Friday, September 20, 2013

An Afternoon at the Museum

This column first appeared in the Douglas County Sentinel on May 5, 2013.

I took a little time Tuesday to visit the Old Courthouse Museum for the “Keep Calm and Shop Local” Networking event.  All of the museum rooms were open for browsing, and I wanted to make sure I checked out the new and improved exhibit regarding town father Ephraim Pray. 
Ephraim Pray is one of Douglas County’s earliest settlers arriving in the area as early as 1828.  Along with a few other early settlers he holds the distinction of being a man who lived in three different counties – Carroll, Campbell and Douglas – without having to move even one stick of furniture.  County borders shifted twice during his lifetime.

When Pray moved to this area he purchased nine land lots on both sides of today’s Highway 5 at the Dog River Bridge.  He cleared the land himself and built a cabin.  He dammed the Trout Creek/Dog River and using the water power from the river he operated a flour and grist mill as well as a saw mill.  He also farmed, and the second floor of his mill was used by two male slaves, as well as by Pray himself, to make furniture.
Pray donated twelve acres for the purpose of building a church that would become Pray's Mill Baptist Church. His only stipulation was the church had to remain Baptist or the land would revert back to the Pray family. The new congregation wanted to name the new church for Pray, but he refused. Of course, they ended up naming the church for his mill instead.  Pray become a constituent member of the church and attended there until he passed away.

During Reconstruction, Ephraim Pray was one of several men who were tired of having to travel so far to Campbellton to conduct business. They wanted a new county.  In 1870, Pray traveled to Atlanta to listen to the state legislature approve the act for Douglas County. He was named one of the first county commissioners by the Georgia General Assembly, and he is one of the few charter citizens of Douglas County.
The new museum exhibit contains dozens of artifacts evidencing Mr. Pray’s life donated by Pray family member Joe Phillips. There are pictures, farm equipment, furniture Mr. Pray made, and more personal items such as pipes and a fiddle evidencing a man who lived during the Nineteenth century.

Museum volunteers have spent the last few months organizing the artifacts into an entertaining and educational exhibit. I encourage everyone to visit the Old Courthouse Museum at 6754 Broad Street in the historic downtown district. They are open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

Stop by and see what they have to offer.  You won’t be disappointed!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Doing" History

Last night a group of people joined me for a talk about the Sweetwater Park Hotel and the Piedmont Chautauqua at the Douglas County library on Selman Drive.

I was amazed at the turnout. It’s great to know so many people are interested in Lithia Springs’ vibrant past. 
Many showed up with articles they have collected over the years – an actual fruit bowl from the hotel, dish fragments, spoons, Bowden Lithia Springs water bottles, post card images and stories of playing on the ruins and living on the historic property as children.

Afterwards I was invited to dinner with a group who attended the talk, and they all shared more memories of Lithia Springs.
Some say I “do” history through my research and writing.

I don't necessarily agree. 
While I believe what I do has some value, the real part of “doing” history has to do with the folks who showed up last night, as well as folks who participate with my Douglas County history page on Facebook - groups of people who gather to discuss, who share, and who attempt to remember and pass those memories along.

One of the things I shared in my presentation at the library was this image from the Atlanta Constitution during the Fall of 1884. It’s an advertisement placed by John C. Bowden to lease the springs.

The ad states:

I will receive proposals to lease my springs, formally known as Salt Springs, 18 miles from Atlanta, near the East Tennessee, et al. and the Georgia Pacific Rail Road for a term of ten years or more to include in said lease from 30-50 acres of land around the springs.
The spring yields 4,000 gallons of water every twelve hours and is situated in the midst of a prosperous and picturesque  country, and can be made one of the finest resorts in North Georgia, and is a short ride from Atlanta.

The water is the best lithia water in the United States, and has made many remarkable cures. I refer to Mr. Elias Holcombe, J.C. Harris and J.L. Richmond, of Atlanta, Georgia and to Dr. Moncrief of Greensboro, Georgia and can give the names of hundreds of others who have been cured by the use of the water.
The water has been carefully analyzed by Dr. Pratt, one of the best chemists in Georgia.

The ad continued with Dr. Pratt’s analysis. The main part that stood out to me was this section per Dr. Pratt:
Note the unusual quantities of valuable medical constituents, viz. Chromide and Iodine…Lithium and Magnesia deserve careful notice.

The rest of Bowden’s ad to lease the springs continued:
Propositions for lease must be made in writing  and submitted to me by the 15th of October next.

Bowden advised propositions could be mailed to him, and that he would be available to show interested parties around the place.  He also indicated he reserved the right to select the bid that will pay him the best income for the springs, or to reject all the bids as he saw fit.
It was some time after that when the announcement was made in another article of the  paper advised that E.W. Marsh had leased the springs from Bowden with Bowden keeping the mineral rights……specifically E.W. Marsh & Son had leased the spring. 

The article went on to say, arrangements have been made to place the water on sale wherever there may be demand for it…., and during the fall and winter the water [had] been subjected to a severe test by a number of citizens of Atlanta, and that test [had] two results: 1. That the water can be transported and kept in barrels for a considerable period with no sensible deterioration of its qualities, and 2. That its effects after transportation are as remarkable as they are when drank at the spring.
There is a story that circulates that the first time the water actually came to the attention of anyone in Atlanta was via James A. Watson. He had business concerns in Atlanta, but frequently visited Douglasville to see his mother and other relatives. On one trip he fell ill and had to stay over at Bowden’s plantation home. During his stay he was given the water and credited it with his recovery. He left Bowden’s home carrying a jug of the water which he promptly had tested and shared its properties with his friend who happened to be E.W. Marsh.

So, the question I have is the Watson story merely an embellishment regarding how the springs were eventually leased and sold?  If Watson introduced Bowden to Marsh then why would Bowden need to advertise his desire to lease the springs?
I’ve had people tell me the Watson story is just some sort of historical myth, but you can’t totally discount it as “just a story” since Watson’s friend Marsh did indeed lease the springs resulting in broadening the reach Salt Springs/Lithia Springs had with the rest of the world.

Could it be Bowden wanted to see if he could get a better deal?  
Was he trying to get Mr. Marsh to increase his offer?

Bowden was certainly clear in his ad that he wanted the "best" deal.

Yes, “doing” history always involves discussing, sharing, remembering and passing along what you know to others, but it also involves questions – questions that may or may not ever be answered.

Folks who "do" history, however, love to debate the possible answers.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Business of the Railroad

For many today, the railroad running through Douglasville might seem a little outdated and an inconvenience. The blast of the train's horn interrupt our conversations as we walk through O'Neal Plaza or while we have diner or lunch along Broad Street. The train no longer carries us to Atlanta or west into Alabama. It merely blocks traffic as folks attempt to head home to Hiram or Dallas. However, there was a time when the railroad was premier in our thoughts and had it not run through Douglasville our past, and therefore our future would have been very different.

By 1850, Atlanta already had several rail lines, but there was yet to be a line heading west, until the Georgia Western Railroad was chartered in 1854. The concern was incorporated by Richard Peters, Lemuel Grant, and other Atlanta businessmen.

Some sources state prior to the Civil War grading occurred from Atlanta to a point two miles west of Skint Chestnut/Douglasville, but I'm now a little skeptical of that since early railroad maps show the line passing through the southern portion of the county. There are stories that the right-of-way was used by farmers to move cattle from Birmingham to Atlanta for market. I haven't found any proof of this yet, but at any rate the Civil War interrupted the plans.

What I do know is that even after the war the western route for the railroad was still very much a point of discussion. Notice the map I have here courtesy of the University of Alabama Map Library.

You can clearly see a much different route out of Atlanta where the railroad would go through Carrollton and not Douglasville. Douglasville was not legally established until February of 1875 due to some legal entanglements, and an election that had to be held twice, but the town fathers continued to set up the town, so it's no surprise to me that Douglasville was on the 1873 map. Not only did the town fathers have to convince the folks of Douglas County that Douglasville should be the county seat, they also had to convince the railroad to lay tracks through town as well.

On July 12, 1873 a railroad meeting was held at Chapel Hill to discuss proposed routes and issues surrounding stock subscriptions. Three days later a larger group met in Douglasville to consider the prospect of the Georgia Western Railroad passing through the county with W.P. Strickland as the chair and A.S. Gorman as secretary.

A committee was set up to create resolutions for those at the meeting to consider. John F. Glover, Dr. Poole, Ezekiel Polk, Captain Whitley and G.W. McLarty were appointed to the committee. They went into another room to devise the resolutions, and while they did so John M. Edge entertained the crowd with what is described as his "fluent and impressive style describing the benefits to have the railroad pass through the county."

The committee came up with three resolutions which were read to the crowd and adopted. They were:

"Resolved - that the people of Douglas County want the Georgia Western Railroad; that the  right-of-way be given through the county; the road be the same width as allowed to other roads in this state.

Resolved -that we recommend the company to cross the Chattahoochee River below the mouth of Sweetwater Creek, thence coming out by the great water power known as the old Sweetwater Factory site and the Merchant Mills on that stream.

Resolved - that we are willing to subscribe stock under the form adopted at the railroad meeting at Chapel Hill on the 12th.

Railroad construction finally began eight years later in 1881. By that time the Georgia Western Railroad had become the Georgia Pacific, and fortunately, the final route included Douglasville.

The Weekly Star, Douglasville's paper at the time, advised on August 23, 1881, "On Tuesday, one hundred and twenty-five hands arrived here for the purpose of beginning work on the Georgia Pacific. Yesterday morning, they began preparing the graded portion of the railroad for the reception of crossties and iron. The men are from Virginia...This looks like business."

Business most certainly was the correct word!

This post first appeared in the Douglas County Sentinel, May 19, 2013.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Mules of War

In July, 1917 mentions can be found in The Constitution regarding Great Britain's need for mules and how Atlanta was leading the way in supplying them.

Due to the business acumen of men such as Captain John Miller and I.N. Ragsdale, Miller Union Stockyards (located along today's Howell Mill Road between 14th and 10th Streets) Atlanta, at the turn-of-the-century was known as the largest mule market in the United States until well into the 20th century.
Through my research I located an article in The Constitution dated July 27, 1917 advising the government of Great Britain had designated Atlanta as the assembling point for thousands of mules to be shipped to Europe for war purposes.
The Brits were calling for one hundred mules per day for an indefinite period of time, and were dispatching two representatives to Atlanta to inspect and formally take charge of the stock.
Guidelines were fairly clear. Mules had to meet strict British requirements to help in the war effort. They had to be fifteen hands in height and of dark color with no blemishes. Later on, the inspectors did relent and began to accept iron grey mules.
Let's pause a moment to do the math. The Brits were paying $160 per head for the mules. If they bought one hundred per day as planned mule dealers would be collectively making $16,000 cash money daily, and over the course of a month as much as half a million dollars could be made.
So, what does this have to do with Douglas County?
I'm sure one name is already on your lips.
Abercrombie, right?
Since Douglasville's earliest days there has been one mule barn or another located at different spots around town under the control of one Abercrombie or another.
The Constitution article goes on to mention Mr. Ragsdale had recently purchased twenty-eight mules from Douglasville advising, "At of the local bankers who sold several big lots of mules in Douglasville and adjacent counties stated that the farmers were selling their mules they no longer needed and were applying the proceeds on account. This situation, [the banker-mule dealer] stated, was certain to mean a great improvement in business conditions in the smaller as well as the larger towns and would aid the farmers in carrying over certain accounts until their crops are gathered."
The banker-mule dealer who would have sold the mules to Ragsdale and in turn to the British government would be Joe S. Abercrombie whose brother W. Claude Abercrombie was the president of the Farmers and Merchant's Bank and dabbled in mules while a third brother, Walter A. Abercrombie dabbled (sarcasm) in mules as well. In fact, sources state they each had a mule barn.
The Douglas County Sentinel advised in 1916 that Joe S. Abercrombie "annually handled approximately 250 head of mules and did a business of $50,000.  That's $50,000 in 1916 dollars, folks!
The paper also advised, "You could write success in capitals at the end of each one of the three [Abercrombie] brother's names. They are the most spirited men in Douglas County!"
Well, I'd be a bit spirited, too, if I had a passel of mules and was selling them for $160 a head, wouldn't you?
Still, it's nice to know that Douglas County not only sent their men off to The Great War, we bravely sent our mules as well.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Douglasville's Birth

Once Douglas County was formed in 1870, a county seat was needed. In fact, the Georgia General Assembly instructed the county commissioners - John M. James, John C. Bowden, W.N. McGouirk, J.H. Winn, and Ephraim Pray - to survey land for a county site and to stake lots for sale. The proceeds from the sale of the lots would go towards building a courthouse and jail.

However, the first order of business was to hold an election for certain offices and allow citizens to choose the location of the county seat. Folks were divided. Some preferred the community of Chapel Hill; others wanted the center of Douglas County, and a third group lobbied for Skint Chestnut to be the county seat.

Many thought it was a foregone conclusion that the Chapel Hill community would be considered. In 1870, Chapel Hill contained a general store and a few other businesses. There was both a Baptist and Methodist church and three different schools. The area was a very prosperous plantation community with several influential citizens.

Some folks wanted the center of the county chosen. It made sense in a way. It would have been an equal distance for all citizens to travel. They decided the geographic center would be the area around Pray's Mill Baptist Church. Supporters promoted the community's water sources - the Dog River and Bear Creek - as the fuel to run industrial concerns.

Many others preferred the area up on the ridge known as Skint Chestnut. It wasn't just the draw of the ancient chestnut tree. The choice had a lot to do with the proposed rail site for the Georgia Western Railroad. The 1870s was a time when attitudes in Georgia were changing. Many of our town father's understood the new "farm to factory movement" which would result in business opportunities, more industrialization, and an established rail line was one of the necessary ingredients.

The commissioners decided on a ballot with just two choices leaving Chapel Hill out. Voters could choose the "center" of the Douglas County or Skint Chestnut. The center of the county received 300 votes, and there were as many votes for Skint Chestnut.

Events took a murky turn when voters ignored the two choices and wrote in other locations. When the votes were counted the board of commissioners arbitrarily ruled that any write-in votes that didn't refer to the "center" of the county would be counted in the Skint Chestnut column. This resulted in a win for Skint Chestnut.

Well, of course the "center" folks weren't too happy. What resulted was a debacle that drug on through the courts for four years with the state legislature finally ordering a second election. During the four years it took for the mess to be straightened out those who wanted Skint Chestnut as the county seat simply proceeded with their plans. Young Vansant donated 40 acres along the ridge for the town. Land lots were laid out, and a small structure was built to serve as a temporary courthouse. County business was conducted including an informal name change from Skint Chestnut to Douglasville.

In 1874, the courts placed the matter back in the lap of the General Assembly, and they directed Douglas County Commissioners to hold a second election except this time they directed that the two choices for county seat should be along the proposed railroad route.

Voters could choose between Skint Chestnut/Douglasville where county business had been transacted for the past four years, or they could vote for Rueben Vansant crossroads, a spot further up the rail line about 3 miles. Basically, it's where today's Bright Star Road and Bankhead Highway intersect.

Naturally, the Skint Chestnut site won, and the General Assembly formally established the town on February 25, 1875.

The rest we can safely say is history.

This post first appeared in the Douglas County Sentinel on April 24, 2013.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Yesteryear Room

Can you imagine going to work each day in an office where the furniture and other items happened to be nearly one hundred years old?

That's exactly what Elma Shipp did every single day she worked for the city of Douglasville as the city clerk. For approximately thirty years she went to work each day and sat at a desk the very first city clerk used beginning in 1875. She also inherited a potbellied stove and other items.

Yes, during the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s Mrs. Shipp dealt with that potbellied stove in an attempt to heat her office. As soon as the coals would turn white her office would be too hot. She would open a window to try and balance the temperature only to have someone arrive from the cold. The visitor would invariably add more coals to the stove starting the process all over again.

Another hold-over from the early days was a semi-circle of straight backed chairs with straw seats. When Mrs. Shipp began her job she soon discovered the city clerk's office seemed to be the gathering place in town. Pretty soon the visitors headed off to other places since Mrs. Shipp stayed too busy for conversation.

One of the reasons why the city clerk's office was visited so much has to do with Mayor's Court which is no longer in existence. The clerk recorded all of the cases and though most were minor they did add some excitement to small town life and blemished some respectable names.

The dockets indicate convictions for fighting and failure to pay city taxes which ranged from twenty cents to one dollar a year. Failure to pay meant working on the city's streets, and if this sentence was refused you could find yourself with a week in jail and an additional three dollar fine.

Around 1965 the city moved into new offices at the corner of Church and Pray Streets, and Mrs. Shipp received new furniture. She could finally retire some of the items that had been In the city clerk's office since 1875, but she chose to do something else altogether.

Elma Ship created Douglasville's first attempt at preserving history.

Mrs. Shipp set about making an exhibit out of furnishings and articles in an upstairs office that wasn't being used. She called it the "Yesteryear Room" because she attempted to make the room just as she had found the city clerk's office on her first day of employment in the late 1930s. Several folks around town considered to be "old timers" told her she had succeeded.

Many stated it was hard not to visualize Douglasville's first city clerk feeding the stove a little coal and rubbing his hands over it to ease stiff fingers before beginning the day's work.

It only cost Mrs. Shipp about $50 to get the room done as most of the items were already in place, and what she didn't have she purchased from a second hand store. The "Yesteryear Room" contained a potbellied stove, hand-crank phone, and even a copper spittoon. Upon the desk she placed a turkey quill, an iron horse-shaped stamp bearing the seal of Douglasville, a pair of wire-rimmed eyeglasses, a corn cob pipe, iron bookends and a kerosene lamp.

The only modern thing in the room was the fluorescent lighting.

The item that really interests me is the mention of a ten foot wide oak desk that had been used by every city clerk up to that time. It sat up higher than a normal desk - almost like a counter. There were no nails used in its construction. All of the joints were dovetailed.

The desk was at least 91 years old in 1966 which means today it would be 138 years old. Here is a picture of the desk as it appeared in Fannie Mae Davis' book with Nick Davis, a city manager sitting at it:

  I know that eventually the "Yesteryear Room" was dismantled, but what happened to everything - the desk, the potbellied stove and even the docket books for the Mayor's Court? 

Seriously....Where are they?  Especially that desk...

The picture at the beginning of this post shows Jake Dalrymple and N.L. Sparks in the "yesteryear room". If you look closely you can see many of the items mentioned above including the cantankerous potbellied stove.  That picture appeared in an "Atlanta Journal and Constitution" Sunday magazine article published about Mrs. Shipp close to her retirement in 1966.
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