Rentz, Georgia is located in central Laurens County, Georgia, about thirteen miles from the county seat of Dublin. It is named for Edward Pierce Rentz, a banker, a sawmill operator, and president of the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad. E.P. Rentz was born in 1862. He was a son of Rev. Joseph Rentz and Martha McGeehee. Joseph was a minister in the Methodist Church. His family, originally called “Von Rentz,” settled the German Salzburger community at Ebenezer, Georgia. Martha McGeehee’s family’s roots were deep in Methodism. Her brother, Rev. John McGeehee, the founding minister of the First Methodist Church in Dublin, still holds the distinction of being the longest serving active minister or presiding elder in the history of the Methodist Church in Georgia with 65 years of service. E.P. Rentz married Katherine Gaston, whose family traced its roots to Bishop Lovick Pierce and George Smith, two major stalwarts in 19th century Georgia Methodism.
E.P. Rentz, president of the Citizens Bank of Swainsboro, joined one of Dublin's leading businessman, J.D. Smith, in organizing the Citizens Bank of Dublin in August of 1902. The bank was located on South Jefferson Street in a building designed by Rev. George Thompson, a local minister and architect, and built by local contractor, E.J. Fuller. This modest, granite-faced building still stands and is today occupied by attorney, Charles Butler. Early in 1906 the bank was sold to a new group of investors. The City National Bank opened with $100,000 in paid in capital, making it the largest bank between Macon and Savannah. It joined the First National Bank as a part of the national banking system. The new board of directors also included E.P. Rentz. Rentz purchased a stately colonial home on Bellevue Avenue in Dublin from J.D. Smith. He sold the home after a few years. Today the home is known as the W.E. Lovett House.
The area around Rentz was once fields of wiregrass and virgin yellow pine trees. During the 1880s, timber brokers began coming into the area to harvest the coveted yellow pine. Once pine trees were harvested, farmers began planting cotton and corn in their place. On January 1, 1880 J.D. Bates bought Land Lot 131 of the 17th Land District from John T. Rogers. The land would eventually encompass over two thirds of the Town of Rentz. The property was later acquired by W.B.Rogers. Rogers lost the property when the Merrimack Savings Bank foreclosed a judgment lien against the property in 1894.
The area was formerly known as Reedy Springs. The name comes from a nearby spring, which undoubtedly had a lot of reed plants around it. The Reedy Springs Militia District was created on October 5, 1883. After the Civil and Indian Wars, the necessary of each militia district was no longer necessary. The militia districts then began to function as voting districts and Justice of the Peace Court districts.
The Reedy Springs community was also known by the name of Bluewater. That name was derived from a nearby creek to the north and west. In 1883, the Reedy Springs District had four churches (all Baptist), a common school, a steam gin, a grist and a saw mill. Farmers produced 800 bales of cotton, 800,000 board feet of lumber, and 8,000 pounds of wool. The farmers of the area, which extended down to the current day Cadwell area and over to Dexter were: E.F. Alligood, H. Alligood, I. Alligood, A.J. Barron, H.D. Barron, J.H. Barron, W. Barron, W.T. Barron, J.D. Bates, A. Bedingfield, J. Bedingfield, R.A. Bedingfield, W. Bedingfield, W.A. Bedingfield, G.W. Belcher, Eliza Clarke, H.C. Coleman, W. Coney, J.E. Crumpton,R.H. Crumpton, C.C. Gay, Hardy Gay, Mrs. M. Gay, Stephen Green, D.Y. Grinstead, E. Grinstead, P.E. Grinstead, Robert Grinstead, J. Hobbs, A.B. Holliday, W.F. Holliday, L.H. Hudson, S.B. Johnson, W.D. Joiner, A. Jones, W.J. Kinchen, W.F. Kinchen, G.B. Knight, J.T. Knight, R.G.B. Knight, B. Lewis, S. Lewis, T.J. Lewis, J.R. Locke, J. Lowery, W.A.N. Lowery, G.W. McDaniel, H.R. McDaniel, J.R. McDaniel, R.F. Mathis, C. Mullis, J. Mullis, W.H. Mullis, R.F. Register, and A. Rountree.
The local businessmen were A.J. Adams, machinist; H. Alligood, sawmiller; J.M. Bass, miller; W.B.F. Daniels, general store; J.T. Rogers, general store; R.L. Faircloth, machinist; James Lovett, wheelright; J.R. Sheperd, general store; and Wynn Brothers, general store. Local ministers in 1883 were N.F. Gay, D.E. Green, J.W. Green, T.J. Hobbs, J.T. Kinchen, J.T. Kinchen, Jr., J.I.D. Miller, J.T. Rogers, C.B. Smith, and C.R. Winham. L.A. Bracwewell was Justice of the Peace and A.B. Clark was the Notary Public and ex-officio Justice of the Peace.
The Williams Lumber Company had built a tram road from Eastman to Rentz where the mill of the Georgia Shingle Company was located. In 1899, W.D. Harper and John J. Simpson established a saw mill. By 1902 all of the available timber was located between the mill and Dublin. The company decided that a new railroad could be built at only a slightly higher cost. The original plan called for a railroad that would intersect the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad near the Dublin Cotton Mills in West Dublin. Among the early backers of the project were the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad, with Col. J.M. Stubbs as being the driving force behind the project. In 1904, Edward P. Rentz and his partners, W.D. Harper and J.J. Simpson purchased the property for $75,000 from Merrimack Savings Bank, which had been leasing the property to Harper and Simpson. E.P. Rentz, a Dublin banker, took a keen interest in the project, becoming the main owner in partnership with Harper and Simpson.
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. The organizational meeting of the railroad was held in the Citizens Bank on April 6, 1904. E. P. Rentz was elected president. J.J. Simpson and W.D. Harpe, were elected as vice president and traffic manager/treasurer respectively. William Prichett, J.M. Stubbs, and David S. Blackshear of Dublin were elected to the board of directors. The first spikes were driven and the workers raced to complete the road to Rentz by mid May.
The first scheduled train from Rentz to Dublin ran on June 29, 1904 with two daily trips to follow in July. Engineer J.P. Pughesly immediately began laying out the road along the old tram road to Eastman while Col. J.M. Stubbs was seeking subscriptions from Eastman and Dodge County businessmen. Originally there was only a little interest in Dodge County but when McRae offered to buy into the road, the citizens of Dodge came through with the necessary capital. Battle's crews began laying rails. Construction was delayed by legal actions by some Eastman citizens. General Manager W.J. Kessler moved the headquarters of the railroad to Eastman in May of 1905.
Conductor B.W. Hightower guided the first freight train out of Eastman on May 5, 1905. E.P. Rentz, W.J. Kessler, and Supt. C.E. Rentz were on board the inaugural train. Within 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. The train left Dublin early in the morning of May 15, 1905 with attorneys and clients bound for the nine a.m. court on board. Passenger service was born as the train arrived just in time for court.
Rentz and his associates had done such a good job in building the road that the Wrightsville and Tennille became interested in the project. Finally after a year of offers, the W. & T. purchased the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad. The Wrightsville and Tennille made its new runs on July 1, 1906. Thirty-five years later the story ends when the railroad and an era were closed forever.
The Town of Rentz was born on October 5, 1904. E.P. Rentz, acting on behalf of the Rentz Lumber Company, made an agreement with an adjoining landowner, J.D. Bates. Bates owned sixty acres of land east of or opposite the Rentz Lumber Company Mill. The railroad bed split the two tracts. Bates agreed that the title to his land would belong to E.P. Rentz. In exchange for the promise, Rentz promised to lay out lots for sale. Rentz, Bates and a member selected by both were appointed to an advisory committee to determine the terms of sale. The 11.4 acre Faulk Reserve located just north of the intersection of Bates Ave. and Bedingfield Ave. was to be held for sale until Bates agreed that it could be sold.
The Town of Rentz was laid out in a kite-like shape. The tail of the kite was the intersection of Bates Avenue and Bedingfield Avenue on the eastern end of town. The top of the kite stretched from the academy lot on the north to the Rentz Lumber Mill pond on the south. There were twenty business lots on the west side of the railroad and twenty four business lots on the east side. On the west side of Davidson Street there were 10 residential lots. On the east side of Proctor Street there were thirty eight residential lots. The streets were named for the early and prominent citizens of the town. Bates Avenue was named for the co-founder, J.D. Bates. Simpson Avenue was named for J.J. Simpson, a co-owner of the Rentz Lumber Company. Bedingfield Avenue was named for Dr. W.E. Bedingfield, one of the town’s first doctors and original city councilmen. Pughesly Ave. was named for J.P. Pughesly, the town’s first mayor and the railroad engineer. There was Railroad Street West and Railroad Street East which ran from north to south along the sides of the railroad. Davidson Street was named for A.W. Davidson, an original councilman and the town’s first businessman. Proctor Street was named after J.L. Proctor, businessman and original city councilman. Taylor Street is named for Dr. T.J. Taylor. Church Street is named for the two churches, Methodist and Baptist which are located in the eastern part of town. On the west side of town around the lumber mill were a dozen or so shanties. J.P. Pughesly owned a large lot on the west side of the railroad at the southern end of town. Dr. C.E. Rentz’s house was a little further down on the east side of the railroad. A hotel lot was laid out on East Railroad Street just south of the corner of the southern margin of Simpson Ave. and the eastern margin of East Railroad Street. The Academy was at the northwestern end of town.
The business lots were sold to C.E. Evans (1), Flora Edmondson (2), Francis C. Walker (10), C.E. Rentz (13-16), W.H. and Eliza Bonner (34), W.F. O’Connor (35), W.E. Bedingfield (37), J.L. Proctor (39), J.H. Proctor (40), C.F. and J.T. Ussery (42), and C.E. Rentz (48). Residence lots were sold to C.E. Rentz (48), J.L. Proctor (62-63), H.C. Coleman (84-85), and H.C. Woodard (92).
The town of Rentz was incorporated by the Georgia Legislature on August 21, 1905. The city limits extended to one-half mile in each direction from the intersection of Bates Avenue and the railroad. The first mayor was J.P. Pughesly. J.L. Proctor, A.W. Davidson, J.E. Guy, Dr. C.E. Rentz, and Dr. W.E. Bedingfield were the members of the first city council.
As the railroad became a reality, more and more families began moving into the area. E.P. Rentz offered choice building and residential lots for sale. A 60 x 100 foot lot could have been bought for $25.00. Half acre home lots were being sold for $35.00 to $50.00. A.W. Davidson was the first to build a store house. His house store was located on Lot 7, with his home on the adjoining Lots 26 and 27. He traded under the name of Davidson and Grinstead in partnership with J.T. Grinstead. Davidson also built the first home in town. Doctors W.E. Bedingfield and T.J. Taylor established the first drug store in 1905. J. P. Pughesly established a large general mercantile store. The store traded under the name of The Rentz Trading Company. Investors in the corporation were T.J. Taylor, J.F. Graham, W.A. Bedingfield, and P.E. Grinstead. The store, which contained 3500 square feet was considered one of the largest in Laurens County. Houses and businesses were going up at a fast pace. Dr. C.E. Rentz built a two-story home on the south side of town along the railroad tracks. Cullen Evans completed his dry-goods and grocery store in the spring of 1905. H.C. Coleman, Jr. began construction of his residence in the summer of 1905. That same year, Haywood Proctor began the construction of a furniture store. Proctor’s store was modern 20 x 70 foot building with plate glass windows. J.G. Gay began building his house near the home of J.P. Pughesly in southwestern Rentz. J.S. Knight built the first cotton gin and grist mill. J.S. King was also one of the first merchants in Rentz. In 1906, T.J. Taylor incorporated his general mercantile business, The Taylor Mercantile Company, with the aid of Joe F. Graham and A.T. Barron.
During the town’s first two years of existence, Rentz was plagued by a series of four fires. The second and most destructive fire came in April 1906 when the wooden stores of the Rentz Trading Company, Davidson & Grinstead, and the Rentz Pharmacy went up in flames. A fourth fire resulted in the loss of the $5000 store of J.M. Outler in 1906. A financial cataclysm struck the firm of Roundtree, Knight & Coleman in 1907, when the firm petitioned for protection from its creditors under the bankruptcy code.
In the early spring of 1906, Rentz suffered a devastating fire. The stores of J.P. Pughesley and A.W. Davidson were destroyed along with the drug store of Doctors Bedingfield and Taylor. The losses were estimated to be between thirty and forty thousand dollars. The businessmen of Rentz were not to be deterred. Police Chief R.A. Watson, broke ground for Dr. Taylor’s new two story store building in May of 1906. Most of the new buildings were to be built of brick. The people of Rentz hoped to have seven brick stores, a bank building, an opera house, a city hall and a Masonic Lodge, all within three months.
On September 28th, 1906, the Rentz Lumber Company, composed of E.P. Rentz, Dr. C.E. Rentz, W.D. Harper, and J.J. Simpson, sold their interest in the lumber mill to two Dublin agri-businessmen, W.B. Rice and W.T. Phelps. The conveyance included 12 shanties in the southwestern section of town, three dwellings, the hotel lot, and commercial building lot # 4, along with the lumber yard.
The fifteen hundred dollar sale price indicates that there weren’t a lot of improvements located on the property at the time.
The Bank of Rentz was established in 1910. T.J. Taylor was President of the Bank. H.D. Barron was the Vice President. F.M. Kirkpatrick was the cashier. John D. Walker served as Financial Agent. The Board of Directors was composed of J.T. Mercer, H.D. Barron, John D. Walker, T.J. Taylor, J.F. Graham, P.C. Coleman, W.E. Bedingfield, W.A. Bedingfield, and B.O. Rogers.
On Oct. 29, 1903 the Thaggard Masonic Lodge No. 460, F.& A.M. was chartered on the Thaggard Turpentine still grounds south of Dublin in lower Laurens County. The charter officers included P.E. Grinstead, Worshipful Master; J.F. Grinstead, Senior Warden; P.D. Couey, Junior Warden; and J.C. Gay, Secretary. In 1905 the Lodge moved to Rentz to a lodge built on city lot 23 and donated by E.P. Rentz on November 17, 1905. The trustees of the lodge were P.E. Grinstead, R.L. Faircloth, and J.L. Hobbs. Over the next 55 years, the lower floor of the two-story lodge building was used as a school, canning plant, voting precinct, and the Reedy Springs Militia District Courthouse. The Masons of Rentz built a new concrete block building in 1960 just in front of where the old building stood. When the new building was constructed, the officers of the Lodge were J.A. Dominy, Jr., Worshipful Master; G.B. Lindsey, Sr., Senior Warden; J.L.F. Lowery, Junior Warden; Kermit R. Lowery, Secretary; and Leon Keen, Treasurer. On Halloween night in 1906, the men of Rentz formed a Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows. The institution of the lodge was brought about by the members of the Dexter Lodge. The original members of the lodge were W.B. McLendon, Frank Lavender, W.D. Register, H. T. Beckworth, J.B. Rowe, D.E. Mullis, D.J. Faircloth, J.L. Gay, S.E. Warren, W.D. Warren, E.D. McDaniel, T.R. Taylor, L.L. Frierson, J.S. Frierson, W.J. Mullis, A.W. Smith, James R. McDaniel, J.W. McDaniel, D.J. Grinstead, J.A. Coleman, H.C. Coleman, J.T. Grinstead, H.C. Burch, J.A. Burch, W.F. Coleman, J.H. Coleman, P.D. Couey, W.E. Silas, Washington Hobbs, L.H. Currie, G.B. Knight, F.M. Sanders, W.E. Bedingfield, J.T. Gay, E.O. Alligood, B.F. Dixon, W.D. Dixon, T.J. Taylor, W.O. Minton, L.L. Ward, J.E. Faulk, W.B. Gay, H.J. Alligood, H.L. Faircloth, G.W. Culbreth, W.H. Bedingfield, W.H. Tate, and J.W. Rowe. Those admitted from the Dexter Lodge by card were C.C. Hutto, R.L. Faircloth, A.T. Barron, C.H. Wyatt, Otis Davidson, M.R. Mackey, Will Ward, Luther Knight, and Robert Knight.
The officers of the Lodge were R.L. Faircloth, Noble Grand; W.E. Silas, Vice Grand; J.R. Gay, Conductor; J.T. Grinstead, Recording Secretary; Washington Hobbs, Financial Secretary; J.W. Rowe, Treasurer; J.H. Coleman, Chaplain; W.H. Bedingfield, Jr., Warden; A.T. Barron, Right Support Noble Grand; E.O. Baggett, Left Support Noble Grand; O.W. Davidson, Right Support Vice Grand; W.H. Tate, Left Support Vice Grand; W.W. Warren, Right Scene Supporter; E.O. Alligood, Left Scene Supporter; W.J. Mullis, Inner Guard; and L.G. Knight, Outer Guard. The Odd Fellows met in the Masonic Lodge.
E.P. Rentz sold a lot to the Laboring Friends Society for their Lodge on April 29, 1905. The Lodge was located between the Colored Methodist Church and the Colored Reedy Springs Baptist Church. Wiley Ginn, John Anderson, and Seaborn Rozier were Trustees of the Lodge.
The Baptists of Rentz organized a church on June 28, 1905. They met at the L.G. Knight home. The fourteen charter members were Mr. and Mrs. B.O. Rogers, Mr. and Mrs. L.G. Knight, Mr. and Mrs. G.M. Knight, Mrs. John T. Rogers, G.W. Knight, John S. Knight, D.J. Knight, Mr. and Mrs. W.F. Cooper, and Mrs. George Coleman. They moved to a brush arbor and the Methodist Church before moving into their permanent church in 1906. E.P. Rentz sold the church Lot No. 69 for $1.00 on August 5, 1905. The deacons of the church were B.O. Rogers, W.S. Cooper, J.S. Knight, J.W. Barron, and J.P. Pughsley. The first pastor was J.T. Smith. Other early ministers of the church were T.J. Hobbs, T.Z. Bush, T. Bright, O.O. Williams, T.E. Toole, J.R. Kelly, L.N. Jessup, T.J. Barnette, W.E. Harville, Frank Synder, C.H. Hornsby, J.C. Daniel, Otis Garland, F.B. Pickern, E.A. Price, W.O. Brown, J.W. Harper, William Burns, C.E. Vines, Thomas E. Moye, Harry W. Bentley, Charlie Smith, Hugh Harber, Francis F. Bush, Billy Lee, Richard D. Hinely, Hubert F. Woodyard, Jack Sapp, Otis Bentley, and Grady H. Mimbs. Among the earliest deacons of the church were J.F. Cooper, B.C. Coleman, B.O. Rogers, W.F. Cooper, and H.Y. Grant. J.E. Chambliss served as a deacon for 40 years. L.H. Cook served over 50 years as deacon. Clerks in the church included A.W. Couey, A.J. Cooper, A.W. McCleod, G.M. Knight, F.M. Barron, L.A. Gibson, F.C. Taylor, D.P. Knight, W.W. Fordham, J.E. Chambless, H.A. Rountree, Mrs. Adon Woodard, Linda Morton, and Ruby Knight. The first church was torn down in 1929. Until the new church was completed in 1931, services were held in Grant’s Cotton Warehouse and in the Methodist Church.
The Methodist Church was organized in 1905. E.P. Rentz sold a lot to the Church for $1.00 on April 27, 1905. The property was conveyed to C. E. Rentz, E.P. Rentz, RL. Shy, J.T. Warthen, and J.E. Gay as Trustees . Among the early members were Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Rentz, Mr. and Mrs. J.D. Warthen, Mr. and Mrs. J.S. Pughsley, and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Keen.
E.P. Rentz sold a lot for $1.00 to the Reedy Springs Colored Baptist Church on November 29, 1905. Richard Allen, Richard Moss, and Henry Roberts were the Deacons of the Church. Rentz also sold a lot the Colored Methodist Church, but there is no indication that the deed was ever recorded.
The lights came on in Rentz in the early 20s when the town operated off a Delco battery system. On April 1, 1927, Georgia Power began furnishing power to the town. In a history of Rentz written by Charles L. Schell in 1998, a list of the men providing law enforcement for the Town of Rentz were town marshals Rawls Watson, Will Coleman, Charles Tipton, W.D. Register, J. Frank Schell, Alfred Davidson, and Prentice Coleman.
Despite the growth of area in the early years, the population of the Reedy Springs Militia District dropped from 1,904 in 1900 to 1,619 in 1910. The trend turned around in 1920 when the population rose to 1, 886. In 1910, the first census was taken in the Town of Rentz. The population was 275. Ten years later following the war and the coming of the boll weevil, the population dropped to 219. The population of Rentz climbed to 400 in 1940.
Last Train in Rentz
Many people say the best thing to happen to Rentz since the coming of the railroad was the formation of the Rural Telephone Cooperative, Inc. in 1953. The founding officers were C.J. Burch, President; L.K. Keen, Vice President; W.B. English, Treasurer; and J.B. Fordham, Jr., Secretary. The original party telephone lines were completely replaced by private lines by the early 1970s. By the mid 1970s, extended area service gave residents the third largest free calling center in Georgia. Since the installation of fibre optic lines, the cooperative serves over 5100 customers located over an area of 500 plus square miles.
The drug store, then owned by Herbert Bedingfield, closed in 1955. Dr. T.J. Taylor and Dr. W.E. Bedingfield died in 1948 and 1942 respectively. The Rentz school closed. Students went to Laurens High and then to West Laurens High. A new post office was constructed in the 1960s. A new city hall was built in 1985. Despite all the changes, the town of Rentz perseveres.
Congratulations to the people of Rentz and may you always remember your heritage.
Professor L.H. Cook
This is truly a masterful recount of the development and progress of Rentz, GA.
The accompanying photos provide an enriching background to an intriguing description of The City of Rentz and its history.
Thank you for all your efforts and the desire to clarify and capture the essence, as well as the transition and changes in this special city, here in Laurens, County.
Thanks for any info you have about this.