In July, 1917 during World War I, mentions can be found in the papers regarding Great Britain’s need for mules and how Atlanta was leading the way in supplying them.
Due to the business acumen of men such as Captain John Miller and I.N. Ragsdale, Miller Union Stockyards (located along today’s Howell Mill Road between 14th and 10th Streets) in Atlanta at the turn-of-the-century was known as the largest mule market in the United States until well into the 20th century. Today, the area survives with trendy restaurants, condominiums, and businesses.
Through my research I located an article in The Atlanta Constitution dated July 27, 1917 advising the government of Great Britain had designated Atlanta as the assembling point for thousands of mules to be shipped to Europe for war purposes.
The Brits were calling for one hundred mules per day for an indefinite period of time, and were dispatching two representatives to Atlanta to inspect and formally take charge of the stock.
Guidelines were fairly clear. Mules had to meet strict British requirements to help in the war effort. They had to be fifteen hands in height and of dark color with no blemishes. Later on, the inspectors did relent and began to accept iron grey mules.
Let’s pause a moment to do the math. The Brits were paying $160 per head for the mules. If they bought one hundred per day as planned mule dealers would be collectively making $16,000 cash money daily, and over the course of a month as much as half a million dollars could be made.
So, what does this have to do with Douglas County?
I’m sure one name is already on your lips.
Since Douglasville’s earliest days there has been one mule barn or another located at different spots around town under the control of one Abercrombie or another.
The newspaper article goes on to mention Mr. Ragsdale had recently purchased twenty-eight mules from Douglasville advising, “At Douglasville…one of the local bankers who sold several big lots of mules in Douglasville and adjacent counties stated that the farmers were selling their mules they no longer needed and were applying the proceeds on account. This situation, [the banker-mule dealer] stated, was certain to mean a great improvement in business conditions in the smaller as well as the larger towns and would aid the farmers in carrying over certain accounts until their crops are gathered.”
The banker-mule dealer who would have sold the mules to Ragsdale and in turn to the British government would be Joe S. Abercrombie whose brother W. Claude Abercrombie was the president of the Farmers and Merchant’s Bank and dabbled in mules, while a third brother, Walter A. Abercrombie dabbled (sarcasm) in mules as well. In fact, sources state they each had a mule barn.
Even the Douglas County Sentinel advised in 1916 that Joe S. Abercrombie “annually handled approximately 250 head of mules and did a business of $50,000.
That’s $50,000 in 1916 dollars, folks!
The paper also advised, “You could write success in capitals at the end of each one of the three [Abercrombie] brother’s names. They are the most spirited men in Douglas County!”
Well, I’d be a bit spirited, too, if I had a passel of mules and was selling them for $160 a head, wouldn’t you?
Still, it’s nice to know that Douglas County not only sent their men off to The Great War, we bravely sent our mules as well.