THE CALM AFTER THE STORM
Life in Dublin in the 1870s was stridently harsh and partially austere, at best. The four years of the American Civil War had taken its devastating toll on the city and the surrounding countryside. It was called "Reconstruction" by the politicos of the northern states, an attempt to shape the devastated South into a mirror image of themselves. The brave young rebel lads, broken, battered and bruised, had returned home to Dublin and Laurens County only to find their homes, though still standing, surrounded by protracted gloom, abject poverty, incessant hunger and unequivocal chaos. Dublin's prewar charter had expired or lapsed out of existence.
There were no options. Dublin, Georgia and the South had to rebuild. No Northern bureaucrat had the slightest of solutions to the problem. To bring the South up from the bowels of the economic, as well as social, abyss, drastic, but steady advances were necessary. Labor was crucial. Despite the end of physical and legal slavery, economic slavery remained. Former slaves were almost virtually dependent on meager wages doled out to them by their former masters who had seen their fortunes dwindle during the war and its aftermath.
While extant evidence of racial relations are extremely scant, those records which do exist suggest a picture of racial harmony. Rev. George Linder, a former slave and Methodist minister, had served the county with great honor in the latter years of the 1860s. It was said that he was respected by the people of both races. A.C. Duggan agreed to continue to feed, clothe and house his slaves from the end of the war until the following Christmas. Others were turned out to fact the world alone. Education of black children could only be found within the confines of the churches. No money was appropriated for public schools for black children. Many of the adults and school age children were illiterate and gainful employment was an impossibility. Low wages and harsh living conditions on tenant farms were the norm. Throughout the state, but not in Laurens County, racial violence erupted. In the mid 1870s, one attempted insurrection directed toward Laurens and surrounding counties emanated out of Sandersville, but was interrupted before it began.
Optimistic thinkers knew that there was one key solution to the problem, and that problem was transportation, or the lack thereof. With virtually no monetary assets on hand, farmers were forced to sell their goods in local markets to citizens who were barely managing to stay alive. Dublin and Laurens County had never had a railroad. Efforts to establish the Central of Georgia Railroad through the heart of the county had failed previously some three decades before the end of the war. Jonathan Weaver, foreman of the 1872 Laurens County Grand Jury, summarized the beliefs of his fellow grand jurymen in calling for a conference between the county's legislators and officials of the Central of Georgia in exploring the desire for the location of a railroad into the city. Fourteen years elapsed and untold fortunes and life sustaining pittances were lost before the completion of the railroad to the banks of the Oconee River in 1886.
The same grand jury recommended an appropriation of five hundred dollars be made to clear the Oconee River of obstacles northward from Dublin to a railroad bridge above Ball's Ferry at Rauol's Station near the hamlet of Oconee. Two individuals, Col. John M. Stubbs and Captain R. C. Henry moved to Dublin, just in the nick of time. Stubbs, a former Confederate officer, a highly skilled lawyer and a scientific farmer supplied the capital investment in the project. R.C. Henry, a seasoned and savvy North Carolina river boat captain, supplied the expertise in hauling freight upriver to Rauol Station and down river to the railroad depot at Doctortown and the seaport docks of Dairen, Georgia. The new fleet of river boats replaced the former armada of pole boats and timber rafts which were the only means of transportation available to merchants and farmers. By the end of the decade, crops were exported and cash was imported into the city.
The town of Dublin was decrepit, dingy and neglected. Theretofore the vital economic areas had been scattered throughout the northern regions of the county in the major plantations. Dublin was merely a place for court business, supported by a few stores and several barrooms for sustenance of its scant populous. The town's first comprehensive charter in 1873 led to the last times when county officials governed the town.
At the beginning of the decade, there were only a few stores in operation. Dr. Harris Fisher established the town's first drug store in 1872. Peter Sarchett, the popular tavern keeper, established his saloon just southeast of the courthouse square on South Jefferson (Law office of Charles Butler, 2007). A cooling shade of a mammoth oak tree attracted drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Little boys and big boys as well were entranced by Sarchett's pet parrot, who swore like a drunk sailor and could speak the name of his celebrated owner. Dr. Robert Hightower constructed his new office on West Jackson Street (Peppercorn Restaurant 2007) making it the second brick building in the city, which saved it from the cataclysmic fire of 1889. On the site of the new Laurens County courthouse annex was the post office, which sat below a photography studio.
George Currell occupied one of the town's two prime commercial locations with his store at 101 West Jackson Street. Judge John B. Wolfe occupied the other top spot across the street. Judge Freeman H. Rowe's old stand on the southwest corner of the courthouse square was taken over in the latter years of the decade by Peacock's drug store. Only one other business, Newman's harness shop, occupied the southern half of the square. The rear area of these buildings all the way down to Marion Street, upon which the railroad would be built in 1891, were fields of cotton and corn. William B. Jones, a veteran of the war, operated his store on the corner, where the Brantley-Lovett & Tharpe building now stands on the northwest corner of West Jackson and Lawrence Streets. Louis Perry and J. M. Reinhardt were two of the town's more successful entrepreneurs. John Keen's house, later known as the Troup House (124 S. Jefferson St.), provided a night's lodging for the traveler and those attending quarterly sessions of court.
A shabby well worn two-story courthouse, which had served the county for nearly three decades, occupied the nucleus of the town. The courthouse was enclosed by a square of scraggly, and often unsightly, china berry trees. The town's first brick building, the Laurens County jail, was located where Lawrence Street now begins between the old Lovett and Tharpe Building and the old location of the Farmers and Merchants Bank.
At the western end of the downtown area were the Baptist Church, which is still located on the same site, and the academy, which occupied the apex of the triangle where the current city hall now stands. Captain Rollin A. Stanley initiated and carried out his plan to beautify the city's most well known thoroughfare, Bellevue Avenue, which in those days was named "The Hawkinsville Wagon Road." Stanley planted hardy oak trees from the Baptist Church along both margins of the avenue to his home, which was located near Coney Street.
Dubliners survived the 1870s and began a four decade long growth spurt before the economic depressions of the 1920s and 1930s brought the new found posterity to a screeching halt. But, it was in the 1870s when the city came out of its cocoon and became the wonderful place it is today.