Monday, June 30, 2014


         Back in the old days, when fires were put out by brigades of volunteers throwing buckets of water or by fireman hand pumping small streams of water, a fire in the downtown area was often quite cataclysmic. Dublin's first major fire occurred on  May 26, 1889.  One hundred and twenty five years ago today, Dublin's business district was one mass of charred timbers and smouldering ashes of once bustling businesses. There was no hope in sight. Gloom, despair and agony permeated the smoking ruins.

When the business section of Dublin began to expand, stores and other places of business were expanded well beyond the original plan of four lots/buildings  per block.  The closeness of buildings to each other , coupled with the fact that brick buildings were somewhat scarce, even in the early 1890s, led to massive fires in the downtown area, some fueled by drought and wind, others fed by insidious incendiaries.

Dublin's first "great" fire (great fires are never great)  began early on a quiet Sunday morning.  A westerly wind was howling down the main street from the west.  It had not rained in weeks.  Water was scarce.  Napoleon Baum was only beginning to erect the town's first public well on the northeast side of the Courthouse Square. With the two requisite elements for a catastrophic conflagration present, the smallest spark would ignite a firestorm. 

Investigators focused on the source of the fire and determined that the flames emanated from the Post Office causing  the whipping winds to leap from one wooden structure to another.  For nearly nine hours, townsfolk futilely  sought t0 extinguish the rolling mass of flames.  The Dalton Hotel was sacrificed by dynamiting it to save the Tillery and Burch houses.

The fire burned everything from the corner of Lawrence Street around the block and down Jefferson Street stopping before reaching the Troup House.  Among the buildings suffering substantial losses were the Post Office, the old Hooks Hotel,  Roughton's store, B.F. Duggan's Grocery, C.W. Brantley's house, F.W. Shelton's general merchandise store J.W. Gilder's building, P. Hillman's restaurant, Peter Franklin's barber shop, Jesse Cowart's grocery, George Bang's Dublin Jewelry Store,  H.P. Smith's shoe store, Susan Tillery's store house, Nathan Burch's building, Willis Dasher's restaurant, L.C. Perry's stables and buggy shop, and M.L Jones' store, which was the highest valued loss at $4000.00.  Jones came out smelling like a rose because he had $3000.00 in insurance.  No other building owner did.  G.W. Maddox's furniture store suffered the most damage with $3000.00 in uninsured losses. 

Only the slightly damaged brick office of Dr. R.H. Hightower (where Deano's is now located) survived the fire in the entire block southwest of the courthouse square.    The final total of damages ranged from $25,000.00 to $50,000.00 with eleven business houses being totally engulfed in flames.  The total figure was most likely at least $40,000.00.  Two or three weeks later, the rains finally came and the town was safe, at least for a while.

One of the burned buildings belonged to H.C. Roughton of Sandersville.  Upon hearing of the fire, Roughton rushed to Dublin by train, arriving  just before the fire was finally under control.  He sought out L.A. Chapman, the owner of the brickyard.  The next morning before the ashes cooled Mr. Chapman began delivering bricks to the site.  What resulted may be the oldest building in downtown Dublin.  It is occupied in 2014 by New York Fashions.  

It was another Sunday and another fire. It was the evening of September 21, 1890, just before the autumnal equinox.  It had been relatively wet, a condition which had severely damaged the year's cotton crop.  Just about 9:00 in the evening, a wood stove caught on fire.  The flames spread across the street from the Troup House on the first block of South Jefferson Street consuming all of the houses in their path.  T.F. Newman's harness shop, J.S. Lewis' ice and soda saloon, the barbershop, the bottling works, and the newspaper offices of the Dublin gazette were totally destroyed. Much to the chagrin of the liquor and beer drinkers, both J.M. Rinehart's and W.J. Hightower's bar rooms were incinerated when the flames hit their flammable stock.    Luckily, hardly $50.00 of  Miss Susie Bearden's millenary was scorched.

New Year's Day 1894 was not a happy one, not at all.  

On the last day of 1893, the citizens of Dublin were looking forward to a better economic year following the economically disastrous Panic of 1893.    Just before midnight, flames began to fly out of the Whitehead-Watkins Building on the corner of West Jackson and South Jefferson Streets.   Thoughts immediately turned back to May 26, 1889, when the entire block was virtually burned to the ground.

The first story stores of G.W. Bishop, E.J. Tarpley, G.W. Maddox and Tarpley & Kellam were gutted.  Upstairs, the medical offices of Dr. A.F. Summerlin, and Dr. Charles Hicks, along with the legal offices of  Peyton Wade, Frank Corker, Joseph Walker, Joseph Chappel, and Mercer Haynes. were destroyed except for a few pieces of furniture and books of Dr. Summerlin and Attorney Wade, which were carried out before the flames totally engulfed the newly constructed brick building.  Amazingly, none of these erudite professionals carried insurance.

Dr. Hightower's building, which survived the Great Fire of 1889, was severely damaged when the adjoining burning building collapsed upon it.    The fire was so intense that the heat broke windows across the street in the bank.  The proprietors of Lord & Brooks covered the front of their building with wet blankets to keep the heat from damaging their store next to the bank.  

No clues were ever found to determine the origin of the New Year's fire, although preliminary investigators believed it to be of an incendiary nature.  

In today's world of high tech fire fighting equipment and highly trained firemen, we would like to hope that we are exempt from such infamous infernos.  But as you know, history has a way of repeating itself.  It is important to all of us to follow simple and basic fire prevention guidelines to protect our families, friends and our homes and buildings. 



Laurens County was without a river bridge for the first eight and half decades of its existence.   Just prior to the formation of Laurens County, the first ferries were established in what is now Laurens County. Other travelers had to cross on horseback or swim across in shallow spots.    The new lands west of the Oconee were just beginning to open up to settlers.  Ferry boats were nothing more than a floating platform.  In the days before the motor driven ferries, the ferryman and his helpers  would pull the boat across the river.  Ropes were tied to a series of pulleys.  Accidents did happen. Ropes broke and  often.  When the water was high and the currents swift, many ferries shut down.  Men and livestock fell into the river, some losing their lives.  One could not always rely upon the ferry as a means of crossing the river.  

William Neel established Dublin's first ferry in what became the most extreme southeastern part of Dublin.  The ferry was established in 1804 or before, three years before the formation of Laurens County.  Neel's ferry is shown on the land grant maps of 1804 opposite Land Lot 235 of the 1st Land District.  This places the ferry at the mouth of Long Branch.  This may be the same spot where a ferry was established by Neil Munroe and Richard Ricks in the 1820's.  Neel and Jonathan Sawyer, were the first settlers of the community known as Sandbar, which later became East Dublin.  

In 1806 or 1807, George G. Gaines placed his ferry at the point where the Old Savannah Road crossed the Oconee River.  The ferry was put under the same rates as other county ferries in August 1810.  Gaines later purchased one thousand acres along the eastern side of the ferry.  The street which ran to the ferry was named in honor of Gaines who left this area around the time of the War of 1812.   Gaines sold his ferry possibly to Henry C. Fuqua.  Fuqua sold the ferry to wealthy landowner Jeremiah Yopp in 1831.  

In 1832, Yopp petitioned the Justices of the Inferior Court for the right to charge for passage over the river.  The county approved the rates of fifty  cents for loaded wagons, twenty-five cents for jersey wagons and carts, six and one-quarter cents for man and horse or footman and cattle, two cents for hogs, and one and one-half cents for sheep.  Yopp operated the ferry until his death in 1852.  His son-in-law sold the property to a Dublin lawyer, Young Anderson.   During Anderson's ownership, the most famous visitor to Dublin may have crossed at the ferry then known as Dublin Ferry.  On May 7, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis crossed the Oconee River near Dublin, possibly at the ferry.  

In 1870 ,John Jones was hired to build a new boat for the Dublin Ferry. The flat boat was fifty feet long and twelve feet wide.  The main boat was constructed from 5" by 8" timbers with two inch planks along the bottom and one and one quarter inch plank flooring. The boat was to be ready by February.  William Madison, a former slave, was awarded the contract to keep the ferry in 1871.  Madison kept the ferry for fifteen consecutive years.  The end of the Dublin ferry was near when talk of a bridge began to surface.   

Passage on the ferry was made free to the public on June 26, 1878. Laurens County condemned the property in 1884.  The area around the ferry was soon developed.  The resurgent river boat companies tied their boats to docks on both sides of the ferry.  Rev. W.S. Ramsay of First Baptist conducted baptismal services there in the early eighties.  Dr. R.H. Hightower built warehouses and a steam mill near the ferry site.  Traffic became so heavy that in 1880 the ferryman Madison called for the hiring of an additional man to handle the increasing load.  Some citizens were irate when they had to wait six hours to cross the river following a meeting of the Baptist Association at Shady Grove in eastern Laurens County.  Bridge proponents used the inadequate ferry as the primary reason for a bridge.  

The Dublin Ferry would serve one last purpose.  For the five years following the completion of the Dublin and Wrightsville Railroad to the eastern banks of the river, the ferry was used to carry passengers and freight on into Dublin.  When the first permanent passenger bridge was completed in 1891, the ferry was discontinued.  

Bill Madison, the black ferryman, was a popular figure in the community.  Mrs. E.C. Campbell remembered that when she was a little girl all roads to the ferry were crowded on Sunday afternoons.  "Uncle Bill" was known as a masterful dancer and was loved by all the children whom he would give free rides.  

One incident on a cold December Saturday night in 1879 typified the skill and dedication of ferryman Madison.   John B. and Russell Holmes arrived at the ferry around 10:00 in the evening.  After a long day at his post, Bill was asleep in the ferryman’s quarters.  The gentlemen decided that they could make it across the river and not get ol’ Bill up from his slumber.   Russell grabbed the ferry chain and began pulling the ferry flat toward the opposite bank.  Suddenly, he lost his balance and fell into the frigid waters.  Without Russell holding the chain, the flat was set adrift.  Russell screamed at the top of his lungs awakening Madison, who dashed into the darkness.  Madison jumped into his bateau and rowed as hard as he could toward the rapidly moving craft and its blunderous operator.  About a mile down river, Bill caught up with Holmes and the boat.  He managed to jump from his bateau onto the ferry boat, bringing it under his control by wedging it against a cypress stump on the bank.   With the assistance of a couple of onlookers, Madison was able to thaw out the would be  ferryman.    

For a few months in 1921 the ferry returned to Dublin.  During the time while the river bridge was being refitted, Laurens County purchased the necessary boats and equipment and operated the ferry until the bridge was reopened to auto traffic.  Today when the river is shallow, you can see the remnants of the ferry at the northern end of the riverwalk park at the mouth of Town Branch. 

Ephraim Green was granted permission to establish a ferry in northern Laurens County on August 1, 1808.  His rates were to be the same as Blackshear's.   Another ferry was established in the same area by William Livingston.  William Diamond was granted permission to establish a ferry at the place known as Spear's Ferry on Aug. 7, 1810.  The area came to be known as Diamond Landing.  It was here near Wilkes Spring in southern Laurens County where a third county ferry was sought to be established by Laurens County.  Jacob Robinson was granted permission to establish a ferry on August 7, 1815.  Robinson was granted permission to double the rates when the river overflowed its banks.  While ferries were usually run across rivers, Maddox's Ferry was running across Big Creek before 1812.  

The most famous ferry in the annals of Laurens County History is Blackshear's Ferry.  Today the last remnants of the ferry are located at the end of Country Club Road three miles north of the city limits.  The area around Blackshear's Ferry may have encompassed a series of ferries.  A survey of Gen. David Blackshear's estate shows an old ferry about a half mile northwest of last ferry site.  

The first mention of a ferry in the records of Laurens County appeared on February 2, 1808.  The Justices of the Inferior Court ordered the establishment of a ferry at Blackshear's Landing.  The rates approved were 50 cents for loaded wagon, 37.5  cents for empty wagons, 25 cents for loaded carts, 18.75 cents for empty carts, 37.5 cents for pleasure carriages and horses, 6.25 cents for man and horse, led horse and footman, black cattle two cents per head, and all other stock was a penny per head.  The second and possibly the first site was located about a half mile southeast of the last ferry site.  That ferry, known as Trammel's Ferry, was established by Jared Trammel and James Beatty at the point where the ancient Lower Uchee Indian Trail crossed the Oconee River at Carr's Bluff.  It may have been established prior to the formation of the county.  In 1812 orders for new roads by the Inferior Court indicated that Beatty's and Trammel's Ferries were separate ferries in the area.   

The Georgia Legislature in 1819 authorized a public ferry across the Oconee River at the place formerly known as Trammel's Ferry with the same rates as previously charged, subject to modification by the Inferior Court.  The law provided that all of the profits from the ferry would go to the estate of Trammel for those passengers leaving from the northeast side of the ferry landing and to James Beatty for all those passengers leaving from the southwest side of the ferry landing. 

In 1823 after Beatty's death the ferry was purchased by General David Blackshear. Thereafter the third and last ferry was established by the General or his son Elijah in the 1820s.  It was at this point where the 4000 cavalrymen of Gen. Joseph Wheeler, C.S.A. crossed the river in November of 1864.  Wheeler's men were riding down the flanks of Gen. W.T. Sherman's right wing in an attempt to get in front of "The March to the Sea."

Laurens County purchased the ferry during the May Term of Ordinary Court in 1874.  At the ferry site a small house was constructed as a home for the ferryman.  The job called for long days from sunup to sundown.  A shelter was built to shield passengers during periods of heavy rain and a well dug to provide drinking water for the ferryman and thirsty passengers.  The Laurens County commissioners had a new problem to deal with around the turn of this century. On December 5, 1910, the commissioners voted to discontinue the practice of allowing automobiles to ride on the boat with livestock.  Those doing so would have to cross at their own risk.   

Laurens County's property taxes included a levy for ferry operations.  In 1887, the tax was seven cents for every hundred dollars of taxable property and represented 10 percent of the county's total budget.  During periods of high water, the county hired additional ferry men to help guide the boat across the raging waters.  Some of the ferry boats sunk on a regular basis.  At other times the boats broke away and floated down river. Frank Smith was rewarded with eleven dollars for bringing back a runaway ferry boat in 1887.  At times boats had to be rented until new ones could be constructed.

In their final meeting of 1931, the Laurens County Commissioners voted to close the ferry in January 15, 1932.  One week later responding to a large public outcry, the ferry was reopened.  Two lawyers, M.H. Blackshear, a descendant of the ferry's founder, and Joseph Chappell convinced the board of the ferry's historic value.   The effort to keep the ferry open was also led by Clerk of Courts, E.S. Baldwin, Ordinary Court Judge E.D. White, and dairy farmer, Duren I. Parker.  A new flat was placed in service later that spring.  

The ferry continued to operate even through the lean years of the depression. On January 8, 1937, the commissioners voted to sell the ferry.  Their decision again resulted in a public outcry and the matter was put on hold.  The issue came up for a vote in 1939 when the commission voted to continue the operation on a month to month basis as long as it was profitable.   

The ferry shut down on a Sunday in January 1940 for one day.    It was the first time in the known history of the county ferry that ice floes prevented its operation.  Rawls Watson, the ferry keeper, reported in the February 1, 1940 issue of “The Courier Herald” that the ice floes nearly filled the river.   Rawls made one attempt to cross the river, breaking and chopping ice with his poles.  The ice kept coming down the river for parts of three days.  Watson said that the chunks of ice were as big as 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and having a thickness of 1 ½ inches thick.  

The issue of the operation of the ferry came up for a final determination in May of 1947.  The ferry boat had been out of service for some time.  M.H. Blackshear, county attorney at the time, led the effort to keep the ferry open.  The commissioners found that the ferry was only necessary for the Route 2 postman.  The secretary was directed to work out an alternative route.  The commissioners never officially closed Blackshear's Ferry, choosing instead to not appropriate the funds to repair the damaged ferry boat.   

The coming of the automobile signaled the end of the ferry.  The old boats were slow and simply couldn't handle the weight of the cars.  When the river was up, one had to go down to Dublin to cross.  The ferry, the last vestige of 19th century transportation, was gone, never to return.

During the years in which the county operated the ferry ,the right to run the ferry was put up for public auction to the highest bidder.  Usually the residents of the area surrounding the ferry were the successful bidders.  Rawls A. Watson, the last ferry keeper,  kept the ferry longer than any other man.  Irwin Calhoun, known as the "singing ferryman,” was said to have sang all day without repeating a song.  Other ferry men at Blackshear's Ferry were S.L. Weaver, E.M. Lake, Joseph T. Watson, David M. Watson, J.C. Jones, J.L. Bostwick, and D.W. Skipper.  

FERRY KEEPERS 1871-1947: Dublin, William Madison, 1871-1891.  Blackshear’s Ferry,  Irwin Calhoun, 1875; Noah Anderson, 1876-7; Robert Hightower, 1878-9, Daniel Skipper, 1880, David M. Watson, 1881, 1890-2; D.W. Skipper, 1884, 1886; S.L. Weaver, 1885; David M. Watson and July Donaldson, 1887-1888; E.M. Lake, 1889; Joseph T. Watson, 1893-5, 1901, 1904-1908; John C. Jones, 1896-8; J.L. Bostick, 1899; E.F. Hagin and L.F. Hagin, 1902; Green Brantley, 1903; and Rawls A. Watson, 1911-1947.


A Centennial History

A century ago today, Mullis, Georgia was officially put on the map.  One of Laurens County's most obscure towns, Mullis enjoyed a brief, but successful, life before it was enveloped by her neighbor and chief rival, Cadwell.

The community of Mullis evolved around the lands of J.M. Mullis.  Mullis was also the  home of William Henry Mullis.  Mullis, one the county's most prolific men, was the father of twenty-two children.  Eighteen of his offspring lived until adulthood.  His brother Eli was the father of twenty.  Mullis, a leading citizen of the Reedy Springs Militia District, served a one of the county's commissioners of Roads and Revenue.  He amassed a relatively large fortune of twenty thousand dollars, which obviously  was diminished by the number of mouths he fed.

The community of Mullis was located at the northern end of a region virtually covered by virgin pine trees.  The Williams Lumber Company built a tram road from Eastman through Mullis to Rentz where the mill of the Georgia Shingle Company was located.  Local entrepreneurs sought to establish a permanent railroad from Dublin to Eastman.


Grading of the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad began on March 2, 1904 near the cotton mills in Dublin under the supervision of E.P. Rentz and superintendent, Frank S. Battle. Battle's crews began laying rails.  Construction was delayed by legal actions by some Eastman citizens.  Conductor B.W. Hightower guided the first freight train out of Eastman on May 5, 1905.   Within in a week the first load of freight was received in Eastman.  President E.P. Rentz arranged the inaugural passenger service to coincide with the May term of Dodge County Superior Court.    A stop was established at Mullis where passengers could board the train for either of the terminal cities and beyond.

A post office at Mullis was established on June 17, 1905.  Hiram Mullis,  one of W.H. Mullis's nineteen-year-old twins, launched an all out effort to get a post office for the community and was named its first postmaster.  He was succeeded by his cousin Arthur W. Mullis on July 14, 1908.  The town began to grow rapidly.  J.J. Mullis began erecting a handsome home and a commodious storehouse.  J.M. Mullis erected a mercantile store.  Henry Tate operated a third store, one which housed the town's barber shop.  Any town needed a cotton gin to capitalize on the county's main cash crop.  W.H. Mullis and his sons erected a sufficient gin in short order.  A fourth store was operated by W.H. Mullis, first with D.E. Mullis, and then with his twin sons, Hiram and Homer under the banner of W.H. Mullis & Sons.  Later Buchan & Smith and W.F. Jackson would go into the mercantile business in Mullis.  The Bedingfield Mercantile Company was forced into bankruptcy after less than six months of business.

The town of Mullis was officially chartered as a town on August 1, 1906.  The law provided that J.P. Barrs would be the first mayor.  W.H. Tate, W.H. Mullis and D.E. Mullis were named the first councilmen to serve in office until a regular election could be held on the first Monday in January 1908. A.R. Barrs was named to the board in 1907.  Hiram Mullis served as the city clerk and W.F. Jackson was the town's first policeman.   Mullis was a very small town, encompassing 275 acres and  extending six hundred and fifty yards in each direction from the town well.

The council were given the standard powers and duties which Georgia's laws provided.  Liquor sales were banned.  The mayor presided over the police court with the authority to try offenders for ordinance violations and levy fines of up to fifty dollars or thirty days in jail.

Among the early residents of Mullis were J.J. Mullis, D.E. Mullis, J.P. Barrs, A.R. Barrs, J.W. Bass, W.H. Mullis, W.H. Mullis,Jr., W.H. Tate, A.W. Smith and A. McCook.  In 1907, the town boasted not one, but two, boarding houses for travelers.  These homes away from home were operated by J.J. Mullis and J.W. Bass.  While not tending to guests, Bass operated a barber shop.  J.P. Barrs maintained the town's livery stable.   Hutton and Barrs were the town blacksmiths.  Doctor Buhan moved his practice from Eastman and established the first drug store.

There was a town, or more aptly a community, school in Mullis.  The school, attended by more than 180 pupils, thrived under the direction of Principal J.B. McMahan, who was assisted by his wife and Professor Heard S. Lowery.

Just down the railroad, Rebecca Lowery Burch Cadwell was rapidly attempting to establish her own town of Cadwell, named after her second husband, the name of her first husband already being taken by another town in Georgia.  For three years, the towns of Mullis and Cadwell competed with each other.  The first salvo in the war came in the fall of 1906.  Mrs. Burch sought and was granted an injunction against the mayor and council of Mullis.  Mrs. Cadwell owned the land between the two towns and had no desire to allow Mullis to expand through her lands toward Cadwell.

A year after Mullis was created, the Georgia legislature amended its charter to allow the mayor and council the power of eminent domain to enlarge the boundaries of the town, but in no event could any lands lying in land lots 11 and 20 of the 17th Land District of Laurens County could be included, apparently a result of a prominent citizens desire to be excluded from the town.  The new law appeared to be a compromise between the competing towns.

The great prize in the battle for supremacy in lower Laurens County was the establishment of a railroad depot.  Each size promised railroad officials with incentives to locate in their towns.  Mrs. Burch promised just a little more and Cadwell eventually won the battle.  Mullis was eventually absorbed by the victorious Cadwell.  Actually the battling did not end until a major skirmish occurred between the leaders of both towns engaged in a "shoot 'em up" street gunfight, an affray which resulted in the death of Mayor H.L. Jenkins of Cadwell in 1920.

If you want to visit the town of Mullis, travel on Georgia Highway 117 South toward Eastman.  Just as you are about to enter Cadwell, Georgia Highway 338 will enter from the right.  Then, you are in downtown Mullis.