Boosting Dublin & Laurens County for A Century
Once upon a time, just about a century ago, Dublin's people boasted that they came from "Dublin, Georgia - the only town in Georgia that's doublin' all the time." This proud proclamation was a reference to the meteoric rise of the town's population of about 400 in the mid-1880s to become one the state's top ten cities in population in merely a quarter of a century. Right in step, the county's population boomed nearly 400% in forty years. To maintain this unprecedented growth, the city needed just the right person to lead the divergent business interests in the city into a single forward-minded alliance. And, one hundred years ago this week, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce was born.
A decade or so before, when the century turned, the Young Men's Business League was formed to take the city a notch or two up the ladder to metropolitan heights. Dublin was growing, but the community's leaders knew that in order to keep growing, more investments would need to be made, not only in the field of agriculture and agri-business, but advancements in education, culture, and a better quality of life.
A mass meeting of Dublin's leading businessmen was held on the evening of March 23, 1911. The meeting was called to order by banking magnate John M. Williams, who turned over the gavel to Judge J.E. Burch, who acted as chairman of the meeting. E.H. Hyman chastised those present to cease being "tight wads" and join in the movement.
A "who's who" of Dublin's leading businessmen were named to the chamber's first board of directors. The board was composed of R.M. Arnau, D.S. Brandon, John M. Williams, Frank G. Corker, J.M. Finn, C.H. Kittrell, T.W. Hooks, H.M. Stanley, M.V. Mahoney, H.G. Stevens, Leo P. Baum, W.F. Schaufele, R.F. Deese, J.S. Simons, Izzie Bashinski, J.A. Kelley, and F. H. Rowe.
The chamber's directors hired Robert M. Martin, former city editor of the Savannah Press, to coordinate and focus the various business interests in a single direction. Martin set up his office in the New Dublin Hotel in a room which adjoined the lobby.
On the top of the list for economic development projects was the development of modern highways through Dublin. Just two months after the chamber was organized, members set out in cars to scout the best routes to adjoining county seats. With a decent road along the "Old Macon Road" and an acceptable one to Statesboro already in place, road backers were confident that the Macon to Savannah highway would be a sure thing. By the middle of the decade, the chamber was pushing very hard to secure the location of U.S. Highway 80 through the center of town. By the mid 1920s when the highway was the primary east-west highway across the state and the Southeast, chamber officials instituted a project to construct a modern hotel along the route in the center of the city. The city's newest hotel was named the Fred Roberts Hotel in honor the chairman of the committee, who died during its construction.
An early project was the construction of a major power line from Dublin to the Central Georgia Power Company dam and electric plant in Jackson, Georgia. The chamber channeled a lot of efforts into improving navigation along the Oconee River. The chamber worked for an entire decade to establish a "big city" hospital to provide the best medical care available in this section of Georgia.
The first two fund raising projects of the chamber were an auto race in the city and a large bar-b-que at East Lake on the 4th of July.
When the chamber was organized, Laurens County was at the top of the state in the production of cotton. In fact, that year the county set an all time state record which stood until the late 1990s when machine operated mega farms broke the record of 60,000 bales. With the invasion of the deadly boll weevil which destroyed the cotton crops for several years, the chamber worked with farmers in diversifying the crops and to provide information on newer and better methods of improving agricultural production, soil conservation, and marketing strategies.
In the spring of 1914, the city's businessmen gathered in the Bertha Theater to reorganize the chamber of commerce. Those in attendance were entertained with a movie and plenty of locally produced Chero-Cola. At least $8,000.00 in memberships were subscribed. The new organization would be governed by commissioners at large. Izzie Bashinski oversaw the organization, while D.S. Brandon (Business Development,) R.F. Deese (Retail Trade,) R.M. Arnau (Public Affairs,) and W.B. Rice (Agricultural Development) headed the chamber's departments. Charles Caldwell served as secretary for two years until 1916, when he was replaced by former Dublin High School principal N.G. Bartlett, who served until 1922, when he was replaced by W.H. Proctor.
Finally on the evening of November 12, 1914, the Dublin and Laurens County Chamber was organized in Dublin's city hall. Frank G. Corker, president of the 1st National Bank, was elected president. Stephen J. Lord was elected vice president. Con A. Weddington accepted the office of temporary secretary.
In February 1921, the chamber sponsored "The Farmers' Institute" to promote increased production of peanuts, sweet potatoes, livestock and poultry. Other agri-business projects were the location of a grain elevator, creamery, a meat curing plant, poultry clubs, and a dairy institute. Within a decade of the chamber's formation, Laurens County, with leadership from chamber supporters, became one of the leading counties in the state in the production of hogs and poultry.
When women received the right to vote in the early 1920s, the chamber moved forward by inviting all women interested in promoting the local economy to attend a mass meeting in the fall of 1922. For the first time, women were invited to join the organization. The male-dominated organization established at least one committee which would be controlled by the chamber's female members.
This year, the Dublin-Laurens Chamber of Commerce celebrates one hundred years of boosting Dublin and Laurens County. The efforts of thousands of the organization's members over the last century have led to our community to become one of the best places in Georgia to live.