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

Friday, September 18, 2015

THE MAN WHO BUILT THE SKYSCRAPER


      Frank Corker was building his dream up into the sky, straight up to the sun.   That dream eventually evaporated into a nightmare.  For five score and two years, her frame has endured. Through a pair of successor banks and a legion of professionals and businessmen, the  seven-story stone tower has stood as a sturdy sentinel against incessant apathy and the eroding winds of time which have blown and blown in a futile attempt to bring her to the ground.   Now is the time that  the long dormant, towering hive of gnawing rodents, perching pigeons and  creepy crawlers of the night will awaken and Frank Corker’s dream will once again, and hopefully forever more, come true.

Frank Gratton Corker was born in 1869 in Burke County, Georgia.  His father, Stephen A. Corker, was five years removed from leading his company up the slopes of Gettysburg’s Cemetery Ridge in an initially successful, but quickly fatal, breaking of the Union lines late on the evening of July 2, 1863 - a success which led to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s belief that a full out strike on the Union center led by Gen. George Pickett would be successful the next day.

Corker, as the son of a wealthy plantation owner, attorney, state representative and congressman, enjoyed the rudiments of a fine education.  Growing up with his two brothers, Stephen, Jr. and Palmer, gave Frank a great advantage in his studies. Following in his father’s footsteps of practicing law and serving others, Corker was a champion debater in the University of Georgia’s Few Society and a prominent member of Alpha Tau Omega. Corker later helped to establish a chapter of that latter fraternity  at Georgia Tech.   Frank graduated from the law school at Emory College.

Frank Corker married Alice Lillian Cole of Savannah  in 1890 and  moved to Dublin. Corker joined his brother Stephen, who was described in an 1888 Augusta Chronicle article as “an enterprising merchant of Dublin.”

Corker chose to live in and practice law in Dublin because it was on the cusp of an economic boom, where lawyers would be needed and fortunes could be made.  And, best of all, it was not too far from his favorite resort, Savannah’s Tybee Island.

Within three years, Corker became so popular that he was elected on the Citizens ticket as Mayor of Dublin in 1893, defeating the equally popular Lucien Q. Stubbs, a local military leader and newspaper editor who was elected many more times in the future.  The Citizens party was determined to stem the ever rising tide of crime and immorality in the burgeoning city.

Corker, in addition to his daily duties as a practicing attorney, served as the Solicitor of the County Court.  Corker, who continued to practiced law in the booming city, turned to commercial interests to boost his ever growing fortune.   Along with his brothers, Stephen and Palmer, Frank Corker formed the Dublin Cotton Oil Company, which was sold at a handsome profit in 1901 to Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company, which became Southern Cotton Oil Company.

One of Corker’s most lasting contributions to the Emerald City of Dublin was as the president of the Dublin Free Public Library.  In 1904, Corker, on behalf of the board, accepted mega philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s $10,000.00 donation to build a public library in Dublin, one without a charge to its patrons.

Corker’s public interests were strongly rooted in education.  As a member of the Dublin City  Board of Education for more than a decade, Corker, who served many terms as the board’s president,  worked with the library in its early years and oversaw the construction of the High School (now City Hall) and the Johnson Street and Saxon Heights elementary schools.


Original First National Bank of Dublin, ca. 1902
125 W. Jackson St.

In the year 1902, Frank Corker founded and opened the First National Bank of Dublin, the city’s third bank.   The first order of business was the construction of a building made of stone and brick and terra cotta and located  at the intersection of West Jackson and North Lawrence Streets.  The bank opened on August 18, 1902 with three thousand dollars being deposited on the first day.   It shall be noted that Frank Corker’s brother, Palmer, was the founder and first president of the First National Bank of Waynesboro.



Within a decade the bank had outgrown its quarters.  The directors decided to erect a seven-story bank building on the southwest corner of South Jefferson and West Madison Streets, on the site of the post office.   A. Ten Eyck Brown, prominent Atlanta architect and designer of the Fulton County Courthouse and the Atlanta Post Office, was chosen to design the new building.   The towering structure, seven stories tall and made of nearly fireproof materials, dominated the skyline of Dublin.   The architect designed the building’s foundation sufficient enough to support an additional three floors. Sixty offices for business and professional men were constructed above the bank's offices.  Nearly from its beginning, the First National was Dublin's leading bank.

Corker’s elegant, Ionic columned, neo classical home at 712 Bellevue, now owned by Griffin Lovett, is considered the crown jewel of Bellevue Avenue.  Corker occupied the three-story home from about 1903 until his removal to Atlanta.


Corker Home, Bellevue Avenue


A founding member of the Dublin Board of Trade in 1902, Corker was also a founding member of the Chamber of Commerce in 1911.   His business expertise and economic power and influence led to his appointments as a director of the Dublin Cotton Mill and the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad - the latter  position which allowed him free passage on his trips to his favorite destination on Tybee Island.


1903 Dublin's Post Office on the site of 
The First National Bank Building

In August 1903, Corker built Dublin’s first permanent post office on the southwest corner of S. Jefferson Street and W. Madison Street.  The salmon and steel gray brick structure complete  with lots of light to satisfy the postal workers inside.   Before the move, the post office was situated inside the Corker Building, a two-story office/department store building at 111 W. Jackson Street, which was built by Corker in 1899.

Frank Corker was, among many things, a car afficionado.   Corker was among the first men in Dublin to own his own automobile, a White gasoline car.  In 1911, Corker promoted car tours across the state by the state’s wealthiest and most influential men.


Northview Mausoleum


Corker’s final and enduring gift to the city was the construction of the mausoleum at Northview Cemetery.   Construction began in 1915 on one of the South’s first public mausoleum’s and the first public mausoleum in the state.  Little did Corker know that  when he began the project,  that his dear mother, Margaret Myrtis Palmer, who died on May 13, 1916, would become the first person to be interred in the sandy stone structure, which was built in the same style and with many of the same materials as the First National Bank building.

Corker and his family moved about 1920 to Atlanta, where he could manage his commercial interests in that city.  The financial magnate owned many commercial properties in the capital city including the Cecil Hotel.

A Methodist by birth who later attended Druid Hills Baptist Church during his latter years in Atlanta, a  Mason and a Shriner, Corker enjoyed many outings at the Druid Hills Country Club near his home.

One winters’ day, Corker, a successful real estate dealer, both in Dublin and Atlanta, came home  from his office in the Hurt Building in Atlanta.  Not feeling well, he took leave of his supper and retired to bed early.  He was found dead in his bedroom of his home at 1347 Fairview Road  the following morning of Christmas Eve 1931.    Frank Corker was buried in Westview Cemetery, leaving behind his widow Alice, who died in 1961, along with his  daughters - May, Lula, and Myrtis - and sons - Paul Gratton, Frank Burke, William B.  and Isadore Newman.

Frank Corker’s dream became a nightmare in the autumn of 1928.  The once powerful First National Bank, the largest country bank in Georgia which occupied the ground floors of the tallest building between Macon and Savannah, failed.

And now, some eighty-seven autumns later, Corker’s dream lives again.



Photo @ Gil Gillis

1 comment:

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dear Scott,
Interesting piece of history for Dublin with a very special present day meaning, on the official Grand Opening of this beautiful building! Both of us were quite impressed with the inside architecture as well.
Something to be proud of!

Mariette