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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Anatomy of a Photo



Look at the wagon wheel I’ve pictured above.  Notice the hub in the middle.  Let’s say the hub of the wheel is our starting point – or a topic I felt needed a bit of research this week.  

Notice radiating from the wheel’s hub is several spokes – all heading off in various directions.

The wheel is a great visual regarding my history research.  I just never know where my focus or hub of research will take me, but one thing is certain…..my research usually develops several spokes carrying me off in several different directions all at once, and then I get to decide how to put it all together.
 
The process is interesting, intriguing, frustrating and delightful……all at the same time.
 
My most recent research involves the house in this picture below:
 
....as a reminder you can click on pictures to isolate them and make them larger.  Then hit your "back" button to return to the text

 
McElreath House on Cambellton close to the Broad Street intersection.
I’ve been hanging onto the picture for several months.  I had it stored on my camera phone, but didn’t get any type of caption with it, and I had forgotten the source.  I had hoped I would eventually happen upon the picture again.  

I finally put the picture on my personal Facebook page and hoped someone would be able to tell me something about it.   The picture really intrigued me because the house appeared to be sitting in the middle of our downtown area.  While I mentioned it might be Broad Street I was quickly corrected by a very knowledgeable friend who told me the only houses that would have been on Broad Street would have been east of today’s Hartley, Rowe and Fowler law firm and west of the buildings next to the courthouse.   Houses would have been on the side streets and along Church and Strickland Streets.

Finally, I located the source of the picture much like I locate many other things– while I’m busy looking for something else.   It wasn't the original source, but it was a picture of the house.

The picture was in Fannie Mae Davis’ book From Indian Trail to Interstate 20. The caption for the picture said, “The McElreath House –  [around 1900 used for] board and room.   Later George McLarty home.”

The house was most certainly a boarding house and might have been known as the McElreath house in later years, but according to local genealogist Elaine Steere, the 1880 census indicates the house belonged to John Morris, and two important citizens of Douglasville reported living there in 1880. S.A. or Samuel McElreath and Robert Alexander Massey both reported living in the Morris “hotel”.
During the 1870s and 1880s McElreath served as a city councilman.    He was a partner with David W. Price in one of Douglasville’s first businesses.   In 1878 a business license was issued to Price and McElreath Drygoods and Groceries.   The next year the business changed its name by adding the words “cotton warehouse” to the title. 

The store was located where the Precedence building  is located today at the corner of Campbellton and Broad.   The building is one of the oldest brick buildings in the commercial district, and I commend Greg Peeples and Allen Bearden for making the location a viable part of our downtown business district.    

Samuel N. Dorsett was later brought in as a partner with Price and McElreath. Samuel McElreath was also  involved with Mr. Dorsett in another business venture….that of the Weekly Star newspaper.

Samuel McElreath died in 1886 still a relatively young man of 35.  I am making the assumption the home in the picture above was his since it was located directly behind his business, but I have not researched the property for a direct line of ownership to him. 

Soon after her husband’s death Sara Emma McElreath was given the job of postal attendant by Judge Robert A. (Alexander) Massey.   My research indicates he had been a good friend of McElreath’s.    Massey had been appointed as postmaster in 1888 following a scandal involving the position, but he was too busy to oversee all of the duties.   He appointed his friend’s widow since she happened to need the income.

Within the year Sara had a new husband and father for her son, Glen.   Yes, you guessed it – she married Judge Massey and later had a daughter named Louise.   The couple settled on Price Street in what Fannie Mae Davis described as a three room cottage….. and another spoke for my research wheel is born.

Per the City of Douglasville’s well researched brochure titled “Founding Fathers” Judge Massey “was a local lawyer, devout Democrat, and was the first editor of The Weekly Star.
  
Are you beginning to pick up on the fact like I have that almost every mover and shaker in the City of Douglasville….at one time or another…..was connected to The Weekly Star?

Judge Massey was also Mayor of Douglasville from 1880-1881 and was a county court judge from 1884-1886. 
 
Sadly the good Judge passed away in 1890 leaving Sara alone….again… now with two small children
 
Poor Sara.
 
Within five years she had given birth to three children. One had died and she had had a child with each of two husbands plus she had buried both of the husbands.
I can’t even imagine the stress, and apparently Sara couldn’t handle it. Joe Baggett’s research on file at the Douglas County Public Library indicates Sara became emotionally unbalanced and disappeared in 1891.Baggett states his source was the County Ordinary’s minutes.
The Ordinary’s minutes also indicate that a member of the McElreath family – John McLarty Morris – was awarded the guardianship of Glen McElreath in 1891 while a member of the Massey family took Judge Massey’s daughter, Louise.
I’ll be writing the rest of the story involving Sara Emma McElreath Massey at a later date.
Getting back to my original focus – the house in the picture – it was torn down in the 1950s. At one point the property was home to Smith Motors, a used car lot owned by R.L. Smith
 

Smith Motors on Campbellton near the Broad Street intersection....1950s.   Source:   Bob Smith
For as long as I remember the space has been an empty gravel lot.  Today we see a little more action there since it’s the endpoint for the new Plaza East.   This Douglas County Sentinel article advises, “Plaza East is the final phase in a three-pronged project spanning 20 years and three mayors.  Completion is set for June….The City of Douglasville’s downtown area is intended to create a community identity and have a greater livability, mobility, and development alternatives, such as mixed use and walkability…When the plaza is complete, there will be connectivity to the main plaza [O’Neal Plaza] and Plaza West….“ [per City Planning Director Michelle Wright.
 
While projects come and go….while progress marches on....as it should....remember…..a gravel lot is never JUST a gravel lot just as a picture is never JUST a picture. 

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