Sunday, August 29, 2010

DUDLEY MAYS HUGHES

A Beacon of Agriculture and Education


No other resident of a county surrounding Laurens County has had more of a lasting impact on the history of Laurens County than Congressman Dudley Mays Hughes of Danville, Twiggs County, Georgia. Though his grandfather was a resident of Laurens, Dudley Hughes lived most of his life on his plantation in Danville, Georgia. As a railroad baron, agriculturalist and congressman, Hughes led the citizens between Dublin and Macon out of the abyss of Reconstruction through the zenith of the cotton boom, which prematurely ended with the coming of the boll weevil and the resulting bank failures and worker migration to the North.

Dudley Mays Hughes was born on October 10, 1848 in Jeffersonville, Georgia. His parents, Daniel G. Hughes and Mary Moore Hughes, were prominent residents of the county. His father represented Twiggs County in the Georgia legislature. His grandfather Hayden Hughes, of Laurens County, was one of Central Georgia’s largest slave owners.

Hughes received most of his primary education at private schools, primarily at Oakland Academy. Though he never formally completed his studies at the University of Georgia, Dudley was made an honorary graduate. While in college, Dudley developed life time friendships with many of Georgia’s future leaders, including Henry W. Grady, Governor Nat Harris and University of Georgia Chancellor Walter B. Hill.

Dudley Hughes’ station in life was set in 1870 when he left college in the middle of his senior year to try his hand at agriculture. Though very adept in his academic faculties, Dudley was also masterful the modern methods of agricultural principles. After a trial run on his grandfather’s farm in Laurens County, Hayden Hughes rewarded the young man with a bounty of a thousand dollars for his excellent work. Hughes used his grant to purchase and establish his Danville farm into one of the section’s most profitable operations.

Hughes realized that in order for agricultural operations to prosper, that railroads were an absolute necessity. The closest railroad to his home was the Central of Georgia Railroad in Wilkinson County. Hughes  epresented Twiggs County in the Georgia Senate from 1882-1883. With his enhanced political power and support, Hughes consulted with his father and his contemporaries John M. Stubbs of Dublin, Ashley Vickers of Montrose and Joshua Walker of Laurens Hill in the creation of a railroad from Macon to Savannah through Dublin temporarily under the name of the Macon and Dublin Railroad then officially as the Savannah, Dublin and Western Shortline Railroad, which eventually became the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad. In July 1891 near the end of his six-year term as the railroad’s first president, Hughes and a host of  dignitaries rode the inaugural train from Macon to Dublin. Hughes remained active in the railroad’s operation as its vice-president for several more years until northern investors took over its management from its local progenitors.

After subordinating his railroad interests to his passion for farming, Hughes concentrated on the development of his plantation and the promotion of agriculture and horticultural interests across the state. Along with his close friend John M. Stubbs, Hughes was active in the establishment of orchards around Montrose and  Dublin. He served for four years as president of the Georgia State Agricultural Society and ten years as a founding member and first president of the Georgia Fruit Grower’s Association. As president of the Agricultural Society, Hughes pledged to do all in his power to work for the society as a Beacon light for the farmers to look to for guidance and encouragement. In 1977, Dudley Hughes was named to the National Agricultural Hall of Fame along with Eli Whitney as the sixth and seventh members of the most honored  griculturalists in American history, joining George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington  arver, CyrusMcCormick and Justin Morrill. Hughes maintained a large naval stores operation and a 90,000 tree orchard in Laurens County. Hughes was one of the first farmers to use telephones to coordinate his diverse farming operations at various locations in Twiggs and Laurens County. He took a personal and active interest in farming, riding a thoroughbred horse from farm to farm to make sure everything was going smoothly.

Hughes was a fervent conservationist, historian and Christian. He was a Mason, Elk and member of the Georgia Historical Society. Hughes was a leader in experimentation of agricultural theories and promoted the establishment of three hundred experiment stations around the state. Despite his iconic stature, Hughes remained loyal to his local church, serving as a deacon and Sunday school superintendent. His expertise and leadership were always in demand. Gov. Joseph Terrell appointed Hughes as Commissioner General of
Georgia for the St. Louis World’s Fair.

Though he disdained politics in his early life, he answered the call of his colleagues for political office on a higher scale. After an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1906, Hughes was elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District of Georgia in 1908. He served two terms before transferring to the 12th  Congressional District in 1912, easily winning reelection for two more terms. He won coveted seats on the House Military, Agriculture and Education committees. Always a zealot of education, Hughes served as a trustee of the University of Georgia, the University of Georgia School of Agriculture, South Georgia Normal School and Georgia Normal and Industrial College, now Georgia College and State University.

One of Congressman Hughes’ most lasting contributions on a national basis came in1914, when Democratic president Woodrow Wilson appointed him to a presidential commission to explore the viability of federal funding of vocational and agricultural education in public schools. As the Democratic Chairman of the House Committee on Education, Hughes worked with fellow Georgian, Senator Hoke Smith, in developing a bill, which became known as the Smith-Hughes Act. Adopted by Congress in 1917, the Smith-Hughes Act provided matching federal funding for vocational education.

Dudley Hughes married Mary Frances Dennard in 1873. Their children were Hugh Lawson Dennard Hughes, Henrietta Louise Hughes and Daniel Greenwood Hughes. Dan G. Hughes followed in his father’s footsteps by serving as Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture. Hugh, a successful Twiggs County businessman, served as a Trustee of the University of Georgia and Middle Georgia College. Henrietta Louise, known affectionately as “Miss Hennilu” outlived her brothers and lived in her father’s Magnolia Plantation until her death at the age of 102. Magnolia Plantation was restored about two decades ago and stands a monument to the Hughes’ legacy of his contributions to the agricultural and education progress of Georgia. Dudley Hughes died on January 20, 1927 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Perry.

Dudley Hughes was considered a man of high integrity, always sympathetic and interested in those with whom he conversed. He was always erect in his in his carriage and looked everyone straight in the eye. He was known to have loved children and animals, always grateful for their presence in the midst of his hurried world. Though some people may disagree, the founders of the Town of Dudley named their town in his honor. Many also think that Montrose was his middle name and therefore he was the name sake of that town as well. “Colonel Hughes,” as he was known to most of his friends, was honored when the citizens of Montrose, Allentown and Danville attempted to form their own county named in his honor. The city of Macon did name a vocational school for him and his hometown of Danville was named for his father, Daniel G. Hughes.

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