Dexter Post Office, early 1900s. L to R - Mail carriers G.H. Green, W.P. English, H.I. King, Postmaster, G.F. Shepard and J.T. Register.
The Town of Dexter was officially incorporated 115 years ago today. Formerly known as Barnes, the town enjoyed a population surpassed only by Dublin. Located in heart of some of the county’s most fertile lands, Dexter drew settlers from Laurens and Wilkinson and Washington Counties, who rushed to the area to plant cotton and other crops where trees once stood.
Exaggerated postcard advertising the gardens of Wiggins and Beacham, Dexter, ca. 1913.
Surrounded by communities such as Springhaven, Mt. Carmel, Musgrove, Alcorn, Kewanee and even Nameless, Dexter is more of a community than a town. Any attempt to chronicle a history of these communities, as well as history of the town beyond it’s first twenty-five years of its existence and within the confines of this column would be impossible. I refer you to a definitive history of Dexter and its environs, which was published in the 1990s by former Dexter resident Amy Holland Alderman.
Dexter, like all other towns in the county, owed its existence to the coming of the railroad, in this case the Empire and Dublin or the Oconee and Western Railroad. The site where Dexter is located was first settled by John W. Green. Rev. Green, one of Laurens County’s longest surviving Confederate soldiers, built the first dwelling. The Oconee and Western Railroad had its beginnings in the mid 1880's as a tram road from Yonkers to Empire to Hawkinsville.
Looking from Water Tank, Dexter, ca. 1910.
The Empire Lumber Company applied for a charter as the Empire and Dublin Railroad in 1888. The incorporators were J.C. Anderson, J.W. Hightower, R.A. Anderson, W.A. Heath, N.E. Harris and Y.H. Morgan. Mr. Hatfield of New York supplied much of the capital and served as the first president. Capt. J.W. Hightower was general manager. A.T. Bowers served as the first superintendent. The road ran from Empire in western Dodge County to Dublin. The principal office was established in Empire. Eventually a western leg would be constructed to Hawkinsville. Within a short time the company changed its name to reflect its future.
The new Oconee and Western railroad headquartered its offices and shops in Empire at the junction of the Oconee and Western with the Georgia Railway. The tracks reached Dublin in 1891 - the same year as the W. & T. and the M.D. and S. railroads completed their tracks into the heart of Dublin. The Hawkinsville leg was completed the next year connecting the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers.
The 40-mile railroad ran from Hawkinsville northeast through Cypress to the headquarters at Empire. From Empire the road ran on through Alcorn's, Dexter, Springhaven, Vincent, Hutchins, and Harlow before reaching Dublin. The railroad was primarily a freight carrier because of the vast agricultural and timber resources in the area. New markets were opened for the towns on the line and those at each end of the railroad as well.
From the beginning of the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, there were plans for westward expansion to Hawkinsville. President and General A.F. Daley announced the purchase of the Oconee and Western Railroad on November 9, 1898.
The sale was completed on February 1, 1899. J.W. Hightower of Empire was elected as Vice President, E.J. Henry of Hawkinsville as treasurer, and W.N. Parson of Hawkinsville as secretary. Other directors were W.A. Heath, J.E. Smith, Jr. and R.C. Henry, the latter two being from Dublin. Master machinist Winter, Auditor Beaumas, General Manager England and Conductor Williams lost their jobs. Gen. Freight and Passenger agent, M.V. Mahoney, was retained by the new owner. A post office was established at Dexter on January 31, 1890. It has been said that when Dr. T.A. Wood was looking for the right name of the new town, he used his knowledge of Latin and chose the only right name for the town - Dexter - which is a derivation of the Latin word for right. James H. Witherington was the first postmaster. In the town’s first quarter of century, it was served by postmasters John White, John A. Clark, William C. Crubbs, Henry F. Maund and Herbert King. King served the longest term (1905-1935) as a postmaster of Dexter.
Dexter was incorporated on August 22, 1891. Dr. T.A. Wood was appointed by the Georgia legislature as the town’s first mayor. J.H. Witherington, W.W. Wynn, W.L. Herndon, J.H. Smith and T.H. Shepard were named as the town’s first council until a formal election could be held on the first Thursday in January of 1892. Lurking, loitering, gambling, cursing, disturbing, fighting, quarreling, wrangling and drinking were all banned as acceptable behavior within the limits of the town. A.H. Hobbs, J.E. New, H.F. Maund, C.A. Shepard, T.C. Methvin, Peyton R. Shy, Jerome Kennedy and H.I. King were the mayors during this period.
Bird's eye view of Dexter from the water tower. R.C. Hogan house is on the left. ca. 1911.
Fires were the scourge of Dexter and many other towns. A devastating fire swept through the town in early May 1901. Many buildings were lost, but valuable stocks of goods were saved primarily through the efforts of the black citizens of the town. Just two weeks later a fire completely gutted the store of Currell and Taylor. A late Friday night fire in January 1913 destroyed Home Furniture Company, a three-store complex and the largest of its kind in the area.
The Dexter Banking Company was granted a charter on January 18, 1904. With relatively little information available about the bank, one can assume that its assets were small and its customers were residents of the community. Among its early officers were Dr. J.E. New, the first president, W.H. Mullis, the first vice president, H.F. Maund, the first cashier, and W.B. Taylor. The bank, which evolved into today’s First Laurens Bank, opened for business on February 22, 1904. The initial board of directors was composed of J.E. New, W.H. Mullis, H.F. Maund, W.B. Taylor, John E. Lord, W.H. Lee, T.J. Taylor, W.A. Bedingfield and R.C. Hogan. The bank voluntarily liquidated itself at the end of the depth of the depression. The Farmers State Bank opened in Dexter on August 19, 1911. F.M. Daniel was the first president. Jerome Kennedy was elected the vice-president. John D. Walker served as the financial agent. J.W. Strange was the bank’s cashier. This bank merged with the Dexter Banking Company in 1913 under the leadership of R.C. Hogan.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, some of the residents of Dexter included Dr. T.A. Wood, Dr. W.B. Taylor, Dr. J.E. New, Rev. Edward Tucker, William L.Currell (merchant), George Walker (grocer), Allen Hobbs (farmer), William Bryan (blacksmith), Seth Bryan (farmer), Raymond Shepard (grocer), Andrew J. Southerland (farmer), Peyton Shy (farmer), Thomas Faircloth (farmer), William Mullis (railroad), George Shepard (carpenter), Alford Gay (merchant), Benjamin Green (farmer), James Rowland (barber), Henry Maund (railroad agents), Lewis Long (farmer), Benjamin Coleman (laborer), Robert Braswell (farmer), Robert Phelps (laborer) and Amos Harris (the teacher at the colored school).
Dexter School, circa 1911.
Laurens County’s second Masonic Lodge, Dexter Lodge No. 340, was founded in 1892. The first lodge officers were Worshipful Master W.A. Witherington, Secretary J.H. Witherington along with R.E. Grinstead, W.B. Rodgers, J.W. Green, John H. Smith. Other members were J.A. Clark, B.C. Green, W.T. Linder, J. Rawls, J.P. Rawls, J.G. Thomas, J.S. Thomas, Jerry Ussery, J.M. Witherington, T.A. Wood and Lee Hardy. J.A. Clark, P.E. Grinstead, T.A. Wood, A.M. Jessup, E.W. Stuckey, J.A. Warren, and E.L. Faircloth served as Worshipful Master during the first twenty-five years of the lodge’s history. Today, one hundred and fourteen years later, the lodge is still in existence.
The town’s second lodge, the Dexter Odd Fellows Lodge, was established in 1905. The initial officers were Noble Grand - J.R. Harvey, Vice Grand - H.F. Maund, Recording Secretary - W.T. Scarborough, Financial Secretary - W.O. McDaniel, Treasurer - H.I. King, Trustees - F.M. Daniel, T.C. Methvin, E.W. Stuckey.
The ladies of Dexter organized the Magnolia Chapter of the Order of The Eastern Star, an auxiliary unit of the Masonic Lodge. The first officers of the chapter were Viola Daniel, Worthy Matron; Dr. L.W. Wiggins, Worthy Patron; Mary Ussery, Associate Matron; Dr. Floyd Rackley, Secretary; Jennie W. Wiggins, Treasurer and Myrtle Tutt, Associate Conductress.
Among the new citizens of town enumerated in the 1910 Census were Henry Shepard (laborer), William P. English (postman), Elbert Davis (carpenter), James Beasley (farmer), J.M. Benford (farmer), Rodger Walden (railroad foreman), Benjamin Tutt (merchant), L.A. Hobbs (farmer), Julian Horne (farmer), Julian Shepard (barber), George Shepard (postman), William J. Thomas (farmer), Hollie Hooks (farmer), Herbert Womack (railroad hand), Wash McLeod (brick mason), Joe McRae (laborer), Rev. James Wilson (minister, colored church), Sidney Hamp (cook), R.C. Shepard (salesman), William Jordan (railroad foreman), John J. Bryan (laborer), George Malone (salesman), Charley Butts (salesman), John Warren (farmer), John Faircloth (laborer), Virgil Crumpton (photographer), Trad Pennington (ice dealer), Charley Evans (laborer), Clarence Duffy (blacksmith), Thomas C. Methvin (merchant), John W. Bass (policeman), Charley Shepard (bookkeeper), John G. Thomas (farmer), Lovett Fann (farmer), Otho Warren (farmer), Solomon Mason (barber), Joseph Joiner (farmer), John Warren (farmer), Rev. John Bridges, Thomas J. Hunnicutt (merchant), Ben M. Daniel (bailiff), Sam Beasley (railroad hand), Lee Rowland (railroad hand), James A. Attaway liveryman), Roscoe C. Hogan (merchant), Jerome Kennedy (telegraph operator), Robert M. Benford (farmer), Herbert King (postmaster), John A. McClelland (salesman), William P. McClelland (fruit tree agent), John T. Thompson (merchant), John D. Bass (lumber mill), Dr. Lee Wiggins, Herbert Chadwick (merchant), John J. Phillips, John J. Harvey (book agent), William Watson (farmer), Fletcher Warren (laborer), John W. Johnston (farmer), William Stripling (merchant), Joseph Daniel (planing mill), Jeremiah Ussery (salesman), William Tripp (laborer), Thomas Register (farmer), James T. Register (postman), Robert Manning (merchant), Hardy F. McDaniel (farmer), John Mullis (farmer), Joe Cherry (laborer), Benjamin Green (postman), Amos L. Register (farmer), William B. Daniel (laborer), Erastus P. Warren (merchant), Eddie Faircloth (music teacher), David Payne (carpenter), Nathan Bostic (lumber mill), B. Wynn (carpenter), James W. Jones (carpenter), Evia G. Currell (boarding house), and U.G.B. Hogan (farmer). Not included in this list are the hundreds of fine women and bright children who called Dexter home.
Church life in Dexter has always been of preeminent importance. Though many rural churches surrounded the town, there were two main churches, the Baptist and the Methodist. On the fourth Sunday in July 1893, Elders B.C. Green J.W. Green and J.A. Clark constituted the Dexter Baptist Church. Among the first members were Nettie Clark, R.M. Green, Viny Green, Cilla Mullis, Anna Smith, Jeany Smith, Nancy Smith, Sarena Smith, J.G. Thomas and J.S. Thomas. The church’s presbytery was composed of B.A. Bacon, P.A. Jessup and the Rev. N.F. Gay. Reverends P.A. Jessup, J.T. Rogers, J.A. Clark, J.T. Smith, S.F. Simms, E.F. Dye, F.B. Asbell, George W. Tharpe and Q.J. Pinson served the church in the town’s first twenty five years. Initial services were held in the two-story school house until a permanent structure could be erected about the year 1903. This wooden building was used until 1960.
The Methodists began to organize before Dexter came into it formal existence. In 1893, J.W. Warren gave the land and Jake Rawls gave the lumber to build a church building, which was destroyed by winter storms in 1904 and 1905. According to Dexter historian Amy Holland Alderman, the current church building is thought to be the third structure on the site. Among the ministers serving the Methodist church in the town’s first quarter of a century were Reverends C.C. Hines, E.M. Wright, Guyton Fisher, H.C. Fontress, E.L. Tucker, M. L. Watkins, W.O. Davis, L.A. Snow, H.E. Ewing, J.P. Dickenson, J.P. Bross, C.C. Lowe, J.W. Bridges, Claude S. Bridges, Silas Johnson, L.E. Braddy and George R. Stephens.
During the second decade of this century there were movements to slice off pieces of the larger counties of Georgia. Wheeler and Treutlen Counties were formed from Montgomery County. Bleckley County was cut off from Pulaski County. There were at least three movements in Laurens County to form new counties. The citizens of Dexter proposed to take the southwestern portion of Laurens County and the northern part of Dodge County, including the towns of Dexter (the proposed county seat), Cadwell, Rentz and Chester to form Northern County. The new county was to be named in honor of Gov. William J. Northern of Georgia, but the movement fizzled when opposed by Laurens county’s representatives and senators in the state legislature.
Wiggins Drug Store - L-R: Back row: Dr. L.W. Wiggins, unknown clerks. Front row - Lee and Eleanor Wiggins.
Though the railroad is gone and farming is no longer the major occupation of Dexter residents, the town of Dexter still lives. It is a fine place to live. It is a place where the residents can look along their streets and still see many remnants of why the town’s founding fathers believed that it was only right to live in Dexter.