At the start of the year 1890, the southeast corner of W. Washington and First Streets was a vacant lot, but this would not be the case for long. John L. Griffin soon began construction of the two story building that still occupies the space. The downstairs had two shops, side by side, with a center stair leading to the upstairs. It is believed that Mr. Griffin operated a saloon on one side and a grocery on the other. Griffin’s ownership was fated to be short for he died the next June and the building was sold to John B. Swords.
The building’s use as a saloon no doubt attracted Swords to the building. He had arrived in Morgan County in 1887 and soon became known as a distiller of good whiskey. He originally established his distillery just west of Dorsey where he was producing 130 gallons of 100 proof whiskey a day. His product was distributed throughout Middle and Western Georgia and parts of Alabama. Of course, Sword’s whiskey was also poured in his bar on the first floor of his newly acquired building.
If calling the J.B.’s establishment a saloon sounds a little wild west, it might not be far from the truth if this incident, reported in the May 18, 1894 Weekly Madisonian
, is any indication. Early on a Saturday morning, L.B. Hayes was tending bar when Bob O’Neil entered and “a dispute arose between the two in reference to some money which Hayes claimed O’Neil owed him.” The escalation that followed included a thrown soda water bottle, a drawn knife, and a fired pistol! O’Neil died the next day at noon.
During J.B. Swords, ownership, the building housed several businesses and uses, both upstairs and down. The Advertiser
newspaper and later the Weekly Madisonian
newspaper were located upstairs. This included both the offices and printing for the publications. In 1898, the Weekly Madisonian
reported that The Band (the 3rd Ga. Regiment Band?) had rented a room opposite their offices for a practice hall and “as we write we are regaled with ta-de-da, ta-de-da, ta-de-da-dum or just any old thing you can make out of it.” Also upstairs was Potomac R. Beale – watchmaker, jeweler, and purveyor of glasses and spectacles.
Downstairs, in addition to J.B. Swords’ saloon, was a pool and billiard room run by William McMahan. The inaugural Morgan County Fair was held in the building in 1899. Later, in September of 1900, T.N. Lanier opened “a first-class
restaurant for ladies and gentlemen.” Mr. Lanier promised to “conduct a cleanly, orderly place and my table will be furnished with the best the market affords.” Lanier’s restaurant was not here long though, he moved it to E. Washington Street in January of 1901.
In fact, by May of 1901 the entire building was empty. It would seem that J.B. Swords’ interests had shifted elsewhere. Starting in the mid-1890s, Swords began buying land in the Blue Springs area of Morgan County, eventually moving his distillery there to take advantage of the pure spring water and ultimately creating his own town. He sold the Swords Building to William E. Monroe in 1905 beginning a new era for the structure… but we will save that for another post.
Madison Moments, a weekly blog highlighting Madison's rich history, is a creation of the Madison Historic Preservation Commission in collaboration with other City Boards and Departments. This installment was contributed by the Main Street Advisory Board and drawn from research by Sherri Clark, MSAB member. This volunteer board provides leadership and support for Main Street partners, programs, projects, and promotions.