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Our History: Who's the Man Behind the Plaza?

O'Neal Plaza is the perfect space to honor a man who gave his time and devotion to our city.

Editor's note: Lisa Cooper's newest work can be found at douglascountyhistory.blogspot.com.

Over the last few weeks as I have been researching this week’s topic I would throw the name W.S. O’Neal out to various Douglasville citizens.

Over and over again I was met with the same response.  

“Oh, what a nice man.”

“A great man.”

“He was always nice to me when I was a kid.”

“He’s well thought of.”

The reactions were so positive from long time residents I am very sorry I never got the chance to meet him, however, we remember him even if we didn’t actually know Mr. O’Neal simply because his imprint is all over Douglasville in so many different areas. 

O’Neal came to Douglasville from Haralson County and Standing Rock, Alabama where he was born.  In his youth he attended Bowden College and the Georgia School of Pharmacy in Atlanta. 

I’ve written about the commercial space where the Irish Bred Pub sits today here. Originally Dr. Selman ran a pharmacy there and beginning in 1919 his son Paul took over before selling the business to Mr. O’Neal.  Eventually he struck a partnership with another pharmacist named Fred Morris and O’Neal Drug Company was a heavy presence on Broad Street until they both retired in 1962.

As a pharmacist, Mr. O’Neal made house calls and assisted local doctors with surgeries.  Fannie Mae Davis states in her history of Douglas County, “He mixed his medicines from bulk shipments of simple compounds:  sulphur, castor oil, turpentine.  In those days ingredients like that arrived at the drugstore in barrels and left in medicine bottles.”    

During those years he ran O’Neal Drug Company he also provided space for the Douglasville Telephone Exchange when operators were needed in order to place phone calls.   When dial phones hit Douglasville in 1948, Mr. O’Neal enlarged the space on the second floor to give the new system the room that was needed.

From 1948 to 1968 Mr. O’Neal was chairman of the Douglas County Hospital Authority and oversaw the establishment of the first hospital in Douglasville and its explosive growth over the years.

In the early 1950s, O’Neal took on another role.   He became the mayor of Douglasville and served two terms.  Fannie Mae Davis states he guided the city during “a time of unprecedented growth in Douglasville and the county.”   He was the mayor when public housing first reached Douglasville and in October, 1952 the Lithia Springs Drive-In was opened.

In July, 1953 Mayor O’Neal published a list of accomplishments for citizens to review.  It’s quite interesting to read since there are many hints in the list regarding what Douglasville citizens in the 1950s considered to be new and innovative.  In some instances we have to remember the context of the times and realize how different Douglasville was then.  Certain words and phrases would be used that would be considered inappropriate now.

Mayor O’Neal listed the following:

1. The Douglasville Clinic is modern in every respect – made possible by county officials.

2. City Hall with a new jail – which merits the pride of our citizens.

3. New police car, one of the latest models, geared for high speed, when high speed is necessary.

4. New modern jail, erected by county officials.

5. Bus station in new location, which relieves congestion of traffic.

6. Paving the following streets: Strickland, Duncan, Fairview Drive, Katherine, Upshaw Lane, Hollis, Wedge Alley, Rose Circle and the extension of Church Street to Rose Avenue.  Also the drive around Douglas County Memorial Hospital, Price Avenue and Campbellton Streets has been resurfaced.

7. Telephone service has been extended into more rural communities and our system has been placed into the Atlanta division.

8. The City Council has arranged to have a man on duty at all times to answer fire alarms.

9. Last, but most important of all is the new annex to be added to our present hospital building.  This will include rooms and facilities for the colored people. Plans are underway to improve the present hospital building.

Mr. O’Neal also served as a founding director of The Commercial Bank, now known as Regions Bank, in Douglasville from 1928 to 1977. Having lost money in two different banks as a young man O’Neal vowed he would never put his money in a bank again where he wasn’t a director. Fannie Mae Davis writes in her history of Douglas County, Mr. O’Neal helped to guide the bank with his experience as “a conservative investor and [as] as student of the stock market.”  He also served on the loan committee.

In 1979 he was the longest surviving founding director of the bank.  To recognize his contribution the bank named their new community room to honor him–the W.S. O’Neal Community Room. The room was established for the board of directors to meet, and to have room for civic groups to meet and to have exhibit space.  

In his personal life Mr. O’Neal was married and had three sons.  Tragically his oldest son was killed in a plane crash in 1949.  The family was very involved with the First United Methodist Church of Douglas to the point that Mr. O’Neal was chairperson of the building committee for the church in the 1940s.

O’Neal was granted the title Director Emeritus of the Commercial Bank and continued to attend meetings until his death on June 6, 1979.

O'Neal Plaza, named to honor W.S. “Doc” O’Neal, is located at the end of Price Street in the heart of the historic district in downtown Douglasville.  The plaza is adjacent to the commercial space where Mr. O’Neal ran his pharmacy for so many years, and his sons also had a clothing store for several years where the city government offices are located today.  O’Neal Plaza has become a favorite place for prom pictures, sunrise Easter services, festivals such as the upcoming Taste of Douglasville, and the stage area is perfect for outdoor concerts and other entertainments.  

It is the perfect space to honor a man who gave his time and devotion to our city.

Fannie Mae Davis said it best–“In business, politics, and community work, Doc O’Neal helped develop Douglas County through a half century of dramatic growth and changes.”  

Douglasville is already a great place to live but what if each and every citizen aspired to be the sort of involved citizen like Mr. O’Neal?

I think we would be very amazed regarding what we could accomplish.

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