Introduction to Historic Picture Postcards of Augusta

During the winters of the early twentieth century--at the very height of America's Golden Age of postcard popularity--school teacher Ella C. Mayo (later Belz) collected picture postcards depicting popular scenes in Augusta, Georgia. Although modest in size, her collection provides an intriguing snapshot of early twentieth-century Augusta, and the pictorial coverage of the city's many different facets offers insights into its remarkable history.

These postcards, now at Augusta-Richmond County Public Library System as the Augusta and Environs Picture Post Cards in Color collection, are accessible online as digitized versions through the Digital Library of Georgia and GALILEO. This orientation essay helps collection viewers to place the postcards within a broader historical context, and also provides links to related online information accessible through GALILEO, including the New Georgia Encyclopedia and the photograph collection Vanishing Georgia.

Postcards as Historical Evidence | Augusta's Historical Setting | George Walton's Meadow Garden | The Savannah River | The Augusta Canal | Industrialized King Cotton | Military Matters | Medical College of Georgia | Augusta Streetscapes | Golf and Other Recreational Pursuits | Augusta's Legacy Survives

Postcards as Historical Evidence

Postcards developed in the late nineteenth century as a convenient way of communicating short notes, and subsequently evolved through several design phases before reaching a peak of popularity during the picture postcard's golden age of 1907 to 1915 (See the Smithsonian Institution's Chronology of the Picture Postcard for more information about postcard evolution). The highest-quality picture postcards of this golden age were printed by German firms, who at the time offered the most advanced lithographic processes; American and British firms also produced postcards, although generally of lower quality. These printed postcards, which were based on original photographic images, depicted an enormous variety of people, buildings, transportation, industry, landscapes and streetscapes, important events, special places--indeed almost everything in towns and cities across America. Although a few postcard publishers employed company photographers, many postcard source photographs were taken by local photographers whose identities are mostly unknown. The postcard collecting boom dropped precipitously during the World War I, when the highest quality postcards could no longer be obtained from Germany.

At the height of the postcard's golden age, Ella C. Mayo (later Belz) was teaching at Miss Hill's School on the Hill in Augusta, Ga. She began collecting a set of forty-three picture postcards depicting many different aspects of Augusta life; she used some of the postcards in her collection to send notes, mostly involving relatives in Massachusetts. Some of her hand-written notes conveyed interesting comments about local places and events.

Mayo's selection of postcards for her collection likely represents those that appealed to her for personal reasons. As described in the following sections of this essay, many of her postcards depict things that were considered significant at the time, and indeed many of them still seem so to us today. Some depict buildings that no longer exist, while others show places surviving today but with some features that belong only to the past (e.g., endless bales of cotton, horse-drawn vehicles, people in period costume, etc.).

Taken together as a whole, Mayo's collection of picture postcards provides us with a fascinating and informative portrait of Augusta as it was during the early twentieth century. With their pictorial representations of Augusta scenes, these postcards provide a sense of immediacy and visual reality that textual history sources cannot match. (For a different selection of Augusta-related postcards see Augusta: A Postcard History, by Joseph M. Lee III).

Augusta's Historical Setting

As Georgia's second oldest (and indeed its second largest) city, Augusta's long and rich history far exceeds the scope of this modest orientation essay. See the New Georgia Encyclopedia article "Augusta" by Edward J. Cashin for more information about Augusta's extensive history.

For the limited purposes of this essay, perhaps it's sufficient to point out the crucial role that geography played in Augusta's history. Augusta sits on the fall line of the Appalachian Plateau, at the navigation head of the Savannah River. In such a critical location, the city seemed destined to achieve status as a major center of trade, and to become the site of important early developments in industrialization. Many of the postcards in this collection depict scenes that derive from this unique setting, so the essay will address them accordingly.

George Walton's Meadow Garden

Meadow Garden, Washington Headquarters when near Augusta, Ga. [aep003] depicts Meadow Garden, the home of George Walton, an important figure in early Augusta (as well as state and national) history. Walton was among the three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and following the American Revolution, he served the state of Georgia in other prominent roles. Walton died at Meadow Garden on February 2, 1804. For more information about his life, see the New Georgia Encyclopedia article "George Walton" by Stan Deaton. Photograph of Meadow Garden, The Home of George Walton, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, ca. 1900 [ric046] from Vanishing Georgia includes an earlier (circa 1900) view of Meadow Garden, emphasizing its location adjacent to the canal (see the later section on the Augusta Canal).

The caption on this particular postcard ("Meadow Garden, Washington Headquarters when near Augusta, Ga.") illustrates how perceptions of historical significance can change over time. The caption makes no reference to George Walton, but rather to George Washington--reflecting the reverential obsession with President Washington characteristic of that period. Recent historians have tended to discount the direct association of Washington with Meadow Garden; nevertheless, the Daughters of the American Revolution do certainly deserve credit for saving the home, a rare physical link with the eighteenth century. Today, Meadow Garden has been recognized by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark (see the New Georgia Encyclopedia article "National Historic Landmarks" by Mark Barnes).

The Savannah River

Sitting at the head of navigation on the Savannah River, Augusta owed much of its early success and prosperity to its river association. Steamboat service arrived in Augusta in 1816, enabling efficient, large-scale river transport to the Atlantic. (Towns upstream from the rapids at Augusta relied on smaller Petersburg boats that were able to negotiate the rapids and subsequently transfer goods to the steamboats.) View Along the Savannah River, Augusta, Ga. [aep020] depicts a steam-powered sternwheeler on the Savannah River at Augusta. Augusta citizens lived close to the river in their daily lives: Augusta, Ga.: Bay St., Looking East, Showing the Savannah River [aep021] depicts pedestrians strolling along the river bank on Bay Street.

Despite the river's many advantages, it could also rage out of control in disastrous floods that periodically plagued Augusta. Especially severe floods struck the city in 1888, 1908, and 1912. Ella Mayo mentioned reactions to the 1912 flood threat in her hand-written note on Partridge Inn, The Hill, Augusta, Ga. [aep017]. Photograph of George J. Heckle, Dr. Orlin K. Fletcher, and Mr. Grealish In A Horse and Buggy After the Flood, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, 1912 Mar. 16 or 17 [ric020] and Photograph of Dr. Orlin K. Fletcher on Broad Street After the Flood, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, 1912 Mar. 16 or 17 [ric021] from Vanishing Georgia provide actual views of the resulting flood. To combat the recurrent flooding, a massive levee was eventually completed, at great cost and with some controversy, by 1919. After a long period of neglect, interest in the river revived, culminating in the development of the highly successful River Walk and associated facilities in recent years (see this essay's last section for more information).

The Augusta Canal

Georgia vigorously embraced the great American canal movement of the nineteenth century, by pursuing (with varying degrees of success) four major canal projects: transportation canals near coastal centers at Savannah and at Brunswick, and waterpower canals at Augusta and at Columbus. For information about these canal projects, see the New Georgia Encyclopedia article "Canals" by Frederick B. Gates.

The Augusta Canal was the latest and most successful of these canal projects. Henry Cumming conceived the idea of constructing the canal in 1844; operation commenced in 1846. Beginning at a lock in a diversion dam seven miles upriver from Augusta, the canal fed into three levels, eventually reconnecting to the Savannah River. The Augusta canal proved an immediate success, with four textile companies leasing power by 1847. Other companies soon followed suit, and the canal also provided convenient transportation as well as water for the city's use. During the Civil War, the canal hosted the Confederate Powder Works and other military manufacturers. After the war, the canal was expanded, leading to another, and larger, industrial boom. By the 1890s, the canal's hydropower generated electricity for the city. Given its prominent role in Augusta's life during the early twentieth century, it's not surprising that several of Ella Mayo's postcards depict the Augusta Canal and its associated facilities:

  • Canal Locks, Savannah River Initial Port of Augusta's Water Power, Augusta, Ga. [aep001] shows the massive headgates, lock and dam where the waters of the Savannah River fed the canal. (For an earlier view, see Albumen Print of the locks on the Savannah River, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, ca. 1880 [ric276] from the Vanishing Georgia collection.) John P. King and Sibley Cotton Mills, Augusta Ga. [aep002] illustrates that the canal provided power to the industries lined up along its shores (shown here are the King and Sibley Mills).
  • The Boat House, Lake View Park, Augusta, Ga. [aep024] and Augusta, Ga.: Lake View Park, [aep025] depict boating at Lake View Park, while Allen Park, Augusta, Ga. [aep031] depicts Allen Park; such auxiliary facilities associated with the canal provided leisure opportunities, effectively complementing and enhancing the canal's industrial uses.

Eventually, the canal and its associated industries entered a period of decline. But interest revived at the end of the twentieth century, and serious efforts to preserve and restore the canal proved successful. The Augusta Canal was designated a National Heritage Area in 1996 (For additional information about the Augusta Canal, visit the Augusta Canal Authority Web site and see Edward J. Cashin's The Brightest Arm of the Savannah: The Augusta Canal, 1845-2000).

Industrialized King Cotton

Augusta shared with the rest of Georgia and the other southern states a strong reliance on cotton agriculture, which had begun in earnest with the invention of the cotton gin at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. More unique to Augusta was its industrial processing of cotton into finished products, as evidenced by the massive cotton mills along the canal. All these aspects of King Cotton appear in Mayo's postcard collection:

  • A Southern Cotton Field [aep040] depicts the laborious process of picking cotton by hand.
  • Weighing Cotton [aep037] records a typical cotton-weighing operation.
  • A Good Crop [aep041] portrays the massive accumulations of cotton bales yielded from a successful cotton harvest.
  • John P. King and Sibley Cotton Mills, Augusta Ga. [aep002] depicts two of the huge cotton mills on the canal: the John P. King Mill in the foreground, and the Sibley Mill in the background.
  • A Home on the Hill, Augusta, Ga. [aep030] depicts the substantial residence of King Mill's Landon Thomas, demonstrating the great wealth generated by the canal-powered cotton mills. Additional views of this impressive home and its gardens over time are available in Vanishing Georgia.

On the other hand, Augusta's history of labor strikes demonstrated the unrest that sometimes flowed from wealth disparities and other problematic aspects of industrial practices.

For more information about the profound influence of cotton on nearly all aspects of Georgia history, see the New Georgia Encyclopedia article "Cotton" by James C. Giesen. Although cotton dominated the agriculture of this area, other products of the land were also important to the local economy. Turpentine Still [aep012] depicts a turpentine still which took advantage of the state's sizeable pine forests-- Ella Mayo added a written note to the face of the card to explain the process.

Military Matters

The Augusta Arsenal operated for more than one hundred thirty-five years, from 1819 through 1955 under the U.S. Army (although it was in Confederate hands during the Civil War). In 1957, the Arsenal site became the campus of Augusta College, now Augusta State University. The postcard collection includes two views of the Arsenal:

  • Entrance to Augusta Arsenal, Augusta, Ga. [aep027] depicts the entrance to the Arsenal.
  • Augusta, Ga.: Augusta U.S. Arsenal, Upper Storehouse and Officers Quarters [aep026] shows the upper storehouse and officer's quarters at the Arsenal.

(The Augusta-Richmond County Public Library System also houses a substantial collection of original records from the Arsenal, along with the U.S. Army's official history of the facility).

During the Civil War, the Confederate States Powder Works was constructed in Augusta, taking advantage of the city's canal power and railroad connections. After the war, the Sibley Mill was erected on the site--the massive brick chimney was the only part of the old Powder Works to survive. The chimney can be seen in the background of John P. King and Sibley Cotton Mills, Augusta, Ga. [aep002] (For an 1861 drawing depicting the original Powder Works, see Refinery Building, 1861 [ric164] from Vanishing Georgia.

Medical College of Georgia

Augusta's Medical College of Georgia, chartered in 1828, is the thirteenth-oldest medical school in the United States. Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, Ga. [aep006] depicts the original 1830s building, designed in the Greek Revival style by architect Charles Cluskey. The College moved to a larger campus in 1913, and has grown into a major medical research center. For more information, see History of the Medical College of Georgia.

Augusta Streetscapes

Busy Morning on Broad Street, Augusta, Ga. [aep005] offers an especially fascinating period view of Broad Street, evoking the hustle and bustle of horse-drawn wagons, busy pedestrians, and interesting streetscape furniture. Joseph Lee, in Augusta: A Postcard History points out some interesting details and associations in this particular scene:

  • Red Hot Bargains, Boots, Shoes and Hats (on the umbrella) promoted the Great Eastern Shoe Company at 915 Broad.
  • The wagonload of kegs came from Murry Hill Distillery, operated by Frank Rouse, at 923 Broad.
  • The sign next door, at 927 Broad, belonged to J.E. Tarver Hardware.
  • Across the street, at 972 Broad, stands a four-story building that still survives today.

Several postcards depict additional aspects of Broad Street:

  • Seven Hundred Block, Broad Street, Augusta, Ga. [aep008] shows a row of substantial commercial storefront buildings in the seven hundred block including (left to right) the Leonard Building, the King Building, the Montgomery Building, and Dorr's Building--all survive today.
  • Lower Broad Street, Augusta, Ga. [aep009] shows streetcar tracks on lower Broad. The streetcars ran on electricity generated by water power provided by the Augusta Canal.
  • Confederate Monument, Broad Street, Augusta, Ga. [aep010] shows the Confederate Monument which was erected in 1878 in the middle of the seven hundred block of Broad Street. An earlier view of this monument, Confederate Monument, Erected by Theo. Markwalter, Importer and Manufacturer of Marble Monuments, Tombstones, etc., etc. [ric178], is available in Vanishing Georgia. Recent historians tend to regard Augusta's monument--like others in Georgia and elsewhere--as artifacts of the Lost Cause movement that was widespread across the southern states after the Civil War. For more information, see the New Georgia Encyclopedia article "Lost Cause Religion" by David S. Williams.

Other streetscape scenes appear on the following postcards:

  • Old Colonial Home, Green [Greene] Street, Augusta, Ga. [aep007] shows substantial residences in classical and picturesque styles that once stood on the five hundred block of Greene Street.
  • New Green [Greene] Street, Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Ga. [aep011] shows the Presbyterian Church at 1235 Greene Street.
  • Green [Greene] Street, Looking East from Center Street, Augusta, Ga. [aep004] depicts The Grove on Greene Street; (Photograph of the grove on Green [Greene] Street, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, ca. 1875 [ric274]from Vanishing Georgia offers a view of the same location circa 1875). Cumming Street and J.S. Kunn's Residence, Augusta, Ga. [aep022] depicts a similarly verdant scene on Cumming Street. Such attractive vistas contribute greatly to the aesthetic character of Augusta streetscapes--Augusta's spacious street plan was developed by James Oglethorpe, based on his previous design for the city of Savannah.

Golf and Other Recreational Pursuits

Today most people probably associate Augusta with the famous Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club, whose founders during the 1930s included the legendary Bobby Jones. However, Augusta's dedication to golf extended well before the Masters began, and indeed a number of Ella Mayo's postcards depict early golfing and other recreational pursuits.

The development of substantial resort facilities--elaborate hotels, club houses, golf courses, hunting lodges, and other recreational facilities--can be seen as expressions of the New South movement that brought northern visitors and investment to southern cities such as Augusta during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The region's railroad system expanded rapidly during this period, allowing people to travel more easily. Augusta offered a mild winter climate that strongly appealed to northern tourists, and thus enjoyed a robust tourism trade from December through May.

Country Club, Augusta, Ga. [aep013] depicts the Country Club, originally built in 1902 with extensive facilities for guests (it was destroyed by fire in 1961), and associated impressive golf courses as shown in The Country Club, Augusta, Ga. [aep015] and Driving Off, Country Club Golf Links, Augusta, Ga. [aep014] Additional scenes depict specific areas of the golf courses:

  • Tee No. 1, Country Club Golf Links, Augusta, Ga. [aep018] shows tee number one
  • No. 17 green, Country Club golf links, Augusta, Ga. [aep016] shows the number seventeen green
  • No. 18 green, Country Club golf links, Augusta, Ga. [aep019] shows the number eighteen green

Extensive hotel facilities housed the golfing enthusiasts and other visitors, including the Partridge Inn (developed at the turn of the twentieth century from an existing 1836 residence) shown in Partridge Inn, The Hill, Augusta, Ga. [aep017] and the Bon Air Hotel, which opened in 1889, shown in Bon Air Hotel, Summerville, near Augusta, Ga. [aep023] Earlier views of the Bon Air Hotel (Photograph of the Bon Air Hotel, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, ca. 1900 [ric045] and Photograph of the original Bon Air Hotel, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, ca. 1900 [ric193]) are available in Vanishing Georgia. Although the Bon Air Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1921, the Partridge Inn survived, underwent periodic updating and expansion, and still serves visitors today. The Partridge Inn, located at 2110 Walton Way, has been designated one of the Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Partridge Inn hosted a gala dinner for President Warren Harding when he visited Augusta in 1923.

Nearby North Augusta, S.C. offered additional resort facilities in the form of the Hampton Terrace Hotel, shown in Hampton Terrace Hotel North Augusta, Ga. [S.C.] [aep028], and the Hunting Lodge, shown in North Augusta, S.C., Hunting Lodge [aep029]. Another view of the Hampton Terrace ( Hampton Terrace, N. Augusta, S.C. [ric123]) is available in Vanishing Georgia. The massive five-story Hampton Terrace opened in 1903, but burned to the ground in 1916.

Fishing was a popular sport at Moores Lagoon near Augusta, pictured in the postcards Moores Lagoon, near Augusta, Ga. [aep035], and Lagoon, near Augusta, Ga. [aep034]. Near the lagoon was Lovers Lane, another popular recreational area, depicted in Lovers Lane, Augusta, Ga. [aep032] and Lovers Lane Railway Crossing, Augusta, Ga [aep033].

Augusta's Legacy Survives

Despite some losses of its built environment over the years, Augusta values the surviving physical remnants of its long history--and today, visitors can still see many of the buildings and places depicted in Ella Mayo's fascinating postcard collection. For extensive recent photography depicting Augusta's historic buildings and places, see Historic Architecture and Landscapes of Georgia online, which features items from the John Linley and Hubert Bond Owens collections at the Owens Library in the College of Environment and Design at the University of Georgia. Exhibits about the city's history can be found at the Augusta Museum of History, conveniently located adjacent to the Augusta Visitor Information Center on Reynolds Street in Augusta. The Augusta Canal Authority and the restored Enterprise Mill offer interpretive exhibits, boat rides, and other information on the canal system that played such a prominent role in the city's history. Many museums, shops, restaurants, and hotels line the River Walk, enabling visitors to enjoy Augusta's historical legacy.

Edward A. Johnson