My last two columns and have mentioned the New South
philosophy that built Douglasville. Town leaders knew that the railroad was the key to revitalizing the economy in this area after the Civil War as well as insuring the survival of their brand new town. Another part of the philosophy was the development of cotton-related industry and support businesses in the commercial district.
If the term “New South” is new to you I encourage you read the previous columns I link to above as well as my article, New South: Railroads and Mill Towns at History Is Elementary.
The website for the City of Douglasville describes our town as an outstanding example of a turn-of-the-century railroad town."
Douglasville's Main Street Manager, Stephanie Aylworth, goes a bit further stating, Douglasville is a prime example of a postbellum rail town for several reasons including the orientation of the buildings to the railroad, the layout of the town, the types of businesses housed and their architectural features. All of these set the stage for a New South image campaign directed by Douglasville’s primary booster (or cheerleader), Joseph S. James.
So, before I launch into an examination of Douglasville’s early cotton mills I wanted to take a sidebar moment to discuss James since his name is all over every aspect of our early history. When I began my research into the history of Douglas County I quickly saw that I would need to devote more than one column to James since he was so involved with what appears to be every aspect of life in Douglas County. It has been a true joy to uncover various layers of his life, and the most exciting part to me is I know there are several things I haven’t uncovered–yet.
Joseph S. James was born in Campbell County, Georgia in 1849. His father was very well known in the community and was one of the first settlers in the area. A few historical sources print Joseph S. James’ middle name as Summerlin, but other sources state the family has confirmed James’ full name as Joseph Stephen James, and he preferred to be called Joe.
Some historical sources refer to James with the title of Colonel. Though his father and brothers served in the Confederate army, Douglasville’s prime booster never did. As I’ve discussed in previous columns the title of Colonel is often given to attorneys as a sign of respect in the South and in the states of North Dakota and New Mexico. Georgia’s governor can convey the honorary title per Georgia’s legal code, section 38-2-111.
Memoirs of Georgia, a book compiled in 1895 with biographical details of people across the state advises, (Around 1869 and) "at this time being very poor and without a thorough education (James) was disqualified for the battle of life, but gathering all his strength and ability, he applied himself to the study of law." An article concerning Joseph James published in The Heritage of Douglas County: 1870 – 2002 confirms James received much of his education in a log cabin and was admitted to the state bar without attending law school or without working with another attorney.
Apparently he made quite an impression on folks because in 1881, at the age of 21, Joseph S. James was elected as the Justice of the Peace for Douglas County, and by the time the city was incorporated by the Georgia General Assembly on February 22, 1875 James was elected as Douglasville’s first mayor along with five aldermen and a recorder.
James was also the editor and publisher of the New South paper and operated a general store in town with family members.
Following his term as mayor, James moved on to the Georgia General Assembly where he served as a state representative for two terms beginning in 1880 followed by a term as a state senator for the 36th district.
While serving in the General Assembly in 1883 James was able to assist the Pacific Railroad to locate sites for routes and stations in Douglas County, Villa Rica,Tallapoosa, and Temple. Some of this
travels took him into Alabama and Mississippi. The book Heritage of Douglas County: 1870 -2002 advises he obtained that position due to the influence of President Grover Cleveland and General John B. Gordon who was associated with the Georgia Pacific Railroad (and would eventually be elected governor in 1886). James involvement with the railroad was also influenced by Atlanta Constitution editor, New South visionary and personal friend, Henry W. Grady, and George W. Adair, another railway man and one of Atlanta’s first citizens.
In her historical account of Douglas County Fannie Mae Davis states, "(Joseph S. James) used (the entire) stratagem at his command in influencing renewed interest in the building of a railroad on the old right-of-way surveyed 30 years before. When the Georgia Pacific
Railroad became the owners, James watched the progress with an eagle’s eye."
James would actually go out on scouting expeditions with railroad officials. One such trip left him injured and crippled for life. Fannie Mae Davis explains how one day after looking over some railway sites the group was heading in after dark. They were traveling east towards Atlanta when they knowingly came upon a spot where a farmer had placed a barricade of oak rails on the track in protest.
There were some people who did not see the benefits of the railroad. Many farmers were upset the railroad was being built across their property. Eminent domain is never popular when it’s your domain that is being taken, right?
James was sitting on a flat bed car with his legs hanging off the side. The engine was behind the flat car pushing it, and since it was dark the barricade could not be seen. The car hit the barricade breaking both of James’ legs. Davis reports Joe (as she referred to him) was about 30 years old at the time, and from then on had a noticeable limp and at times used a walking stick until the day he died.
James did what he could to continually promote Douglas County and Douglasville. In an Atlanta Constitution article dated May 5, 1888 James stated, "For the immigrant this region possesses many advantages especially for those intending to engage in agricultural pursuits….a lively, enterprising town, and that here is the center of an extensive and prosperous farming county…an industrious farmer, in a short time, can have an attractive home, and though starting poor, in a few years may become rich."
In 1888, Joseph S. James was very involved with the Piedmont Chatauqua, a major event in Douglas County where "…close to 30,000 people poured into (the county) from Atlanta and from parts unknown via the railroad for a weekend of cultural and educational opportunities." You can read about the Chautauqua James also owned the land in the downtown area known as James Grove where celebrations were held beginning in 1886.
Georgia Memoir also reports that in 1892 James was chosen as a presidential elector-at-large for the state. During this time he made 102 speeches in 90 days all over the state with consecutive appointments being 100-300 miles apart.
President Grover Cleveland appointed James as the United States District Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia on April 3, 1893, and in 1897, James helped to establish the New Century Cotton Mill where he served as president of the company, and he helped to establish the Lois Cotton Mill a year later which would solidify Douglasville as a New South town.
When he wasn’t serving as the number one cheerleader for Douglasville or in many of the other important positions he held Joseph S. James practiced law, was a member of the Odd Fellows, an altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization, was a member of the Methodist Church and helped to organize the United Sacred Harp Association. He was also a staunch Democrat, served on the Board of Directors for the Douglasville Banking Company and chairperson for the Democratic Executive Committee. The city of Douglasville’s walking tour brochure states, "(James’s also) helped organize a joint stock company for the purpose of building a large hotel in town."
Joseph S. James died on January 20, 1931. The book Heritage of Douglas County: 1870-2002 advises his surviving daughter, Eunice, burned all of his papers and records and buried him in an unmarked grave in Douglasville’s City Cemetery. He lies west of the Pavilion.
Douglasville Lodge No. 289 F & A.M. honored Joseph S. James with a resolution in the soon after his death stating, “Brother James measured up to the highest standards…..”
Gee, I couldn’t have worded it better myself!
The City of Douglasville’s walking tour brochure correctly refers to Joseph S. James as Douglasville’s prominent booster and visionary, but I have to wonder–have we let him down?
What do you think?
Next week I’ll continue discussing Douglasville’s New South past involving the cotton mills, and look for upcoming columns regarding James and his involvement with shape-note singing and a couple of his exploits as a United States' District Attorney.