Originally created 09/05/97

Bill Kirby: Oglethorpe forgotten in Augusta

If you were hanging around Augusta 258 years ago today, you could have watched a small parade.

It headed east on what is now Wrightsboro Road, angled over toward today's McDowell Street, picked up the downhill path we call Battle Row and eventually took the big, broad street into town - all part of an old Creek Indian trail.

When the group of about two dozen came within site of Fort Augusta, the men behind the walls opened fire.

It was, however, a salute, not a warning, and it honored not only the father of this new village on the Savannah River, but the founder of Georgia - Gen. James Oglethorpe.

One of Gen. Oglethorpe's party described the Augusta of Sept. 5, 1739, as a town "inhabited chiefly by Indian storekeepers and traders ... well situated in a pleasant, healthy part of the country."

Gen. Oglethorpe probably could have left more of an impact on the growing trading center, but he stayed only 10 days before hurrying home when he heard Britain was at war with Spain.

Still, he left a legacy. Gen. Oglethorpe's the one we have to thank for the unusual width of downtown's Broad Street.

He also ordered the town laid out in the grid system he found successful in Savannah. Unfortunately, he didn't hang around long enough to make sure things followed his design.

He is said to have wanted the city to grow by adding squares, also like Savannah.

The new Augustans apparently thought such parks a prime waste of real estate and filled them in with buildings.

And instead of growing to the south, Augusta construction went west down Broad for a simple reason - the merchants kept "leapfrogging" each other toward the Creek and Cherokee Indian trails west of town, wanting to be the first the traders came upon when they arrived with their fresh furs.

Gen. Oglethorpe may be lionized in Savannah, where his name pops up on everything from streets to malls. But in Augusta (the town he named after the new princess of Wales) the old general is often forgotten.

Even so, we tried to make it up to him in May 1935 when the city of Augusta held an elaborate, weeklong bicentennial of the city's birth. It was by all accounts an elaborate affair with pageants and parades and dances and contests.

Central to the event was a dramatic recreation of Gen. Oglethorpe's arrival two centuries before, being greeted by Indians as his boat came up the Savannah River, then haggling with them over possession of the land upon which he would found the town.

As I said, everyone enjoyed it, even if license was taken with the historical truth.

As our town's celebrated historian Ed Cashin has pointed out before, Gen. Oglethorpe came by horseback, not boat, and the 200th anniversary was celebrated in the wrong year.

His visit was actually in 1739, and even the letter he wrote ordering the creation of the town was dated June 14, 1736.

We sort of got ahead of ourselves, but it was for a good cause.


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