Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mr. Geer and the Granite

I know it’s easy to fuss about the downtown business district in Douglasville…..some of the buildings are crumbling away and many remain empty, but the buildings are protected.  The buildings aren’t going to disappear from one day to the next unless some act of nature occurs or without many people knowing about it first.

It’s a different story regarding our late 19th century to turn-of-the-century homes.   With the exception of the Cultural Arts Center our older homes are all privately owned and have no historic designation.   It’s a personal choice regarding National Register status, and many owners don’t want to follow the criteria to keep the status. I certainly understand this, but so many our earliest homes are gone….taken down for one reason or another over the years and replaced with other buildings or blankets of asphalt.

The homes that remain are treasures.  Many of the people I meet who live in Douglasville’s  oldest homes realize the importance their residence holds within our collective history, but so many other citizens don’t realize, know or even care.  

My hope is by educating more and more people regarding these structures –who lived in them and their contribution to Douglasville history - we can make more people begin to realize the importance of preserving and saving some of our older structures.     
One important home sits at the corner of Colquitt and Strickland.

It’s easy to drive right past it without much notice mainly because a business has taken over the former home.  There are no flowers or furniture on the porch or toys to signal someone lives there, but for over half a century the structure was a home.

This home was built by M.E. Geer during the first decade of the 20th century though today it is home to Douglas County Resource Alliance – an organization that advocates for and provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Mr. Geer’s grandson, Richard Geer Morgan, has been in touch with me and has advised his grandfather was never called by his legal first name – Major.  If anything besides “Mr. Geer”, it was “M.E. Geer” or “Ernest Geer”.

Mr. Geer was born in Belton, South Carolina which is in the Anderson area.   On April 23, 1902 an issue of the Anderson Intelligencer stated….There was a reunion of the Geer family at the residence of Mrs. Mary Geer in this town, Sunday, April 20th, at which were present her children and their families as follows:  President John M. Geer of the Easley Cotton Mills and family, D. Aaron Geer, merchant of this place,….. M. Earnest Geer merchant of this place and Professor Ben E. Geer, Furman.

According to Ben E.Geer his mother told him and his brothers that they needed to move out of Anderson since they could not make anything of themselves raising cotton.  According to Geer, “she instilled in her sons the ambition to do something,” and this ambition is evidenced by the fact that four of her sons grew up to be cotton mill presidents.

By 1907 Earnest Geer was no longer a merchant in Anderson.  Textile World Record (volume 34) advises he had taken a position as vice president and manager of the Lois Cotton Mill in Douglasville under a section titled “New Mill Construction”.   By taking the position in Douglasville Geer had followed his mother’s advice and joined what would become the family business…of sorts.   

John Mattison Geer was president of Easley Cotton Mills in Easley, South Carolina – a 68 acre complex that today is protected by National Register status.  His brother Ben took over for John in 1911 when he became ill and passed away.     Later, in 1933 Ben E. Geer returned to Furman University where he had been a professor and took over as president of the college.

Getting back to the house on Strickland Street….. it seems that while the cotton mill was being built and during the process of digging a well on the property a vein of granite was discovered.   The granite was extracted and cut into blocks.   Ernest Geer was in the process of building his home on Strickland Street and needed a foundation.   

You guessed it….the granite from the mill site became the foundation for the Geer home.   As soon as I read Mr. Geer’s grandson’s e-mail advising me of this I couldn’t wait to head over there to the house and see it for myself.   

I began snapping pictures as soon as I got out of the car, and then remembered I was on private property.
I walked into the office, and handed the folks there my business card and asked, “Did you know the foundation of this home came from the cotton mill property?”

I’m sure they thought I was crazy……but they were very gracious and I was happy to discover there were employees who did realize they worked in a home with some history behind it.  

They allowed me to walk around on the first floor and take pictures. 

The details of the home were fantastic from the main hall with the staircase….

A lovely window seat in one of the rooms….

and these very unique folding doors off the main hall opening up to the various rooms on each side of the house.  There were three panels and the doors looked like they could fold back on each other.

While it was very evident the home has a foundation of granite the home also has front steps fashioned from the same granite.  

Yes, it seems Ernest Geer didn’t really have a choice regarding his profession and found himself in Douglasville where he would manage our cotton mill into the 1930s, but unfortunately, the Depression was too much and eventually the mill was sold to what would become a string of owners through the 1970s.   
Mr. Geer’s grandson tells me the people of Douglasville had confidence in his grandfather, however.   He stayed on in town raising his family and even served as a Justice of the Peace following World War II.

I'm going to keep M. Ernest Geer's name on my mind as I continue to research Douglas County history including Sentinel and county records research.   I'm sure I'll be writing about him again real soon!


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