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Jul 19

R.E. Lee Institute: Building

Posted on July 19, 2018 at 12:02 PM by Jamesan Stuckey

The old R. E. Lee Institute school building has a remarkable history of ups and downs. After multiple fires, today it stands as a home for the Thomaston-Upson Government Complex.

Originally chartered as Thomaston High School in 1875, the first buildings to house students were the old Female Academy adjoined with the Male Academy, also known as the Little Red Schoolhouse. The student population quickly outgrew this space and in 1884 a new structure was built. By 1897, enrollment kept expanding and several calls to enlarge the building were inserted in the Thomaston Times. By January, 1900, a new auditorium was completed with Mayor James R. Atwater commended for this achievement. (Thomaston Times, January 19, 1900)

In October, 1907, a special election was held to approve the selling of bonds, which would pay for a 1908 addition to the 1884 building. Only one photo of the addition survives. Then, on February 27, 1909 (a Saturday night) a horrible fire began. Ed Cliburn writes in his book, Proud to be From R.E. Lee, “As the night darkness settled in, Councilman J.B. Barron, standing in the door of the Zorn Co. on the square, looked up and saw light in the belfry of the Institute Building… Unfortunately, by the time enough people had gathered to do anything about the blaze, the inferno had burst through the roof and burned beyond any possible control.” After this event, the 1884 building was completely gone.

Quickly bouncing back, a new building was finished by March 7, 1910. This new building was bigger and better than before, as it was constructed in brick. For the next 11 years, the school went through a period of growth. Students contributed to the war effort in 1917-1918, becoming an official Red Cross School. They couldn’t celebrate the end of the war with the rest of Thomaston, however, as school was closed in November, due to the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.

On October 4, 1921, another great fire erupted. This time, students were in the middle of class. Though much of the school was irreparably damaged, the foundations from the 1909/1910 building remained intact. This is the same foundation supporting the current Government Complex. The current building opened September 4, 1922, and even though another fire broke out in 1929, thankfully the building still stands.

For more photos of R.E. Lee throughout the years, come see our lateral files, or if you have Proud to be… by Ed Cliburn, read it! It is an incredible resource.

(Proud to be From R.E. Lee: A History of R.E. Lee Institute, Thomaston, Georgia, 1875-1992, by Dr. Edwin L. Cliburn, 2000)

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Credit: Proud to be From R.E. Lee, Dr. Edwin L. Cliburn, 2000
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Credit: Proud to be From R.E. Lee, Dr. Edwin L. Cliburn, 2000
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Thomaston Times, November 18, 1921
Jul 16

Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Speech - Gordon College

Posted on July 16, 2018 at 9:23 AM by Jamesan Stuckey

80th Anniversary of Roosevelt’s Speech: Gordon State College, August 11th, 2018.

On August 11th, Gordon State College will host the opening of a permanent exhibit celebrating the birth of rural electricity. It was 80 years ago on this date that President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the necessity for electricity in rural homes. Hartford Pryor remembers this day well in one of his, “I Remember When” columns:

I remember when all the rural homes in Upson County had no electricity. The homes in the city, East Thomaston, and Silvertown all had one single light hanging from the center of the room. This brings to mind a story about Franklin D. Roosevelt: On August 11, 1938, while Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, he came to Gordon Military College in Barnesville for the dedication of Lamar Electric Membership Corporation.

As you know, Roosevelt was crippled and had to use a wheelchair. This particular day he gripped the podium firmly, leaned forward, and told a heart-warming story. He stated, “Fourteen years ago I came to your state in search of a pool with warm water wherein I might swim my way back to health.” The place Warm Springs was a rather dilapidated small resort. His new neighbors welcomed him and made him feel so good that he built himself a house and bought a farm. There was one thing that surprised him, and he did not like it. When the first-of-the-month bill came for electric lights for his little cottage, he found the charge to be 18 cents per kilowatt hour (about four times as much as he paid in Hyde Park, New York). That started Roosevelt’s long study on how to get electricity into all the rural homes. So it can be said that a little cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia was the birthplace of the Rural Electrification Administration, better known as the R.E.A.

Roosevelt’s last remarks were, “Electricity is a modern necessity of life and ought to be found in every village, every home, and every farm in every part of the United States. The dedication of this Rural Electrification Administration Project in Georgia is a symbol of the progress we are making, and we are not going to stop.” With these remarks, Mr. Roosevelt was supposed to pull the switch turning on the electricity, but in all his excitement he forgot. The crowd, consisting of a good many Upson County people, numbered about 40,000 that day. There was a farmer giving witness in a rural Tennessee church in the early 1940’s stating, “Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you this, the greatest thing on Earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house.”

                (Hartford Pryor’s, “I Remember When Columns” no. 6-1)

Power to the People Poster

Power to the People Rack Card1

Power to the People Rack Card2


Jun 15

Upson's Peach Industry

Posted on June 15, 2018 at 9:32 AM by Jamesan Stuckey

Peach growing was once one of Upson’s largest industries. Imagine for a moment, the next time you pass what is now McDonalds and Walgreens, that the area was covered in peach orchards. 

In the early 1900’s cotton reigned king, but the mounting threat of the crop destroying boll weevil made farmers turn to other means of profit. Their answer: peaches.  

By July of 1901, the President of the Central of Georgia Railway Company told reporters that peaches were now their second largest exported freight, after cotton. 

In 1919, the business grew rapidly with the introduction of refrigerated railway cars, meaning farmers could now ship to the Northern States. A.D. Williams shipped this first refrigerated batch from the Williams and Child Farm in Yatesville. Williams became one of the most successful peach growers in the South, with Fruit Hill Farms (Yatesville). In the July 26, 1946 edition of the Thomaston Times, a national critic named Williams the best Peach Grower in the World, as his crop never produced anything lower than a U.S. Grade No. 1 or better. 

By 1928-1929, Upson was producing more peaches than anywhere else in the United States. 
In the mid 1940’s the labor-intensive work provided much needed financial relief to women during World War II, as they could work for 40 cents an hour. (James “Red” Shirley WWII Letters Collection)

Ultimately business waned by the 1960’s because of canning, lack of labor and regulations. 

(Peach Industry, Lateral Files: History, Thomaston-Upson Archives)

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