It was said that J. Gorham Garrison, the long-time principle of Coolidge School, took himself and his job quite seriously. His students did not share this mindset. One morning, while walking along his normal path to work, the first wire was pulled taught and Mr. Garrison fell to the ground hard. A few more steps and the next wire was yanked, and down went Garrison again. The boys did the best they could to muffle their snickers, and the startled principle did the best he could to compose himself. A few more steps, and down went Garrison for a third time. The respected principle was never able to elicit a confession from the culprits, and a harsh corporal punishment was handed down to all.
The original writers of Coolidge’s history in 1950 recorded what was important to them, and to the twelve, thirteen, and fourteen-year-old boys and girls who wrote it, the stories they felt important to retain for posterity were the pranks they and their predecessors pulled on their elders: tripping teachers, putting shoe polish on pigs, or courting while the teacher’s back was turned. Of course, they also recorded the punishments inflicted upon them—corporal to be sure, but typical of their time.
But the students of Coolidge school also recorded facts—perhaps not as colorfully as they related their own mischief, but entirely relevant details of Coolidge’s founding. They tell us about how Jessie Meredith and his family arrived here from Brooks County in 1874 to make a living out of the wilderness; about how his daughter, Doan Nelson, out lived her parents and husband, living alone in this area for ten years; and about how Big Bill Miller rode into town with big dreams of building a major city.
Bill Miller had a full-blown case of railroad fever in 1897. They were being built everywhere, and from his home in Quitman, Miller need only look down the tracks to Thomasville to see how locomotives could economically transform a town. So, Miller made way to Doan Nelson’s property, and purchased the mostly tree-filled land from the lonesome widow. While the deal was legally contested years later (see sidebar), Miller managed to attract the Carmen Lumber Company, who brought their employees—who in turn needed stores to shop at and restaurants to eat in. Coolidge was coming alive.
On July 4th, 1900, the railroad was complete, connecting the still unnamed village with Thomasville. Miller sold track-side lots for $100, downtown lots for $50. More businesses were built downtown, churches were constructed, schools were established, and more homes were built by settler families from surrounding counties. The rapid growth spurred optimism, and the legal mechanisms needed to establish a town were set in motion.
But before the town could be chartered, a name had to be chosen—and the residents settled on Coolidge at the suggestion of the Post Master George Kennedy, to honor the president of the railroad company, in hopes to curry favor with the influential transportation executive. So, in 1901, a charter was granted and Bill Miller became Coolidge’s first mayor.
While Coolidge never became the major metropolis Miller envisioned, it has proven the test of time as an important agricultural and timber producing city. As the world dashed through the twentieth century, Coolidge changed with it, never forsaking the pioneering spirit of Meredith or Miller, nor the playfulness of the Coolidge School children who recorded it all.
Comments or questions are welcome.