot Sunday in 1950 when a Cuban army plane was forced to land at the Laurens County Airport.  For three days and over the July 4th holiday, the Cubans endured the hot heat of Georgia in July and enjoyed the warm hospitality of Dubliners while their plane was being repaired.  In his haste to leave Dublin and return to Cuba, Dr. Sanchez Arranga, the country’s Minister of Education, left a thousand dollars in cash in American money and considerably more in Cuban currency, along with his passport in his room at the Fred Robert’s Hotel.    Alberta Quilchey was cleaning Dr. Sanchez’s recently vacated room when she found the minister’s valuables.  She sprightly ran downstairs and reported her find to the hotel manager.  The astounded manager, recognizing the urgency of the situation, jumped in his car and dashed to the airport, just in time to present the grateful leader of a group of Cubans who were returning from a vacation in the North Carolina mountains.

Some hotel guests in Dublin didn’t receive such royal treatment.  Georgia governor Hugh Dorsey was the antithesis of ostentatiousness.  He was a plainly dressed man and looked like any other gentleman traveler of his day.  Governor Dorsey was due in Dublin on the day after Christmas in 1919.  The governor was in town at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce to address the county’s businessmen on his plan for the Georgia Cotton Bank.  When the governor arrived at the depot on South Jefferson Street, he noticed the large crowd gathering on the piazza of the New Dublin Hotel anxiously awaiting his arrival.  He stepped from the rear of the train and decided to walk the short distance up the street to the hotel at the end of the block.  Hotel manager Stubbs Hooks noticed the visitor coming up the street.  The thought that he might be the eagerly awaited dignitary never crossed his mind. He expected only an exalted entourage would be accompanying the governor of Georgia.    In a matter of respect to the guest he told the man that he better go ahead and eat because a large banquet was about to take place.  The governor, not wanting to embarrass Hooks, told the anxious manager that he would wait and eat with everyone else.  As the governor began to mill around in the crowd, someone approached Hooks and informed him that the man he had just talked to was the man the reception committee had been waiting on.  Stunned and stymied, Hooks recovered from his blunder and greeted the governor in the appropriate manner, all the time thinking to himself, “how could I be so stupid.”

ROBERT AUGUSTUS BEALL


"The Prentiss of Georgia"

Considered a genius by everyone who heard him speak, Robert Augustus Beall, Jr.  a former Twiggs County lawyer, was enumerated among the most celebrated members of the Georgia bar during the first half of the 19th Century.  He was described by W.H. Sparks as "a genius of a higher nature," ambitious and partisan his beliefs.  

Robert Beall was born in Prince George County, Maryland on November 16, 1800. His parents removed to Georgia in 1808 and settled in Warren County during one of numerous migratory waves of which characterized the early decades of the 1800s.   When Robert was fifteen years old, his father sent him to North Carolina to attend a more challenging elementary school in Raleigh.  Upon reaching the end of his primary education, Beall returned to Georgia to study law under Judges Montgomery and Reid in Augusta.  Just after attaining the age of majority, Beall took the oath and was admitted to the bar of Superior Court and set out to practice law.

The enterprising Beall chose the burgeoning county of seat of Marion, Georgia to establish a meager law office.  Situated in the geographical center of the state in Twiggs County, Marion was an ideal location for the base of his practice in the surrounding courthouses in Central Georgia.  Beall formed a successful law partnership with Thaddeus Goode Holt.  When  Holt accepted an appointment as Judge of the Southern Circuit in 1824, Beall was appointed by Governor George M. Troup, of Laurens County, to the position Solicitor General of the circuit, which included the counties of Laurens, Montgomery, Pulaski, Telfair, Twiggs and Houston.  Beall served in that position for a short time, from December 23, 1824 until the first of the following summer.

A challenge, a common occurrence when political opinions clashed in those days, arose between Beall and Thomas D. Mitchell, who had succeeded Beall's successor James Bethune in November 1825 as Solicitor General.  The affair arose when disparaging comments were made at the dinner table of Martin Hardin, Esquire.  The combatants, through their duly appointed agents, arranged a duel on the Carolina side of the Savannah River, opposite the city of Augusta, where such duels were allowed.  Dr. Ambrose Baber, a former Laurens County physician and a resident of the new town of Macon, was standing by to tend to any wounds Beall might suffer.   Two shots were fired. Neither struck their intended targets.  Major Pace mediated the dispute and the men went home, much to the delight of their friends and family.  Thomas Mitchell's volatile temper led to another duel. A year after his abruptly ended gunfight with Beall, Mitchell lay dying on the dueling ground, the result of a well-placed pistol ball in his abdomen. 

Though dueling was frowned upon as a means of settling disputes, Beall enjoyed a renewed admiration for standing up for his beliefs.  Supporters of the Troup party encouraged the twenty five-year-old Beall to offer himself as a candidate for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives.  The Clark party candidate managed to win the election over Beall, though only by a small margin of votes.    When Moses Fort resigned his seat in the House, Beall, a Major in the Georgia Militia, once again competed for the post.  He won the election, defeating Robert Glenn, the county's most ardent Clark party member.   Beall's eloquent orations drew the admiration of the members of the House and the audience of the gallery.  He was modest and self respecting, courteous in debate and extremely affable in his manner.  A larger majority of the voters of Twiggs County reelected him in the election of the fall of 1826 in his last House election contest.

Rep. Beall represented his friend Judge Moses Fort before a  committee hearing in the House of Representatives.  Col. Joseph Blackshear, of Laurens County, had charged the judge with irregularities in the handling of his case against Archibald Ridley and his wife byt the estate of his brother, Joseph Blackshear.  The Blackshear vs. Ridley case was one of Laurens County's most celebrated cases ever, drawing the most prominent and highly paid squads of attorneys as could be employed with the fruits of the Blackshear's fortunes.  Though a rebuke was passed by the house, it failed for the lack of a necessary majority in the Senate.

Beall developed a friendship and working relationship with Stephen F. Miller, another prominent attorney of the county.  He was the author of "Bench and Bar of Georgia," a landmark biographical work on the early lawyers of Georgia.  In 1828 Beall lost his  passionately sought after election for Brigadier General of the Georgia Militia, to Lott Warren, of Laurens County.   Beall married Caroline Smith, daughter of the wealthy Richard Smith of Twiggs County.  After the marriage, Beall entered into a partnership with Miller and returned to the private practice.

Governor George Gilmer appointed Beall to his staff of aides-de-camp in 1830 and continued his service as a Lt. Colonel in the Georgia Militia, which continued to train in defense of the state.  In the winter of 1832, Col. Beall moved to Macon, which had become the commercial center of the western regions of Georgia.  He purchased an interest in the local newspaper, The Georgia Messenger, and began proclaiming his staunch opinions of the national issues of the day as the paper's chief editor.    His beliefs were warmly accepted by members of the State Rights party, who encouraged him to run against Gen. Glascock for a vacancy in the national House of Representatives.  Beall lost by a slim margin in a bitterly contested vote.    Beall continued to represent the voters of his district in the Anti-Tariff Convention of 1832 and the State Rights Convention of 1833.  When Macon's Wesleyan College became the world's first chartered university for women in 1835, Beall was named one of its first trustees.   

Though hailed as a brilliant orator and a man without fear, Beall never enjoyed perfect health. Prone to debilitating and often severe attacks of colic, Beall frequently was prevented from his attendance in court and military functions.  Near the end of his all too short life, Beall joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in Macon.  He was dying.  By the spring of 1836, when his friends and fellow citizens of Bibb and Twiggs County were off to war with the Indians and southwestern Georgia and the pernicious Mexicans in the Republic of Texas, his will to life succumbed to his mortal illness.   

Robert Beall lingered for months and died in his sleep on July 16, 1836 at the age of thirty-five. His dedicated life of public service had come to an end.  Honors were bestowed upon the memory of this man, possessing gifts of extraordinary talent and marked character.  In summing up Beall's character, Sparks wrote, "he was man of rare genius, ardent in his temperament and fearlessly brave, and of course had positive friends and implacable enemies."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

THE DUBLIN COTTON MILL


The Birth of a Dream




 When Dublin's Kings of Cotton gathered together in May 1897, it seemed only natural that Dublin and Laurens County should establish its own cotton mill.  Cotton mills in Georgia were a new and coming thing.   The New England states had been the first to establish mills to weave cotton fibers into threads going back to the latter half of the 18th Century.  One hundred years later, businessmen in the South figured that it was far easier for Southern companies to mill their own cotton to save on shipping costs.  The same was true of the business leaders of Laurens County.  For the first time in the history of our county, a large non-exlcusive group of local businessmen and one woman assembled together to form a local company to mill cotton to take advantage of the vast amounts of locally produced cotton.   In Georgia, all but ten percent of Georgia's mills were located above a line from Savannah to Columbus.
  
 Then the cotton industry was less than stable.  With drastic variations in supply, resulting from weather conditions and demand based on market conditions, the price of cotton could rise or fall rapidly in a matter of weeks.   And with the fluctuations in the price of cotton, so went the fortunes of the mill's owners.
 The company's first informal meeting resulted in the contribution of $50,000 in capital investments with much more to come.   J.D. Smith, the city's richest man, pledged $1000.00 to open the stock subscriptions.  The money kept coming.  Eventually, more than $150,000.00 or 4.3 million in today's dollars would be invested in the venture.   

 The Dublin Cotton Mills, Inc. was incorporated on July 27, 1899, by virtually the entire "who's who" of Dublin's businessmen, namely Capt. R.C. Henry, J.D. Smith, T.J. Pritchett, Wm. Pritchett, F.W. Powel, J.M. Finn, W.F. Schaufele, L.A. Chapman, Gilbert Hardware Co., Lord & Brooks, T.D. Smith, W.S. Burns & Co., M.A. Kendrick, H.D. Weaver, J.A. Spann, T.H. Smith, J.T. Bales, G.S. Hooks, F.W. Garbutt, W.W. Robinson, W.B. Rogers, A.A. Cowar, J.E. Smith, Jr. J.A. Jackson, Courier Publishing Company, E.R. Orr, A.W. Garrett, W.G. Day, Dr. Wm. Brigham, A.G. Hightower, W.A. Hood, J.M. Reinhardt, Joe M. Fordham, E.S. Baker, W.S. Ramsey, T.E. Freeman, Frank G. Corker, and Mrs. E.M. Whitehead.  P.L. Corker of Waynesboro joined the company as its only outside investor.

 The directors of the company chose a site some 2.5 miles west of the courthouse along the tracks of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad.  The building itself was located some 100 yards from the center of the railroad at the southwestern intersection of today's Kellam Road and Marion Street. The plant encompassed nearly 65 acres, which stretched beyond Academy Avenue Extension (The Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad) on the southwest.  

 Construction began on August 8, 1900.  President Pritchett laid the first of the estimated 200,000 brick to be used in the mill.  Frank G. Corker, a former mayor and a mill director, laid the second one.   The bricks, if stretched from end to end, would span the entire 25-mile width or height of Laurens County. The new mill, originally intended to make wool threads as well, was substantially completed in November 1901.   President William Pritchett personally bought the first 100 bales of cotton to test the mill's equipment.   Frank Corker, President of the First National Bank, traveled to New England in hopes of implementing the successful practices in its mills, while other officers traveled to other mills in Georgia and South Carolina to observe the processing of cotton.  The board of directors implemented the use of day workers, which had allowed the school board to complete the new high school quickly and less expensively.  

 After an unforseen and long delay in the completion of the plant, The mill, designed by the Wrigley Engineering Company, went into full operation under the direction of Superintendent P.L.  West, formerly of Eufaula, Alabama,  on January 5, 1902 with 160 looms supplemented by 5000 spindles were in full operation.  James Pritchett, son of the company's president, turned on the steam engines for the first time at 6:00 in the morning.  Maude and Lyton Stanley, children of the company's first chairman of the board, Hal Stanley, ceremoniously placed the first the first cotton in the hampers.  Twenty workers started working that day.  Thirty more were added by the end of the first week of operation.

 The two-story brick building was supplied with water by a 50,000 gallon cistern fed by an artesian well and a 20,000 gallon, eighty foot tall brick water tower.  Two large warehouses, supplied with cotton with rail cars along a side railroad track,  were located on the eastern end of the complex to supply the mill.  

 After 18 months of daily operation, the mill was forced to temporarily shut down in August 1903 because of the lack of cotton.  

 The area around the cotton mill soon developed into a village of its own known to locals as West Dublin.  A new road, Marion Street, was constructed from Academy Avenue parallel to the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad to the mill site.

 The stockholders re-elected Wm. Pritchett as President in 1903.  H.E. Pritchett served as vice-president.  J.M. Finn was elected as the corporate secretary.   The directors were T.J. Pritchett, Furney Bartow Stubbs and Frank G. Corker.  The same officers served at least though 1905. 

 In the spring of 1904, Dublin Cotton Mill's president, William Pritchett, helped to lead the effort to build  the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad (D&S RR,)  the last  railroad to be constructed in Laurens County, began operating its trains in and out of Dublin.  Like the Oconee and Western Railroad,  the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad originated from a tram road.  The Williams Lumber Company built a tram road from Eastman to the future site of Rentz, Georgia,  where the mill of the Georgia Shingle Company was located.  

The original plan called for a railroad that would intersect the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad near the Dublin Cotton Mills in West Dublin and run in a southwesterly direction to Eastman, terminating at Abbeville on the Ocmulgee River.  Among the early backers of the project were the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad with Col. J.M. Stubbs being the driving force behind the project.  E.P. Rentz, a Dublin banker, owned a saw mill in Rentz and took a keen interest in the project, becoming the main owner. Pritchett, a director of the new railroad, invested part of his fortune in hopes of more profits for the cotton mill by running the railroad along the southern end of the mill's land.


The Death of a Dream

 By the end of 1904, more than 200 workers were employed in two shifts and processing from 1,800 to 3,500 bales per year at Dublin's Cotton Mill.  As Laurens County's cotton production skyrocketed, the potential profits began to soar.

 Even before construction began, the members of the First Baptist Church began a discussion about building a mission church near the site of the mill.  The deacons of the First Baptist Church authorized a new church, West Dublin Baptist Church.  W.C. Floyd and J.A. Stinson were elected to serve as the church's first deacon.  Rev. Brady G. Smith, was selected as the church's first pastor in the summer of 1904.  First and third Sunday services were held in a tent while the new church was being built.

 The church building was constructed on a triangular lot given by Mrs. Fannie M. Robinson at the intersection of present day Kellam Road and Marion Street on the site of the present day city water tower. 
 Brother W.E. Harvill took over the role as Pastor in 1905.  The Rev. T. Bright, served as pastor from 1908 until the church closed down in 1909.  With no prospects for a thriving mill, the church was all but abandoned until 1912 when work to repair the church and appoint a new pastor was  initiated. Rev. Reginald Russell was selected to serve as the last pastor, serving at a reduced salary of $10.00 a month, down from the usual annual salary of $200.00 per year.

 The Methodists, under the direction of Presiding Elder Rev. George W. Mathews, assigned Rev. J.L. Scruggs as the first pastor of The Second Methodist Church of Dublin in the spring of 1907. 

 W.E. Duncan was put in charge of the commissary to help feed and supply the workers and their families, many of whom lived in newly constructed homes around the mill.

 Just as the mill was reaching its pinnacle of success in 1906, the country suffered from a financial crisis in 1907.

 The Georgia Cotton Mills, which purchased the mill for $123,000.00 in March 1909,  was incorporated in February 1909 by J.C. Cooper, W.P. Jackson, Athens, C.C. Cooper of Eatonton, and John R. Cooper of Macon. C.A. Penton of Houston, Texas, was hired as the new superintendent.

 A series of misfortunes followed.  At the request of several of its creditors, the Georgia Cotton Mills was forced into involuntary bankruptcy in the autumn of 1911. 

 During the next thirty months, the mill saw steep declines in revenue.  Despite the efforts of W.D. McNeill of Fayetteville, North Carolina, the Citizens and Southern Bank foreclosed and sold the 8,000 spindle, 260 Lowell Machinery loom mill to James McNatt of Montgomery County, Mrs. Maude Stubbs (Mrs. William) Pritchett of Dublin, and the Southern Cotton Mills and Commission company for a bid of $85,000.00 in December 1911.  Seven months later, the mill changed again when it was sold to Oconee Cotton Mills.  

 Oconee Cotton Mills was incorporated by President W.N. Leitch of Eastman, Vice President M.H. Edwards, Secretary C.H.Peacock,  E.S. Smiley manager,  James McNatt of  Ailey, and  R.L. Denmark, Vice President of Citizens and Southern Bank of  Savannah,
 The beginning of the end of the Oconee Cotton Mills came in the summer of 1913 when Superintendent Ed Turner and three other men were indicted by the Laurens County Grand Jury for working children under the age of twelve and sitting idly by without paying them even a pittance.   

 By early spring, the Oconee Cotton Mill was shut down for lack of cotton to process.  Despite the leadership of its principal owners, the plant closed for good.  President Leitch had been a successful Dodge County businessman, a director of the Dublin-Laurens Banking Company and an owner of the Citizens Bank of Eastman.  C.H. Peacock was the organizing President of the Citizens Bank of Eastman.  Mills B. Lane, the founding President of the Citizens and Southern Bank.  

 On a Wednesday morning, June 10,  1914, the night watchman discovered that lightning from a strong electrical storm ignited the store room and offices of the mill destroying all of the company's business records and eventually the entire vacant structure was enveloped in a mass of flames.    The losses of $150,000 could have been prevented or limited had the specially designed water works been functioning. 

 The principal owners of the Oconee Cotton Mills did not choose to rebuild despite their $ 133,000.00 in insurance payments.  With something less than stellar credit and the erratic prices for cotton, the company went into default on its $90,000 loan from the Citizens and Southern Bank of Savannah.  The bank took exception to the mill owner's claim, winning its case after an appeal by the mill owners to the Georgia Supreme Court.  Undaunted the primary principal operating investors concentrated their efforts on their Eastman Cotton Mill, which was thriving a decade after the disastrous fire in West Dublin.


 The bank held the title to the property until 1936, when it sold the land to Dublin business tycoon, Cecil E. Carroll, who eventually removed all signs of the former cotton mill with one exception.  When W.R. Werden constructed his Mediterranean style home on Bellevue Road, he used a great deal of the brick salvaged from the remains of the Dublin Cotton Mill, which died on June 10, 1914, one hundred years ago today.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

THE BATTLE OF KENNESAW MOUNTAIN


Synopsis of a Fiasco

Dateline: June 27, 1864, Kennesaw Mountain, west of Atlanta, 9:00 a.m.

The participants:    The United States Army, composed of the Army of the Tennessee, The Army of the Cumberland and The Army of the Ohio, 100,000 effectives; Gen. William T. Sherman, Commanding.  The Confederate States Army, The Army of Tennessee, Gen. Joseph J. Johnston Commanding, 50,000 effectives  including Laurens County companies: Company B, Company C, 57th Georgia Infantry, and portions of Co. H, 63rd Georgia Infantry.

Foreword:  In order to bring a quicker end to the Civil War, which had ravaged our nation for more than three years, the Union Army believed that a force of nearly a quarter of a million soldiers from the hills of North Georgia to the seaport of Savannah would split the South in half and hasten the end of the bitter epic struggle.   General Sherman's forces had moved with relative through Resaca, Adairsville, New Hope Church, Pickett's Mill, Dallas and Kolb's Farm with relative ease, primarily because of their overwhelming force but equally because of General Johnston's willingness to put up a half-hearted fight, fall back and  allow the Union armies to flank around his positions, only to fight again with the same results.  But at Kennesaw Mountain, the Confederates held a distinct advantage.  Torrential rains had slowed the advance of Union infantrymen giving Confederate scouts ample opportunities to view their movements.  Meanwhile, Confederate forces positioned themselves in heavily fortified entrenchments along the crest of the mountain and strategic points along the slopes.  



The Attack:    The 57th and 63rd Georgia regiments, under the command of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, were placed along the steep southwestern slopes of Pigeon Hill just south of Burnt Hickory Road.  From this commanding viewpoint, the brigade had an unimpeded view of a rolling meadow below them.  General Sherman ordered the primary attack on General Cleburne's and General Cheatam's brigades.  The secondary attack was to be directed along Burnt Hickory Road and squarely at the 57th and 63rd regiments.  General Mercer assigned the companies of the 63rd to act as pickets, or advance guards.  The men entrenched themselves along the projected line of the Union advance about a quarter of a mile in front the main Confederate line.  

Union batteries opened up with a heavy volley of artillery fire directed toward the Confederate entrenchments. The Army of the Cumberland, under Gen. George H. Thomas, conducted the main attack against the Confederate Center.  The Army of the Tennessee, under Gen. James B. McPherson, attacked Little Kennesaw Mountain.  Held in reserve was the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Gen. John Schofield, whose mission it was to guard against flank assaults by Gen.  John B. Hood's Corps, which was positioned at the southern end of the mountain.

Union General Andrew Lightburn directed his troops to the right of the road toward the anxiously awaiting Confederate pickets.  The "blue boys" charged from the edge of the woods and easily overran the green older men and young boys of the 63rd.  There were two choices for the embattled sentinels, retreat and face friendly fire, or remain and face certain death.  As Union and Confederate artillery joined in enfilading the meadow, the "Johnny Rebs" chose the former course of action and fled toward the hills.  

Hoping to be able to hide their advance on the coat tails of the Confederate retreat, Union artillery unites opened severe volleys against the entrenched rebels on Pigeon Hill, a mile south of the summit of Big Kennesaw Mountain.  Most of the casualties of the 57th Georgia that day were likely a result of artillery barrages and possibly lucky shots by the advance elements of Gen. Lightburn's brigade.

In just a matter of minutes, the Union advance collapsed.  Mercer's brigade occupied the high ground and any further attacks would be fruitless and fatal.    Lightburn ordered a retreat to the cover of the wood line, leaving his dead, dying and wounded on the green meadow, stained with the blood of hundreds of fine young men.   

The main attack was quashed by Confederate sharpshooters and artillerymen firing from the commanding heights. The heaviest fighting occurred at a place the southern boys called "Dead Angle."  In one dogged wave after another the attackers were slaughtered as the climbed the side of the mountain.  

Approximately 1 percent of the Confederate casualties were Laurens Countians.  Nathan Maddox (Co. C, 57th Ga.), Blackshear Smith (Co. B, 57th Ga.)  and John Mimbs (Co. H, 63rd, Ga.)  were killed during the fighting.  Cinncinatus Alligood (Co. C, 57th, Ga.), Dudley Keen (Co. B, 57th, Ga.), James Arthur Smith (Co. B, 57th Ga.), Wesley W. Smith (Co. B, 57th, Ga.), Thomas Warren White (Co. B, 57th Ga.) and Kinson Wright (Co. A, 66th Ga.) suffered wounds ranging from moderate to severe. 

The Result:   Though he could have easily flanked around the mountain, General William Tecumseh Sherman obstinately pressed the a futile frontal attack.  Bad weather, terrible terrain and superior defensive positions foiled his plans.  After losing nearly three thousand men, Sherman retreated back down the mountain, reassessed his positions and moved around the flank, as he should have done in the beginning.  Johnston ordered his forces, which suffered a thousand casualties,  to abandon their positions five days after their victory and move back to block the advancing hoard.  

The Aftermath:   The Union behemoth advanced toward their main objective of Atlanta.  Thousands more were killed and wounded along the way.  The Battle for Atlanta erupted on July 22, 1864.  The 57th Georgia, under the command of Lt. Col. Cinncinatus Saxon Guyton of Laurens County, took part in the forefront of the initial skirmishes of the opponents south of the city.  After a five-week siege, the city of Atlanta was abandoned and left to the ravenous desires of soldiers, looters, and assorted scores of miscreants.   From Atlanta, General Sherman launched his devastating "March to the Sea," which ended in Savannah just before Christmas.  After having its underbelly mortally sliced open, it was only a matter of time before the bedraggled Confederates would succumb to the vastly equipped and manned Union army.  For Mary Maddox and Nancy Mimbs, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was a perpetual nightmare.  As for Mahala, Reuben and Martha Mimbs, they would never see their daddy again.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

PATRICK MARTIN STEVENS, II


A Dandy of A Yankee Doodle 

Patrick Martin Stevens II was born on the 17th day of April in 1874 in Bairdstown, Georgia.  He was a son of Capt. Patrick M. Stevens, C.S.A. and Martha Brooks Stevens.  Patrick attended Georgia Tech before working intermediately  for his brother-in-law William Shackleford as a printer’s devil in the newspaper office of the “Oglethorpe Echo” in Lexington.  

But Patrick Stevens was destined for a military career.  He descended from a long line of Stevens, Stewart and Bufords, who were 18th Century military officers.  One of his ancestors, Colonel John Floyd, served in the southern theater of the American Revolution before being captured in Charleston and imprisoned in England.  He managed to escape and was aided in his return to America by Benjamin Franklin. 

      After the war, Floyd became a close associate of Daniel Boone.  His son, John became a governor of Virginia and his grandson, John Buchanan Floyd, was Secretary of War under James Buchanan and a general in the Confederate Army.  His father William Floyd,  my fifth great-grandfather, enlisted as a drummer in the Colonial militia at the age of fifty after serving in the French and Indian Wars. 

In the summer of 1898, the United States of America declared war on Spain.  The war was fought on two fronts, in Cuba and throughout the Philippine Islands.   It was during that time that Pat moved from his native home of Maxeys  to Dublin, where he served in the office of the Dublin Dispatch.  Despite the relative shortness of the conflict in Cuba, calls were sent out for more volunteers to preserve the peace in the volatile Pacific island chain. 

Stevens answered his country’s call, and in September 1899  traveled to Framingham, Massachusetts, where he enlisted in the 46th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, which was assigned to duty in the Philippines.  Private Stevens was quickly promoted to corporal.  In the fall of 1900, he wrote a letter back to his friends in Dublin.  “No, the war in the Philippines isn’t over,” Stevens said in contradiction to the opinions of leading American newspapers.  American generals returned home to tell the nation that the fighting had ended, but Stevens retorted, “I think they are sadly mistaken.”    The young corporal attributed the adversities which American troops had endured in the Philippines were a result of “mismanagement that began two years ago and hasn’t yet ended.”   Stevens believed that insurgent attacks had only grown worse since his arrival eleven months earlier in December 1899.  “The attacks are more determined and bolder than ever,”   said Stevens, who believed more troops were necessary to suppress the fighting.

In the winter of 1901, the highly efficient Stevens was promoted to Company G of the Forty-sixth infantry regiment.  His excellence in the performance of his duties, led his superiors to recommend him for a commission as an officer.  President McKinley issued an order appointing Pat M. Stevens (his military name) as a second lieutenant.  The notice was sent  to his former home in Dublin, but lay unclaimed until a friend found it and forwarded it to the emerging officer.   

2nd Lt. Stevens was assigned to the 23rd Infantry, which served in the Pacific and stateside.  The young officer took the hand in marriage of Hattie Mitchell.  Hattie was a daughter of Nancy Ann and Robert David Mitchell, a prominent businessman and three-time mayor of Gainesville.  Hattie, a graduate of Brenau College, was an accomplished musician and music teacher.    

Their first child, Patrick III, was conceived while the couple was stationed in the Pacific, but was born in Gainesville after Hattie endured a long and arduous, but exciting, journey through the Suez Canal and Europe.  Their second son, Robert, was born in Fort Logan in 1914.  After serving in various locations around the country, Mrs. Stevens and the boys returned to Gainesville when it appeared that the United States would enter World War I.



As the climax of World War I approached,  Capt. Stevens was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre for extraordinary heroism for his action south Spitaal Bosschen, Belgium on Halloween Day in 1918.  Capt. Stevens was also awarded the Purple Heart for a battlefield wound.  Capt. Stevens’ acts of bravery were so outstanding that he was nominated for the Silver Star Medal for gallantry and intrepidity in action.



After the war, the Stevens lived primarily in Georgia and Florida.   In 1933, Patrick M. Stevens, II retired as a colonel in the United States Army.  The couple returned to the Stevens’ family seat of Oak Hill in Oglethorpe County, where they lived until the late summer.  At the age of ninety-two, Col. Stevens was badly burned while burning a pile of leaves.  He died on September 5, 1966 after lingering for several days in a nearby hospital.  Hattie lived a decade longer before she died on September 20, 1976.  They are both buried in the Stevens’ family cemetery at Oak Hill.



                                                                 PAT M. STEVENS, III


The name of Pat M. Stevens continued to be recognized for the remainder of the 20th Century.  Pat and Hattie’s son, Pat III,  (ABOVE) served in World War II and afterwards served in the United States, London and Okinawa.  Like his father, Pat Stevens III, retired from the army as a colonel.  Pat Stevens III and his wife Grace Marshall Stevens, were the parents of Pat M. Stevens, IV, (LEFT) a graduate of the United States Military Academy, who recently retired as a Major General in the army.

One never knows what the future holds for those among us.  A century of dedicated and outstanding military service all began when a twenty-five-year-old printer’s devil working in a Dublin newspaper office answered the call of his country and followed the traditions of duty to his country. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

FUGITIVES FROM A GEORGIA CHAIN GANG


The Wyatts Return to Justice

If you were a convict in the first half of the Twentieth Century, you would not want to be sentenced to hard labor in a chain gang.  They were designed that way.  The sometimes atrocious, often brutal and to many deserved punishment tactics were intended as a deterrent to men behaving badly.   But when passion and greed swell in the minds of men, thoughts of punishment for their acts is all but forgotten.  This is the story of two men, convicted of a heinous crime in lower Laurens County, who were  sent to a chain gang, only to escape, and as they began to grow old, surrendered themselves to face the punishment they so richly deserved.

It was around the end of June 1918, when Frank Wyatt, Mitch Wyatt and Jim Fulford, with killing on their minds, set out to find their victim .  The three Wheeler County men, forcefully enlisted the aid of three Negro accomplices as they sought out one Howard  Snell, a man of limited mental ability,  had just moved to Wheeler County and lived below Glenwood.  From time to time, he did some work for the twenty-four year old Fulford.   The Wyatts and Fulford drove their car to Snell’s house, where they duped him out of his house and then forcibly kidnaped him.  The culprits drove under the cover of darkness to the sparsely populated lower edge of Laurens County before performing their despicable deed.

The assailants drove off the main road and made their way to a small swamp near Ed Evans’ store.  Snell’s hands were bound, probably by the unwilling members of the party.  Snell, knowing that his mortal fate was eminent, begged for permission to pray.  As he knelt down, Snell placed his head on a fallen log and committed his soul to his Savior.  Suddenly, the base of his skull was smashed and Snell rolled over.  Not satisfied with such a vicious blow, another of the assailants placed a gun to the dead, or dying, man’s head and pulled the trigger sending the bullet clean through the victim’s skull.  The corpse was dragged into a creek and left to the scavengers of the swamp.

Several days later a trusty convict working with a road crew found the grossly decomposed remains.   Investigators could not determine the identity of the victim, but were able to find a lodge card on his body.  They traced the card to a fraternal lodge in Waycross.  Lodge officials told the lawmen that Snell had recently moved to Glenwood.  Snell’s wife was contacted and confirmed that her husband had been missing for some time.  Eventually one of the accomplices was arrested.   Upon an intense interrogation, the man revealed that it was Frank and Mitch Wyatt along with Fulford who were the main participants in the murder.

Laurens County coroner J.C. Donaldson held an inquest to the determine the circumstances of death of Howard Snell.    The jury found that Snell had met death at the hands of Frank Wyatt, Mitch Wyatt and Jim Fulford.  The trio was brought before Judge Jule B. Greene for a commitment trial.  Judge Greene bound them over for trial along with two of their Negro accessories George Royal and George Wyatt.    When a turmoil began to arise a week before the trial, the men were taken to the jail in Macon for safekeeping.  

A the trial on August 31, 1918, the Negroes confessed and became the state’s prime witnesses against the three white defendants.   In what was described as “one of the most sensational cases in Laurens County history,” the defendants were convicted by the all white male jury.  Their life in prison convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court without a formal opinion on their attorney’s  enumerations of error on the part of the trial court.  The Wyatts and Fulford were sent back to their home county and placed in the hands of the Wheeler County convict camp.

Nearly two years after the murder on June 17, 1920, the convicted felons managed to procure some files and filed off their chains.  Once they were free to move about normally, they stole the convict boss’s clothes, grabbed some rifles and ammunition and vanished into the night.    A large posse was formed, but no trace of the fugitives was ever found, that is until seventeen years later.

Jim Fulford, aka Jim Tompkins,  met his mortal fate in 1923, when he was killed, allegedly by Frank Wyatt, aka Frank Jackson,  in Louisiana. After three bitterly contested trials, Wyatt was found not guilty of killing one of his coconspirators.   Prosecutors in Louisiana had no knowledge that Wyatt and the victim were fugitives from Georgia. Wyatt was released to resume a normal life as a carpenter.  

By 1937 Frank Wyatt was seventy three years old.   With his conscience tormenting his mind, the elder Wyatt surrendered to the Monroe sheriff.  The younger Wyatt, resisting a voluntary confession, had to be forcibly arrested.  Eventually both men expressed their willingness to return to Georgia to prove their innocence.  The men maintained they were framed by “a Negro moonshiner and a white man” for the crime and that it was actually Fulford who did the killing. 

Laurens County sheriff I.F. Coleman was in his office when a long distance phone call came in on July 18, 1937.  It was the sheriff in Monroe, Louisiana telling the startled lawman that he had two of his  fugitives in his jail.  Sheriff Coleman contacted the governor’s office to initiate extradition proceedings.  The Wyatts assented to the request and hired an attorney to prove their innocence.   

But too much time had elapsed and the fugitives were never able to prove their innocence.  The duo spent the rest of their lives in the penal system, paying the price for their crimes.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

FERRIES ’CROSS THE OCONEE



Laurens County was without a river bridge for the first eight and half decades of its existence.   Just prior to the formation of Laurens County, the first ferries were established in what is now Laurens County. Other travelers had to cross on horseback or swim across in shallow spots.    The new lands west of the Oconee were just beginning to open up to settlers.  Ferry boats were nothing more than a floating platform.  In the days before the motor driven ferries, the ferryman and his helpers  would pull the boat across the river.  Ropes were tied to a series of pulleys.  Accidents did happen. Ropes broke and  often.  When the water was high and the currents swift, many ferries shut down.  Men and livestock fell into the river, some losing their lives.  One could not always rely upon the ferry as a means of crossing the river.  

William Neel established Dublin's first ferry in what became the most extreme southeastern part of Dublin.  The ferry was established in 1804 or before, three years before the formation of Laurens County.  Neel's ferry is shown on the land grant maps of 1804 opposite Land Lot 235 of the 1st Land District.  This places the ferry at the mouth of Long Branch.  This may be the same spot where a ferry was established by Neil Munroe and Richard Ricks in the 1820's.  Neel and Jonathan Sawyer, were the first settlers of the community known as Sandbar, which later became East Dublin.  

In 1806 or 1807, George G. Gaines placed his ferry at the point where the Old Savannah Road crossed the Oconee River.  The ferry was put under the same rates as other county ferries in August 1810.  Gaines later purchased one thousand acres along the eastern side of the ferry.  The street which ran to the ferry was named in honor of Gaines who left this area around the time of the War of 1812.   Gaines sold his ferry possibly to Henry C. Fuqua.  Fuqua sold the ferry to wealthy landowner Jeremiah Yopp in 1831.  

In 1832, Yopp petitioned the Justices of the Inferior Court for the right to charge for passage over the river.  The county approved the rates of fifty  cents for loaded wagons, twenty-five cents for jersey wagons and carts, six and one-quarter cents for man and horse or footman and cattle, two cents for hogs, and one and one-half cents for sheep.  Yopp operated the ferry until his death in 1852.  His son-in-law sold the property to a Dublin lawyer, Young Anderson.   During Anderson's ownership, the most famous visitor to Dublin may have crossed at the ferry then known as Dublin Ferry.  On May 7, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis crossed the Oconee River near Dublin, possibly at the ferry.  

In 1870 ,John Jones was hired to build a new boat for the Dublin Ferry. The flat boat was fifty feet long and twelve feet wide.  The main boat was constructed from 5" by 8" timbers with two inch planks along the bottom and one and one quarter inch plank flooring. The boat was to be ready by February.  William Madison, a former slave, was awarded the contract to keep the ferry in 1871.  Madison kept the ferry for fifteen consecutive years.  The end of the Dublin ferry was near when talk of a bridge began to surface.   

Passage on the ferry was made free to the public on June 26, 1878. Laurens County condemned the property in 1884.  The area around the ferry was soon developed.  The resurgent river boat companies tied their boats to docks on both sides of the ferry.  Rev. W.S. Ramsay of First Baptist conducted baptismal services there in the early eighties.  Dr. R.H. Hightower built warehouses and a steam mill near the ferry site.  Traffic became so heavy that in 1880 the ferryman Madison called for the hiring of an additional man to handle the increasing load.  Some citizens were irate when they had to wait six hours to cross the river following a meeting of the Baptist Association at Shady Grove in eastern Laurens County.  Bridge proponents used the inadequate ferry as the primary reason for a bridge.  

The Dublin Ferry would serve one last purpose.  For the five years following the completion of the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad to the eastern banks of the river, the ferry was used to carry passengers and freight on into Dublin.  When the first permanent passenger bridge was completed in 1891, the ferry was discontinued.  

Bill Madison, the black ferryman, was a popular figure in the community.  Mrs. E.C. Campbell remembered that when she was a little girl all roads to the ferry were crowded on Sunday afternoons.  "Uncle Bill" was known as a masterful dancer and was loved by all the children whom he would give free rides.  

One incident on a cold December Saturday night in 1879 typified the skill and dedication of ferryman Madison.   John B. and Russell Holmes arrived at the ferry around 10:00 in the evening.  After a long day at his post, Bill was asleep in the ferryman’s quarters.  The gentlemen decided that they could make it across the river and not get ol’ Bill up from his slumber.   Russell grabbed the ferry chain and began pulling the ferry flat toward the opposite bank.  Suddenly, he lost his balance and fell into the frigid waters.  Without Russell holding the chain, the flat was set adrift.  Russell screamed at the top of his lungs awakening Madison, who dashed into the darkness.  Madison jumped into his bateau and rowed as hard as he could toward the rapidly moving craft and its blunderous operator.  About a mile down river, Bill caught up with Holmes and the boat.  He managed to jump from his bateau onto the ferry boat, bringing it under his control by wedging it against a cypress stump on the bank.   With the assistance of a couple of onlookers, Madison was able to thaw out the would be  ferryman.    

For a few months in 1921 the ferry returned to Dublin.  During the time while the river bridge was being refitted, Laurens County purchased the necessary boats and equipment and operated the ferry until the bridge was reopened to auto traffic.  Today when the river is shallow, you can see the remnants of the ferry at the northern end of the riverwalk park at the mouth of Town Branch. 

Ephraim Green was granted permission to establish a ferry in northern Laurens County on August 1, 1808.  His rates were to be the same as Blackshear's.   Another ferry was established in the same area by William Livingston.  William Diamond was granted permission to establish a ferry at the place known as Spear's Ferry on Aug. 7, 1810.  The area came to be known as Diamond Landing.  It was here near Wilkes Spring in southern Laurens County where a third county ferry was sought to be established by Laurens County.  Jacob Robinson was granted permission to establish a ferry on August 7, 1815.  Robinson was granted permission to double the rates when the river overflowed its banks.  While ferries were usually run across rivers, Maddox's Ferry was running across Big Creek before 1812.  

The most famous ferry in the annals of Laurens County History is Blackshear's Ferry.  Today the last remnants of the ferry are located at the end of Country Club Road three miles north of the city limits.  The area around Blackshear's Ferry may have encompassed a series of ferries.  A survey of Gen. David Blackshear's estate shows an old ferry about a half mile northwest of last ferry site.  

The first mention of a ferry in the records of Laurens County appeared on February 2, 1808.  The Justices of the Inferior Court ordered the establishment of a ferry at Blackshear's Landing.  The rates approved were 50 cents for loaded wagon, 37.5  cents for empty wagons, 25 cents for loaded carts, 18.75 cents for empty carts, 37.5 cents for pleasure carriages and horses, 6.25 cents for man and horse, led horse and footman, black cattle two cents per head, and all other stock was a penny per head.  The second and possibly the first site was located about a half mile southeast of the last ferry site.  That ferry, known as Trammel's Ferry, was established by Jared Trammel and James Beatty at the point where the ancient Lower Uchee Indian Trail crossed the Oconee River at Carr's Bluff.  It may have been established prior to the formation of the county.  In 1812 orders for new roads by the Inferior Court indicated that Beatty's and Trammel's Ferries were separate ferries in the area.   

The Georgia Legislature in 1819 authorized a public ferry across the Oconee River at the place formerly known as Trammel's Ferry with the same rates as previously charged, subject to modification by the Inferior Court.  The law provided that all of the profits from the ferry would go to the estate of Trammel for those passengers leaving from the northeast side of the ferry landing and to James Beatty for all those passengers leaving from the southwest side of the ferry landing. 

In 1823 after Beatty's death the ferry was purchased by General David Blackshear. Thereafter the third and last ferry was established by the General or his son Elijah in the 1820s.  It was at this point where the 4000 cavalrymen of Gen. Joseph Wheeler, C.S.A. crossed the river in November of 1864.  Wheeler's men were riding down the flanks of Gen. W.T. Sherman's right wing in an attempt to get in front of "The March to the Sea."

Laurens County purchased the ferry during the May Term of Ordinary Court in 1874.  At the ferry site a small house was constructed as a home for the ferryman.  The job called for long days from sunup to sundown.  A shelter was built to shield passengers during periods of heavy rain and a well dug to provide drinking water for the ferryman and thirsty passengers.  The Laurens County commissioners had a new problem to deal with around the turn of this century. On December 5, 1910, the commissioners voted to discontinue the practice of allowing automobiles to ride on the boat with livestock.  Those doing so would have to cross at their own risk.   

Laurens County's property taxes included a levy for ferry operations.  In 1887, the tax was seven cents for every hundred dollars of taxable property and represented 10 percent of the county's total budget.  During periods of high water, the county hired additional ferry men to help guide the boat across the raging waters.  Some of the ferry boats sunk on a regular basis.  At other times the boats broke away and floated down river. Frank Smith was rewarded with eleven dollars for bringing back a runaway ferry boat in 1887.  At times boats had to be rented until new ones could be constructed.

In their final meeting of 1931, the Laurens County Commissioners voted to close the ferry in January 15, 1932.  One week later responding to a large public outcry, the ferry was reopened.  Two lawyers, M.H. Blackshear, a descendant of the ferry's founder, and Joseph Chappell convinced the board of the ferry's historic value.   The effort to keep the ferry open was also led by Clerk of Courts, E.S. Baldwin, Ordinary Court Judge E.D. White, and dairy farmer, Duren I. Parker.  A new flat was placed in service later that spring.  

The ferry continued to operate even through the lean years of the depression. On January 8, 1937, the commissioners voted to sell the ferry.  Their decision again resulted in a public outcry and the matter was put on hold.  The issue came up for a vote in 1939 when the commission voted to continue the operation on a month to month basis as long as it was profitable.   

The ferry shut down on a Sunday in January 1940 for one day.    It was the first time in the known history of the county ferry that ice floes prevented its operation.  Rawls Watson, the ferry keeper, reported in the February 1, 1940 issue of “The Courier Herald” that the ice floes nearly filled the river.   Rawls made one attempt to cross the river, breaking and chopping ice with his poles.  The ice kept coming down the river for parts of three days.  Watson said that the chunks of ice were as big as 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and having a thickness of 1 ½ inches thick.  

The issue of the operation of the ferry came up for a final determination in May of 1947.  The ferry boat had been out of service for some time.  M.H. Blackshear, county attorney at the time, led the effort to keep the ferry open.  The commissioners found that the ferry was only necessary for the Route 2 postman.  The secretary was directed to work out an alternative route.  The commissioners never officially closed Blackshear's Ferry, choosing instead to not appropriate the funds to repair the damaged ferry boat.   

The coming of the automobile signaled the end of the ferry.  The old boats were slow and simply couldn't handle the weight of the cars.  When the river was up, one had to go down to Dublin to cross.  The ferry, the last vestige of 19th century transportation, was gone, never to return.

During the years in which the county operated the ferry ,the right to run the ferry was put up for public auction to the highest bidder.  Usually the residents of the area surrounding the ferry were the successful bidders.  Rawls A. Watson, the last ferry keeper,  kept the ferry longer than any other man.  Irwin Calhoun, known as the "singing ferryman,” was said to have sang all day without repeating a song.  Other ferry men at Blackshear's Ferry were S.L. Weaver, E.M. Lake, Joseph T. Watson, David M. Watson, J.C. Jones, J.L. Bostwick, and D.W. Skipper.  

FERRY KEEPERS 1871-1947: Dublin, William Madison, 1871-1891.  Blackshear’s Ferry,  Irwin Calhoun, 1875; Noah Anderson, 1876-7; Robert Hightower, 1878-9, Daniel Skipper, 1880, David M. Watson, 1881, 1890-2; D.W. Skipper, 1884, 1886; S.L. Weaver, 1885; David M. Watson and July Donaldson, 1887-1888; E.M. Lake, 1889; Joseph T. Watson, 1893-5, 1901, 1904-1908; John C. Jones, 1896-8; J.L. Bostick, 1899; E.F. Hagin and L.F. Hagin, 1902; Green Brantley, 1903; and Rawls A. Watson, 1911-1947.

Friday, June 06, 2014

D-DAY, PLUS 70 YEARS - LOYD BARRON

“Like Walking Through A Shower of Rain” 


Loyd Barron still remembers that cloudy Tuesday morning seventy years ago today.  It was a day which the generals called D-Day.  It was a sad, yet triumphant, day which changed his life as well as a critically pivotal day which changed the history of the entire world.  Barron still sobs when he thinks about the grueling, horrific minutes which followed after the door of his Higgins Boat dropped open as he jumped into the shallow waters of the English Channel.  

He can never forget the corpses, some with their limbs still twitching and stacked like pulp wood in cords all over the blood-red death trap, designated as Omaha Beach.   The training sergeants had drilled it into his head that the first thing to do was to get off the beach and fast. And so he did, using every bit of his common sense which he learned in the cotton patches of his native Laurens County, Georgia.
Loyd Barron, a son of Harvey and Mattie Dixon Barron, was born on February 11, 1924. Today, at the age of 90, Barron still lives by himself with the help of his daughter and relatives.

As a youngster, Barron, who like many others in the South in the Great Depression moved around a lot, attended country schools in places they once called New Salem, New Bethel and Harmony, finally graduating from Rentz High School in the spring of 1943.

At the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Barron, who is proud of his life working in cotton patches when he wasn’t going to school, was oblivious to what was going on in the outside world. He will quickly tell you that back then, eighteen-year-old kids knew less than a twelve-year-old does today. He knew that was a war going on, but knew very little of the details of what was happening a world away from Rentz, Georgia.

Barron was drafted into the Army in the summer of 1943.  After training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Loyd was assigned to a Winchester, Virginia National Guard company, Company I of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Army Division.  

“It was like prison, but I tried to make the best of it,” said Barron of his days of basic training in the United States. 

The 29th was sent to England to begin training for amphibious landings.  Everyone knew what they were training for. They just didn’t know when nor where they would be ordered to undertake the largest amphibious landing in the history of warfare.

It was on the fateful, sleepless night of June 5, 1944 when Loyd knew that this time it was not a drill.  This time he was in the war for real.  

“It felt like you would lose everything and that you wouldn’t make it through it,” recalled Barron about the nervous hours before the invasion.    


Barron’s company, assigned to the 3rd Battalion,  was originally assigned to land at H-Hour plus 50 minutes in the Fox Green, Dog Red Sector of Omaha Beach as the second wave of the 116th Infantry hit the left center of the beach.  The first company of the 116th to hit the beach was Company A from Bedford, Virginia.     Nineteen members of the company, known as the “Bedford Boys,” were cut down in the first few minutes. 

Company I, in reserve, was ordered to hit the beach, pass through the 2nd Battalion and take the high ground.  Two assault sections and four boat teams were to move forward in highly overloaded boats.   Most of the men, deftly seasick when they hit the beach, were carrying more than their usual load of ammunition, weapons and equipment. 
“Everyone was quiet and we had a nice ride across the channel in one of those flat bottom boats until I was dumped into the water,” the twenty-year-old Barron remembered. 

Barron recollected the big guns firing over his boat and the door coming down.

“It was so quick, there wasn’t much to do, just to get out,” Barron said.

Barron instinctively abandoned his military training and used his common sense he learned growing up in South Georgia.




“We were supposed to be dressed with our pants legs tied around our legs, but I had been on amphibious training exercises enough to know you didn’t want to go into the water like that.  You would  get about five gallons of water into each pants leg and with your pants full, you couldn’t do much running,” recalled Barron.  

So Private Barron loosened his pant’s legs before they put him in the boat.  Those who didn’t were weighted down and were not able to move quickly once they hit the water. 

When Barron made it to the beach up to an hour behind schedule,  he saw men lying around everywhere. 

“They were piled up on the beach like pulpwood logs,  some of them had limbs still moving and many were blown to pieces,” sobbed Barron.  

Barron continued, “There are some things that you will never forget,” wiping the flow of tears of pain flowing from his uncontrollably squalling eyes.  

“I threw down my rifle and all that mess on me.  I couldn’t run with it.  It was like going through a shower of rain, so remembered Barron about the amount of small arms and artillery fire raining down on him.   I didn’t have any trouble getting another rifle. There were plenty lying around,” recollected Barron.  

“They (The Germans) were putting fire on the beach line.  You had to get through it and when you got through it then it wasn’t so bad except for the snipers in the hills and for a while after the first day.

Although Operation Overlord was an overall success, cloudy conditions, a stiff northwesterly wind  and choppy 5-6 foot waves caused the failure of adequate air support and the loss of 27 of 32 tanks assigned to Omaha Beach.   Roughly 2000 members of the 1st and 29th Divisions were killed or wounded in the initial assault. 

“I give our artillery the credit for stopping our enemy’s artillery,” Barron proclaimed.

Company I landed near the strongest defensive position in its assigned sector defending the draw at Les Moulins.  Under relatively light enemy fire, Barron and his fellow soldiers were able to break through barbed wire impediments.

“Once we were safe on the beach that night,  we were told that we landed 1-3 miles from our assigned landing zone, so we walked down the beach,” recollected Barron. 

“I never saw so many dead and wounded in my life. The tide had come in and washed  bodies on the beach.  Before it could take them out, the bodies were retrieved,” wrote Felix Branham of Company I. 

“When we got back to our designated landing zone later the next morning, I was amazed to see that the army had quickly constructed a harbor and ship facility,” Barron recounted.
  
The company was instructed to move east toward St. Lo.  Once his company arrived at their assigned rendezvous area, they were instructed to wait for replacements and supplies.  

“It was there where I got hit by a piece of shrapnel,” the Purple Heart recipient remembered. 

Barron well remembers, “I had been there long enough to listen to the sound of incoming artillery.  If the sound was the same, it was going to go over you.  If it got louder and louder, you knew it was going to hit you or land pretty close to you.”

On a Sunday, June afternoon about 4:30, D-Day plus 19, the newly appointed Private First Class Barron heard the sound of one of those 88mm German shells getting louder and louder.  

“There was a foxhole, a nice one, probably an enemy one.  I squatted down and tried to jump it, but that was as far as I could get. I couldn’t jump in it.  There was an old tree, about 10 inches wide, that was the only protection I could find.  I scrunched down beside it, not knowing whether or not, I was on the right side of the tree. I knew it was going to hit close by.  And, it did.  It hit just opposite the tree.  A piece of shrapnel hit me in the leg.  By it falling so close to me, it was more of a concussion than anything else,” Barron stated. 

“I didn’t know I was hit until I got up. Had I been further off from it, it would have got me in the body somewhere,” recalled Barron of that fateful Sunday.  

Barron spotted a nearby farm house and dashed off toward it. 

“I made it to the house and jumped into the window and found a bunch of officers  there in some kind of headquarters,” Loyd remembered. 

“They said watch out for those beams,” chuckled Barron, who looked around the room to see many fallen beams.  

Barron was taken to a series of field hospital stations and passed to the rear of the lines at the beach about dark.  

“A nurse came to me and told me she was going to give me a shot to make me sleep.  I told her that I didn’t need a shot in that I was so tired I will be asleep before you pull that needle out,” said Barron, who had not slept, bathed or shaved for three weeks.  After sleeping for nearly a day, Barron woke up to find that his blood had saturated his mattress so much that it was dripping on the ground beneath him. 

Barron stayed at a field hospital near the beach for two days until he was shipped to a hospital in England.  After three operations, Barron learned that since he had been in an English hospital for six months and it was likely he would be in a hospital for at least six more months, he was going home, home!  He was sent first to Staten Island, New York and then to Oklahoma, before his discharge in late 1945.



Loyd Barron returned home to a long career as a mechanic, working for Wynn Pontiac, J.P. Stevens and the VA Hospital before opening his own garage.  Loyd married the late Monnie Mae Scoggins.  They had one child, Judy Barron Meacham, who helps to look after her father today.  

On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, Loyd Barron looks back on the horror of it all knowing that he was a part of history, the day the history of the world began to change for the better.