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Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Few News Snippets from the 1880s

Over the last few months I've periodically buried myself in newspaper research mainly with Atlanta's Constitution to see what was said about Douglas County and Douglasville during our earliest days.

We are mentioned fairly frequently, and it's fair to say by reading these snippets we can get a good picture of what our own paper at the time - The Weekly Star - was publishing since the text of their articles is what was published in the Atlanta paper.

Here are a few entries in chronological order printed in italics along with my reactions and explanations.

September 10, 1882 - The first new bale of cotton was sold [in Douglasville] today at auction by Dr. G.W. McLarty and was bought by Mr. M.B. Watson, one of the first merchants of the place. It will be shipped to J.M. Watson, Atlanta, and sold at Cumming's exchange next Wednesday at two o'clock at the First Bale of Douglas County for 1882, and the first new bale for the year shipped over the Georgia Pacific Railroad.

G.W. McLarty was George Wilson McLarty and M.B. Watson would be Mathias Bates Watson.  Watson was born in 1855 and married Lillie J. Vansant. Her father, Young Vansant was the man who donated land that would become Douglasville. The picture below shows M.B. Watson and Lilly on their honeymoon.  Sadly, Lillie would be dead a year later.



Once the railroad was operational Douglas County cotton would be loaded on the train and sent to Atlanta for auction. "Cumming's" mentioned in the above article was J.F. Cummings & Company located at 37 Broad Street in Atlanta. The company dealt in cotton, grain and meat futures.
Along with several others J.F. Cummings was one of the men who incorporated the International Cotton Exposition. It was similar to a world's fair and was held in Atlanta from October through December, 1881.
December 6, 1883 - From an article titled "Newspaper Change" - Dorsett & McElreath have disposed of the "Star", to W.A. Breckenridge, who will continue its publication. Mr. Breckenridge is the proprietor of the "Fairburn News - Letter" and the "Dallas News Era", which with the "Star", makes him proprietor of three of the best weeklies in west Georgia.
Dorsett & McElreath would be Samuel N. Dorsett and Samuel A. McElreath. Unfortunately, I've not been able to find out more about W.A. Breckenridge, yet. It is interesting that ownership of the paper ended up in hands outside of Douglasville though. I'm sure the editors continued to be local citizens.
June 15, 1884 - From an article titled "Newspoints From Douglasville" - Tom Edwards showed a blue sparrow [in Douglasville] this morning that he had caught. Dr. T.R. Whitley, who has lived in Atlanta the past five years, has moved [to Douglasville] to practice his profession. Mr. T.J. Smith of Gadsden, Alabama passed here today in pursuit of Joe Blalock who had stolen his horse. W.J. Camp of this county has a field of cotton that will average two feet high.
Catching a bird, the height of cotton, and a move from Atlanta to Douglasville seems like rather mundane news to us today, but the pursuit of a horse thief is rather interesting. Note that Mr. Smith is pursuing the thief himself. No mention of the police is made.
Those were the days, huh?
Once he moved to Douglasville, Dr. T.R. Whitley was very involved with various things including the establishment of Douglasville College which was located approximately where the armory is located on Church Street today.
October 1, 1884 - The crop outlook in Douglas County is above average. The small grain crop is good, while there is an abundant yield of corn. The indications are that, while the cotton crop is late it will be much better than was anticipated.
With a population of one thousand inhabitants it has about thirty stores, the proprietors of which [have] a thriving business. All of the merchants are classified as gilt-edged.
Within the past year many improvements have been made. Notably among them being the three...brick store houses by S.A. McElreath and Brother, J.M. and M.B. Watson and Selman, Smith & Co.
The cotton receipts of the past year were 5,000 bales and this year they will probably reach 7,500 bales.
There has been much immigration to this county of the smaller farmers from the "stock law" counties.
The taxable value of the property in the county has increased over two hundred thousand dollars as shown by the tax books during the past year.
In Douglasville there is no ad valorem tax and there is now source to ascertain the increase of the town. The entire revenue of the town is derived from the licenses exacted from bar-rooms. This is placed at such a high figure that it runs the entire expense of the municipal authorities. They now have under advisement and it will  soon be a certainty, of establishing a complete system of water works that will furnish water for the whole town.
Douglas is a new county and has many resources that the completion of the Georgia Pacific will develop.
The most interesting part of the above article that jumped out at me was this particular sentence, "The entire revenue of the town is derived from the licenses exacted from bar-rooms."
Seriously?!?
What an interesting bit of history!  In the early days the City of Douglasville was funded almost exclusively by liquor licenses during the saloon era.
You might also be wondering what was meant by a "stock law county". Basically, it has something to do with fences and folks who might allow their cattle and other livestock to roam freely. A section of the law provided that land owners could keep any livestock that might wander onto their land if you were in a "stock law district." Apparently, Douglas County was NOT a stock law county in 1884.
December 5, 1884 - In Douglas County, West Summerlin is charged with the offense of committing an assault with intent to murder on the person of Tom Williams. Both are negroes. Summerlin only has one arm. Yet the evidence shows that he made Williams "tote the fast mail".
I've done some checking but have been unable to discover what "tote the fast mail" might mean, but considering Williams was assaulted Summerlin must have had the "upper hand", even if he only had one.
He most certainly had the matter "in hand".
April 15, 1885 - Real estate is being rapidly improved in [Douglasville], and is held at good prices. The population is being increased at the rate of about four per week - with new babies. The farmers are staying severely at home, planting, hence trade is dull. The merchants, however, say they had rather see them preparing for the fall payments than loafing around town now.
In October, 1884 the population hovered at one thousand and six months later four babies a week are being born. Well, it would be easy to surmise what the folks were doing in their free time, right? They were most certainly planting seeds of various kinds.
October 3, 1885 - Douglasville, with a population of one thousand, has but one foreigner and two citizens born above the Mason and Dixon line. All are lawyers, merchants and physicians and were raised in this and the adjoining counties. We have an emphatically Georgia town.
Oh my! Two Yankees.  I think my research has identified them, but that's a story for another time, but seriously...a foreigner?  I will keep my eye out for an identify.
April 18, 1886 - From an article titled improvements in Douglasville - The spring improvements have begun. A.W. McLarty has let out contract for the erection of two fine brick two-storied stores, while S.N. Dorsett will match them with one similar to them. This will give Douglasville a block of fine brick stores. Besides these there are five new dwelling houses in process of erection.
Samuel N. Dorsett was one of Douglasville's first merchants and was a co-owner of Dorsett, Price an McElreath. He also co-owned The Weekly Star before it sold, was the city's second postmaster and was on the City Council in 1889. We also need to add Superior Court Clerk, County Treasurer, and he served on the committee to secure a bank.
February 10, 1887 - From an article titled "Douglasville's New Council" - The new municipal officers were installed last night. J.C. Wright was elected mayor pro tem, S.M. Cash, marshall; W.T. Roberts, city attorney; and W.M. McElreath, treasurer.  Messers. E.H. Camp, J.J. Haynes, A.R. Bomar and W.J. Camp are attending the state agricultural convention at Americus. There are two flourishing agricultural clubs in [Douglas County].
September 28, 1887 - Can you imagine checking into an Atlanta hotel and it making the paper? Well, apparently in the 1880s The Constitution regularly published the names of people who were in town and staying at the local hotels. A blurb from September 28th indicates S.N. Dorsett was staying at The Markham. Apparently Markham House was a very nice hotel in the 1880s located close to Atlanta's Union Station. The hotel had 107 rooms and central heat. The building was lost in a fire in 1896.
August 10, 1889 - The headline read Farmers Alliance Day - Today is a great one at Piedmont Chautauqua. The Piedmont Chautauqua in Lithia Springs was in full swing. The article goes on to advise the 8 p.m. address for that day would be given by Colonel J. G. Camp on "Women and Her Influence". Mr. Camp is one of the most gifted orators in Georgia.
Joseph G. Camp was known as the orator of the south.
The advertisement states, "His splendid graceful periods are interspersed with enough humor to prevent a surfeit of beauty." Maybe so, but somehow I think Mr. Camp and I would have differing opinions on the subject of women and their influence.
Well that's some of the local news from the 1880s - I hope you enjoyed it!

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