Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Log Cabin Library at Lithia Springs

I've written concerning how the library in Douglasville came to be here, but the efforts at Lithia Springs were entirely the beginning, and predated the folks in Douglasville by thirty-seven years.

The Lithia Springs project was spearheaded by the women in the community. The library would be housed in a log cabin that sat north of the railroad tracks. They decided to fund the library by holding a box supper and invited the general public. A Sentinel article from the time reported the event was well attended...especially by the men in the area. They enthusiastically bid on the dinners and bought chances to win quilts the ladies displayed.

The Sentinel article goes on to say, "The ladies of Lithia Springs are eternally grateful to the boosters for the nice donation of $25 to build a chimney to their beloved Log Cabin Library which was in danger of being left in the cold, as Lithia Springs is building a new school house and now feeling a might poor. Some of these days they will return the favor when Douglasville and her boosters turn their full attention to such institutions in their town."

The boosters the Sentinel spoke of were a group of businessmen in Douglasville who were headed, at the time, by Dr. Tom Whitley.

The Lithia Springs Log Cabin library was governed by the Lithia Springs Library Association with Miss Lily Reynolds, a school teacher and outspoken promoter of the library project, at the helm.

Volunteers made up the library staff, and in those early days the library was open to the public from two to four o'clock on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons.

The book collection was described as "marvelous" and circulation and membership seemed quite good. A fine of one cent per day was charged for books kept over 14 days.

In 1917, Mrs. George Bass and Captain J.C. Joyner laid a brick walk from the porch to the sidewalk. The library was used at this time for various women's meetings and also served as the town hall for town council meetings.

At some point around 1918, Miss Reynolds left the area and interest in the library began to decline. Sadly, the building burned down in the late 1940s. However, one book, a Bible, survived the fire, and is a treasured relic at the Lithia Springs Library today.

I've looked through several collections of old photos taken in and around Douglas County. I've yet to see a picture of the old log cabin, but would be greatly interested in seeing and sharing one.

The efforts to maintain a public library at Lithia Springs took off again when Mrs. Annette Winn, principal of what was then Lithia Springs Elementary School wanted her students to have more access to reference materials than what the school board could afford for the school. Fannie Mae Davis advises in her book Douglas County: From Indian Trail to I-20 that Mrs. Winn was never one to leave a stone unturned, if it concerned a benefit for her beloved adopted Douglas County and her own community of Lithia Springs.

At last there was a reason for hope with the founding of West Georgia Regional Library in Carrollton. After the library's bookmobile service was inaugurated, Mrs. Winn contacted the director, Miss Edith Foster, the State Department of Library Services, and Douglas County officials, whereby permission was granted for the bookmobile to visit Lithia Springs Elementary/Annette Winn Elementary once a month. The children knew the schedule and eagerly awaited the monthly visits. A library was needed. Mrs. Winn and Miss Foster talked with parents, civic groups and clubs to get their interest.

Finally, it was decided that the little courthouse located in Lithia Springs near the fire department would be the perfect location. I've written about the little courthouses here.

The front room of the little building was made available and volunteers from the local Ruritan Club built bookshelves. Mrs. Betty Hagler took over as the librarian on a volunteer basis.

Fannie Mae Davis continues, in May, 1963, East Douglas County Library opened. The first library board was comprised of Mrs. Annette Winn, chairman; Mrs. A.B. Craven, Mr. George P. Argo; Mrs. Agnes Green, Mrs. Ethelyn Cooper, Mr. Louie Wood, and Mrs. Edith Foster the West Georgia Regional director served as an advisor. Mrs. Hagler continued as librarian, but on a salary. The library was now open for longer hours.

They registered 200 people in the first week alone. Of course, it didn't take long for the small front room of the Lithia Springs little courthouse to overflow with books and library patrons. A larger space was needed and the library that you and I know as the Lithia Springs Library was opened in the late 1970s.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Regarding Cracker

It often astounds me when I receive an e-mail from readers. While I do hope that people will find my efforts here worth the time to take a few minutes to read, I’m still amazed that people do read…let alone take the time to make a comment or send me message.

Any type of communication is dearly appreciated.
The other day I received an e-mail from a reader named Susan.   She wrote, “I’m from southern California and moved to Douglasville in 1998. Between Burnt Hickory and Fairburn Road on Highway 78 alongside the railroad tracks (on the south side) there used to be a little sign posted near the rail that said “CRACKER.” It was green and looked like it was a sign posted by either the railroad or the county. I always wondered what it meant. One day it was gone. Was it a racial thing?”
Great question, Susan!!!

 I knew the very sign she was referring to and had wondered myself. I instantly did a little research and asked around and was able to get back with Susan fairly quick. I decided to share the information here.
The word cracker has many meanings including a racial reference to rural poor Whites, but the sign along the railroad tracks was not racially motivated. The sign was placed there by the railroad to alert the engineer they were coming up on a particular area where railroad cars might need to be left or picked up.  The sign served as a marker and until just the last few years it was still there along the tracks.

The name “Cracker” referred to a company that stood along the tracks named Cracker Asphalt Company owned by Dr. Young, a chemist, who moved to Douglasville sometime in the mid-1950s. 
Cracker Asphalt was an asphalt and petroleum refining company.

Today we are taken a little aback regarding what was going on at the site, but we do need to remember from the 1950s through mid-1970s there were no regulations regarding businesses like Cracker Asphalt. The site covered over 40 acres and most of the waste was buried on the back part of the property. 
Everyone knew there were issues with the property. Several longtime residents have told me that if the weather was just right all of Douglasville smelled like roofing tar. It got into your house. The smoke stacks were too close to the ground. Later after citizen complaints the government told Dr. Young to raise the stacks and the problem did get better, but there were still issues.

Later the EPA did get involved and labeled the property as a hazardous area.

Let’s get back to the word “Cracker”. Why would Dr. Young use the word in the name of his company?

Was he making reference to Georgia Crackers?  “Cracker” can be a slur again rural white people as I stated above.  In fact, Georgians who lived in the extreme southern part of the state were often referred to as Georgia Crackers by their Florida neighbors.  The term came about as the Georgians would drive their cattle across the state line during the late 19th century and early 20th century looking for better grassland during the winter months.  They drove their cattle with bullwhips that made cracking sounds earning them the nickname “Crackers”.

I’ve heard Dr. Young was actually from Alabama, so I don’t think he named his business after cattlemen from South Georgia.

There were the Atlanta Crackers – a minor league baseball team that called Atlanta home from 1901 to 1965.  The team was very popular, but somehow I don’t thing Dr. Young was thinking baseball when he named his asphalt company.

Maybe we should focus on the business of Cracker Asphalt….refining petroleum. A report I found online prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency stated “it is believed Cracker Asphalt disposed of waste sludge by on-site land application.”   The report goes on to say that from 1955 to 1971 the site where Cracker Asphalt was located was used for various activities but most are undocumented mainly because prior to the 1970s the refining industry was largely unregulated across the United States.
If we connect the word “cracker” to petroleum geology and chemistry the choice of name makes perfect sense.  “Cracking” can occur during the refining process basically when long-chain hydrocarbons are converted to short chains. Yes, I know.  It sounds very involved scientifically, and it is.  Perhaps it might be best if we know that “cracking” is a process that occurs in refining, so it makes sense Dr. Young would use the word as a name for his business.

At some point during the early 1970s Dr. Young put his own name on the business changing it from Cracker Asphalt to Young Refining Company.  The EPA report I read stated that, “beginning in 1971, refining asphaltic crude; the facility also refined waste oil and produced JP-4 jet fuel.”
Around 1976, the EPA became involved when residents in the area made complaints.   The report advises they were concerned about possible leaking tanks, piles of scrap metal and debris all over the site, possible waste buried on or behind the site; including drums containing toxic and radiological wastes, and potential excess cancers and respiratory illness in the area.”

Since 2004 the business covering 40 acres along Huey Road and bordered the tracks along Bankhead has changed hands two or three times, but has always retained the Young name.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Celebrating the Election

As I write this it is exactly 48 hours until the polls will close here on the east coast Tuesday night. The pundits are all squawking filling up the airwaves with their poll numbers, commentary, and spin.

Once the polls close it won't get any better.  Tuesday night will be filled with a never-ending series of maps, numbers and election tidbits until we know without a doubt that we have a winner.

If you are like me you are a little weary of the whole election slug-fest at this point. I long for Wednesday to get here, so the suspense will be over....but will it really be over?

Yes, by Wednesday we will know who the next occupant of the Oval Office will be. Some of us will be celebrating because the current resident, President Obama will remain in office another four years, or some of us will be celebrating because a new guy...Governor Romney...will be making arrangements to move his family into the White House come January.

No matter the thing we can count on will be the reactions...the news media will keep talking, and you will see all sorts of reactions good and bad via social media like Facebook.

You didn't really think the election would actually end all of that, did you?

With possible reactions in mind I did a little digging regarding past elections and how folks in Douglas County reacted to the news. I found an interesting reaction from the election of 1884.

The Election of 1884 pitted Grover Cleveland for the Democrats up against James G. Blaine representing the Republican Party, and it is one election year remembered for its extreme bitterness including personal slurs, casting blame toward the opposition, gaffes and downright nastiness.


I really don't have to state the obvious here, do I?

This was also one of the first presidential elections where the candidates had to try a little harder to get in front of as many citizens as possible to make the case why they were the best person for the job.

This was also the election year the news media made a huge profit hawking sensationalism.   They picked up on the drama on both sides reporting every detail they possibly could and kept the mess churning throughout the months of campaigning by both candidates. I need to bring up the obvious here?

Cleveland was accused of having an illegitimate child. James  G. Blaine carried around the nickname of "Slippery Jim" due to several questions regarding ethics violations while he served as Speaker of the House.

Cleveland won, but just barely in what is described by historians as one of the closest elections in United States history. Cleveland's election was also notable because it broke a twenty-five year losing streak for the Democratic Party regarding the White House.

So, the reaction?

Well, as far as Democrats go they were ecstatic, and southern Democrats were beyond ecstatic....they were downright giddy as they had endured years of Reconstruction and Republican rule not only with national offices, but within their own states as well. 

Douglas County Democrats were among the ecstatic bunch per The Weekly Star newspaper. The article from November, 1884 states:

A number of Douglasville boys went down to Atlanta last Friday night to participate in the jubilee over Cleveland's election. Some of them jubilated muchly.

I have my own personal opinions regarding what "jubilated muchly" might mean, but I'll keep that to myself.

The newspaper article continues:

The boys painted the town red last Friday, when the news of Cleveland's election was received. Amid the firing of anvils, whooping and rejoicing, Captain C. P. Bowen made his appearance on the smallest mule in the county and rode up and down the sidewalk and all over town, with little Joe Johnson behind him. He had placed on the mule's forehead a placard which had written on it in large letters "Cleveland and Hendricks". 

Hendricks was Cleveland's running mate and our 21st Vice President..Thomas A. Hendricks. Please don't feel bad if you didn't know. I didn't know it either, and I make it my business to commit factoids like that to memory.

Back to the article:

Bowen was followed by half the town, some holding to the mule's tail, some its ears, and all hollering at the top of their voices.

Before the election, the Captain had pledged himself, that if Cleveland was elected, to ride a bull all over town. He was not able to find a bull and substituted this little mule.

Well, the occasion justified the behavior.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware which Douglas County "boys" made their way to Atlanta and "jubilated muchly" following the Election of 1884, but as far as Captain C.P. Bowen goes, I do have a little more information.

Captain Bowen was known to his mama as Caleb Perry Bowen (1827-1907), and his mama was Nancy (Yarbrough) Bowen. Captain Bowen's father was Major Thomas J. Bowen who moved to Campbell County (later Douglas County) from Jackson County, Georgia. Major Bowen received his rank while serving during the War of 1812.

A picture of Captain Bowen later in life is seen below:

Bowen earned the title of Captain during the Civil War when he was with the Campbell County Sharpshooters, Company F of the 30th Regiment. Originally the group of soldiers was known as Company C, but after being sent to Camp Bailey in April, 1862 the group was reorganized, and they were referred to as Company F throughout the remainder of the war. Per Douglas County historian Fannie Mae Davis, Company F was with the 30th Regiment throughout the war in all engagements in which the regiment participated including Vicksburg and Missionary Ridge.

Captain Bowen was wounded for the second time at Chickamauga, but stayed on the battlefield for five days following the battle to help bury the dead. He was captured at Nashville in December, 1864 and sent to Johnson's Island.

Bowen came home to Campbell County after the war and soon got involved with the efforts to create Douglas County.  He was a member of the contingent who traveled to Atlanta when Dr. Zeller's bill was presented to the state legislature along with Ephraim Pray and several others. See my article concerning how Douglas County formed here.

Captain C.P. Bowen served as the first treasurer of Douglas County, was a state representative in 1876 and also served as postmaster from 1893 to 1897. He was also an investor in the canning plant that was established in Douglas County in 1887.....see my article here.  Information I located at mentions Captain Bowen grew up in the Chestnut Log area, but later lived in a home along W. Broad Street in Douglasville.

Further checking regarding the mention of little Joe Johnson who followed closely behind the Captain and the mule revealed little. At the time the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Douglasville was named Thomas J. Johnson, and he did in fact have a son named Joseph, but I was unable to get an exact verification if they are one and the same.

Captain Bowen's "Find a Grave" entry can be found here.

For a full account of how the city of Atlanta celebrated Cleveland's election including citizens taking over the General Assembly and a river of fire running through the streets you can read my post here.

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