Monday, March 5, 2012

Early City Ordinances and Fines

Well, television has the Emmys and the world of cinema has the Academy Awards, but one of my favorite awards is the Stellas.

Not familiar?

The Stellas are given to people who file frivolous lawsuits.   They are named after Stella Liebeck….the woman behind the words “Caution- Hot!” on each and every cup of McDonald’s coffee.    While I realize Ms. Liebeck….and elderly woman…was burned terribly and McDonalds had been warned for years via customer complaints their coffee was too hot there are other Stella award winners that are beyond reasonable and reach the bizarre and brazen category. 
One Stella award winner was attacked by a squirrel outside a shopping mall and claimed her injuries could have been prevented if the mall had warned her that squirrels were living outside the mall doors.


I’ve never actually seen an attack squirrel.  I have some that squeal their gibberish and peer over the gutters at me, but attack?   Hardly.   Perhaps it’s the mall variety of squirrel that’s the most dangerous.

 Another plaintiff who won a Stella award blamed Mazda Motors for her injuries in a car wreck claiming the company failed to provide instructions regarding the safe and proper use of a seatbelt.


Perhaps each vehicle should come with its own private stewardess so we can receive the seatbelt, exit and life vest tour every time we venture from our driveway.

I really shouldn’t be surprised.   There are and have been all sorts of crazy laws throughout history…..

Laws are necessary.  You simply can’t live with a group of humans and not have laws.   While laws certainly don’t prevent bad things from happening…..they can serve as a deterrent and the consequences for breaking laws can eventually protect us from those who can’t seem to follow laws.  

But, sometimes laws are passed because someone wants to promote something or someone did something stupid.  Also, from what I can see it’s much more fun for our lawmaking bodies to pass laws than it is for them to repeal them….especially when they have become antiquated.   It’s interesting to see what still remains on the books in some jurisdictions.

I’ve been told when you visit the City of Gainesville, Georgia, you must eat your fried chicken with your hands.  Now, if you happen to know that Gainesville considers itself the chicken capital of the world then it makes sense they want to promote eating fried chicken with your hands…..but a law?   Any tried and true Southerner would know to eat fried chicken with your hands.

At one time in the city of Columbus, Georgia it was against the law to sit on your front porch in an indecent position.  First of all…..what I might consider indecent you might consider decent.
Second….I’d love to hear the story behind that little law. 

It is also rumored the state of Georgia still has at least 75 laws on the books dealing with rice paddies.

Yes, rice paddies.

This dates back to a time when rice was the number one crop before the Civil War along the Savannah, Altamaha and Ogeechee Rivers.   Later a hurricane damaged most of the coastal rice fields and they were never replaced, but the laws remain…..just in case, I guess.

The City of Douglasville is no different.   If you go back through the Douglasville city ordinances during the late 1800s some things stand out……

For example, citizens would be fined if they tied a mule, a horse, or a cow under a tree and left it there for any amount of time.

Since automobiles weren’t around then it makes sense that folks would travel to town using animals…..and if they had to go into the courthouse or one of the businesses along Broad Street the animals had to be hitched up somewhere, right?  

The downtown parking lot didn’t exist then…..and at the time I write this it doesn’t exist either due to construction…..but that’s another column for another day, so I would guess the appropriate place back then would have been the road outside the buildings, but apparently some folks wanted to tie their animals up underneath the trees around the courthouse or even James Grove.    I guess with the animal droppings and the animals grazing on the grass and flowers the ladies had planted in James Grove… it would have become an issue.

Docket’s for the Mayor’s Court indicate Tom McElreath’s horse, Julia Clayton’s cow and George Gamble’s mule were all found tethered beneath trees within the city limits.   All three were fined one dollar.

On the subject of animal droppings…….another early town ordinance called for all males between the ages 16 to 45 to work on the city streets for 15 days a year or pay $1.75 if they refused.  I would imagine since the roads were dirt back then the road work would have consisted of filling in the constant mud holes……there was a large one at the intersection of Campbellton and Broad.  Folks finally named the hole because it couldn’t be maintained due to the traffic.  They called it Hog Wallow if I remember correctly.   It would also take a regular crew of folks to keep the animal droppings off the streets.   I don’t guess folks were given baggies back then to keep the area around their horse or mule neat and tidy.

Some men were exempt from the road crews including men missing an arm or leg.  The Mayor was exempt along with the councilmen and licensed ministers.

During the late 1800s men who were missing an arm or a leg were very commonplace as they were more often than not Civil War veterans.  I can understand their exemption, but the other exemptions seem a little extreme to me.   What about those men who were “filled with the Spirit” and “called to preach the Gospel”, but were not licensed?  I guess they had to draw the line somewhere….

Also….why was the mayor and councilmen exempt?   It wouldn’t have been the first time a politician was known to shovel the……oh, never mind. 

 Traffic violations during the late 1800s were also recorded in the Mayor’s Court dockets, but they didn’t involve automobiles.   Early research indicates two men were fined one dollar each for riding their mules on Douglasville’s sidewalks.

 In the early days Sundays in Douglasville were spent resting, visiting, and going to church, however, some early Douglasville citizens had a choice….and used  the day to pursue other activities such as shooting craps, playing cards or making a little wager on a game of pool at one of the local saloons.

 Bars in Douglasville dated back to 1877 when the first license to sell liquor was issued to G.R.Turner, Douglasville’s City Treasurer.  Four years later Mr. Turner would obtain a license that allowed him to offer a pool table for his customers to use.  

Other saloons followed including one owned by G. G. Stewart.   Licenses to serve liquor were $37.50 per year.   I’ve written about Douglasville’s Saloon Era here for a more complete picture of that time.

There were other entertainments….

In June, 1880 G.B. Stewart obtained a license to operate the first ten pin bowling alley.
During this time if city ordinances were broken citizens would appear in Mayor’s Court.  Most of the court cases involved fighting and failure to pay taxes.  Back then taxes ranged from twenty cents to one dollar.   Failure to remit your tax meant you might be sentenced to work on the city streets and/or pay a three dollar fine plus court costs…..or a week in jail.   Fines for fighting were around one dollar.

Hmmm….I know some people I’d be willing to smack for a dollar fine.  How about you?

Fines were also issued within the city limits for cussing (two dollars), for discharging a firearm within the city limits (two dollars or five days), for disturbing a meeting of the medical society (three dollars) and for getting on or off a moving train (one dollar).  

Just like today laws were usually passed to solve a problem, so I have to wonder about the story regarding the disturbance at the medical society meeting.   I wonder what went on there…..

The more information  I find through my research….the more questions I have.

Have a great week!!!

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Some of this information regarding city ordinances first appeared in a 1960s column Robert Griggs had in the Sentinel.

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