SYLVANIA, Ga. -- It was 1821. The Rev. Lorenzo Dow stood on the bridge at Beaver Dam Creek and pronounced a curse on the wild frontier town of Jacksonboro.
As local legend has it, every building -- except the home of one good family -- eventually crumbled or burned, forcing all the residents to move to Sylvania, six miles away.
Sylvania residents will pay homage to the curse Thursday when they celebrate their east Georgia city's 150th birthday.
"If it hadn't been for the curse, Sylvania probably wouldn't have been too much," said Dru Green, a Screven County Middle School student who will participate in Thursday night's production of "The Curse of Lorenzo Dow."
The play, written by Mary Alice Sowell, will be the highlight of daylong activities commemorating the town's birthday.
Historical accounts say Jacksonboro was a rough-and-tumble frontier village full of saloons where drinking and fighting were the favorite pastimes. It was also the county seat of Screven County, located midway between Augusta and Savannah, in the early 1800s.
Dow, a traveling Methodist preacher, pronounced his curse after being beaten up at a tavern by drunken patrons who had interrupted his evangelical service at a church. He spared only the family of Seaborn Goodall, who rescued Dow from the roughnecks and treated his injuries, according to a local history by C.D. Hollingsworth Sr.
Within a few years, all of the town's buildings -- except the Goodall house -- were gone, Hollingsworth wrote. The surviving house, now known as the Dell-Goodall house, was restored by the Daughters of the American Revolution and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On Dec. 24, 1847, the Georgia Legislature voted to create a new county seat at Sylvania, six miles south of Jacksonboro on U.S. 301.
Dow's writings include no mention of Jacksonboro or the curse, but local historians believe the legend is based in fact.
One way to verify it is to look at birth certificates beginning after Dow's 1821 visit, said Alec Lee, a Sylvania pharmacist whose family first settled in Screven County in 1752.
"So many children were named for him," Lee said.
Historian Dixon Hollingsworth, son of C.D. Hollingsworth Sr., wrote that Jacksonboro's decline "is no legend."
"It gradually disappeared from the face of the earth and became one of the dead towns of Georgia," he wrote.
The Rev. Sonny Mason, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Sylvania, said he has studied Dow's life and is sure the circuit rider visited Jacksonboro and met with great resistance there.
He's not so sure about the curse, however.
"That's not a part of my theology," said Mason, who will portray Dow in Thursday night's play. "I think a lot of what happens with something like this is that it gets immersed in the local folklore."
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