The first physician in Commerce…. A businessman who had fought in the Civil War…. The man known as “the richest man in Commerce.”
These are just a few of the early citizens of Harmony Grove that guests who took a historical walk through Grey Hill Cemetery Saturday evening met.
The Friends of the Commerce Public Library sponsored the event. Tina Harris did the historical research and Erika Jantzen wrote the script and was the director and stage manager.
On Saturday, tour groups left from the parking lot of the First Baptist Church of Commerce every 30 minutes from 6 to 10 p.m. Six stops were on the tour, with cast members located along the way to tell the stories.
Pastor Carlton Allen portrayed Dr. Benjamin Franklin Riley who was the first stop on the tour.
“I had the privilege of being called as pastor in 1894 and served until 1897. This present brick building was erected in 1896 – two years into my tenure – at a cost of $9,250. A far cry from an $800 building 22 years earlier. That original wooden church was donated to a sister church and became the home of Madison Street Baptist Church. In September of 1904, the church members voted to change the name of Harmony Grove Baptist Church, as it would be desirable to have the name of our church correspond to the new name of our town. Therefore it was resolved that we would be thenceforth be named Commerce First Baptist Church. Yes, indeed, folks, Commerce was moving with the times. We had electric lights down the main street early in the new century. The Hardman family built a cotton mill, Dr. Durham opened his Commerce Drug Store in 1917. Our town’s population nearly doubled, and every able-bodied man had a job, in spite of the Great Depression, which hit the South five years before it was felt anywhere else.
James Eubanks and Marigrace Sego portrayed C.T. Barber and Sara Jane Nunn Barber. The couple loved music and had 12 children, all accomplished musicians. Mr. Barber shared, “I exposed each child to music at a very early age. The tots sat on my lap or Sallie’s tapping at the piano keys following our fingers. And our first born, Clint, played simple notes on the coronet at five.” The family became well-known and were invited to march in parades and to perform in town celebrations, festivals and other special events.
Rick Lewis portrayed Dr. William Benjamin Johnson Hardman, the first physician of Harmony Grove. He shared that his son, L.G. Hardman followed his career path: “My practice flourished again and my son L.G. Hardman was growing up. I allowed him into surgery and he observed me working with my patients. By the time he was 12-years-old he was sterilizing instruments and changing bandages. It was customary in our days to have a young man who wanted to be a doctor read medicine under a practicing doctor for six months. Then attend a medical college for two years before graduation. By the time he was 21 he had obtained a medical diploma from the Bellevue Hospital in New York. My son, L. G. Hardman, was responsible for the construction of the Hardman Sanatorium in 1899. It had a 30-room capacity and I had the privilege of operating alongside my son. Can you imagine your child teaching you how to restore life to a dying patient? Our operating room was used before electricity so the skylight provided enough light for us to operate on patients during the bright noontime sun. It was the most satisfying and fulfilling time of my life. We had both been called to medicine and fulfilled our oath to heal and help others.”
Mr. Hardman also served as mayor of Harmony Grove, the first pastor of Harmony Grove Baptist Church and president of the city’s board of education.
Jonathan and Cindy Finck portrayed Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Elrod, who were active members of the Commerce Equestrian Club which had 20 active members in 1920.
“Horses have been essential to the growth and prosperity of our nation,” Mr. Finck said. “But the Commerce Equestrian Club enjoyed our horses and the company of our friends as we rode together on Saturday mornings. We found pleasure in riding over the fields and through the woods, along the streams, whenever we could find an old road or path.”
Caleb Smith portrayed C.W. Hood, known as the “richest man in Commerce.” He owned a mercantile business in town when he decided to branch out into other ventures.
“Now the railroad was coming,” he said. “It was the next step for us to prosper. A group of us businessmen began to form an alliance. We went after the Northeast Railroad to lay tracks through Harmony Grove and our local medical man, Dr. WBJ Hardman, and I had to come up with $50,000 to help pay the cost, so we did and in 1876 the railroad became the center of our town. And the town really started growing. The Hood family continued to prosper. I was thankful my son, CJ Hood, had been born and was being raised to become a respectable productive citizen. The years were catching up with me and I slowed down a bit. Hmmm… when was it? 1892 several businessmen, including my son, C.J., decided we needed our own bank. So, in 1892, they established the Northeastern Banking Company, with CJ as cashier. I died the wealthiest citizen of Commerce with an amassed wealth of $750,000. That’s equal to 20 million dollars in today’s money.
Bob Harper portrayed Captain William A. Quillian, the first mayor of Commerce. He grew up in Banks County and served in the Civil War, after which he and his brother moved to Commerce and opened a business.
“We set up shop on the commercial side of town,” he said. “Quillian Brothers Mercantile. It was painted above the door of our business. Years passed and my brother J.T. was restless. He wanted to sell big things…Wagons; buggies. There was no room for these things at our store. We parted ways happily, and he opened a transportation shop on the other end of town while I remained at the original store and changed the sign to Quillian and Sons. I believe my experience as a horse solider and officer molded me into a man of strength and integrity. Area citizens voted to incorporate Harmony Grove in 1884 and elected me as the first mayor; quite an achievement for a Banks County farm boy. While I was mayor, we renamed Main Street -- called it Broad Street, -- and the Carnesville Road became State Street. While we were at it, we built plank walkways in front of the stores. The town continued to flourish and the population grew. Harmony Grove was divided into four wards reflecting the needs of our citizens and their equal representation on the city and state level. At about that time we grew into a prominent distribution site. In 1876 the railroad allowed us to feed grains, flour, clothes and homestead goods to northeast Georgia. After I resigned as mayor, I remained active in the community and stayed in business for 25 more years. But local and state politics tugged at my soul, especially when I read the newspapers and listened to the men discussing local affairs at the barber shop. Who could represent our commitment to the south more ably than a Captain of the Confederate Army? So I ran for office and won.”
Tour guides were: Angel Abounder, Sunshine Duckett, Philip Prescott and Alyssa Roberson. Editors were Susan Greco and Sheret Lewis. Members of the production team were Erika Jantzen, Rick Lewis and Don Pitonyak. Props were provided by Cindy Finck. Diana Norton-Bagwell did the poster and playbill design.