A PHOENIX RISING
As Dublin entered the last decade of the 19th Century, she had to battle one devastating fire after another. By the end of the year, the dedicated, heroic people of the Emerald City had won the battles against the many conflagrations which threatened to keep the burgeoning metropolis imprisoned in oblivion under a thick bed of ashes.
As the new year of 1890 dawned, the embers of the apocalyptic fire in May of 1889, had barely cooled. The work of rebuilding one of the city’s main four blocks had begun. Nearly every structure on the southern side of the first block of West Jackson Street. Only Dr. R.H. Hightower’s first brick building in the city survived the raging inferno. George Maddox built a large, commodious two-story store. Major W. L. Jones rebuilt after the fire and to show his confidence in his hometown, he built a beautiful $4,000.00 home.
Nearly every lot in the core of downtown had a new, brick and hopefully fire proof, lot under construction. The use of alleys and fire proof walls were being used for the first time.
The river boat business, headed by Captain R. C. Henry was enjoying its prime. Henry and others carried cargo up and down the river over a sixty-mile range. The long awaited and much needed wagon and passenger bridge was headed toward a reality. Dr. R.H. Hightower couldn’t wait, so he erected a wooden one, one which failed to survived a devastating flood.
Rumors of the coming of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad were spreading rapidly across the county. The county’s second, and perhaps more important, had floundered for three years as the Macon and Dublin and the Savannah, Dublin and Western Shortline. The overwhelming excitement of the city’s location on a main railroad permeated the thoughts of all forward thinking during the year of 1890. By the end of the year, construction of the railroad was moving into Twiggs County. The first load of freight commissioned by Harry S. Edwards and William A. Davis was shipped into Macon in November. Completion of the railroad into Dublin would become a reality by July 1891.
Dublin’s third railroad, the Empire and Dublin, which would eventually make into the city in 1891, fell into the hands of a court appointed receiver following severe economic uncertainties in the fall of 1890.
The Baptists of Dublin were elated that Rev. W.S. Ramsay, the iconic and revered minister of that church. Ramsay was a highly respected boy colonel during the late war and the principal founder of the county’s modern day school system.
During 1890, fires continued to plague the downtown area of Dublin. In May, just as the graduation assembly was vacating the aufitorium of the Academy, a fire alarm was sounded. A widespread panic was averted. The fire originated in J.M. Reinhart’s store, operated by J.S. Brady, and engulfed the entire building as well as the stores of his neighbor, H.E. Kreutz for at total of $4000.00 in damages.
On September 21, a small, but calamitous fire struck the McCrary Building, causing $ 4,200.00 in damage to the Dublin Gazette, the harness shop, the Dublin Bottling Company, and several other stores. In mid-November, Mrs. Mattie Williams saw her dreams of her new steam laundry go up in flames. Her building, owned by future congressman, Dudley M. Hughes, adjoining that of Dr. Charles Hicks, was a complete loss including his valuable instruments and priceless books and medical records. The fire of unknown origin caused several thousand dollars in damages.
Equally critical to the meteoric development of Dublin was the completion of the river bridge over the Oconee River at the eastern margin of the town. Although the funds had finally been appropriated after seven years of trying and failing, an argument arose among the landowners on the eastern banks of the river exactly where the bridge was to cross and how much money would they be paid in compensation for the condemnation of their “highly valuable” property.
Third on the long list of needed infra structural improvements was a pure and reliable water system. Dublin, located above a main and plentiful aquifer, was far ahead of other cities of her size in the state. Water filled with lime from shallow wells in the area was considered unhealthy and a major contributor to the large number of cases of malaria. Artesian water is what was needed and it would be artesian water which would help quench the thirst of the multitude of new residents coming into the city and provide the necessary ingredients for the city’s newest industrial and agricultural ventures. Town’s people began to chip in their dollars and cents into a well fund. The first artesian well was dug by Napoleon Bonaparte Baum on the northeastern edge of the Courthouse square across the street from his elegant home.
The year of 1890 saw the loss of Col. Thomas B. Felder, Jr., one of the city’s and the state’s most promising attorneys. Felder, a former mayor, removed to Atlanta, where he won fame and infamy in political and legal circles. Following the untimely death of David Ware, Jr, Dublin’s popular young mayor and editor, Capt. Lucien Quincy Stubbs, son of Col. John M. Stubbs, the commander of the Dublin Light Infantry, and a popular five-term mayor, was elected mayor for the first time by a near unanimous acclamation.
The year 1890 saw major changes in Dublin’s three newspapers. A.H. McLaws, an Augusta educator and former field grade Confederate officer under the command of his brother, Lafayette McLaws, opened a new paper, the Dublin People. Messers Peacock and Stantley took over the operation of the Dublin Post. Hal M. Stanley, the founder of the Dublin Courier Herald, a member of the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame and Georgia’s first Labor Commissioner, took over the editorship of the Dublin Gazette.
Dr. J.T. Chappell, the leader of the local Farm Alliance, dominated his opponent in the Democratic party primary and was easily elected to the House of Representatives when the Republican had trouble agreeing on a candidate.
The population of Dublin in 1890 was enumerated at 862 persons. The coming of the railroads, bridges and other internal improvements saw the population rise more than 300% to 2,987 in 1900 and a nearly doubling jump by 1910 to 5,795., the third highest increase in the state during the first decade of the 20th Century.
Laurens County went from 52nd in population in 1890 (13,747) to 14th (25,908) in 1900 making her the third fastest growing county in the state. It was during that pivotal year, that Laurens County stood at No. 6 among Georgia counties in population, behind Fulton, Chatham, Richmond, Bibb and Muscogee. The county slipped to 7th in the state in 1910.
So on the 125th anniversary of the pivotal, fate changing year of 1890, let us look back to the time when Dublin and Laurens rose like the ancient phoenix from the ashes of death to become one of the states most important business, farming and political cities.