Archive for August 2012

Our First Picture Show   Leave a comment

Above:  Billy Bitzer Seated at a Movie Projector (Between 1930 and 1940)

Image Source = Library of Congress



From Leaves in the Wind, pages 15-17


“Papa” is John Dodson Taylor, Sr., my great-grandfather.



One day, thanks to the Internet, I was streaming Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio from Newfoundland and Labrador, listening to a midday call-in program.  That day the topic was a small and remote town in Labrador once accessible only via ferry.  Recently, however, the provincial government had installed a gravel road.  I recall residents calling in and talking about how they enjoyed looking at license plates on visitors’ cars.  I wondered at that sense of isolation ending as one’s world opens up, for (A) I live in a cosmopolitan city with many amenities, (B) I can listen to Canadian radio via the Internet in Athens, Georgia, and (C) I can avail myself of home video options.    My reality is far different than the one, described below, in which my grandfather Taylor grew up.

And I am glad to live in a time with considerably less de jure racial segregation.  I know why I think of such matters as I do; my upbringing and social milieu influence me.  Yet I wonder what my racial attitudes would be if I had grown up with rampant de jure segregation, not that anything justifies accepting such a damnable system.  I have found some Lost Cause and other racially insensitive language in some of my great-grandfather’s poems.  I have chosen to publish those works.  Researching and writing Southern history has led to circumstances in which I have had to repeat racist quotes for the sake of accuracy, but this blog is not a scholarly paper.



Summerville has had its share of big moments, but none was bigger than the advent of the first picture theatre.  We had glowing stories of such things, but to us it was just a happy page from from some fairy story.  Naturally, we all yearned for the opportunity to see one; but the idea that our town would ever be so blessed was never considered even a remote possibility.  We were in for a wonderful shock!

One day a stranger and his wife came to town.  We were always fascinated by strangers–it gave us a chance to get nosey and find out something about them.  We played no favorites, for they all got the same treatment; but with this fellow we didn’t have too much success.  About all we ever learned about him was that his name was Jacob Conrad (not his real name), that he came from up “nawth,” and that his family had been operating motion picture shows.  We did find out one thing some time later, but that would be another story.

Jacob had been in town only a couple of days when he made history by announcing that he was going to open a motion picture show.  Though we weren’t through meddling in his affairs when this announcement came, we suddenly cared nothing for any more information about his past!

A picture show in Summerville!  We were thrilled!  New York had them; so dd Atlanta and Rome.  This put us in the big time!  In fact, we felt that we were just one step removed from being a city; but it was a big step.  As soon as she head the show announcement, Julia, our cook, prophesied that we would be getting street cars next.  That prophecy is still in the suspense file.

Jacob rented a vacant store building on what we used to call Broad Street, just a couple of doors from the old Post Office.  It wasn’t many days before this new paradise was open for business.  The one projector was of the hand-operated variety and was at the mercy of the operator, who would speed up or slow down as his fancy dictated.  The screen was a huge sheet stretched across the entire width of the building, about three-fourths the way from the front to the rear.  There was a door at the right side of the screen to permit passage of the show staff.  The white customers entered from the front of the building and gladly set on uncomfortable folding chairs, while the colored customers entered from the rear and sat on equally uncomfortable benches, enjoying the picture as it appeared in reverse on the screen.  I have spent much of my time sitting, and in all kinds of contrivances for that purpose; but never in my life have I occupied so completely uncomfortable as those chairs!  Sitting in one of them assured the viewer that he would take home a memento of the show–a little numbness in certain areas that removed from him for a season the desire to sit down again for a while.

Music for the shows was provided by a hand-operated, something-or-other known as a player piano.  (Modern instruments of this type would bow their heads in shame if they knew just what black sheep their ancestors were.)  The operator sat on a bench while he engineered the device.  This was an ordeal long to be remembered, for it was necessary that he cling to the legs of the piano to keep from upsetting the bench as he pedaled.  There was a pump-handle on one side, and a distress signal from the operator would produce an assistant who would lend a helping hand by pumping the handle to augment the pedal.

The music was almost never cued to the spirit of the picture.  I have seen many shows–“drammys” they used to call them–in which the hero would be at the point of death, and it was handkerchief time for the audience, only to have the piano give out with a joyful rendition of

In the Good Old Summer Time


Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

The opposite was equally true.  Many times, right in the middle of a joyous scene, that monstrosity would wheeze and grunt out a heart-rending arrangement of

Darling Nellie Gray


After the Ball.

One time a very happy scene was accompanied by the strains of

Abide With Me.

I especially remember a wedding scene in which the bride and groom were dashing from the church as the piano serenaded them with

The Fight is On!

This picture show brought the first use of electricity to Summerville.  (Later, through Papa’s efforts, the whole town boasted an electric system.)  Old Jacob couldn’t operate his

pitcher show

without electricity, so he did something about it.  Just around the corner from this newly-arrived haven of delight, Fiddler Wade operated a thriving blacksmith shop and grist mill which was powered by one of the biggest gasoline engines I have ever seen.  A conference between Jacob and Fiddler resulted in the installation of a big dynamo right beside the mill, so that it was possible to switch quickly from one to the other.

Fiddler’s son, Chiel, was made superintendent of the electric power board; and on show nights, it was his responsibility to crank up the engine to the show could go on.  Chiel always sat on the platform right beside the projector.  This platform was actually the ceiling which extended above the show-window and the entrance of the old store.  All would be well until the engine went dead right in the middle of the reel.  Then Chiel could be heard slipping down the ladder, which was the only way to the platform.  He would take the path from the back door to the shop, crank up the engine, and let the show go on.

There was always a long interval between reels.  This was a time of good fellowship, cat calls, throwing of paper bags, paper wads, etc.  Often the lights would go out suddenly for the start of the next reel, while half the customers were still out of their seats, running around the room.  Many traffic jams and near-fights were the results of the stampedes to return to their seats in the darkness.

Jacob had brought with him one of the first electric fans ever to be in Summerville.  One night, just as the lights had gone out and the reel had started, one of the customers tossed a sack of eggs into the fan.  The result was chaotic and would have provided the highlight in a good slapstick comedy, with pieces of eggshell, eggs, and paper bag blowing in every direction.  The operator left the machine, jumped from the platform, and departed through the back door so fast that he threw into an uproar the customers in the colored section.  Finally, peace was restored, and an assistant proceeded witht he show.  The operator was located later and induced to return.

We enjoyed this haven of delight for years, until one night the Post Office burned; and Charlie Neal, the postmaster, acquired the space one occupied by the show for the new Post Office.

For a time our hearts were broken, until we were  told that the old livery stable, across the street from Fiddler’s shop, was available.  Bud Broome had operated it for as long as I can remember, until cars became plentiful and the demand for his commodity began to diminish.  (By this time, Jacob Conrad had sold out and had departed for parts unknown.)  Now, local management took over the converting of the livery stable into our new show house.  (This was located about where Western Auto’s building and lot now stand.)

I shall never forget it!  The ground floor–and that was really what it was–had been converted from stalls to orchestra.  The loft became the boxes, and the projection room was literally ‘way up in the piegon roost.  It was an unforgettable novelty and one that paid BIG, especially when all the pictures of World War I were so popular.  My favorite seat was right in the center of the golden horseshoe area of the loft.  There was no railing, as I recall.  One night as I was “emoting” in a big way over an especially scene from Big Parade, I suddenly lost my bearing, and for all intents and purposes was headed for a three-point landing in the orchestra.  Just as I was poised for the take-off, my subconscious showed me pictures of the old manure pile Nick Montgomery used to keep right where I was headed.  Just at that moment, I was able to summon strength enough to avoid flight, and to return to my seat–to the accompaniment of howls of delight from my fellow patrons.

You may rest assured that our pioneer shows added much to my early childhood in Summerville.


To L—- (Written for a Friend)   Leave a comment

Above:  Portrait of Jeanna Samary, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


Thy form, sweetest girl,

Ruby lips, teach of pearl,

And thy fair auburn curl,

I truly adore.

Yet when as the snow,

Thy tresses shall flow,

And thy cheeks cease to glow,

I will love thee still more.


My tongue can not tell,

Yet thou knowest full well

The emotions that swell

In my heart for thy sake.

Greatest pleasure I find,

When thou are entwiend

In the thoughts of my mind,

If asleep or awake.


As the beacon’s clear light

Through the long stormy night,

Guides the sailor aright

O’er the deep, troubled sea;

So ‘lt thou, my own dear,

On life’s ocean drear,

A solace and cheer

To my heart ever be.


As the vine’s fragile form

Stretches out its weak arm

For a stay ‘gainst the storm

And whereon to recline,

So my heart, sad and lone,

Grasps for thee, dearest one.

Save thee, there is none

That its love would entwine.


What the causes that move me,

That thus I should love thee?

Fair Aurora above–see

Her red tapers burn.

But why they enliven

The far Northern heaven,

It has never been given

Unto man to discern.


See yon stars twinkling bright

On the brow of the night;

Suffice it, their light

Comes down from above;

Then ask not the why,

But believe me, that I,

Until I shall die,

Shall not cease to love.


Posted August 11, 2012 by neatnik2009 in John Dodson Taylor Sr.--Poems, Love 1800s

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The Bells   Leave a comment


I found a wonderful website, CHATTOOGA PHOTO HISTORY, while searching for a photograph related to the Taylor Institute.  Here is a link to the Taylor Institute page:  The  website is worth exploring, as I can attest.



From Leaves in the Wind, pages 21-24


“Papa” was John Dodson Taylor, Sr., my great-grandfather.

Nell Taylor was my grandmother and the wife of John Dodson Taylor, Jr.


Papa was a perfectionist in many ways, one being his exacting ideas regarding education.  He wanted his own to have the best of everything; and when I came along, he began to cast around for a good education for me.  He was obsessed with the idea that the county school board was not consistent in maintaining the necessary standards of education.  One year their actions pleased him very much, while the next twelve months brought a change in this conclusion.  This off-again-on-again habit reminds me of the old colored minister who was talking to his white minister colleague.  When asked by the white minister if he believed in falling from grace, the colored minister replied that he not only believed in it; he practiced it!

Papa felt that the local board too often practiced that falling-from-grace theory in maintaining the educational standards; and determined that his youngest chicken should have the best possible education, Papa decided to start a private school in which he could put into practice everything he thought made up a good school.  This he did and promptly dubbed it “Taylor Institute,” or “T.I.,” as it was called by the students.

Papa obtained the old building which had been vacated by the the local school when it moved into new quarters.  (T.I. was housed on the lot where North Summerville Elementary School now stands.)  His next step was to find the best qualified principal available.  It was, as the result of this search, that Summerville obtained one of the finest families ever to grace any community–the Charles E. Bells.  Papa found him at Peabody College.  I used to call him “Fess,” a name he loved as he did a snake.  He was and always will be my idea of a good teacher, a good man, and a true friend.

The day the Bells arrived in Summerville was another big moment in the history of the town.  Papa told me well in advance of their arrival that I was to be the welcoming committee and to get the old Cole Eight polished and shining.  The day dawned bright and a little warmish.  I was in my place at the depot well ahead of the published time for the train’s arrival.  Pete Woods, the agent, only increased my anxiety by advising me that he had word that the train would be fifteen minutes late.

Finally, the train arrived; and Conductor Summerville (his real name) placed a little step on the ground.  I was standing by, wondering what the Bells would be like.  Papa had tried to describe Mr. Bell, of course; and my imagination had added a few flourishes to that picture.  All of these ideas were wrong, I realized, when I saw a handsome, robust gentleman with happy blue eyes and a big smile, attired in a dapper blue suit, step to the ground.  I figured this was my man and so introduced myself.  This was Charles E. Bell.  A displaced Ohioan, he was well indoctrinated in the ways which mark a real Southern gentleman.  His handshake said much.

By this time, Mrs. Bell was standing on the bottom step.  Mr. Bell turned, and with a little bow, offered his hand to Miss Nellsie, as we learned to call her.  I was properly introduced to her, and then began the parade of all the little Bells.  Wanda was the first off the train, then Harold, and all the others.  They just kept coming, until all six stood on the ground.  They huddled in front of the depot while I briefed them as to the plans for their comfort.  This consisted of my depositing them in the side door of the school house, which was to be their home for a day or two until their house was completely redecorated.  This situation was embarrassing, but labor was not always completed on time, even then.  I do not remember who sat on whom except that Harold sat next to me–in fact–almost on my right leg–and Wanda sat next to him.  I seized this opportunity to learn a few names, ramming Harold with my elbow and asking his name.  I was immediately told,

“Puddinin” Tayne.  Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same!

The dye was cast, and for years after that he was know as “Puddinin” Bell.  This was later changed to “Booby” Bell.

I made another attempt to learn names, asking the name of his sister sitting next to him.

Her name is Wanda.  It is an Indian name,

He informed me.

This enlightening answer made me lean over to see if she bore any resemblance to an Indian.  In so doing, my hand slipped, throwing me over the steering wheel, almost causing me to lose control of the car.  That was the first and only time I ever fell for Wanda.

With my tongue in cheek and my head bowed, I deposited the Bells in the side door of the school house.  You couldn’t call that an outburst of Southern hospitality, and it broke my heart to see Miss Nellsie crying.  However, that didn’t last long for a couple of minutes a determined look appeared on her face.  I had never seen such a look before; but that look seems to be a characteristic of ladies names Nell, for my Nell wears it every time she enters a dime store.  When that look appears, I inevitably say,

I’ll meet you at the front door, Honey.

She never hears it, because she has just executed a perfect “charge of the light brigade.”  But this was about Nell Bell, not about Nell Taylor.

Miss Nellsie clipped out a couple of crisp commands which activated all the Bells; and in no time, the school house became a comfortable, temporary home.  Thus was the Taylor Institute born!

Papa figured that since he was paying all the bills for the school, he could claim the right to edit the catalog.  When he chose, he could wield a mighty pen; and his determination and his superb command of the King’s English brought forth a masterpiece.  He sold customers a “bill of goods” about the growing necessity for a good education.  He convinced them that with Taylor Institute in town, then need look no further, that

one would be able to avail oneself of a very unusual opportunity.

First of all, the teachers–“Fess” and Miss Nellsie–were the best.  Secondly, the building was fine.  Thirdly–and her comes the punch line–nowhere in the whole world would you

find a climate any more salubrious

than right here in Summerville.  Not all the natives knew what “salubrious” meant, and I doubt if they cared; but, if they were living in that kind of climate, it wasn’t hurting them, so what the heck!  The catalog helped; and with Papa and “Fess” out beating the bushes, we opened in September with a full house.

Being of the old school, Papa had gotten his education the hard way, and he was determined that his youngest chicken was going to get his the same way.  We gobbled up a diet of McGuffey’s Readers; Robinson’s Arithmetic, a terrific course in mental arithmetic; Latin, history, and other studies, topping it all off with “Fess’s” course in sightsinging.  He was a good singer, always faithful in leading the singing in our Sunday School.  He never failed to hum the first note with the first word of song.  Perhaps this is the reason that those who put in their birthday offerings on Sunday morning were greeted with the singing of

N-Nappy birthday to you,

instead of

Happy birthday.

Our faculty meant business.  We “got it” or else.  I preferred to “get it.”  We had work in all subjects.  Our teachers made no effort to soft-pedal anything.  We just knew they were killing us, yet we survived!  I later attended a military prep school and college, but I actually received more “book larnin'” at T.I. than anywhere else.

One of the happiest memories I have of “Fess” was born in the arithmetic class one day.  While he was working a problem at the board, he chanced to drop a piece of chalk.  As he stooped to pick it up, his pants naturally pulled tighter.  One eager student on the front row had been idly playing with a piece of window shade.  While “Fess” was retrieving the chalk, the room was suddenly filled with a ripping sound.  Fearful that his middle-age had caused complications:  he jumped up–his face crimson.  As he backed against the board, he emphatically dismissed the class and emptied the room–much to our delight.

We had a well-rounded program of sports, even though that was before the days of football in these parts.  We had basketball and baseball for boys and girls, and our teams were good.  In his own right, “Fess” wasn’t a bad coach!  Papa really went all-out for equipment, especially for the boys’ teams.  I always felt that the girls were treated like proverbial step-daughters, for they inherited the old-fashioned baggy-time bloomers for uniforms.  I lived in horror that at some tense moment of a tame one of the player’s clothes might come to a parting of the ways.  This catastrophe never occurred, for the coach had provided them with dependable what-nots and spare safety pins.  We played all the teams in this area and consistently maintained an exceptionally good record for a small private school.

Public schools continued to grow; and the Institute, having served its purpose, finally closed.  However, many of those who attended T.I. cherish fond memories of happy days spent together, and with “Fess” and all the Bells.




The 1988 history of Summerville Presbyterian Church lists Charles E. Bell, Sr. (died October 22, 1970) and Nell Bell (died July 1, 1963) as  members from June 12, 1921, to March 30, 1941.  Their children were Wanda , Katherine Jean, Marion Frances, Charles Jr., William Carson, and Harold.  Their memberships at Summerville Presbyterian Church began at different dates (from 1920 to 1933) and also terminated on March 30, 1941.  Wanda married O. H. “Sonny” Elgin and returned to Summerville Presbyterian Church as a member on February 17, 1946.  She remained a member there until she died, on November 6, 1973.  Her widower joined the group which left the church in the nasty split of 1982 and formed First Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church America).  It was a truly nasty schism, complete with a vandalization of the manse one Sunday afternoon.



To Miss V—–   Leave a comment

Above:  The Blue Lady, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


What you would have if I quite understand,

Is that I write some laudatory lines,

And tell folks how love’s sacred flame is fanned

By those rare charms which your sweet self combines.


Now really, I’d like to take the task,

I’m always ready such a work to do,

But pardon, Miss, and suffer me to ask

What is there good that I can say of you?


For if there is a noble trait in you,

‘Tis more than I’ve been able yet to see,

If you can manage to bring it to view

Be pleased to do so, and to show it me.


Posted August 5, 2012 by neatnik2009 in John Dodson Taylor Sr.--Poems

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Cherokee Presbytery (PCUS) Men of the Church Executive Committee Meeting Minutes from January 18, 1962   Leave a comment

Above:  A Cropped Version of a Photograph of My Grandparents, John Dodson Taylor, Jr., and Nell Barrett Taylor, at Summerville, Georgia, Winter 1960

Image Source = Gene McGinnis, Summerville, Georgia


Among the Presbyterian hymnals I retrieved from the old family home in December 1995 was Premier Hymns (1926).   Inside it I found a neatly folded sheet of typing paper, the text of which I replicate, edited only for punctuation, here.  My grandfather was active in the Presbyterian Church on the local and presbytery levels.





PLACE:  Rome, Georgia

Greystone Hotel, Rm 207

DATE:  January 18, 1962

6:00 PM

The meeting was called to order by President Dunn.

The following were present:  George Dunn, James D. Maddox, Robert G. Pllley, John D. Taylor, Todd W. Allen, and Sam Reed

The duties of the Vice Presidents was discussed.

The Dallas Convention was discussed.  Mr. Harold Clotfelter is the Presbytery contact for the Convention.  (P.O. Box 788, Rome, Ga.)

Plans were discussed about the Synod Conference to be held at Camp Calvin, Hampton, Georgia, on February 23 and 24.  All were urged to attend.

Spring Rally:

Publicity–Rev. Robert Pooley

Reservations–Vice President in each district will contact the churches and send number to Rev. Pooley, who will contact the host church

Program:  George Z. Dunn

Dinner:  Host Church

Rome and LaFayette church districts will be held March 26, 1962, at the LaFayette church.

Marietta and Cherokee districts will be held March 27, 1962, at the Mars Hill Church.

Dinner will be served at 6:30 P.M.

With no other business to discuss the meeting was dismissed with prayer by the Rev. Todd W. Allen.

Sam Reed, Secretary Treasurer