The men return
Shortly after the War ended and the men returned to town, several of the former businesses and trades began to flourish again and to grow. The main mode of travel by individuals was still the horse and buggy or horse and wagon. Jackson G. Smith, a blacksmith, and George L. Summers had been working together before the War at Dumas and Ford's repair shop. There they worked with harnesses, horse shoeing, and blacksmithing. Smith & Summers bought out Dumas and Ford, and began manufacturing buggies under the firm name of Smith and Summers Buggy Company in 1866. Smith had come to Barnesville before the War from Buffalo, New York, and Summers had come from Virginia.
Buggy Industry Prosperity
This period of growth brought prosperity to Barnesville as a result of the buggy industry and its related businesses. Some of these were harness manufacturing, livestock breeding, and sales, feed and seed stores, livery stables, and buggy body manufacturing. Nearly everyone in the community was employed in an industry which was in some way connected with the manufacturing and shipping of the buggies, wagons, carts, hearses, and coffins. At the height of the buggy business in 1900, nearly 9,000 buggies were produced annually in Barnesville. Some of the other smaller buggy companies were Brazier and Dumas, Trio Buggy Company, and Franklin Buggy Company. The firm of Smith and Summers split in 1878 and Smith formed his own firm. Summers went into business with Murphey. This firm was known as Summers and Murphey until the fire of 1884. After Summers rebuilt, the firm was known as Summers Buggy Company.
The various buggy firms employed hundreds of people. Barnesville became known as "the buggy capital of the South" because it produced more buggies than any other location south of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Buggy Capital of the South
Hundreds of buggies, carts, wagons, hearses, and coffins were shipped from the railroad sidings to the market place. In addition to rail shipping, the buggies were sold throughout the countryside by Smith himself hitching up five buggies to one team and traveling through the countryside with one tem of horses pulling his string of buggies. After he sold the last buggy, he would return to Barnesville by train to ready another "string of buggies." This type of marketing made the buggy accessible to the rural areas where the train didn't run.
This period saw a surge in local recreational facilities; as many as five saloons were operating at one time. Billiard parlors were filled with tobacco chewing patrons, and an opera house was built on Market Street. This building, first known as Granite Hall, was built by the Messrs. Stafford and Blalock in 1872. Gordon Institute was drawing families and boarding students from all over the southeast.
These new residents arrived mostly by train. This brought revenue to the depot through fares and freight charges. Housing demands were met by new dwelling construction and boarding houses. Some of the boarding houses of the day were the Five Oaks, The Young Ladies' Home, and the J. T. Murphey boarding house. The hotels of the day were The Matthews Hotel, The Lyon House, The Blalock House, and The Magnolia Inn.
During Gordon's commencement exercises and during the height of the summer resort season, boarding houses and hotels were filled to capacity. Visitors came from Florida to spend the summers in Barnesville because of its business, educational, and cultural advantages.
Buggy Industry Flourishes
During Reconstruction, the buggy industry began to expand and flourish. Three of the smaller size buggy manufacturers were Trio Buggy Company, Brazier and Dumas Buggy Company, and Franklin Buggy Company. The two largest were Summers' Buggy Company and the J. G. Smith & Sons Buggy Company.
The office and the commissary of J. G. Smith & Sons Company still stands today in the historic business district on the northeast side of the main railroad line. The building which housed the Franklin Buggy Company is totally intact on the site adjacent to the main line of the railroad. This building was the last location of the Franklin Buggy Company. The first was a warehouse at the intersection of Zebulon and Greenwood Streets which was burned in the 1920s. The Trio Buggy Company was in that location after Franklin had moved to the large building which stands today on the rail line. That building was built in 1897 for the Gem Knitting Mills. After they went out of business, Franklin occupied it, then an infant casket company used it as a manufacturing site, and it was lastly used as a confectionary and mail order house for B. Lloyd's Candies.
There are three walls of the original blacksmith shop of Summers Buggy Company still standing today. Many years ago it had a fire and it was rebuilt by replacing only the burned portions. It is utilized today as a storage shed for a building supply company which is owned and operated by a direct descendant of the Smith family which was engaged in the manufacture of buggies and wagons.
The Barnesville Savings Bank was organized October 26, 1870. The bank's first and second locations are occupied by businesses in the downtown historic district. The first site is at the corner of Main and Zebulon Streets. After the Barnesville Savings Bank erected a new marble front building on East Main Street, the original building was occupied by a number of retail businesses. This new bank building was erected in 1897. The 1879 population figure for Barnesville was 2,000. The town had begun its rebirth after the War and was prospering.
By 1880, Barnesville was a thriving shipping point. Many locally made products were being shipped to other areas of the state and the southern region of the U.S. In addition to the buggies, wagons, carts, hearses, and coffins, many local people were involved in the fruit producing business. These fruits included peaches, melons, grapes, and pecans. These products were shipped from the depot by the car load.
Another local crop was cotton. The cotton was grown, harvested, ginned, and baled locally. Some of the cash crop was shipped out by train and some was used by the several local cotton mills to manufacture goods to be shipped out. One of the cotton mills was the Eagle Knitting Mill, later known as the Oxford Knitting Mill and today is known as the William Carter Company. This mill employed hundreds of 'operatives" when it began operation in the 1880s. For many decades, the William Carter Company was one of the two largest employers in the area. It still operates at the site of the original mill. Another of the cotton mills was the Barnesville Manufacturing Mill. It started in the late 1800s. After a depression at the turn of the century, it moved its operations to the western edge of the district. It is Barnesville's largest employer today. It is known today as the General Tire Corp. For many years it was known as Aldora Mills.
Several other cotton mills operated in Barnesville during the 1880s. The Gee-Hanson Knitting Mill, The Hanson-Crawley Knitting Mill, and the Georgia Underwear Knitting Mill all operated in Barnesville during the 1880s. Several of these merged with one another. Not only did cotton bring jobs to the farmers, the cotton gins, the cotton warehouses, the shipping department, and Southern Railway Express, but it caused the erection of 'operative cottages" along Brown Avenue (Atlanta Street) and Forsyth Street. The cotton mills needed housing for the machine operators and decided to build mill houses. Aldora Village which was built soon after the turn of the century, was provided by the Hightower family for Aldora Mill workers to live in. Each mill had its own commissary. The "Company Store" was designed to meet the needs of the company hands. Not only did the cotton mills have these conveniences, so did the buggy manufacturers.
Other manufacturing plants during the 1880s began to thrive. The Stafford-Huguley Hosiery Mill was started. This factory was housed in the new Murphy building on Zebulon Street after the fire of October 17, 1884. The fire was responsible for many economic and structural changes in the downtown business district. As a passing train created sparks on the tracks, a bale of cotton caught on fire. The cotton was stacked along the track behind Corley Tire Company and the Summers' cotton warehouse. The fire raged out of control because the fire pumper could not hold pressure. The fire department was quick to respond to the alarm from its shed on Market Street, but the hoses had become rotten and would not hold pressure. As a result of the fire, the town's configuration was changed from a triangle which had as its wide base the stock yards around the depot. The point of the triangle was in front of the present day Carter's Drug Store. Thirty-three businesses and several downtown residences were destroyed by the fire. The city fathers decided to re-design the "Square" into a rectangular design. The focal point of the business district would still be the depot, but the access into and out of the depot area would be greater. The three main roads were to still go out from the center point. Years later, the center point would be the police booth at the intersection of Zebulon, Forsyth and Main Streets.
The post office building was located in the Swatts building facing the depot. The Swatts building was built right after the October 17, 1884 fire that destroyed most of the downtown business district. In 1905 the M.W. Smith building was built across from the depot and became the new location of the post office.
Another of the locally manufactured products were the Stafford & Sons shoes. At their height, the Stafford Shoe Company made and shipped 5,000 pairs of shoes out of Barnesville via rail freight. The shoes were manufactured in the rear of the Stafford building on Market Street.
The site of the ribbed underwear manufacturing plant was later used as the freight depot and today is used as a fertilizer warehouse for Akins Feed and Seed. It is standing today just behind Summers' warehouse along the railroad tracks. The Summers' cotton warehouse is used by the city of Barnesville for its electrical department.
The site of another underwear mill is standing today along the railroad tracks just north of the depot. This is just outside the boundary for the downtown district, although it is right across from the depot. After manufacturing cotton underwear for years, the site became the Franklin Buggy Company until the middle 1920s. Later it housed a children's coffin manufacturing company. Lastly, it was used for many years as the site of a confectionary firm. B. Lloyd's Pecan Candy Company shipped confections and nuts in a large mail order business. Their motto was "Nuts Did It".
As a result of the 1884 fire, all of Main Street, most of Forsyth Street, and all of Zebulon Street are post October 1884. The only portion of the old section left was the south side of Forsyth Street and Market Street. The business district was totally rebuilt in the months just after the fire. The first building to be rebuilt was the William R. Murphey building. It was stated in the local News-Gazette that the building was begun on the "glowing embers of the fire." The building was completed in twenty-one days. It was the most desirable parcel of commercial property in the business district because it "fronted" the depot. That building would house law offices, restaurants, meat markets, grocery markets, harness repair shops, the first "reading room" (library), the "Blues" drill room, livestock stables and the rival bank, the New South Savings Bank which opened in 1890.