Douglas History Is a Big Deal
But what's the big deal?
I had someone the other day ask me why I waste my time writing about Douglasville history since nothing of any value ever happened here.
Yes, that person is still in an upright position and walking around, but I did briefly think about smacking them.
I let the person continue with their statements, and they actually made a few decent points arguing that on the whole Douglasville and Douglas County has made a pretty good practice of allowing our local history to be demolished, thrown away, neglected, and forgotten, but then he spouted some more fighting words stating state and local history was irrelevant since most folks grow up and move away. Why teach it? We don’t use it.
You never really need local history later in life, right?
I’m glad curriculum experts across the country don’t follow that way of thinking. If they did I would have never been taught any Geometry. I can state emphatically I have never had to solve a geometric proof in any of the three careers I’ve had since my teen years. Throw out the reading of Poe, Melville, and Whitman because students who might grow up to be policemen really have no use for early American literature. Perhaps we should delete teaching students Linnaean Taxonomy because very few ever have to know the species, genus, or family of every animal they encounter.
The question I pose in the sub-title is a no brainer to someone like me. You see, I am one of those people who can be totally consumed by large twenty pound history books. I love the intrigue, story-twists, conincidences, and repetition of themes involved in history. I'll read the history of anything. The history of butter, word histories, Mandarin Chinese, buttermilk, famous cats in history, the history of knitting , obscure African tribal histories, and yes...American history.
Look–I get it. There are people who could care less what happened on any given street corner in the 1870s or even the 1970s for that matter. I understand. I don’t exactly get the warm fuzzies over the steps to bleed the brakes in a car or the intricacies involved with building a skyscraper, but I know those things hold value to certain members of society and they benefit me as well.
My lot in life is to write about history and history education. I’ve been doing it quite regularly at my website, History Is Elementary, since 2006. It’s my self-imposed job to champion history and try to get naysayers to understand why it’s so important to know a little about it, or at least admit I make a good argument for knowing some local history and the purpose behind saving it.
It IS a big deal!
Obviously the past has value to society. Thousands of people throughout history have gone to great lengths to record history through newspapers, diaries, journals, saved letters, family Bibles, and oral traditions.
During the 1880s a terrible drought lasting six months hit north Georgia including Douglas County. Many of the mills could no longer grind grain and corn because the water powering the millstones had dried up. However, due to its position at the mouth of the creek Arnold Mill was able to put precious corn meal into the hands of hungry settlers. Descendants of the mill owners realized the importance of the millstone and kept it preserved for future generations. I wrote about the millstone here.
A few weeks ago I shared a few poignant letters with you written by World War I soldiers. One of the letters was particularly heart wrenching since it was written days before the soldier was killed.
Thank goodness much of our history is maintained in past newspapers. Many of the primary references used in my research regarding the Lois Cotton Mill site came from newspaper accounts.
History is our narrative. It provides answers to how people lived as well as provide for us the roots to certain ideas concerning laws, customs, and political ideas.
Certain ideas regarding local symbols can be answered by history. Have you ever taken a really good look at the official seal of Douglasville? I posted a picture of the seal with this article. Notice the tree in the middle of the seal. It’s a strange tree-just a trunk with no leaves. History tells us why such a unique tree is at the center of our city seal.
For years prior to European settlement the area where the downtown commercial district stands today was particularly important to members of the Creek and Cherokee nations. The tree in question was a skint chestnut and was used as a direction marker and as a significant meeting place. It stood at the highest point on the ridge close to where the Old Courthouse Museum stands today. W.G. Black and his wife were the first white settlers to have a permanent home along the ridge near the skint chestnut. They set up a trading post there along with a well and choice camping spots for settlers traveling the ancient Indian trails that intersected at the tree. The area became known as Skint Chestnut way before Douglasville was ever thought of.
The age-old adage, “you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been” is actually very true. History does repeat itself.
This repetition has importance in society. It teaches the value of certain social changes and governmental policies. Today we see our elected officials at every level struggle to make choices for the rest of us amid a climate of partisan politics, but it's really nothing new. There have always been struggles where government is concerned. In my column titled Journey to a Town Center I explain how Douglasville was birthed out of a law suit when citizens of Douglas County disagreed with the outcome of an election to determine our county seat.
History provides a wealth of material to teach character education, both positive and negative.
Douglasville's first cheerleader, Joseph S. James comes to mind since he was so involved in every aspect of living in Douglasville at the turn of the century. He was the number one promoter for the cotton mill, the number one champion for the railroad, helped organize a joint stock company for the purpose of building a large hotel in town, served as Douglasville's first mayor, practiced law, was a member of the Methodist Church and helped to organize the United Sacred Harp Association-and this is just the short list of his involvement. I truly don't know how the man ever got any rest. Of course, today there would be numerous questions regarding James' involvement in both politics and business, but it cannot be denied he was extremely instrumental in building our town.
Emphraim Pray is another man who lends himself to scrutiny and could be used as a character education study. At the age of 20 he left his home and family in Maine to set out for the Georgia frontier that had opened up to white settlement following the Treaty of Indian Springs. The first thing he did upon arriving in the area for the first time is buy a slave–a woman to cook for him. Yet, this same man invited a preacher to the area to preach from the steps of his home and donated the land that would become Prays Mill Baptist Church. This is also the same man who arrived at the door of Abraham Owl, a Native American,to inform him he no longer had possession of his land. Pray now owned it, but instead of pushing Abraham Owl off the property as so many white settlers did at the time, Pray told the old man he would have a home with him for the rest of his life, and he did. Pray’s life fit in nicely with the context of the times, but today we find great irony in his choices.
History teaches a wide range of material. It isn’t simply a litany of dead people, places, and dates. History is linked to science and clearly shows man’s love of the arts.
In my column titled The Doctor Is In I advised early settlers in Douglas County had to worry about dysentery, scarlet fever, yellow fever, diphtheria, smallpox, tuberculosis, and influenza. Doctors were
very welcome additions to the area.
One in particular, Dr. Edge, apparently was into experimentation and discovering new techniques because it is reported that he had a laboratory in his home where he would experiment with his theories including using local wild herbs and roots indigenous to the area.
Many times a surgical operation was performed in the home since there were no hospitals. Dr. Vansant’s first operation was performed on a local dining table by the light of a kerosene lantern.
History when presented properly lends itself to critical analysis. By looking at local events carefully we gain insight and interest in the larger subject of history. Local history brings a sense of realism to state, national, and even world events.
Most of us are familiar with the period of Prohibition in the United States lasting from 1920 to 1933,but few of us realize bans on alcohol sales were discussed and enforced in the late 1800s. My column, Douglasville's Saloon Era examines a period in our local history when saloons were scattered throughout the central business district.
A week without a street fight was rare during the saloon heyday, and during election time votes could be bought for a shot of whiskey. By 1881, the citizens of Douglasville and other cities and towns across Georgia had had it with the street fights and the bad element the saloons brought in.
Examining how our local forefathers handled this issue in the late 1800s with comparisons and contrasts can help us examine why Prohibition didn't work then or during the 1920s, and lends to the argument regarding Sunday sales today regardless of which side you fall on.
Bringing Douglasville’s history to a 21st century audience–I have that printed on small cards I have been using to hand out to folks to let them know about this column, and even with a few naysayers I will continue to research and write.
It is my firm belief that a study of local history might actually encourage preservation by helping to point out how certain places are linked to the past. We have let too many of our important places disappear or have forgotten their importance. We should be about the business of celebrating the history we have saved and fight to save more of it for future generations.