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The Story of Washington-Wilkes - part VII - 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.



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 Hotel.

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 storage warehouse.

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



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

"comic." 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



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 1935.

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-



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.

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