A glimpse into 1890s Albany

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

In 1892, former President Grover Cleveland beat incumbent Benjamin Harrison to regain the White House and become the first-ever former president to win re-election in non-successive terms.

How did the people of Albany learn the outcome of the election?

In The Albany Herald.

On Oct. 14, 1892, the Albany Herald was one year-old and was providing daily news service -- and a weekly wrap-up edition -- to subscribers in Albany and Dougherty County.

That particular edition is the oldest original edition Herald Librarian Mary Braswell and I could find after hours digging through thousands of editions in the Albany Herald's warehouse on Pine Avenue.

As we now enter our 120th year of continuous publication, we're honoring the work done by The Herald's reporters, editors and advertising staff and offering a glimpse into what some of these historic editions show about life in Albany in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Bound in a full-sized newspaper book, the October 1892 edition is attached to papers that go through Feb. 28, 1893.

As one can see when reading the articles from those editions, some of which have been posted with this story at albanyherald.com, the city and county both were in a period of growth.

Mayor W.H. Gilbert presided over the Albany City Council, which consisted of six aldermen rather than commissioners and, in terms of city government, seemed consumed with the topic of whether Albany's network of volunteer fire stations should be united into one paid fire department.

At this particular point in time, the stations -- who had names such as Defiance and Thronateeska, responded to fires much as do current volunteers, but there became a push to have the firefighters become full-fledged employees of the city.

There was also an announcement by Gilbert that the council would discuss extending the city limits. In December 1892, the Herald reported that the U.S. Census had the Albany population pegged at 4,000 and the logic for extending the limits from Gilbert was that their was a large population just outside the boundary who could easily benefit from city services such as the newly-laid sewer lines.

There was no Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission. Surprisingly, the city did have electricity through the Edison Electric Co. and running water was provided through the Albany Waterworks, which in 1893 became governed by the precursor of WG&L, the board of Albany Water Commissioners.

As for crime, it appears as if there were, at any given time, two police officers on duty in the city and that they often were busy sending vagrants, drunkards and others not to the jail but to "the guard house," where people were held for relatively minor offenses.

But there were more serious tales covered in the paper as well.

One was that of John Crooms. Crooms was tried and convicted of killing Worth County Bailiff Jim Hamlin and sentenced to death by hanging in Isabella.

The Herald reporter speaks of the matter by writing: "The last hope for him seems to have been dispelled, and nothing that his lawyer can do for him now will probably save his life or stave off his execution. The hanging will take place at Isabella on Friday, January 6."

But Crooms, apparently a resourceful fellow and not one resigned to his fate at the gallows, escaped from the Dougherty County Jail and into freedom.

Despite massive searches for Crooms and a reward offered of $300 for his capture, there is no word in the found editions that suggest he was ever recaptured, although there were reports of sightings of him as far away as Birmingham, Ala., and Lake Park, Ga.

Modern-day officials in Worth County say they have no record of anyone being hung in Isabella.

There are a few odd accounts in the pages of The Herald that add some levity to the times.

One story reports that Gilbert ordered that two men who appeared to have been attached to a local traveling circus or a band of gypsies, be run out of town for bringing "a measly-looking bear," downtown.

The two men, reportedly from France, apparently strolled down Washington Street with the bear. Gilbert acted because "the citizens object to having bears shown here on account of their frightening horses."

The two men and their bear apparently left the good-life city for Thomasville, The Herald reported.

J.D. Sumner is government reporter for The Albany Herald. E-mail him at j.d.sumner@albanyherald.com.