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Light & Darkness at the turn of the 20th Century in Madison County

Jacob Bembry: Greene Publishing, Inc.

The Fall of 1901 was dark, as it had been for ages in Madison, but measures were being made to bring light over the face of the deep. The town council had contracted with an electrical company to put lights in the city.

While physical darkness may have been something that could not be dealt with at the time, spiritual darkness could be expelled by the prayers and the Christian camaraderie of the community. Still, there were times when things happened that brought storm clouds hovering over the small town. In September 1901, there were several events written about that showed both light and darkness in the towns and in the swamps and in the farmlands of Madison County.

While the country still mourned the death of William McKinley, President of the United States, Madison County had its own share of mourning to do.

Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
A 1908 photo of the Merchants Hotel, which still stands today. The original hotel, mentioned in the article, which had been the Central Park Hotel burned down and was replaced by this building.

Attempted murder was not a term bandied about in the rustic, rural county of that day, which is still rustic and rural, although technology has brought to its citizens more opportunity to communicate with the world outside. Those terrible words, attempted murder, however, were murmured by residents of Moseley Hall, along with that other word as horrible in impact, suicide.

The attempted murder was the tragic shooting of Charlsie Howe, an African-American woman. The suicide was when her assailant, Isaac D. Bailey, a white man, turned the gun upon himself.

Witness accounts said that the 25-year-old Bailey had gotten drunk Sunday evening, September 22, and had returned to his home, flourishing a gun. As he waved the gun around, his father, L.H. Bailey, and brother, Minford Bailey, wrestled the gun from him. The drunken Isaac Bailey then turned on his sire and his sibling with a knife, stabbing them. The wounds were not serious, however. They bound him to the floor and left him there to sleep it off.

The next morning, they loosed Isaac Bailey, who appeared to be sober and rational. He went next door to a neighbor’s home and borrowed a gun and walked to the home of Charlsie Howe, and called her outside. As she walked out of the house, Bailey shot her with the double barrel shotgun, inflicting a wound that was life threatening. He then turned the shotgun upon himself, fired, and dropped dead.

Despite turmoil over the shooting of President McKinley, America was ushering in a new president, Theodore Roosevelt, the hero of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. His cry of charge was ringing out as America fought with Britain for the America’s Cup, bringing hale, hearty patriotic cheers across the still young United States.

Meanwhile, in Madison County, in addition to the town council, which boasted names still familiar to Madisonians today, such as Bunting, Fraleigh, Vann, and Davis, pushed for the new street lights. In addition, residents pushed for Madison to have its first fall festival later in autumn; the newspaper featured an editorial that September wanting a Board of Trade for Madison County; and a hostelry known as the Merchants Hotel, opened its doors in Madison on September 26, 1901.

The hotel was owned by a stock company and capitalized at $8,000. Officers of the company were A.H. Smith, president, and T.C. Smith, secretary and treasurer. Mrs. J.P McCall served as manager and Walter McDaniel was clerk.

When the company was organized several months earlier, they purchased the building that formerly housed the Central Park Hotel, and set about having it repaired, remodeled, and improved. The building was transformed and presented a more attractive appearance, both inside and out. The inside included forty-five bedrooms, which had also been remodeled, and featured electric bells.

Citizens of Madison attended the gala, as did guests from Monticello, Valdosta, Ga., and other towns. People danced to the strains of the Park Opera House Orchestra, from Jacksonville, and enjoyed sweet refreshments, consisting of cake and ice cream.

The ladies wore elegant dresses and gentleman were clothed in conventional evening wear of the time.

Evening wore on into early morning, when the strains of “Home Sweet Home” warned the merry throng that time was at hand and the festive occasion had to end. As they left, they departed with the feeling of an evening well-spent.

Triumph and tragedy. Light and Darkness. Events happy, events tragic. Doesn’t the cry from the history of our county remind us of things we encounter each day in our lives?

Source: The New Enterprise Newspaper, Madison, Florida

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