Saturday, January 30, 2010

30 January 1918: Murder-Suicide on UGA Campus

On this day in 1918, sometime between 2am and 3am, three shots rang out in one of the dorm rooms housed in Waddell Hall. The first shot killed 17-year-old Belle Hill of Jefferson, Georgia; the next two shots were self-inflicted by 20-year-old Jaime Johnson, also of Jefferson. Neither was a student at the University, but had crashed for the night with three friends from their hometown on a rainy, cold evening in Athens.

The three students who lived in the room, Alva Pendergrass, Howard Dadisman, and Tom Holliday, were awakened by the last shots. They had to go to the New York Cafe on Clayton Street to use the phone to call the police, and the bodies were then taken to Dorsey Funeral Home, also on Clayton Street. The remains of Hill and Johnson were returned to Jefferson by train approximately 12 hours after they died. Both are buried in their respective family plots in Jackson County.

A couple days after the event, the Athens Banner published Jaime Johnson's suicide note in full. His tone is despondent as he asks his family and friends for forgiveness, lists debts of his to be paid, and states that "my burden is so great I can't go with it any further." He does not indicate why he murdered Belle before taking his own life.

The murder-suicide caused quite a sensation in Athens, with rumors flying around town about how and why it had occurred. At one point, rumors spread that the three students in whose room the crime took place had fled town, but actually they had gone to give Johnson's widowed mother, whom all three knew, the details of what had happened in person. The Athens Banner sought to debunk rumors as they arose, saying at one point that "the young men are all from splendid families," and hoped that investigation reports "will set at rest any wild rumors which may be afloat or have been circulated since the unfortunate occurrence."

Two inquiries into the case were held in Clarke County. First, a coroner's inquest to verify how the two young people died; and a second by the Clarke County Grand Jury, in an attempt to disprove all the rumors about the event, including clearing Pendergrass, Holliday, and Dadisman of any criminal wrongdoing. However, by the end of the second investigation, all three had been dismissed from the University for "knowingly permitting an unmarried couple to enter their room and disrobe for the night and occupy said room with said students."

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Two Newsletters You Don't Want To Miss

On this day, we'd like to tell you about the newsletters that are created by the Heritage Room Staff here at the library.

Our Genealogy Events newsletter comes out at the end of each month. It includes events in the area and from around Georgia related to historical research, events, people, and places, history- or genealogy-related exhibits and displays, as well as meeting information for local history and genealogy groups. It's a great way to get a head's up on what is being offered over the next few weeks so you don't miss anything you might enjoy.

We will also have a Genealogy Tips newsletter that will be sent every few weeks with news of new resources, programs, or news from the wider genealogy world. It's a nice way to keep up with your hobby without reading dozens of blogs and websites.

Simply follow the links above (or click here) to see a preview of the newsletters and sign up today!

Monday, January 25, 2010

25 January 1921: Fire Destroys Downtown Businesses

On this day in 1921, Athens fire fighters fought through the early morning hours to contain a blaze that threatened to sweep through all of downtown. Newspaper accounts indicate that by 2:30am, three business blocks had been destroyed, and flames were heading toward College Avenue and the University campus. The fire could be seen from as far away as Monore, and was so hot it melted coins in the safe of the Michael Brothers department store. A plea for assistance had been sent to the Atlanta Fire Chief, who sent men and equipment on a special train to Athens, though they did not arrive until 8am, at which point the small, 25-man force of Athens firemen had the situation under control.

The fire started in the four-story Max Joseph building at the corner of Wall and Clayton Streets. Unfortunately, also in that building was the Denny Motor Company, an automobile retailer who had drums of gasoline stored on their first floor. Explosions from the petroleum, as well as windy conditions, spread the flames quickly. The Max Joseph building was completely gutted within an hour and the Michael Brothers retail and wholesale stores were destroyed in just 45 minutes.

People who lived in the residential areas near downtown packed their things in case they needed to evacuate their homes, while others came to town to watch the fire burn, causing crowd control issues as well. The block bounded by Jackson, Clayton, Wall, and Broad Streets was entirely destroyed, with severe damage to many of the surrounding buildings as well. The only serious human injury suffered by the fire department was when Fire Chief George W. McDorman fell from a ladder at about 6am and broke both of his wrists.

Mayor Andrew C. Erwin estimated total losses from the fire at $2 million, with $1 million of it being entirely from the destruction of the Michael Brothers businesses. However, Michael Brothers immediately announced they would rebuild, and in the mean time, set up temporary business sites. Within a few days, the brothers had retail operations running out of the first floor of the Georgian Hotel and wholesale operations established in the Southern Mutual Building.

The new building was completed 18 months later, and was the first store in Athens to have an overhead sprinkler system installed. It operated as an independent department store until 1953, when the business was sold to Davisons, who closed the store in 1981 to move to Georgia Square Mall. The building currently houses office space on the top floors, the UGA Graduate School offices, a mezzanine level entertaining space, and on the ground floor, Doc Chey's Noodle House and Mellow Mushroom pizza.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

African-American Interest Group Meeting

On this day, we would like to remind you that the Clarke-Oconee Genealogical Society's African-American Interest Group will meet in the Heritage Room on Saturday, January 23rd, at 1pm.

Come enjoy this group as they explore African-American family history research experiences and methodology. Free and open to the public. No registration required.

For more information contact: Mae Castenell at

Hope to see you here!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

20 January 1909: M. B. "Pink" Morton Buys Land For Theatre

On this day in 1909, Monroe Bowers "Pink" Morton purchased the land on which he built the Morton Theatre. He purchased the two lots at the corner of Washington and Hull Streets from Cobb Lampkin for $2, 175.00 cash, and built and opened the theatre within 16 months. As with other buildings at "Hot Corner," his first floor provided office and retail space for black professionals, such as physician and dentist offices and the E. D. Harris drugstore. Over time, the Morton Theatre became "a proud symbol of the power and wealth of Athens' black middle class."

The auditorium and dressing rooms were on the second floor, with the balcony on the third level. The fourth floor had cheaper, gallery seating with benches as well as some small office space. The inaugural performance was a classical piano concert by Alice Carter Simmons of the Oberlin, Ohio Conservatory of Music; both black and white patrons attended.

The Morton Theatre hosted vaudeville acts as well as local performances, such as graduation ceremonies for the African-American schools, their plays and concerts, recitals by local music teachers, and an annual New Year's Day celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation for Athens' black community. Famous musicians such as Blind Willie Tell, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong are also said to have performed at the theatre. Many years later, R.E.M. would film parts of their video "The One I Love" there.

The first silent films were shown in 1919, and by the 1930s, the building was a movie house run by M. B. Morton's son, Charlie.The building fell into disrepair as the Great Depression and boll weevil pushed many of Athens' black population north to find work. The office spaces on the first floor stayed occupied, but the theatre space was no longer used after a small fire in the projection room in the mid-1950s.

The family sold the building in 1973 to Bond Properties, and in 1979, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1981, the Morton Corporation purchased the building and gained grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Georgia Council for Arts and Humanities, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation division, and a Community Development block grant from the Athens City Council to start restoration of the property.

The title transferred to the Athens-Clarke government in 1991, who completed renovations to make it a fully functional theatre, reopening it again in 1994.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

17 January 1872: Cedar Hill Place for Sale

On this day in 1872, the following ad ran at the bottom of the front page of the Southern Watchman:

The "Cedar Hill Place," the residence of Gov. Wilson Lumpkin for the last thirty-five years. It contains one hundred and sixty three acres of land, more or less, all within the corporate limits of Athens. About the centre of the land, on a high eminence, most beautifully situated, is an excellently built stone house, containing 12 rooms, with fireplaces. The place is near a square, and bounded on the east by the Oconee river, on which is a shoal with fall of water sufficient to carry on a cotton Factory or Mill. One half of the shoal belongs to the place.

There are no liens or mortgages on the property, and good titles can be given.

Anyone wishing to buy or know more, can apply to M. W. Lumpkin, on the premises. I am desirous of selling all the place together but would sell the shoal and a very convenient way to it separate.
Former Governor Lumpkin died December 28, 1870. The "M. W. Lumpkin" who placed the ad is likely his daughter, Martha Wilson Lumpkin, who inherited the property. She sold off acreage to the expanding University over the years, but would not sell the last of it, including the house, until 1907. As part of the sale contract, the house must be kept in its original location and never be manually destroyed, or else the land's ownership would revert to the Lumpkin family heirs. UGA bought the land for $12,000.00 with plans to build a new agricultural building on the property.

The house is one of few still around made with the metamorphic bedrock called Athens Gneiss that underlies most of Clarke County. It is no longer used for building, as it tends to break irregularly and browns from an original creamy white color with age. The original "Cedar Hill Place" had much smoother, lighter exterior walls.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Getting Started with Genealogy Registration Reminder

On this day, we'd like to remind you that our Getting Started with Genealogy class now requires registration. Simply call (706) 613-3650, ext. 350, or email us at to sign up for this free class to be held one week from today on Thursday, January 21st, from 2-4:30pm.

The informal session gives you the basics for how to research your family tree, no matter where the roots and branches might lead, including which resources are available here in Athens. Our Heritage Room Librarian is happy to answer your questions during the presentation, and will provide handouts for you to take home.

Please bring something to write with and a sweater (the room can be a bit chilly). For ages 12 and up. We hope to see you there!

Monday, January 11, 2010

11 January 1961: Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes Start Classes at UGA

On this day in 1961, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes attended their first classes at the University of Georgia. Though taunted and jeered by white students as they walked to their classrooms, there was no violence or disruptions during the day. On this night in 1961, after a basketball loss to Georgia Tech, a riot was staged outside the Myers Hall dormitory where Hunter lived. Rocks, bottles, and bricks were thrown at the windows, and at the 39 Athens policemen left to control the crowd with tear gas and fire hoses. State troopers were called, but did not arrive for hours.

Upon the dispersion of the violent crowd, the University suspended Hunter and Holmes "for their own safety," and they were sent back to their parents' homes in Atlanta. Two days later, the same Fifth Circuit judge who had ruled the University must allow the students to register for classes also ruled that the students must be reinstated and allowed to attend classes unharmed. They were back in school by Monday the 16th, and by the end of the week, no longer required their plain-clothed security escorts.

Both Hunter and Holmes had transferred from other schools, and graduated in June, 1963. Hunter took a job with the New York Times, later reporting for PBS's MacNeill-Leherer Report and CNN. She is currently a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, based in South Africa. Holmes became the first black student to attend and graduate from Emory Medical School, later serving on the faculty and becoming associate dean of the medical school. He also served as the chief of orthopedics at Atlanta's Veterans Administration hospital and medical director of Grady Hospital. He died following quadruple bypass surgery in 1995, at the age of 54.

In 2001, as part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of UGA's desegregation, the Academic building was renamed the Holmes-Hunter Academic building.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

6 January 1849: New City Council Plans for Law, Order, & Tax Collection

On this day in 1849, the newly elected Athens city council met at the town hall to plan for the following week when they would elect the Marshal and three Deputy Marshals to serve in the coming year. Terms for the council and the positions they "elected" started with the new year and ran until the end of December.

Responsibilities for the Marshal, the early version of police chief, were "to collect the taxes, attend to the market, superintend the working of the streets, and attend all other duties usually required of such officers." The salary was $250.00 for the year, approximately $52,000.00 in today's dollars.

The Deputies, the early version of police officers, "shall be required to patrol the Town during the night, under the direction of the principal Marshal, and shall be liable an average duty of four hours out of every twenty-four, besides Sundays and other holidays. They shall also be required to assist the Marshal when called upon in cases of emergencies." Their salaries were $100.00 for the year, approximately $21,000.00 in today's dollars.

The following week, William H. Dorsey was elected by the council as Marshal, and his deputies were William H. Saye in Ward 1, John R. Roberts in Ward 2, and Daniel M. Clower in Ward 3. Athens would not establish a regular police force until the Civil War, when shortages of food and other basic necessities caused an increase in crimes of theft.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Would You Like to Subscribe to Our Newsletter?

On this day, we'd like to remind you that a quick way to discover the exhibits, classes, lectures, programs, and other events around Georgia relating to genealogy research and history is the Heritage Room's Genealogy Events Newsletter.

You'll receive a copy in your email inbox at the start of each month so you'll have time to register, buy tickets, or just pencil it in to your calendar. It's a great way to find out about fun, interesting ways to spend a day, an afternoon, or even just your lunch hour. Sign up today!

Friday, January 1, 2010

1 January 1910 - Quilter Harriet Powers Dies

On this day 100 years ago, quilter Harriet Powers died at the age of 72. She had been born into slavery near Clarke County, and later exhibited her quilts at the Athens Cotton Fair. Powers used appliques to tell stories of the Bible and intersperse celestial and historical events in each panel. Even in the one known photograph of her, she wears an apron with applique stars.

Only two quilts survive, the Bible Quilt (ca. 1886), now part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History collection; and the Pictorial Quilt (ca. 1895-1898), now part of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Textiles collection. The Pictorial Quilt is thought to be a commission, but she did not want to part with the Bible Quilt until financial hardship left her no other option. She would sometimes visit the quilt in owner Jennie Smith's home.

Not much is known of Powers' daily life. She and her husband Armstead, together since before the Civil War when they were slaves on neighboring plantations, had nine children together, with three surviving to adulthood. Her son Alonzo, a preacher, was interviewed by a WPA Writers' Project employee in 1934 in Clarke County. From his words, a small picture of her life before she was freed from slavery comes into view, for though Alonzo was probably too young to remember being enslaved, many of his memories coincide with the historical record. Harriet Powers is buried with her husband and daughter in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, Georgia.

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