JAMES M. FINN, Dublin's # 1 CITIZEN
BIrdie M. Finn
JAMES M. FINN
Dublin's Number One Citizen
J.M. Finn was rightly named "Dublin's Number One Citizen." Although that honor could be shared by several others during the Golden Age of the Emerald City, Finn's list of contributions to the growth of Dublin from a sleepy railroad village to one of Georgia's most important commercial cities was unparalleled. And, who else would be a booster of Dublin like Finn, who was one of the cities truest Irishmen that our city ever knew.
James Moore Finn was born in Franklin, Kentucky on October 6, 1866. His father, John A. Finn, was a prominent lawyer and a state representative. His brother, Gerald, also practiced law and was honored with a term as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Bluegrass State. Finn's paternal grandfather, John Finn, emigrated from Galway, Ireland in 1816 directly into Franklin, where he became a successful merchant and politician.
After attending local schools, Finn began his business career as a clerk in a store in Franklin. James Finn attended the prestigious Vanderbilt University, where he was an outstanding student and member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity. After his graduation in 1889, Finn worked in various positions until he migrated to the awakening town of Dublin, Georgia, where he took a position as the cashier of the Bank of Dublin, the city's first bank. Before coming to Dublin on the 4th of July 1892, Finn married Hyrell McGoodwin, affectionately known as "Birdie."
Before Finn's arrival in Dublin, the city was on the verge of an explosive growth. With the bridging of the Oconee River by the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, the construction of a passenger bridge over the river, and the coming of the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad from the west, the once, sleepy, drunken, lawless town of Dublin was about to grow exponentially under an unprecedented boom which would last for a quarter of a century until thwarted by the devilish boll weevil, which all but destroyed the cotton crop. And, it was James M. Finn who climbed aboard the crest of the tidal wave and rode it all the way to the end of the city's first golden age.
Right from the beginning, the people of Dublin and Laurens County endeared "Mr. Jim" Finn, and right from the beginning, "Mr. Jim" endeared the people of Dublin and Laurens County. Once a complete stranger, the voters of Laurens County elected Finn to the Board of County commissioners during his first few years in the county. It was Finn who lent his financial knowledge to build a new courthouse in 1895 without funding by a bond issue and without any debt.
The bank's early success led to Finn's success as well. He built a handsome residence on the southeast corner of Bellevue Avenue and South Calhoun Street. The house, which is now owned by Arnold Adams, still stands today.
First and foremost, James M. Finn was a banker. After the death of the bank's founder, Capt. R.C. Henry, in 1900, Finn remained in the position of cashier until the bank merged with its across the street neighbor to form the Dublin-Laurens Banking Company. Finn became the Active Vice President of the Dublin-Laurens Banking Company. In 1918, Finn was elected as the Second Vice President of the Southern Exchange Bank, when it acquired the Commercial Bank of Dublin.
J.M. Finn was highly regarded by his banking colleagues across the state. In 1910, Finn was elected chairman of the prestigious "Group Five" of the Georgia Banker's Association, which had previously met in Dublin and were wined and dined by Dublin's best cooks and hospitable citizens.
It was, at least in part, Finn's banking skills which helped Dublin and Laurens County to place near the top of the state in the number of banking institutions. In 1917 at the pinnacle of Dublin and Laurens County's growth before the coming of the boll weevil, Dublin had six banks, tying Macon for sixth place in the number of banks among cities in Georgia. Laurens County, with its 14 banks, was third behind only Fulton and Chatham Counties.
The number of local banks began to plummet during World War I. With the collapse of the cotton crop, all of the county's banks, including the powerful First National Bank, closed. Only the Bank of Dudley and Farmers and Merchants Bank, remained open. When the last Dublin bank closed, a new bank, "The Dublin Bank and Trust Company," was organized by the owners of Citizens and Southern Bank on October 31, 1928. J.M. Finn, George T. Morris, and H.R. Moffett were named to the bank's local board of directors.
J.M. Finn was also closely associated with the cotton industry. Finn served as an officer and director of the Georgia Cotton and Compress Company, which once boasted that it could process a farmer's cotton on Monday morning and place it aboard a European bound ocean going vessel on Tuesday afternoon. It was a century ago when Finn's company, along with other cotton gins in the county, processed more than 30 million pounds of cotton, the largest single county cotton crop in the history of the state, until broken in the late 1900s.
Finn, also a cotton farmer, was closely allied with the Dublin Cotton Mills, a somewhat successful cotton mill on the west side of Dublin. Finn realized that transportation of his cotton was essential and involved himself for more than two decades as a director of the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, the county's most successful railroad.
Although laundry lists of a person's activities are often boring, Finn's short resume of his activities as an officer and director is quite impressive: Dublin Board of Censorship, Dublin Board of Tax Assessors, Dublin Board of Trade, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Dublin Chamber of Commerce Warehouse Company, Dublin City Board of Education, Dublin City Executive Committee, Dublin Cotton Mills, Dublin Fair Association, Dublin Lumber Company, Dublin Peanut Company, Dublin Red Cross, Dublin Stockyard Company, Finn, Garrett & Holcomb Real Estate Company, Georgia Cotton and Compress Company, Georgia Mutual Fire Insurance Company, Georgia State Chamber of Commerce, Laurens County Centennial Commission Chairman, Southern Compress Association, Southern Cotton Association, Southland Veneer and Lumber Company, 12th District Fair Association, War Savings Stamp Board, and Wrightsville & Tennille Railroad. Finn also served as vice-president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Georgia Highway Commission in its early years.
All of Dublin was saddened on July 4, 1936, when J.M. Finn passed away after a long illness. He is buried in Northview Cemetery beside his wife. Sadly they had no children, to pass along the legacy of being a descendant of the number one citizen of Dublin.