Looking For A Paradise
It didn't always seem to be a special spot. We really didn't know what we had. It wasn't exactly a paradise, but we paved it anyway, installed brighter lights, and put up a parking lot. Now if these words remind you of Joni Mitchell's classic song, Big Yellow Taxi, that is by design.
But what you now see, wasn't what you used to see. What is now covered by asphalt, plantings, and white stripes was once covered by dirt, hoof prints, peanut hulls, a miniature golf course, and a hotel. Yes, that's what I said, a miniature golf course and a hotel.
Nearly two hundred years ago when the City of Dublin was first laid out, the town was divided into blocks with each block containing four lots. The blocks were primarily developed along Jackson and Jefferson streets. Businesses and factories eventually expanded to other streets in the city, especially those along the railroad and in particular, Madison Street. Most of the other city blocks were filled by homes. But for some reason, the northern edge of the first block of West Madison Street was never fully developed.
Back in the 1860s, one of the city's first hotels, the Troup House, was erected on the South Jefferson Street side of the block. It was in the days following the Civil War when the first traveling circus came to town and staged a show on the vacant lot.
For decades, the open space was often the scene of performances by traveling shows. Then in 1910, Dan Burch bought the entire southern half of the block. Burch erected a two-story building on the site of the Troup House, which he moved to the empty space in the rear.
The Troup House continued to be used as a boarding house until it burned in the early 1920s. The ruins were cleared and once again the lot became a parking lot for autos and horse and mule drawn wagons as the rest the businesses on Madison Street, both on the eastern and western ends, were enjoying their greatest years.
As automobile traffic began to skyrocket after World War I, P.B. Cheek, of Darlington, S.C. , planned to erect an auto garage on the Burch property on the corner of S. Lawrence and W. Madison streets. Up to forty cars would be stored and locked in separate stalls under Cheek's plan. Cheek also planned to install gas pumps with the capacity to pump gas into four cars simultaneously. The project never materialized and the Burch lot went back to its usual use as a parking lot and a portal to the stores of West Jackson, South Jefferson, and South Lawrence streets.
Then in 1930 in the darkest days of the Great Depression, a new and exciting idea was launched for the parking lot. The resurgence of golf in Dublin at the Dublin Country Club led a group of men to come up with a way that the ordinary citizen could play the increasingly popular sport.
An eighteen-hole miniature golf course, complete with fairways, hazzards, bunkers, and sand traps was constructed on the Burch lot in the early spring just in time for the warm weather. Organizers played a few trial rounds to work out the kinks. When too many holes in one and birdies were registered, the course was rearranged to make par a more difficult score to achieve.
The owners of the Dublin Miniature Golf Links hoped that the course, with its prime location in the central business district, would attract business men to sneak away for a relaxing round during the day.
A contest was held to come up with a clever name for the course. The Courier Herald offered a free yearly subscription by mail up to forty miles away. The first prize was for a handsome mounted golf trophy. That award went to Carl Nelson, who submitted the name of Golf A'While. The second prize of five cash dollars, which amounted to more than a week's salary for most people in those days, was won by J.C. Woodard. Marjorie Page, the third place winner, won three dollars, though the names of their entries were not published.
Contestants were required to join the club. In order to qualify to become a member, any aspiring golfer had to play only a single round at a cost of fifteen cents and fill out a registration form. It was not necessary for any member to be a good golfer. In the first few days of operation, new golfers discovered the excitement of the game and the outstanding value of their entertainment dollars.
In the beginning, there were lots of people who came to play. The course was even lighted on some evenings to accommodate the crowds. But, like most things, all good things come to an end. With a deepening depression, attendance slumped and the course closed and the improvements were removed. Once again, the Burch lot became a parking lot.
Then in the 1960s, the Dublin Downtown Merchants Association improved the lot to accommodate the vast numbers of shoppers who patronized the downtown stores in the days before the opening of Williamsburg Village, the Dublin Mall, and Westgate Shopping Center.
When the 1980s rolled around, downtown shopping was on the decline. Although the number of shoppers dwindled, businesses, mostly the mom and pop variety, held on. In 1990, the City of Dublin and Laurens County funded the organization of Main Street Dublin in an attempt to revitalize the heart and soul of the county's capital.
Some twenty years later in the sweltering summer of 2010, the Dublin Downtown Development Authority and the City of Dublin designed and enhanced one of the city's oldest parking lots, hoping that it would beautify and enhance the new businesses which have begun to thrive around the West Madison Street square. With the help of Laurens County and Georgia Power Company, the lot is friendlier and more illuminated than ever. Go by there at lunch time, you'll have a hard time finding a parking space. Walk a little further. It won't kill you. After all, wouldn't you walk a little further to find a paradise. I would.
The Development Authority and the downtown business owners hope and we all should hope, that with a little luck and a lot of public and private support, a paradise will emerge and once again Madison Street will thrive as a major business avenue.