In the years following World War I, travel across America began to rise rapidly. Every community across the country was trying to find a way to attract travelers to their towns.  One such effort took place along U.S. Highway 441 and right here in Dublin.  The project borrowed the idea of naming a major highway in honor of Joel Chandler Harris’s beloved storybook character Uncle Remus.

Joel Chandler Harris was born on December 9, 1848 in Eatonton, Georgia.  Although a successful journalist who promoted a “New South” and  reconciliation between the North and South and the two races, is best known for his Uncle Remus stories. Harris, a former plantation apprentice, rose to the rank of associate editor of the Atlanta Constitution.

Walt Disney produced a partially animated film, “Song of the South,” as a musical version of Harris’ Uncle Remus tales.  The movie was a great success, primarily for its musical score including the classic song, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

It is not known if Joel Chandler Harris ever ventured from his home in Atlanta or in Eatonton  to Dublin.  But, one of his pupils did.  James Turner Manry worked as a printer’s apprentice and by family lore, helped  contribute to Harris’s tales of Uncle Remus.  On occasion, he would visit his son, W.R. Manry, of Dublin.

In the mid 1930s, the original backers of the first Uncle Remus Highway envisioned a major tourist route from Washington, D.C. through Charlottesville, Va., over the Blue Ridge Mountains and Athens, Ga. before reaching it’s terminus in Macon. Too many highway seekers jumped on the band wagon and wound up killing the first project.

In the early summer of 1948, members of the Suwanee River Highway met in Milledgeville to organize the “Uncle Remus Highway”  to run from Dillard in North Georgia to Lake City Florida, where it would join the Orange Blossom Trail.  The plans were made to coincide with the 100th birthday celebration of Joel Chandler Harris.  The organizers also wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the book and  “Song of the South” hoping that every one would be singing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah as they rode down the highway.  And, of course, with Eatonton right on the path of the highway, the “Uncle Remus” name was a logical choice.

As the project began to take shape, Dublin’s Sarah Orr Williams and others began to publicize the assets of Dublin.  In a late 1948 issue of Georgia Tourist Guide, the editors wrote, “Still traveling a hard surfaced highway the traveler passes through the attractive Middle Georgia towns of McIntyre and Irwinton to Dublin, named for the city in Ireland.  Near Dublin is Blackshear’s Ferry on the Oconee River, the oldest of its kind in operation in the United States. The use of this ferry dates from the days of the Indians, before Ogelthorpe landed at Savannah.”  That definitive statement was not even substantially correct, except for the fact that the ferry was located near where an ancient Indian trail crossed the Oconee River.  However, it sounded real good in the travel magazine, which proclaimed that the Uncle Remus Highway offers a historic and scenic drive through the Empire State of the South.

B.H. Lord, the head of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, was named as a director of the Uncle Remus Highway Association.   In May of 1950, Lord was named president of the Uncle Remus Highway Association.  E.H. Scott of Milledgeville was selected as the secretary-treasurer.  W.D. Bolton, of Commerce, and O.K. Holmes, of Lake City, Florida, were selected as first and second vice presidents.

In Dublin, businessmen wasted little time in trying to capitalize on the theme of the new highway.  J. Lanier and Edith Allgood built the Brer Rabbit Hotel on North Jefferson Street in 1951.  The hotel featured life size wooden cut out figures of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus characters.  The hotel featured its own dining room and was one of the first motels in Dublin to have a swimming pool.  Allgood went on to become the first head of the Highway 441 Association.

In the summer of 1952, Roy Harkleroad and his wife, Lucille, opened the Briar Patch Restaurant  just north of the Brer Rabbit Motel.  The “Briar Patch” became a Dublin institution for three decades The Briar Patch, a popular teen hangout in the 1950s and 1960s, became a popular eating spot for  all ages.  One of the more popular features were the photographs of its patrons on the walls.  Next door was a 3-hole golf course for those travelers wishing to keep up with their golf game.

Uncle Remus was so popular in Dublin in the early 1950s that Harold and Iris Ward hosted an “Uncle Remus Party” for their daughter Connie in 1953.  Connie and her friends had a grand time at the party which was complete with story telling, costumes and games.

After about five years, the emphasis on Uncle Remus faded and a more concentrated effort was put into an association of cities and towns all along Highway 441.  

The 939-mile Highway 441 runs from Miami, Florida to Rocky Top, Tennessee.  Originally, the highway began in Ocala, Florida and ran southward to Orlando.  By 1948, the highway was extended northward to Baldwin in Banks County, Georgia.   Four years later, the current highway was completed.  Highway 441 became an artery to Florida bound travelers  with its Federal highway connections through the cities of Lexington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio to the  the mid western cities of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. Along the way were the tourist Meccas of Cherokee, North Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee on the north and Orlando, West Palm Beach and Miami, Florida.

The effort to attract visitors to Dublin and Laurens was revived once again in 1963. Bill Lovett led the effort to establish a welcome center, several miles north of Dublin on Highway 441.    Known as the first municipal welcome center in Georgia, the tourist stopover remained popular until the coming of Interstate Highway 75 from Michigan to Miami.  The center finally closed in the spring of 1977.

With interstate highways and jet airplanes, the days of traveling with your family for long distances down narrow, winding highways like 441 are almost gone now.  For those who still  remember the wonderful feelings of riding with your family with plenty of sunshine headed your way, I hope you have a wonderful day.