Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rumors of Coal

What comes to mind when I throw the word “rumor” out?

It seems that your response would have something to do with your own personal experiences concerning rumors. I think if we were all honest we would have to admit we might have had a hand in beginning a rumor, most certainly in sharing a rumor, and more than likely been subjected to a rumor about ourselves no matter if it was the truth or not.
It should be no surprise the impact rumors can have on society is studied quiet heavily by the psychology-types among us. A report titled A Psychology of Rumor was published by Robert Knapp in 1944. His study was based on over one thousand rumors during World War II that were printed in the Boston Herald’s “Rumor Clinic” column.

Knapp determined there were three types of rumors. The pipe dream rumor reflects public desires and wished-for outcomes. A bogie or fear rumor reflects feared outcomes, and a wedge is a driving rumor that is meant to interfere with group loyalty or relationships between individuals.
It seems I’m constantly running across rumors of the pipe dream type regarding the early days of Douglas County. Movers and shakers were constantly putting the word out regarding how wonderful the living conditions were here, and sometimes they stretched the truth a bit.

This past summer one of my Sentinel columns dealt with a publicity piece that Joseph S. James, the first mayor of Douglasville wrote about the county.  Some of James’ claims included his promise that, “There are neither fleas nor mosquitos here, and the flies are less numerous than elsewhere. Snakes are scarce; and then again there is hardly any mud; owing to the character of the soil and the rolling nature of the surface; the hardest and longest rains scarcely leave a disagreeable trace for more than a few hours.”
Hmm, I’ve experienced plenty of those things here, and I live in an era where the county is more settled than when Mr. James was a prominent figure. 

Pipe dream?  Most certainly.
Of course, we forgive Mr. James for his comments because he was attempting to get folks to move here. He wanted the county to thrive for his own personal gain as well as for other folks to be successful, too.

All of this brings me to a major rumor that was bandied about concerning Douglas County in 1887. By that time Douglas County was firmly established being a young adult at 17 years of age.
On February 4, 1887 the Atlanta Constitution published an article titled “Is It a Coal Bed?”

Yes!  Coal had been found in Douglas County. 
To be more exact it had been rumored in Atlanta the day before that anthracite coal had been discovered near Austell.  To be very precise the piece of coal was found when workmen were building a bridge over Sweetwater Creek near Salt Springs (now Lithia Springs).  Someone spotted the lump of coal in the bed of the creek.

The reporter with the Constitution interviewed S.S. Marsh of the firm Moore, Marsh & Company.  S.S. Marsh was the son of E.W. Marsh who along with his partners had first leased and then purchased the springs and would be the owner of the Sweetwater Park Hotel and Piedmont Chautauqua.
Wouldn’t it be a huge find if coal was discovered on or near their proposed resort property?

Wouldn’t that make the property more valuable and more enticing for future investors?

Apparently for a few days in February, 1887 the rumor of coal created quite a sensation here in Douglas County as well as Atlanta. It was determined the coal was of good anthracite quality. There were further rumors that a syndicate might form and the property would be developed to extract the coal.
Of course, Marsh and others that were interviewed tried to give enough information to keep the rumors flying, but constantly stated they “couldn’t say” when asked for specifics.

Rumors grew to include a natural gas find. Petroleum was mentioned.
A few days later on February 17th more mentions were made in the Atlanta paper.  A blurb stated, “It is claimed that Jacks Hill in Douglas County is full of coal.”

Further down the column the snippet in “daily news briefs” quotes the Douglasville Star stating, “Not having seen the coal ourselves, we are not prepared to say what is there and we wait developments. We trust that it may turn out to be a valuable bed. But since this excitement has begun we have talked to three different men, who say that they can show the outcropping coal in several places along Sweetwater Creek. One of them told us he could go to a spot eight miles from Douglasville and get a wagon load of coal in an hour by digging it out of the ground. We are not at liberty at present to give the names of these gentlemen, but they are responsible men and are considered reliable in all things."
At this point the history of the coal find here in Douglas County goes a little flat. There are no further mentions of coal that year in the papers, and to date I’ve not seen any mention of a coal syndicate being formed.

Was the whole thing just a well-placed rumor that served its purpose and then quietly went away?
What about that piece of coal?  What happened to it?

I have to wonder since it was just found in the creek bed much like a gold-find was it conveniently placed in the creek for the workmen to find?  

The picture with this post is a vintage photo of Sweetwater Creek at Holly Bend.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Inman and Marsh - The Men behind the Sweetwater Park Hotel

A few investors were behind the magnificent Sweetwater Park Hotel in Lithia Springs, but Edwin W. Marsh and Samuel M. Inman were the primary figures.

I felt it was time that I found out more about them.
Edwin W. Marsh is remembered as an extremely successful dry goods merchant. He was born in North Carolina in 1824 yet spent time for several years as a merchant in Chattanoga, Tennessee. He transferred his business to Atlanta in 1863 when he was 39.

Besides his efforts at the dry goods trade, Marsh also had controlling interest in the newspaper, Southern Confederacy, which relocated to Macon during the Union occupation.  Following the war, Marsh’s dry goods store was the first one to re-open in the city. He developed an extremely prosperous business and invested heavily in real estate.
I could go on and on regarding his accomplishments as there are many…..including the first cotton factory established in North Georgia at Trion.
He was unbelievably wealthy, so it’s no surprise he would invest his time and dollars in resort in Douglas County.
I've scoured the Internet looking for a picture of E.W. Marsh, but have yet to find one. He was laid to rest at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Photos of his ornate mausoleum (below) can be found all over the place.
Samuel M. Inman was born in Tennessee to a wealthy planter family. He attended college at Princeton, and fought in the Civil War. Like many, the Inman family was hit hard by the war and found it necessary to relocate. They headed to Georgia where they acted as bank agents, merchants, and a cotton factoring concern with his father called the S.W. Inman & Son Cotton House.

Like many former planters, the Inman family took the changes the New South brought head on and went into business. Eventually, the Inman family became very influential and powerful again. Samuel M. Inman’s brother was John H. Inman, the head of the company Inman, Swann, & Co. of New York and president of the West Point Terminal Company which controlled 11,000 miles of track and $4,000,000 in steamships. Another brother, Hugh T. Inman, owned the  Kimball House Hotel in Atlanta.
Samuel M. Inman entered into a partnership with Joel Hurt in the 1880s to form the East Atlanta Land Company. Their main venture was to develop Inman Park, the beautiful Atlanta neighborhood that still exists today. A second venture included the Atlanta & Edgewood Street Railroad. While today we think of Inman Park as a downtown neighborhood, it was originally outside of town. The railroad provided a way in and out of town for residents, a huge selling point.

By 1889, Inman was involved with the Inman System, a group of nearly all of the railroads across the southeast. He was also involved with the beginnings of the Georgia School of Technology or Georgia Institute of Technology as it is known today. His put up his own money to get the ball rolling plus was able to secure other money donated by investors and the city of Atlanta.
At one point it is thought Inman was worth around $750,000 to $1,000,000. He was on many boards and gave much of his money to charity.

Like Marsh, it’s no wonder that Samuel M. Inman had a few extra dollars to invest in a resort hotel in Lithia Springs.
They didn't even miss the money.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Five Reasons Why I Delve into Douglas County's History

Here I sit patiently waiting for the first blog post for 2014 to come to me. I’m in my office I have set up for myself over the last few months. It’s still a bit junky.  I’m still trying to decorate, organize, and work all at the same time, but finally I’m here at the desk facing the front windows with the afternoon sun splashing over my desk providing a bit of warmth on such a frigid day.  I sit and wait.

The cursor on the computer screen blinks out its hello as if to say, “I’m here waiting for you. <blink> When are you going to type? <blink> I’m ready. Are you? <blink> Hello?<blink> <blink> <blink>……It's as annoying as a little yapping dog.
Sometimes the things I write are meticulously planned out for weeks.  For example, I already know what I’m writing about for the Sentinel column for the next couple of weeks.  However there are times when I don’t have a clue until right before my deadline, and then it hits like a ton of bricks and the words flow from my fingertips so fast I fear I might drop a few. Then there are times like today where my mind is everywhere all at once, and nothing in my notes is raising its hand begging to be noticed.

So, maybe it’s time for a bit of gratitude. Perhaps I should take the time here at the beginning of a new year to examine what it is I do, and why I do it.
Sometimes even I question the whole thing.

I exhaust myself researching Douglas County history because it’s rich and vibrant. The county was formed in 1870 at the cusp of all things Old South and as all things New South was revving up. I liken it to the “perfect storm” of ingredients for a New South town during Reconstruction.  I know of very few counties and county seats such as Douglasville where you can examine the New South philosophy put into play as both the county and town were developing. We have something very special here.
I do what I do because I love uncovering a great story.   Finding things out piece by piece, suddenly understanding how they all dovetail and fit together in order to create the larger picture – that’s what I  find captivating about Douglas County history.  I’ve been teaching and/or writing about history in general for several years, but now to have “my own little laboratory of history” to work with, that’s familiar yet not familiar – that’s what keeps me going.

I delve into the history of Douglas County in order to add to the historical record.  I don’t research the history, visit with people, and write anything in order to replace any of the historical record that has already been published. As my blog tagline states and as the heading on the Facebook page indicates my number one aim is to bring Douglas County history to a 21st Century audience. Social media can be a nightmare if not handled properly, but I like to think that it’s a great tool for educating people. It enables people of all ages to see the history, read the history, and most importantly to share the history.  What better time is it than now when we can ride the wave of nostalgia that so many in the Baby Boomer generation are feeling as they reconnect on sites like Facebook or Google +, and then share what they re-discover with their children and grandchildren.
The backstory would be just too much fun to miss out on.  The situations I find myself in during the process, the personalities I meet, and the stories surrounding the history are almost as entertaining as the history itself.  I wish I could share some of them. Believe it or not there is a mad dance called the “politics of history” where at times you most court the folks who control the history in order to access and share the history with the folks who actually own it. The owners in this case being the citizens of Douglas County. 

I research Douglas County history because I’m a bit selfish.  As many may already know I grew up in Red Oak which is a little community in South Fulton County between College Park and Fairburn.  It is my dear sweet home. My strong connection to Douglas County history stems from  two important factors. The first being the fact that I have lived here in this county for close to 30 years, while the second factor has to do with Red Oak itself. Red Oak, like Douglas County was once part of Campbell County, so all of the history I learned as a girl growing up in Red Oak from longtime residents just created the historical bridge for me to cross into Douglas County history. 
It seems that it was my course to follow all along, and I plan to stay on that course for a long time to come.  
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