Page 1

A special supplement from

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back in the Day

2 • Saturday, April 24, 2010

BACK in the


They say you can’t know where you're going until you know where you've been. In that spirit, we’d like to take you through the pages of Rockdale and Conyers’ history in the first ever “Back in the Day” special section of the Rockdale News. For some, this will be a stroll down memory lane. For others, this will be a new and illuminatEditor ing look at the backstory of some of the people, places and institutions that are an integral part of this community. This is not meant to be a comprehensive look at Rockdale’s rich and varied past, which would require dozens and dozens of books to begin to cover. This also leaves out many significant areas that we hope to cover in the future. Rather, this is a look at pieces and fragments of what life was like “back in the day.” We hope you enjoy it.

The Rockdale News

County Government

Change through the years

By Michelle Kim

Sports.................. Page 8

Though early settlers and farmers referred to the area as Rockdale, due to the rock shelf that extends out from Stone Mountain, and an area church used the name officially, what is now known as Rockdale County started off as the northern end of Newton County. Residents were frustrated at having to travel so far for the county seat for official business — it took almost a day of travel to reach Covington — especially when they could conduct most of their commerce and other business in the bustling railway town of Conyers. In October of 1870, the county was formed out of Newton and small parts of Walton and Henry and Gwinnett counties. For many years, the ordinary — later known as the probate judge — was the presiding officer of the county, and was elected along with the sheriff, clerk of court, treasurer, tax collector, tax receiver, surveyor and coroner. Later, the presiding officer became a single commissioner, who was known as the commissioner of roads and revenues because until the early ’60s only cities were allowed to provide municipal services, such as a fire department and parks and recreation. The 1970s were a time of huge growth and change in the county, as the population more than doubled, from about 18,000 in 1970 to about 36,000 in 1980, after I-20 was built and suburbanites poured into rural Rockdale from other areas closer to Atlanta. The growth meant new schools being built, new roads, new waterlines, new shopping centers and a new hospital. This growth also meant political turmoil in some ways, as newcomers with new ideas were elected to office. After 1976, legislation was passed in the state assembly to change the county’s form of government to its present day form, with one full-time chairman and two part-time commissioners. During the 70s, the animal control department and the parks and recreation department were created, zoning ordinances codified, personnel and purchasing system codified and studies began looking at Big Haynes Creek as a drinking water source, eventually resulting in the building of the Big Haynes Creek Dam. Though the milage rate fell from 35.5 to 34.85, the tax digest in 1977 jumped 33 percent, after a comprehensive property re-evaluation, leading to unsuccessful demands to throw out the 1977 digest and return to a 1976 digest. Citizens formed a Rockdale County Property Owner’s Association to work for tax reform at the state level.

Sports.................. Page 9

Sources: "The Heritage of Rockdale County, Ga." (1998) Rockdale County Heritage Book Committee; "A History of Rockdale County"

Michelle Kim


of Contents County................. Page 2 Transportation......Page 3 Churches..............Page 4 Churches..............Page 5 Business.............. Page 6

Library................Page 10

Courtesy of the Rockdale Historical Association

A view from above: An aerial photograph of downtown Conyers, over the intersections of Center Street and Commercial Street in 1955.

The county’s first new traffic signal was also installed in 1979 at Ga. Highway 138 and I-20. For many years, the only other traffic signal was at the intersection of Milstead Avenue and Main Street. Rockdale acquired its own judicial circuit in 1983 — previously it had been a part of the Stone Mountain circuit — with Judge Clarence Vaughn and District Attorney Robbie Mumford. The jail expanded from the small two-story building that used to house both the sheriff’s family on one floor and inmates on another floor, to a 34-bed facility on Milstead Avenue in 1968 to a 167 bed facility on Chambers Drive in 1988. The jail just recently completed a

SPLOST-funded expansion, adding 384 beds. In 1987, the state legislators allowed counties to pass a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or a 1 penny sales tax. Since then the SPLOST has been used to raise money for many things including a new library, jail, schools, parks, and senior center. The Water and Sewage Authority was created in 1995, and it bought the water and sewer system from the city of Conyers, a significant purchase since water lines were the main allocators of residential and commercial growth. Rockdale's growth continued at a steady clip through the ’90s until the subprime crash in 2007. The population is now estimated around 77,000.

(1978) Margaret G. Barksdale, E.L. Cowan, Frances A. King;;; "History of the Conyers-Rockdale Library System and Nancy Guinn Library" by Susan W. Vaughn, Nancy Guinn Library Dedication Ceremony booklet; press clippings by Rev. Alex W. Williams; ; www.ourlovingmother. org/GeorgiaBulletin_March_11_1999.aspx; "Historical Highlights of Rock Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church" document and "Chronology of Pastoral Services";;;; personal interviews

The Rockdale News

Saturday, April 24, 2010 • 3

Back in the Day


Blazing a trail through Rockdale, 10,000 years ago By Bryan Fazio

Courtesy of the Rockdale County Historical Association

All aboard! The Georgia Railroad used what would become Conyers Station as a watering stop on its route from Augusta to Marthasville, which was later to be named Atlanta.

Next stop: Conyers Conyers began as 400 people settled around a stop on the Georgia Railroad

By Bryan Fazio

Like many trips in the late 19th and early 20th century America, the history of Conyers starts and stops with the railroad. Conyers owes everything to the railroad — from its settlement to its early economic being to its name. Chartered in 1833, the Georgia Railroad was created to transport goods and people from Augusta to the Western and Atlantic Railroad lines located in Terminus. Terminus, which had its name changed to Marthasville and later Atlanta, became an important rail center for the southern United States. Much as Atlanta owes its early growth and name to the operation of the Georgia Railroad, so does Conyers. When the area known as Rockdale came open for settlement between 1816 and 1821, John Holcomb, a blacksmith, became the first settler. Holcomb built his home and store on a large piece of

land near where the railroad and the Rockdale County Courthouse are now located on Main Street. As the Georgia Railroad stretched from Augusta — the state’s second town after Savannah — watering stations were needed every 20 miles to support the steam engine locomotives, and Rockdale was selected for one of those stations. However, Holcomb was not willing to sell his home, and according to “A History of Rockdale County” was reportedly willing to shoot anyone from the railroad company. A Covington banker named John Conyers came to Holcomb, offering $700 to buy his land. After Holcomb agreed to the sale, Conyers then sold it to the railroad company, which named the area around the station after him. The railroad was in full operation by 1845, and Conyers grew around the watering stop about 25 miles outside of Marthasville. When Conyers was incorporated as a city in 1854, nine years after the railroad’s station came

in use, it consisted of 400 people in a circle one half mile from the depot. “Our history of the community is linked to the railroad,” said Harriet Gattis, Tourism Manager with the city of Conyers. Even the town’s setup dates back to the railroad. As other old southern towns are usually formed in a square around a courthouse, Olde Town Conyers does not have a centralized square. The businesses were set up to face the railroad and its depot. Not until people started driving their Model T’s into Conyers did business owners start turning the back of their stores into the front to accommodate parking. The railroad continued to be an area of commerce as cotton was shipped from the station to Atlanta, and on to other parts of the country. The railroad continued to be the lifeblood of Conyers, until more and more automobile traffic took the transportation of people and goods off the railways.

I-20 causes shift in commerce By Bryan Fazio

As the country became more dependent on automobiles for travel and shipping, interstates replaced railroads as the transportation backbone. In the mid 1800s Conyers saw its creation around the train tracks and the Georgia Railroad built a watering station in Rockdale. Then again in the 1960s Conyers saw another transformation as Interstate 20 linked Augusta to Atlanta. The town that would be Conyers originally grew around the train station in the 19th century. After the advent of automobiles in the early 1900s, roads grew out from Main Street and the railroad to the various mills that produced flour and refined cotton. Ga. Highway 212 became the first major road to be paved in Rockdale, running through Conyers to Lithonia and Atlanta. It remained the area’s major road until U. S. Highway 278 came along in the 1950s along the route of what is now I-20. Conyers began preparing for I-20 in 1963 when

a bridge was completed across West Avenue to accommodate the highway. The interstate, which ran from Atlanta to Lithonia, opened in 1966 linking Conyers directly to Atlanta and the rest of the state. As I-20 moved the mass of people and their business away from the railroad, the town moved to accommodate it. According to the Conyers Visitors Bureau, Gus Barksdale, Clarence Vaughn, Roland Reagan, Harry Downs, other citizens and the Chamber of Commerce worked to bring businesses to Rockdale County. In doing that, Highway 138 was developed into a business district. “That was when many businesses at the time began to locate closer to the interstate, such as West Avenue shopping center and the Cross Gate shopping center,” said Harriet Gattis, Tourism Manager with the city of Conyers. The industry from the railroad faded away, replaced with new businesses coming near I-20. The town shifted from a rural area, shipping its goods to Atlanta and the rest of the country, to an area for people to come near to Atlanta.

Conyers and Rockdale County owe much of its lifeforce to transportation and roadways, starting with the rail and moving to the highways of Georgia. However, the beginning of the impact of transportation didn’t occur when the first automobile passed through on Interstate 20 and didn’t even start when the railroad pulled through in the 1850s. As far back as 10,000 years ago people have been settled in the area of what is now Rockdale, as mound-building Native Americans lived near the numerous streams and creeks in the northern part of the county. They traveled through the area, and later white settlers came into Rockdale by way of the Great Indian Trail or the Hightower Trail. Both Native American artifacts found while building the Horse Park and a journal entry by Hernando de Soto in 1539 display proof of the Hightower Trail and the longevity of human settlement in the Rockdale area. The Muscogee and Cherokee peoples, believed to be ancestors of the Etowah tribe, used the trail, which ran from

Augusta to Northwest Georgia as both a border and a roadway. Hightower is the Anglicization of the name Etowah linking the Native American people and the road we know of today. The Hightower Trail stretched northwest to the mound city of Etowah, a settlement located near where Cartersville now is in Northwest Georgia. Not only used as the border, the Great Indian Road was also the trail the two tribes used as an early highway and an area to trade with the new colonists. In the 1800s white settlers began to move into the area via the Hightower Trail, using it as a fruitful trading route and then taking advantage of the topography of the region. After the government designated more than 200 lots toward the Georgia land lottery, the area’s hilly topography and river and streams became profitable for grist mills. Between 1816 and 1821 the land lottery brought many settlers through the Hightower Trail into the Rockdale area. Today the Hightower Trail in Rockdale County is designated with a stone marker by Rockdale County Fire Station No. 5 and can be seen on Hightower Trail Road.

Bryan Fazio/The Rockdale News

Trailblazers: A stone marker for the Hightower Trail sits in front of Fire Station No. 5 on Hightower Trail Road.

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4 • Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back in the Day

The Rockdale News


In the Beginning A look at a few of Rockdale’s oldest churches By Tonya Y. Parker and Jessica Smith

Located solidly in the Bible Belt, Rockdale County is home to many churches. The rich tradition of faith that sustained its earliest citizens continues today.

Camp meetings and circuits

Rockdale County’s oldest existing church, Ebenezer United Methodist Church, was born from a camp meeting in 1818. “It was typical when the crops were laid farmers would gather for a week of religious rest and relaxation with their families,” explained Harriet Gattis, local history buff and Rockdale County Historical Society member Several miles over, Smyrna Presbyterian Church, founded in 1827, has one of the few Presbyterian campgrounds still active in the U.S. today. One part revival, one part family reunion, families at the time would arrive for the week by covered wagon where they would stay. The camp meeting tradition continues today in more modern facilities and cabins. In those early days, many churches were on a “circuit” sharing a minister of their faith with other churches. Congregants may have only seen the minister once a month with Sunday School filling the void between his appearances.

Bald Rock Baptist

The Bald Rock Baptist Church congregation prides itself on not only being older than Rockdale County, but also being the oldest African-American church in the county.

It sits in a quiet neighborhood at 2284 Old Covington Road, not far from its original site on Costley Mills Road where it was located for decades before members moved it. Started around 1861, the church held its first services in a brush harbor on a plantation, referred to as a grist mill. A brush arbor is a temporary structure of branches and tree limbs to shelter congregants during outdoor services. The land owner, Mr. Bryant, gave the church an acre to establish itself. A family with the last name Bryant still attends the church. Like many churches in its day, Bald Rock served as the heart of some of Rockdale’s African-American families. These churches often were where members gathered for weddings, funerals, news and organizing. Today, many African-American churches in Rockdale still serve this role. “When I was coming along, all I can think of is pine,” Deacon Rufus Roseberry Sr., 80, said. “Wasn’t no paved roads anywhere.” The church started with 50-100 members who met monthly. Today, there are about 300 members. Roseberry’s family joined Bald Rock when he was 12 years old. He remembers when in 1994 the men of the church built the current structure. Its old structure was a historic site at the Georgia International Horse Park. However, two months ago it was torn down. Mother Annie Ruth Shaw said the church does not know why. Once members learned of the demolition plans, they could not find the proper paperwork to show gov-

Bryan Fazio/Rockdale News

Heaven-ward: Bald Rock Baptist Church started in 1861 under a “brush harbor.” Today, congregants still gather at the church chapel at 2284 Old Covington Road.

ernment officials the structure was indeed historic, she said. “The only thing left is the old cornerstone,” she said. Shaw, 67, was the church secretary for 39 years. She has a long memory that stretches back to when she babysat Bald Rock’s senior pastor, the Rev. Christopher Shipp. Shipp has led the church for 13 years. Shaw said he strives to continue growing it and to use his passion for gospel music to engage younger members. The church’s choir just released a CD. The fourth Sunday is Youth Sunday. There are choirs and dance ministries especially for youth.

Rock Temple AME

Rock Temple AME Church also began before Rockdale County formed in 1870.

The 145-year-old church started the year the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted abolishing slavery. The Gamble, Levett and Turner families helped start Rock Temple. Some of their family members still live in the area. Longtime member Quilla Nancy Flanagan moved from her Covington AME church to join her husband at Rock Temple in 1965 after they wed. Now at 1021 Bryant St., Rock Temple held its early services on Milstead Avenue also in a brush arbor. “They would just put up some sticks and have something to cover it, then they’d sit up under it,” Quilla said. She said the church’s name started as The Rock AME Church. Then Washington Jones donated the land for the Bryant See page 5

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Back in the Day

The Rockdale News

Bryan Fazio/Rockdale News

Deep roots: Ebenezer United Methodist Church began in 1818, growing from the campmeeting tradition..

"Sidewalk Churches"

Continued from page 4

Street site. The church built a wood structure on it in 1937 and eventually added “Temple” to the name because it had a permanent structure. The current structure was built in 1964. In the years since, Flanagan said membership has grown and then dipped and then grown. The church, led by the Rev. Alfred Vaughn for two years, has 90-100 members. “Most of the older people who worked to really get the church established have died,” Flanagan said. “Some of the younger people have stayed around as they grew up and went to school. But with getting jobs and married and things, they’ll leave the church and don’t come back because they move. But they do try to visit when they can.”

First Baptist Church of Conyers was the first of the three “sidewalk churches” of Main Street (at the time known as Decatur Street) in 1836. After the railroad came through the county in 1845, Conyers First United Methodist and Conyers Presbyterian began to develop. First UMC’s the Rev. John A. Reynolds along with Presbyterian minister Dr. Henry Quigg and other local ministers held a landmark “Temperance Revival” in 1878 that lasted three weeks and led to Conyers’ saloons being voted out of town. The revival also bolstered membership in all three churches. Without exception, these churches lost their early buildings to various fires, but all were rebuilt and still stand today with strong ministries. The Baptist Church outgrew their facilities and

Saturday, April 24, 2010 • 5

moved to Ga. Highway 138 near the Horse Park in 2000. Their former buildings serve as Rockdale County offices.

More churches in Rockdale with historical roots

The Monastery

Ebenezer United Methodist- 1818 Salem Baptist - 1820 Smyrna Presbyterian - 1827 Union Grove Baptist - 1834 First Baptist of Conyers - 1836 Philadelphia United Methodist - 1837 Bald Rock Primitive Baptist Church of Christ - 1843 Union United Methodist - 1846 Rockdale Baptist - 1847 First United Methodist - 1852 Conyers Presbyterian - 1860 Peek’s Chapel Baptist - 1868 Rock Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church - 1870 White's Chapel United Methodist Church - 1870 Bald Rock Baptist - 1872 Pleasant Hill Christian Methodist Episcopla Church - 1872 Macedonia Baptist - 1873 Old Pleasant Hill Baptist - 1873 Pleasant Hill Baptist - 1873 Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist - 1879 New Hope Baptist - 1879 Crawfordsville Baptist - 1880 Honey Creek Baptist - 1882 Double Spring Baptist - 1883 Bethel Christian - 1886 First Shady Grove Baptist - 1887 Milstead Baptist - 1890 Miller's Chapel Baptist - 1901 Milstead United Methodist - 1904 Summer Hill Baptist - 1910 Mt. Olive Baptist - 1919 Midway Church of God - 1943 Monastery of the Holy Spirit 1944 First United Pentecostal Church of Conyers - 1945 Lorraine Assembly of God - 1948

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit began when 21 monks from Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky first arrived at the old Honey Creek Plantation in 1944. They lived in a hay barn for 10 months before the first simple monastery was erected with wood cut from their land and built by their hands. In 1960, the Gothic Abbey Church was completed — the only American Trappist monastery built by its monks. The monastery plans to restore the original barn and break ground on a new public gathering space soon. In 1974, St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church, the first in the county, was established to minister to the area’s growing number of Catholic families. Today, the 1,700-family parish is about 20 percent Hispanic and offers masses in Spanish. Though her following wasn’t contained by the four walls of a church sanctuary, Nancy Fowler's claims of apparitions of the Virgin Mary would draw around 100,000 pilgrims monthly from all over the world to her White Road farm between 1990 and 1998. Just before the last public apparition on October 13, 1998, a new parish, Our Mother of God Catholic Church was established at the site. Fowler disassociated herself with the group, Our Loving Mother’s Children, who owns the site, in 1999 over “the new direction” they were taking. In an interview with the “Georgia Bulletin,” one of the things she opposed was the group asking for specific donations. In addition to an English and Spanish mass, the church is the only Ukrainian Catholic church in Georgia. Across denominations, many of Rockdale’s churches are responsible for outreach in this community and beyond.

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Back in the Day

6• Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Rockdale News


From Farms to Factories: The Business of Rockdale By Jessica Smith

Though many traversing Rockdale County’s roads and Interstate 20 nowadays bemoan the state of the roads, transportation was the key to developing commerce here during the last two centuries — first, when the Georgia Railroad completed their line through Conyers in 1845, then later in the 1960s when Interstate 20 came through the county. Like most of rural America in the 1800s, the county’s industry was agriculture, with crops ranging from cotton to corn. Several communities within the county had their own grist mills, cotton gins and general stores. A small community mill along the Big Haynes Creek area, later known as Costley Mill, was spared during the Civil War by General Sherman’s troops who were persuaded by the woman running the mill, Mrs. Plunkett, to pass it by. This land was bought later by James Luther Thomas Costley for 30 bales of cotton, paid in installments of three bales per year. There was even a small factory on the land where shoes, hats and yarn were made. Initially intended to be just a watering station along the railroad, Conyers grew as people came in, settled and started businesses. By the late 1800s, everything from dry goods to hats to carriages was available in the town’s 40-odd stores. There was also a “wilder” element in town with purportedly twelve saloons and five brothels. According to Harriet Gattis, Conyers tourism manager and local historian, “At the same time, we had a strong religious group, the three ‘sidewalk churches’ that cleaned it all up…the temperance group that the Methodist church formed played a large part in that,” she said. In 1891, John H. Almand, a local merchant, and his friends secured a charter for the Bank of Rockdale — the county’s first bank. That

charter is thought to be the last issued by the General Assembly of Georgia, since then all charters have been issued by the Secretary of State. During the Depression, the bank was the paymaster for President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration. This sustained many locals who earned 50 cents per day doing odd jobs. Also during this time, though the bank closed its front doors for three weeks in 1933 per Roosevelt’s mandated “banking holiday,” G. Carl Sims, the bank’s president, opened the back door daily to meet the cash requirements of the merchants and others in the county. The dominant force in the local economy for much of the 20th century was the Milstead Division of Callaway Mills, a large cotton mill a few miles from downtown Conyers on the Yellow River. Frank Milstead founded the company but sold it to Callaway Mills in 1905. Shortly after, the company built a private railroad to their plant connecting it to the main railroad to bring in supplies and ship out their products. This operation was powered by the famous “Dinky” steam engine that’s now housed near the tracks in Olde Town — one of three left in the world. The community that grew up around the plant was very much a “company town,” in the best sense. “The mill provided its employees with bungalow homes, paved streets and sidewalks, a golf course, tennis courts, a bowling alley, a private school and a swimming pool,” said Frank Smith, a former plant employee in his book, “The Story of Milstead.” Deciding to consolidate operations at their LaGrange headquarters, Callaway closed the Milstead plant in 1960. “This little town was going to shrivel up and die; that’s when our Chamber of Commerce leaders went out and found Lithonia Lighting…They were really the saviors of Conyers and Rockdale County. They took on many of the millworkers on their new production line

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Courtesy of the Rockdale Historical Association

Go to Gaileys: Gailey Summers stands outside Gailey's Department Store in Olde Town Conyers, around 1942. The store began as a dry goods store in 1899 and closed as a shoe store in 1995. (Below) An aerial shot of the Milstead Calloway Cotton Mill. (Courtesy of "The Heritage of Rockdale County").

here,” explained Gattis. Lithonia Lighting, now Acuity Brands, is still one of the county’s largest employers. When Interstate 20 was built through the county in the 1960s, business leaders Gus Barksdale, Clarence Vaughn, Roland Reagan, and Harry Downs were able to lay the groundwork for business expansion and the influx of large industries that still benefits the county today. Some of our largest employers today are Pratt Industries, the Rockdale Medical Center, Solo Cup, AT&T and Golden State Foods.

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The Rockdale News

Back in the Day

Saturday, April 24, 2010 • 7

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Back in the Day

8• Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Rockdale News


Paving the way, one game at a time By Bryan Fazio

Rockdale schools were integrated in 1970 allowing both white students and black students to learn and play under the same roof. However, before the ’70s a few students crossed the color line earlier using freedom of choice to attend the white Rockdale County high school. Helping to bridge that gap was the area’s first black athlete on a white team, Lamar “Willie” Gillstrap. Gillstrap began his tenure at Rockdale High in 1966, played on the basketball team from ’66 to 1969, played on the football team in ’68 and ’69 and was also a member of the track team. “He was one who really made it a lot easier for other people,” said Cleveland Stroud, Gillstrap’s first cousin who eventually became RCHS’s head basketball coach. “Athletes during integration time were accepted quicker than everyone else, because everyone wanted to win.” Gillstrap and his family were approached by teachers at J.P. Carr School to help to integrate the schools. “At the time they wanted some blacks to go there,” Gillstrap said “They knew I was a good athlete, and also they wanted people that were disciplined.” Gillstrap’s family supported them, even though his mother was a little hesitant about the idea. But after words from his cousin saying that

there would be more opportunities at Rockdale, Gillstrap decided to enter school at Rockdale High. Throughout the first couple of months there were a fair share of awkward glances and a few harsh words, but nothing ever escalated to the point where Gillstrap felt in danger. Once basketball season rolled around, the looks and words came to a halt as he led the Bulldogs — who struggled to win five or six games before his arrival — to 10 wins his sophomore year, 14 his junior and within one point of the state championship in his senior season. “We were proud of his accomplishments,” Stroud said. “He didn’t go around boasting or anything. He was one of the best athletes at Rockdale County at the time.” Despite his success on the basketball court, Gillstrap reached for more when he went out for the football team after his sophomore year. “I think it was the guys walking around with the nice football jackets,” Gillstrap said. “I wanted one of those jackets.” The football team reached the state playoffs both years he was on

the team, and fans continued to show him support as well as his family. “They didn’t give my family any problems,” Gillstrap said. “My dad used to come to games, my mom didn’t want to watch me playing football, but my dad went to see me, and Coach Stroud and a few more family and friends.” Older members of the community still acknowledge Gillstrap and his accomplishments both on the field and court as well as helping to pave the way for full integration. Gillstrap is now a paving supervisor for Rockdale County. While those days were tough for him and his generation, because of Gillstrap’s efforts his two teenage children don’t really understand the accomplishment. “I told my son over the years, and it was casual like nothing to them,” Gillstrap said,. “They’re in a different generation. They don’t see it as a big thing.”

Join us for

Submitted Photo

Driving force: (Above) Lamar Gillstrap (22) makes his way toward the basket years before Rockdale County high school made its way toward integration. (Left) Gillstrap (21) was Rockdale County high school’s first black athlete, playing on the basketball team from 1966-69 and the football team in '68 and '69.

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Back in the Day

The Rockdale News

Saturday, April 24, 2010 • 9


Motivating generations of Rockdale Bulldogs Rockdale stadium namesake led the football and basketball teams in the 50s and 60s

By Bryan Fazio

Knowing everything about your opponent is common practice in football games today. Good coaches know where the opposition lines up, what their tendencies are and what physical skills each player possesses.   But for Robert Reid and his Rockdale High school football team it went one step further. It was not unusual for Bulldog athletes to know personal information about their opponents, such as the names of their girlfriends, family members and their personal lives.   It was definitely a unique tactic, especially considering it was in the 1950s.   Marion T. Farmer in “The Heritage of Rockdale County” writes that Reid was “a master at teaching his players how to psych out opponents.”   Lineman would often ask the opposition how their girlfriend was, using her name. It often got under the opponent’s skin that the Rockdale player not only knew specific details of their relationship but also who his girlfriend was. This led to such seasons as an 8-1-1 mark in 1957 and several more winning seasons before his death on December 5, 1964.   “He was successful at it,” said Reid’s assistant coach Bill McCord. Fans of the Bulldogs know the name Robert Reid well, through they might not know the man behind the name that graces the football stadium and has been mentioned with some of Rockdale’s top football and basketball teams.   Reid attended Livingston College in West Alabama and lived in Landale before coming to Rockdale as an assistant football coach of James Hudman.   Reid used his large personality and congenial demeanor to reach his athletes, overcoming his handicap. “He was a handicapped person,” said McCord. “He had a short leg and a short arm, a maternal defect.”   After Hudman was replaced by Fred Pierce, coach Reid than took over the football team in the 1956 and the basketball teams in 1959.    McCord coached with Reid from 1958 until 1964 and was

Submitted Photo

Robert Reid helped lead both the Rockdale football and basketball team's, earning the honor of being remembered each Friday night.

very close to the Rockdale legend.   “He was a very personable person,” McCord said. “He knew the kids well and got to be very intimate with them. “They loved him, all of them did.”   Reid always made time to talk with his players one-on-one, and that attitude stretched out into the community.   When a new stadium was being built in 1963 on Pinelog Road where the new high school would be, Reid and McCord took to the community trying to dig up help and funds wherever it could be found. Reid never got to coach inside the new facility but was clearly a part of it, as recognized for years to come in its name.   “He and I would go out there in the evening and tried to take up donations to work on the stadium,” McCord said. “I think it was an honor (to have the stadium named after him).”

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A special place for the past, present and future By Tonya Y. Parker

The Nancy Guinn Memorial Library has flourished because of a legacy of people advocating for it. One of its first supporters, the late Nancy Graham Guinn, also is its namesake. Guinn was a mother, wife, ardent volunteer, painter and community leader. Her vision helped raise the first dollars to create Rockdale’s main library. Today, the library is emerging from a metamorphosis to continue meeting the community’s needs. Located at 864 Green St., it is completing an $8 million renovation and expansion that adds 10,000 square feet. Before Green Street, the library was built at Pine and Court streets in a building now housing Rockdale’s car tags office. Library staffer Barbara Sanders remembers the library being quaint. She would sit on the floor in the small children’s area to read with her children.

The Conyers Civic League began working to establish a county library around 1920. After much planning and fundraising, a joint school/ public library started two years later in the Main Street School. Organizers named it in Guinn’s memory for her years of dedication to the library as the Civic League co-founder and first president from 1904 to 1921, the year she died. Not until construction of Rockdale County High School in 1965 was the library separated and moved to Commercial Street. It was open 18 hours a week then. Soon after, efforts to raise city and county funds to build the Pine Street library in 1970 began in earnest. The Friends of Nancy Guinn Library formed in 1985 to champion it and serve as its bridge to the community. In planning for the current library, a firm was hired to talk to the community and elected officials about the project. A special election for a one-year local sales

tax passed in 1987 with more than 60 percent approval. The issue was the only item on the ballot. Once the referendum passed, it took 3 years before the $5.3 million library was completed in Gleaton Park; the city of Conyers donated the land. Library Director Deborah Manget was hired at this time, starting a 25-year journey that has ranged from installing the library’s public internet service in 1996 to overseeing its current transformation. Current Library Board Chair Charlotte Gellert recalled that her husband suggested she serve on the library board because as a traveling salesman he was often out of town and her son, a University of Georgia journalism major who loved to read, had just died. “Prior to joining the board, I hadn’t even paid attention to the library,” Gellert recalled. “But now I can see how important it is to a community.”

Friends President Linda Kelly also was not aware of the library before she got involved with it. “Someone said, ‘Have you been to the library yet?’ I said, ‘What? Conyers has a library?’” One day she attended the Friends’ book sale with her husband and joined on the spot. The two-phase renovation began last summer and finished in September with the upper level re-opening. The library’s lower level renovation, the project’s final step, should be complete soon. An open house is set for May 16 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The project has added public access computers, expanded the reference and children’s areas, created a teen area, and built a new snack shop on the lower level. It is funded by a combination of SPLOST funds, state grants and impact fees. “I don’t know what some people would do without the library,” Kelly said. “It looks wonderful. They’ve made great strides.”

Remember When: A Heritage of Reading Judy Mauran, 62, is the granddaughter of Nancy Guinn, namesake of Rockdale County’s first public library. She remembers fondly how her grandmother and mother passed on to her their love of books and reading. One of my earliest memories is of being a little girl helping with the library move. The ladies of the Civic League were moving the library to another building. We were moving the library into a building that’s now demolished. I must’ve been very small because the ladies had me taking books from

Michelle Kim/Rockdale News

Judy Mauran, director of the Conyers School of Ballet, stands before a painting of her grandmother, Nancy Guinn, that hangs on the wall of the library.

the bottom two shelves and putting them in boxes. And I don’t remember there being any other kids there. I had my own library card since the time I was 6 years old. I think I did it right before I went to school in first grade. Back in those days you didn’t go to school until first grade. And I could write my name and read some. Mildred McElvany was the main librarian at the time. The summer after first grade was the first time I participated in the summer reading program. Once you read through the list, at the beginning of the school year they announced your name

in an assembly. You didn’t get any prizes like today. I lived two blocks from the library so I walked there often. I read all the time. I loved to read. It was a wonderful day and time. Mother knew I was fine walking to the library. My grandmother was very accomplished. She painted and read all the time. You didn’t interrupt grandmother while she was reading. You instead waited at her knee until she came to a stopping point in her book and then you asked your question. She passed away from cancer when my mother was 9 years old. We don’t know what kind of cancer.

We do know she was one of the first people treated with radium. I thought of her when we had a Civic League meeting yesterday and I had a tour of the new downstairs library for the first time. I’d been in and out, but it was the first time to see the downstairs. My grandmother would just be over the moon and my mother would be thrilled. I want the public support to continue. Not everyone can buy books whenever they feel like it. It’s important that everyone has the chance to have access to books. - Tonya Parker


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