THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY
At the beginning of the new century, Washington had a population of 3,300, which was an increase of 63 per cent over that of
the preceding decade. The town now entered its period of greatest prosperity, a happy condition that had come not suddenly but
as the natural result of the hard work done during the years after
Reconstruction. The early twentieth century was a time of expansion in commerce and increase in the number of luxuries.
Substantial evidence of this state of affairs was seen in the new
Fitzpatrick Hotel, opened in March, 1900. Its elaborate baywindowed facade was greatly admired, and because of its running
water and elevator service this hostelry was considered very modern indeed.
The Fitzpatrick "wore quite a New England aspect" in May,
1900, when it entertained members of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology solar eclipse expedition. During the fall of 1899
the path of the moon's shadow had been carefully plotted on a
map with the line of passage running through Washington. Because it was the place of highest altitude and easiest approach on
that line, this town was selected as the site to view the eclipse.
Several days were spent in constructing a pier for an astronomical
transit, a sketching stand, and a building for cameras and telescopes. Five young ladies of Washington aided in sketching the
corona of the eclipse, and twenty high school teachers and students assisted with the many cameras. The total eclipse came at
7:02 A.M. on May 28 and lasted for eighty-five seconds. Arrangements had been made to inform an American astronomer in
Tripoli of the results; so immediately afterward a cablegram was
telephoned from the cotton field where the eclipse had been observed. This message arrived in Tripoli ten minutes later, two
and a half hours ahead of the moon's shadow.
Several efforts were instituted to make the town a manufacturing center but with little effect. One such attempt was made in
1900 when R. A. ALMAND and J. R. DYSON opened a knitting mill,
but the following year this plant yielded its site to the Planters'
Compress Company and moved into a renovated livery stable
where operation was maintained for only a short time. A false
note of expansion was sounded in July, 1901, when a second discovery of gold was made in the northern part of Wilkes County.
After a thousand pounds of soil submitted to the stamping mills
had assayed $1,500, Washington got ready for a boom. It was
soon discovered, however, that the deposits were negligible, and
the people again resumed their leisurely manner of living.
Just before this period of excitement, however, merchants were
prosperous enough to subscribe $1,000 to secure a two-weeks' encampment of the state militia. In July also, companies from
Greensboro, Madison, Elberton, Conyers, Augusta, and Athens,
assembled at EFFIE POPE PARK, called Camp Dyson for the time in
honor of Washington's mayor, J. R. DYSON. A band from the
Fourth Regiment at Bainbridge provided music for the drills.
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The entire regiment met GOVERNOR ALLEN D. CANDLER on the 13th,
when he arrived to inspect the soldiers. After a cannon salute
as he rode into the reservation, the governor reviewed the regiment and watched a sham battle. For the ladies, who had given
the soldiers a reception at the home of MRS. JOHN J. HILL in addition to many informal parties, the military men gave a german
opened by the regimental commander at the new Fitzpatrick
There were other new enterprises of a civic or commercial
nature. The new courthouse was completed in 1904 at a cost of
$40,000, and the old structure in the center of the square was demolished and the site made into a grassy plot. A new pumping
station was installed at Beaverdam Creek in the following year.
In 1906 BISHOP WARREN A. CANDLER dedicated the new Methodist
Church, and the Sisters of St. Joseph began construction of a $15,000 auditorium for their school. Although there were many complaints of financial depression throughout the North, cotton
brought twelve cents a pound in Washington in 1907, and bank
deposits increased so rapidly that the Citizen's National Bank was
organized as the fourth bank in Washington. Also in that year
the Armour Fertilizer Company began the construction of a new
Since the completion of the new courthouse, the Confederate
Memorial Association had been planning to erect a monument on
the old site. The women of this organization aroused the interest
of the whole town and enlisted the churches, schools, and clubs
to raise funds. For this purpose the young ladies of St. Joseph's
Academy presented a recital in their school auditorium, and on
Washington's Homecoming Day the men of the town had a baseball game between the Fats and the Leans. When the monument,
a granite shaft surmounted by a Southern soldier, was unveiled on
Confederate Memorial Day in 1908, BURWELL GREEN, commander
of the local camp of Confederate veterans, presided as master of
ceremonies, and GENERAL ANDREW J. WEST, of Atlanta, made the
principal address. After the exercises the memorial society, in accordance with Washington hospitality, entertained the veterans at
dinner in the city council chamber.
The residential section, established during plantation days, was
slow in changing, but in 1908 the business section or Main Street
was paved with creosoted wooden blocks and people began to
buy lots in Washington's second residential subdivision, called
Grandview because it was on the site of the solar eclipse expedition
of 1900. With increasing number of sales in farm lands, the
Wilkes County Good Roads Association was formed. This organization, holding a meeting each month, did much to improve
the condition of the county roads.
During the first years of the century the old question of prohibition again became a dominant issue. Church people were aroused
in 1901, when they learned that a state senator from Wilkes
County had introduced a bill in the legislature to provide for a
liquor dispensary as a solution to the problem of bootlegging in
the dry town. Prohibition officers were charged with making
raids for financial profits rather than for breaking up "moonshining." Although indignant prohibitionists quickly left for
Atlanta to make a fight, the measure was passed. After returning home they continued their struggle by hiring detectives to run
down these illegal dispensers, but the brutal methods of the detectives aroused so much antagonism to their campaign that at the
next local election in November, 1902, the town voted in favor of
opening the legal dispensary. Although this "tank," located on
the public square, was well supervised by prominent citizens, its
purpose failed, for the illegal sale of liquor was not stopped.
Despite a legislative act making Georgia a dry state on January
1, 1908, bootlegging continued, and it was not long before Washington citizens felt the need of forming the Law and Order League
to protest against violation of the state law. In 1910 forty-five
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women members of that organization appeared before the mayor
and council, who as a result called a mass meeting and organized
prohibition forces for the elimination of "blind tigers."
State politics had lost some of its old excitement for Washington
people. With no ROBERT TOOMB to fire them, newer generations
were hardly aware of the political power formerly wielded by
ante-bellum planters. The citizens discussed the qualifications of
various Democratic candidates but opposition was generally good-
natured. Something of the spirit of past political campaigns was
shown in 1908 when the incumbent GOVERNOR HOKE SMITH bitterly attacked his opponent JOSEPH M. (LITTLE JOE) BROWN at a
rally in Washington. Feeling died quickly, however, for after
BROWN's election supporters of both candidates met at a friendly
"crow eating" at the home of P. T. CALLAWAY.
Local politics, on the other hand, was frequently accompanied
by bitterness. In 1903 the whole town became angry when it was
learned that the opponents of the incumbent mayor and board
were enlisting for their candidates the votes of Negroes who
usually took no part in political elections. Despite this Negro
vote, J. R. DYSON was again elected mayor and only one councilman lost his position. Negroes again voted the same year on a
bond issue for the new courthouse, but after that the question of
the Negro vote was not raised.
Although relations between Negroes and white people had been
friendly since the turmoil of Reconstruction days, all Washington laughed good-naturedly when a Negro was inadvertently the
cause of a summary dismissal of court in 1909. CY BULLARD, summoned to the witness stand in a misdemeanor case, had hardly
taken his seat when there was a stampede for every exit. In a
trice he was the sole occupant of the room. Upon investigation
the judge learned that CY had smallpox and sent an immune
officer to remove him to jail until he was well. On another occasion the Negro section became much alarmed over the expected
appearance of Halley's Comet, having heard discussions as to the
possibility of its hitting the earth. Thinking the Negroes good
subjects for a practical joke, several young men sent up lighted
paper balloons over their houses and spread the alarm that the
comet was coming. Wailing loudly, some of the terrified Negroes
sought refuge in their churches. Some were there the next morning and refused to emerge until they knew the outcome of the
The prosperity that came to Washington during the first decade
of the twentieth century encouraged citizens to plan further progressive measures. The Washington Chamber of Commerce was
organized in 1910 and $1,200 was subscribed to advertise the town.
When the Federal census of that year showed a decline in the
town's population instead of the expected increase, the organization was dismayed and immediately appointed fifty volunteer
enumerators to make a recount. The census figures were virtually
substantiated, hut disappointment was somewhat alleviated by the
fact that the Wilkes County population had increased from 20,866 in 1900 to 23,441 in 1910. Townspeople were encouraged to
go on with proposed civic and business enterprises.
Commercial and civic organizations began to broaden their
activities in 1912. Early in the year the gray brick jail now used
was completed at a cost of $20,000, and soon afterward the main
streets of the town were paved as the result of a $60,000 bond issue.
Taxable property reached the unprecedented level of $2,000,000
for the city and $4,000,000 for the county. This civic expansion
reached a climax in 1913, when contracts were awarded for new
buildings and improvements valued at $100,000.
Business activity encouraged citizens to undertake the task of
reorganizing their county fair, which had not been held for a
number of years. In 1912 the managers co-operated with those of
an adjoining county and held the first Wilkes-Lincoln Fair. The
exhibition was so successful that a permanent fair organization
was chartered the following year with a capital stock of $25,000.
During the succeeding years attendance was drawn not only from
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Wilkes and Lincoln but from the surrounding counties; consequently in 1920 the stockholders of the fair corporation spent $2,000 improving the exposition grounds and announced that the
exhibition would henceforth be named the East Georgia Fair. Although hundreds of farmers entered their best produce and livestock in various competitions and thousands attended from many
small towns, the fair was not a financial success and was abandoned after a few years.
The prosperity brought by successful business enterprises led to
an interest in gayer social entertainments. Washington had always enjoyed its smaller gatherings. The ladies had begun the
new century by inaugurating a study of current literature at the
meetings of the Twentieth Century Club and conducting bazaars
for the chanties of the Nightingale Club. The ladies of the Frank
Willis Literary Club and the members of the Athene Club were
meeting to discuss the classics, while the young people of the
Bowling Club were howling in summer and playing euchre in
winter. But many people were calling for fresh amusements: in
1913 the Washington Country Club was built, and an opening reception was held with GOVERNOR AND MRS. JOHN M. SLATON among
the three hundred guests. Soon people were flocking to the club
to play tennis, to swim in the large concrete pool and—despite the
disapproval of many strict church members—to play cards and
dance. The clubhouse remained popular until it was burned in
Business was still doing well in 1914, when a local newspaper
editorial stated that "the war scare hasn't yet been sufficient to
silence the music of the saw and the hammer." Cotton continued
to bring a good price until that year, when the European markets
were closed to America. Fortunately the Wilkes County Cotton
Growers' Association, co-operating with Lincoln County farmers,
had organized in 1907 a cotton-holding company with capital of
$100,000, its purpose being to finance the cotton growers until their
product would bring a better price. Many farmers availed them-
selves of the privileges of this company, but by the end of October
they felt the pinch of financial stress. In a mass meeting they resolved to reduce cotton acreage for the next season and to use the
minimum amount of fertilizer. These men even asked GOVERNOR
SLATON to call a special session of the legislature to pass a law making cotton reduction necessary and expressed hope that the state
would float a bond issue for the purchase of surplus cotton. Although the legislature did nothing, the farmers reduced their
acreage themselves. Cotton acreage reduction was forgotten by
1916, however, when the price rose to nineteen cents because the
Allies were using many bales for war munitions.
After the United States had entered the World War in 1917
patriotic organizations were rapidly formed, among them the
local Red Cross Chapter and the Wilkes County Food Council.
Two military companies, a national unit and a home guard unit
were organized, and six Wilkes County men attended the first
officers' training camp at Fort McPherson. The seventy-four Confederate survivors organized themselves into a military company
and offered their services to the President. Citizens raised their
$10,000 Red Cross quota at two mass meetings and later contributed $5,059 for the army Y.M.C.A. in a twelve-hour drive.
They were also active in selling Wilkes County's allotment of $50,000 in war saving stamps; before the middle of 1918, Washington
and Wilkes County had exceeded their quotas in five Liberty Loan
campaigns. Washington's soldiers who had served overseas returned on July 4, 1919, and in September the JEROME A. WOOTEN
Post of the American. Legion was formed.
Although the World War had been uppermost in the thoughts
of Washington citizens, the eighty-year-old problem of additional
transportation facilities had again asserted itself. In the middle of
me first decade of the twentieth century members of the Washington Business Association, seeing the need of improvement, had
appeared before officials of the Georgia Railroad in Augusta and
requested a new station, which was built in 1907. Early in Janu-
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ary, 1916, work was begun on the much discussed Washington
and Lincolnton Railroad, and in 1919 the Washington and Elberton Railroad, at this time the Elberton and Eastern, began to
construct the final ten miles between Washington and Tignall.
Two strikes on the Georgia Railroad had emphasized the need
of new lines. Citizens suffered greatly from a shortage of food in
1908, when transportation was interrupted because of a strike.
When groceries and stock feeds became almost exhausted, the
desperate citizens called a mass meeting and drew up resolutions
addressed to the governor of the state and the president of the railroad company. Protection was promised to strike-breaking crews
who should put the trains into operation, and after several days
regular schedules were resumed. The townspeople were again
perplexed in the fall of 1912, when the Georgia Railroad conductors and flagmen, protesting against the discharge of one of their
brothers, voted for a walkout and raised a disturbing transportation problem. Bankers, seeking practicable means of financing
cotton growers without shipments of currency, asked the farmers
to co-operate by using checks whenever possible. Others carried
mail, passengers, and supplies to and from Elberton and Athens.
One enterprising citizen, after hearing that the people were "banana and fruit hungry," drove to Augusta where he purchased two
hundred bunches of bananas, four barrels of apples, and quantities
of other fruit. Violence was condemned at a mass meeting, and
the governor was petitioned to end the distressing situation. The
town's mayor, leading a group of a hundred citizens, warded off
attempted interference with an engineer who had volunteered to
operate a train into town. Railroad officials at length enlisted
Federal aid in the protection of the United States mail and the
shipment of interstate freight; service was resumed after ten days.
Throughout the twentieth century destructive fires, prevalent
during the preceding century, were held in check. The only
serious damage to the town was caused by a cyclone on the morning of March 29, 1920. In addition to unroofing houses, uproot-
ing trees, breaking telephone and telegraph wires, and littering
the streets with debris, the twister seriously damaged the municipal
lighting plant, the telephone company, the Baptist Church, the
courthouse, and the public school buildings. There were no
deaths, but losses were estimated at $250,000.
After the cyclone, residents hastily repaired the damaged structures and erected new buildings to replace those demolished. LEO
KRUMBEIN bought the old telephone structure on the southeast
corner of the square and replaced it with his modern daylight
corner store. The J. T. Lindsey Building was constructed about
the same time on the west side of the square.
Workers of the Writers' Program of the WPA of GA, The Story of Washington-Wilkes
(Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1941) pgs. 78-87
Transcribed by Keith Giddeon. All text is as found in the book, except the deletion of most hyphens
on line breaks, and several instances of italics being deleted.
Read Part VIII - Modern Times