Here Comes the Train!
Imagine if you will, seven thousand people gathering around the train tracks at the corner of Telfair and Monroe Streets. Where they there to greet the president, a military hero or an exciting circus troop? No, Dubliners and Laurens Countians came by the thousands to see a train filled with exhibits on farming. Yes, I said farming. It was the largest crowd in the history of the Emerald City and they gathered to catch a glimpse of ways to better their lives one hundred years ago today.
The agricultural train had been to Dublin before, back on February 26, 1908. A mere three thousand persons showed up to see the exhibits and attend the lectures of W.A. Worsham and local congressman and agricultural expert, Danville's Dudley M. Hughes, in the Chautauqua auditorium. The "college-on-wheels" was sponsored by the State Agricultural College in Athens. A second annual tour was canceled in 1909 when top educators could not make the necessary arrangements to travel.
The event was again postponed in 1910. The delay allowed the college to make the "education special" even better. The 1911 train was more elaborate and made longer stops, three stops a day for three to four hours at time - depending on the size of the crowds. The train consisted of seven cars. One car featured the most modern examples of farm equipment. Another contained exhibits demonstrating new techniques for improving livestock production. General agricultural and soil exhibits filled two more cars. In towns where no lecture hall was close by, two cars were used for lectures. The last car was a Pullman and was used for sleeping quarters for the cadre of lecturers, teachers, and specialists. The train was under the direction of Dr. A.M. Soule, head of the State Agricultural College, who was aided by Agriculture Commissioner T. G. Hudson and other state officials.
W.A. Worsham, an agricultural chemist of the State Agricultural College, believed that the train would do wonderful work to arouse Georgia farmers. "I think a new era is dawning in Georgia, and the forces at work to arouse agricultural advancement is one of the most important works we have ever attempted," Worsham remarked.
In order to properly prepare for the big event, Dublin mayor L.Q. Stubbs named O.L. Anderson, J.S. Simons, Jr., J.R. Baggett, W.B. Rice, Hal M. Stanley, and J.E. Burch as a committee to oversee the arrangements and to meet the train in Danville. Mayor Stubbs set out to make sure that the crowd would set a local record. Stubbs also believed that the people of Dublin, Laurens County, and surrounding areas would constitute the largest crowd to see the train as it cris-crossed the state.
The main welcoming ceremonies were held in the Opera House, formerly the Chautauqua Auditorium where the event was held before. The site was chosen because the sidings at Telfair and Monroe were best suited to handle the massive multitude of attendees. Stubbs and the committee escorted the college officials to the Opera House where Stubbs issued a formal welcome on behalf of the city. Dr. Soule addressed those lucky enough to have seats in the overflowing auditorium. Soule, in stressing the need to improve farming methods, presented Guy Cochran a certificate honoring Cochran's largest yield of corn on a single acre of land. Cochran, working with the Boy's Corn Club, produced ninety-two bushels of corn on his small plot. Soule pointed out that Cochran, a mere child, produced four to five times the average yield per acre for the area.
Soule commented that the large crowd pointed to the fact that Laurens County farmers were progressive and he had no doubt that the county would mark an epoch in agricultural activity. Also on the dias was state school commissioner, Prof. J.M. Brittian, and Commissioner of Agriculture Thomas G. Hudson, who addressed the crowd on the need to make improvements in all areas of agriculture in the state.
The passage of the train through nearly every railroad depot town in the state was made possible through the cooperation of the state's railroads. The Wrightsville and Tennille established a special rate to insure greater attendance from persons living outside of Dublin.
School officials in the city allowed their seven-hundred students to leave school just prior to lunch to see the exhibits. County school students had the entire day off to accompany their teachers to town.
A.M. Soule's comments on the county's future in agriculture were correct. That same year, county farmers produced more than 60,000 bales of cotton, weighing thirty-million pounds. The production that year set a state record which stood until the latter years of the century when large machines picked cotton on the mega farms of Southeast Georgia. The record that year exceeded the output of all of the farmers in the state of Missouri.
As the dreaded and deadly boll weevil began to infest and destroy a substantial portion of the county's cotton crop, Laurens farmers attempted to diversify by growing more corn and sweet potatoes. Other farmers attempted to expand their livestock, dairy, and poultry operations to keep their farms going. In 1924, more than four thousand farms nearly covered the non-wooded landscape of the county.
Despite the economic hardships of the Great Depression, agriculture continued to be an integral part of the county's economy until the 1970s when high fuel and labor costs, coupled with escalating interest rates brought about a substantial decline in farming in the county. Agricultural programs in the schools and through the Co-Operative Extension Service have continued until the present day. But nothing compared to that day first day in March, one hundred years ago today, when one of every five people in Laurens County came to town to see the "College on Wheels."