Monday, February 27, 2012

His Honor and the Sacred Harp

When I was growing up the stifling heat of July mean one thing… was almost time for the Land Family reunion where the offspring of several generations from two people would gather at Sharp Mountain Baptist Church in Ball Ground, Georgia for dinner on the ground.  

In those days we met under a shelter outside the church where the longest table constructed of slabs of marble and concrete blocks I had ever seen extended through a stand of pine trees.  The table would be a checkerboard of various cotton tablecloths brought by the women for them to place their lunch.   All the designs formed a rather strange and beautiful quilt. 

Assorted picnic baskets and Tupperware would be unloaded and stacked underneath the table.   My mother’s Tupperware always had Band-aids stuck on the bottom with her neat handwriting…..Mrs. Geraldine B. Land.   Lord forbid someone got the wrong ham carrier or salad bowl!

The table literally groaned underneath all of the food – every sort of vegetable you could imagine from stewed squash and green beans to fried okra and sweet potatoes – some topped with marshmallows, some with pecans and brown sugar, of course.  There would be fried chicken, country fried steak and salmon patties….roast with carrots and potatos, sliced ham, and pork roast, too.  Biscuits, corn bread, and every type of dessert you could imagine.  I always grabbed one of the largest Chinet plates in the stack and promptly filled it to capacity.
After dinner the kids would go running off up the hill to the cemetery to play tag among the headstones of family members long gone or play school in one of the Sunday School rooms.  The adults of every age would talk and contemplate their full bellies in lounge chairs scattered around the table.

And then the singing would begin. 

My Great Uncle Homer loved his singing.   He’d head into the sanctuary by himself and fuss at any of us who might be running through the church building.  He’d tell us “the singing” was about to begin and we better hush up and be still.

Homer would begin to holler for the adults to come on in and sing…..or at least listen, and bit by bit most everyone would straggle in to watch and hear Uncle Homer.   You couldn’t help it.   The comforting sound would draw you in.   He’d select the hymns and then lead us in “a singin’” as he would call it. 

I loved it….and miss it very much.   Uncle Homer has been gone for several years and reunions really aren’t the same without sitting on that wooden pew with my cardboard fan printed with Jesus at The Last Supper on one side and ads from local businesses on the other trying to keep the hot air moving around me.  Everyone from 5 to 85 was flapping those fan so….it’s a wonder we all didn’t just lift up off the ground and rise to Glory.

Sweating and singing with family……it WAS glorious.

Like my Uncle Homer Douglasville’s Joseph S. James was a huge champion for singing – shape note signing, that is.

I’ve written about Judge James before here, and if you aren’t up to speed on Douglasville’s greatest champion and Founding Father then you really need to click through and read a bit. 
Go on… through and get up to speed.  I’ll still be here.

Judge James also had a love of music in his bones.   He was born in 1849… a singing teacher named Stephen James (1821-1872) and his wife….Martha Shipley.

Besides reading law James also attended the singing school of J.R. Turner and became what is described to be a tireless promoter of Sacred Harp singing in the Atlanta area.

I hear the crickets chirping.    I would imagine many readers might not know what the Scared Harp might be.  

Let me help…..

This website advises, Sacred Harp is a uniquely American tradition that brings communities together to sing four-part hymns and anthems…Technically, [the] style of singing is “shape note singing” because the musical notation uses heads in four distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading, but it is often called “Sacred Harp” singing because the books that most singers use today are called “The Sacred Harp”…The term “sacred harp” refers to the human voice – that is, the musical instrument you were given at birth…In 1844, “The Sacred Harp” was just one of more than 100 oblong hymn books published in the United States.  It has been continuously updated ever since.

This video is a great representation of shape note singing:

Joseph S. James was a shape note singer and composer.   He helped to organize the United Sacred Harp Musical Association in 1904. 

Between the years 1904 and 1911 he published five different works including the Revised Sacred Harp in 1911.  The revision added alto parts to most of the songs and restored several songs that had been deleted from the 1869-1870 version.  Unfortunately, the James’ revision ended up being challenged and our Judge James found himself defending himself in a lawsuit that he eventually lost.

You can read a little about the lawsuit here.

Of course the loss was a huge blow to Judge James, and in 1920 he wrote a pamphlet titled An Explanation of the Sacred Harp in order to defend his position regarding his version of the work.

It’s amazing to me Judge James had time to devote to shape note singing.  He was our first mayor, promoted the railroad through town, involved with our first cotton mill, as well as many other businesses and let’s not forget he had that law career as well.  

When Judge James passed from this Earth his memorial service in Atlanta attracted several hundred singers.  I can only imagine what it sounded like as they tried to honor the man who had been so devoted to shape note singing.   Judge James is buried in Douglasville Cemetery.

The Judge was given credit as a collaborator with S.M. Denson for the arrangements for the song Traveling and The Great Roll Call which is performed in the video below by singers at Mount Pisgah in Stroud, Alabama.


The soundtrack for the movie Cold Mountain is also a great resource for shape-note singing.  Many of the tracks are found on YouTube.

I feel certain my Uncle Homer and Judge James are still singing….perhaps they have even teamed up and are leading a band of angels!

A new documentary regarding The Sacred Harp and shape note singing will be released in March.  You can find out more about it here.

Have a great week and please share this column regarding Douglas County history with a friend or share with your Facebook friends. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Little History Behind Douglas Memorial Hospital

I noticed this particular bit of news last week.   The story deals with the death of a mom who lobbied heavily for home birth in Australia, and then died following her own home birth.

This story provides more information including reader comments.   One thing the articles don’t provide is more information regarding the cause of death.  While it’s very easy to say her choice to give birth at home killed her... that just isn’t necessarily so.    We have no knowledge regarding her health condition leading up to the birth or many other variables that can come into play in any situation. 

One reader commented that even though the majority of women give birth in hospital settings these days, we still have women that die in the hospital.


Every birth has a unique set of variables where many things can happen no matter where the mother gives birth.

This story does hit home with me. 

My second child….my dear daughter….was born at home in 1993.   

Yes, it was on purpose.  

Yes, it was planned. 
Yes, I had assistance, and yes…..I’m all for women having a choice regarding where and how they give birth.  I didn’t choose to have a home birth lightly.   I considered it for quite some time.

I actually had three certified midwives who assisted me.   They didn’t just show up when the time came.   I spent the entire nine months doing what many pregnant women do – I took vitamins, I had ultrasounds, I saw medical professionals, and I met with my midwife regularly.  If it had been my first birth or if I had had complications during previous births I wouldn’t have even been considered for a home birth. 

Home birth worked for me.  In 1993, hospitals were just beginning to relax some of the constrictions that had been in existence for years for women giving birth.   I experienced the prevalent clinical atmosphere with the birth of my son in 1985 and didn’t want to repeat it. 

Midwives take a major role in birthing centers now…..having family around the birth mother are prevalent now….getting the mother home as soon as possible are the norm.    In 1993, when I gave birth to my daughter things were still in transition regarding birthing options, and I wanted a different experience.

One area where mothers who give birth at home have absolutely no wiggle room…..or at least I didn’t... was pain management.   I wasn’t even able to take an aspirin, but my recovery time afterward….my ability to get right back to caring for my family was much quicker than my first birth.   

Within an hour after Dear Daughter was born,  I was in the shower, dressed and walked under my own power into the Emergency Room at Douglas General Hospital where a doctor did conduct a follow up exam to make sure everything was as it should be, and of course….I was closely monitored for the next few days as well as my daughter.

Georgia’s midwives….those that work in hospitals and those who don’t……are all well trained.   This website can provide more information regarding home birth here in Georgia. 

I’m just glad women have a choice.

There was a time here in Douglas County when women didn’t have a choice.   All babies were born at home during a time when medical care during the entire nine months wasn’t given like it is now.    Many babies were lost during pregnancy and during birth because we just didn’t know the things we are privy to today.

In fact, Douglas County history tells us that it was the death of yet another mother giving birth that finally…..finally spurred the community to build a local hospital.

The year was 1946.    Medical care in Douglas County existed.   We had doctors in private practice.  I’ve written about a few of them here.      Many surgeries were conducted on dining room tables, and all babies were born at home.  One night in 1946 yet another mother died because there just wasn’t time to get her to the closest hospital in Atlanta.

The book, Douglas County, Georgia:  From Indian Trail to Interstate 20 written by Fanny Mae Davis advises Mrs. Clyde (Alma C.) Gable can be credited for founding Douglas Memorial Hospital.   This happened after she had spent the night aiding the local physician in delivering a baby where the young mother died because a trip to the Atlanta hospital could not be made in time.

The next day Mrs. Alma stood before the Douglas County Board of Commissioners in tears and pleaded with the commissioners to provide residents with a hospital.    Thankfully the men agreed with Mrs. Alma and felt it was time as well and on May 9, 1946 the Douglas County Hospital Authority was formed with the following members – Dr. W.S. O'Neal, Guy Baggett, William Chatham, R.H. Hutcheson, A.H. Stockmar, W.D. Palmer, E.M. Huffine, J. Cowan Whitley, and A.A. Fowler, Sr.

Mr. Frank P. Dorris was instrumental in providing a location for the hospital via the American Legion.  They donated the old Clover Mills School building located on 3 ½ acres of land on Fairburn Road.   You know the location today as the United Way.

The original site for Douglas Memorial Hospital

The public donated money and labor to get the building ready to house a hospital.  The cost for outfitting the building with the necessary wiring and plumbing was $22,716.66.

Most certainly a bargain considering today’s costs.

Douglas County Memorial Hospital opened its doors on April 1, 1948 with up to fifteen beds for immediately use….and just in time, too!   Their first patient was five-year-old Richard Laird.   He had a tonsillectomy. 

By April, 1949 the hospital had added five more beds and boasted 207 babies had been born within its walls.  They had treated a total of 800 patients.

In 1950, the hospital had a new addition and the beds numbered 35….by 1965, the beds numbered 51.

In January, 1971 the hospital moved to its present location beginning as a 98 bed facility and costing $3,675,000.   There would be enough space for 15 doctors on staff and 25 nurses.  A medical complex consisting of four building was also built adjacent to the hospital.  Construction was completed on the new hospital in 1974.

During 1985, Douglas Memorial Hospital treated 4,700 patients and the Emergency Room saw 15,000 people pass through their doors!

During the 1980s Katherine Gunnell was appointed to serve as Chairwomen of the Douglas County Hospital Authority.  Her goal was to provide quality healthcare for the entire community.   Mrs. Gunnell’s obituary published in the Douglas County Sentinel advises:   [Mrs. Gunnell’s] goal was nearly thwarted in 1992 when Douglas General Hospital suffered from financial problems….An informal discussion in [a] church parking [lot] with Mr. Jim Fowler, a Cobb Hospital Board member, led to a key role in laying the foundation for the WellStar Healthcare System.  This discussion led to meetings with Mr. Tom Hill, Cobb Hospital Administrator, who supported some kind of union between the hospitals and pitched it to his board.   In a little over a month the two hospitals merged to form a buying cooperative.   This successful effort led to the 1994 formation of the Promina Health Systems that included Douglas, Cobb, Kennestone hospitals, and others joined later.   In 1999, WellStar Healthcare System was formed from some of the hospitals in Promina.  Today, WellStar, over 11,000 strong, meets the needs of many communities by utilizing state of the art equipment and nationally recognized physicians and staff.   WellStar now serves over 600,000 people.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Plan B: A Few Pictures

Yesterday morning I was on my third topic as my choice for this week's post.   At some point I decided two of those topics still had too many unanswered questions for me to throw them out on the Internet.   My third topic called to me and told me I should go with it, so yesterday morning I worked for a couple of hours and got it all worked out.  

After an afternoon visit with my father and other family members I decided I could come home and publish the piece.    

My mind was at rest.

I had completed my work.  

I was done.

I was content with my writing life.

I should know better.   

The moment you get too cocky and think you have a handle on things the gremlins go to work.   

When I got home last night I fired up my trusty and nearly worn out lap top computer and discovered my post was nowhere to be found.  Fourteen hundred words.....words with a title and words that had been saved had decided to hide from me.  

I have visions of those words whizzing around my computer somewhere having a grand old time hiding from me as I frantically decide what to do.

I hope they are having a blast. is Plan B.   A few pictures I snagged from the Facebook page, "You're Probably From Douglasville If...." administered by Nina Vansant Camp.   The pictures reached the Facebook page through various sources.   One thing I've discovered about many of the old Douglas County images.....most are claimed by more than a few folks, so I'm claiming where I snagged them from and if you need to trace them further you can go from there.  I'm grateful to Nina for helping me out here and there with historical details here and there along with so many other folks.

On to the pictures......if you want closer views of the images you can click directly on the picture to isolate it and enlarge it a little. 

This picture has been identified as the Chattahoochee Ferry.....the Gorman Ferry.....or the Austell Ferry owned by Alfred Austell.  He purchased the Gorman Plantation and the ferry.   You can read more about the ferry and the Gorman and Austell family in my post A Bridge to the Past.

This is a view of Chapel Hill Road in 1958.   Amazing to see it without development.  I'm not exactly sure about the location....I'm taking a wild guess and saying it might be looking down the hill towards the present-day soccer fields.

This building is Douglasville College.   It was located where the National Guard Armory is today on Church Street in downtown Douglasville.   Later an elementary school was on the location for a years.    I have previously written about the college in my post 1902:  It's a Marathon Commencement.

Today's Douglasville Welcome Center is pictured below......originally home to the Douglasville Banking Company.   I've written about the bank here.

Today you would know this location as Dr. Robinson's office on Church Street.  O'Neal Plaza is to the left of this building today.  When this picture was taken Price Street still extended through O'Neal Plaza to Broad Street, and the Masons met on the second floor of the building. There are several Masonic symbols on the outside of the building.   I wrote about the Masons in my post titled Taking a Minute for the Masons.

This building at the corner of Broad Street and Price housed O'Neal Drug Store.   Today it's the location of Irish Bred Pub.   The building has quite a history.   I've written about Mr. O'Neal and other past owners of this building in my posts Who is the Man Behind the Plaza?  and Careful What You Look For:  The Millstone.

 This is the cotton mill building found along Highway 78 heading east as you leave Douglasville.   Today the building is in ruins, but it could have been a historical gem to our community had it been protected.    I've written about the cotton mill and it's importance to our town through years and its historical value in my posts Cotton Mill Ends the Doldrums and Demolition by Neglect.

This picture also shows an even earlier view of the cotton mill before the tower was altered .

Well, I'm off to continue looking for my wayward words.....:)

Sometimes technology is more of a hindrance than a help, you know?

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Post in Three Parts: A Reverse S-Curve, a Wayward Caboose, and Antiquated Blue Laws

Early yesterday morning – very faintly – I could hear the train moving through downtown Douglasville even though I live a few miles away from the track.   The sound wafts down from the ridge at Skint Chestnut and floats across the interstate.  It hangs over the Mt. Carmel district for a few seconds as it fades out.  It’s easy to miss if you are busy doing this and that, so I’m always a little surprised when I hear it, but it always makes me smile remembering my childhood growing up with a train track literally in my front yard.
The sound also got me to thinking about three separate bits of information regarding “our” train, and I decided it was time to share even though each piece of information could stand alone as a separate column, but why should they?    … least there is an underlying theme.  

Part 1:  The Reverse S-Curve….
I found some still photographs online of trains making their way through Douglas County as well as some videos, too.   Apparently there are folks that are real train fanatics – often referred to as railfans – people who actually follow trains and take pictures along the route at various locations. 
Many of the entries mentioned Douglasville’s “famous Reverse S-curve”.   

Seriously?   The rails passing through Douglas County curve at some point…..and form an “S”?    I began to look closely at the pictures and the videos and couldn’t deny the fact that we do have a reverse S-curve west of town at the N. Baggett Road crossing.    I even got in the car and headed west on 78 and yes…..there it was.  I have driven by the spot hundreds of times, and it just never registered with me.
You can see it at this picture I located here:

The picture above is Douglasville's famous Reverse S-Curve.  The link above serves as the picture credit.

You can really view how the track curves in this particular video here around the 1:08 mark….the first section of the video is a view of Temple, Georgia, but then you see the S-curve at N. Baggett Road.

So, I had more questions.  Why is this reverse S-curve so famous among the railfans and why was the “S” built into the track?   It just seems that straight lines would be safer.    Everything I’ve read about curves mentions the fact that friction and wear on the wheels and rails are problems.   The curves also reduce speed, but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing as trains approach town, right?

I sent the railfan who shot the video a message and Nikos answered me.  You have to love the ease of contact with the Internet!   Nikos stated:

It's not famous really, it's just well known within the Atlanta railroad photography circle, since its a very nice place to photograph trains. As for why it's built like that, I don't know a specific answer, but I imagine it has to do with the topography of the land and a way to gain elevation, if you ever see a train coming through the S curves it often will not be moving that fast and the locomotive prime movers will be working hard. The stretch of railroad between Atlanta and Birmingham is known for its curves and hills.

A friend of mine and long time Douglasville resident advised:

One thing to keep in mind is the period in which they cleared the land and took into consideration the topography of the land. You know once you get west of Douglasville, the Appalachian [imprint] of the land rolls and ebbs. I would imagine back then that the railroad surveyors took the least construction impact path to lay a rail bed. They didn't have equipment back then like we do today.

I'd like to get my hands on some of the information regarding the route of the track and how it was decided. I'm thinking a trip to the Norfolk Southern archives is in order. It's on my list of things to do at any rate.

Part 2: The Missing Caboose....
Back in December I visited the Douglas County Public Library on Selman Drive and took a few photographs of their art collection.   This picture is part of the collection:


The title of this piece is “The End of the Line” by Jim Perkins.   The title makes perfect sense because Mr. Perkins captured the caboose that sat along the railroad tracks between Broad Street and Strickland Street where Campbellton crosses Broad and the tracks.   The library’s guidebook to the art collection advised me “the caboose was acquired by the City of Douglasville.”
I remember seeing the caboose there.   Several people I’ve asked remember seeing the caboose there, so at least I know I wasn’t seeing things, but it has disappeared.  You can actually see the caboose in this next picture on the right:

I thought it might have been moved to Hunter Park…..a caboose is on display there, but was told by someone who used to work at the park it is a different one.

Hunter Park, Douglasville
What on earth happened to it?
I have inquired with various people to no avail.   I’m still waiting on some answers, but so far…..nothing.

Part 3:  Antiquated Blue Laws….      
Hearing the train whistle yesterday morning also got me thinking about another tidbit of train related history I’ve been hanging onto, and it connects to antiquated laws we still have today.   The situation involves a piece of litigation originally filed in the Superior Court here in Douglas County before reaching  the Georgia Court of Appeals in 1908.   The case involved one of Georgia’s blue laws.
In case you are unaware a blue law refers to a law that is passed based on religious standards.  The origin of the term “blue law” is unknown, but the concept dates back to the Puritans in the 17th Century when they passed laws requiring church attendance on Sunday.
Blue laws abounded back when I was a little girl.   Whether you went to a Christian church or not there were certain things you simply did not do on a Sunday including shopping and apparently at the turn of the century it was against the law for a train to blow its horn on Sundays and disturb the Sabbath.
Yes, not only were stores closed across the state in 1908 it was also against the law for trains to disturb the Sunday quiet.  The Defendant in the matter was A.H. Westfall, the superintendent of transportation for the Southern Railway Company.    The complaint advised:
….on the 14th day of April, 1907, said day being the Sabbath day, [the Defendant] unlawfully run and cause to be run in and through Douglas County, over said railroad six freight trains of the Southern Railway Company, all going east pulling a train of freight cars, all of said freight trains arriving and departing from the city of Douglasville during the afternoon of said date.

….The six freight trains in question ran through Douglas County after eight o’clock a.m. on the Sunday charged in the indictment, arriving at their destination, Atlanta, at different hours in the afternoon and evening of that Sunday.
…These trains were all prevented from making their trips in schedule time, and were delayed at Waco, by the fact that there was no water in the tank at that place to supply the engines; and the tank was not supplied with water at Waco until about noon on Sunday.

….The failure to keep water at Waco prevented the freight train from complying with their regular schedule, and caused them to be delayed more than 12 hours; and when they left Waco on Sunday about noon, they were ordered to make the run to Atlanta on what was known as an “extra schedule.”

Eventually the Court of Appeals did not uphold the original verdict against Mr. Westfall for several complex legal reasons I won’t bore you with here, but the case was dismissed.

Today this case seems a little silly, doesn’t it?   How could we have a law preventing a train from blowing its horn?    Even without the sort of automobile traffic we have today it would seem folks would need to know when a train was bearing down on them, but the blue laws prevailed.

Over the years one by one the blue laws have been repealed.   I can remember finally having the ease and convenience of entering a store…..almost any store…..on a Sunday to shop.   Today, the thought of not being able to is just ludicrous, and far be it from me to judge anyone, but I would imagine the same folks who attend church venture into those stores for a little shopping, order their favorite dish at a restaurant, or even buy a movie ticket on the once stark and quiet Sabbath.
However, one blue law remains…..
In November, 2011 The New York Times advised:

Religiously motivated blue laws were once common across the Bible Belt. But over the decades, they have been struck down as anachronistic or unfriendly to business. Georgia was the last Southern bastion of a statewide all-day ban on Sunday alcohol sales in package or grocery stories.

After years of debating whether to do away with a century-old law that banned selling alcohol on Sundays, Georgia politicians decided to let the people vote, city by city and county by county, on what they preferred in their communities. The results were resounding: 105 of the 127 communities that voted chose to end the Sunday restriction, often by huge margins…..

That is a compromise that both sides agree is probably best for an issue where views differ so starkly. “It’s hard to argue with people who just want to vote, even when you disagree with what they want to vote for,” said Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition.
So, I can hear the train in Douglasville now…..I can go to a movie, a restaurant and do some shopping, but can I buy that same bottle of wine on a Sunday that I can pick up the day before or the day after?
No.   I can’t, and unlike so many Georgia communities that have held elections, I haven’t been given the right to exercise my right to vote concerning the issue.
Richard Segal, the administrator of the Facebook page called “Douglasville & Douglas County for Sunday alcohol sales,” advises:
“What could be the last of the blue laws in Georgia fell last year when the Georgia General Assembly passed, and Governor Deal signed, SB-10 which permits cities and counties to place a question on the ballot to allow the retail sale of alcohol beverages.  The Douglasville and Douglas County governments have not acted on this, but the two cities that are partially in Douglas County have.  Villa Rica voters approved Sunday retail sales in November, and Austell voters get to decide on March 6.  Even with these changes, alcohol sales on Sunday are still treated differently than on other days of the week – no sales before 12:30 p.m. are allowed.”

It really doesn’t matter to me how the vote turns out.  What matters to me is that our citizens here in Douglas County and the City of Douglasville should be able to speak out on the matter by getting to exercise one of the most important rights and responsibilities we have – the right to vote.
I certainly hope our elected officials wouldn’t have the audacity to deny citizens their right to vote since so many communities in our state have already had their say.
Perhaps it’s time they heard from you.
You can visit the Facebook page for “Douglasville & Douglas County for Sunday alcohol sales” here.

You can find the contact information for the Board of Commissioners for Douglas County here and contact information regarding the City of Douglasville officials here.
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