[Editor’s note: The following is an appreciation of Ralph Jones, the second mayor of Peachtree City. Jones died Nov. 24.]
The year 1965 was a period of phenomenal transformation. The country was experiencing unparalleled change on all fronts, President Johnson establishing Medicare and Medicaid, passage of the Voting Rights Act, wading into the Vietnam War.
NASA’s Ranger 8 spacecraft crashed into the moon after successfully photographing potential landing sites for the Apollo program to follow. The Soviet Union was going toe-to-toe with the Americans in the race to conquer space, seen as our ultimate battle against the threat of communism.
Martin Luther King, Jr. led a throng of civil rights activists on a 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, forcing a nation to face the wide gap of inequality.
After 51 million visitors, the New York World’s Fair was coming to a close. Another milestone was reached with when Willie Mays became only the fifth person in baseball history to reach 500 home runs.
U.S. ally Ferdinand Marcos (along with his shoe-loving wife) became the president of the Philippines.
At the same time, Ralph Jones was beginning to jump-start a new city into life, becoming our second mayor in January 1966.
Ralph Jones began his service to our community on the Industrial Building Authority back in 1962. The city had just a little over $100 in its coffers back then.
The city’s founder, Pete Knox, Jr., and his fellow investors had sold all their remaining land shares to the Phipps/Bessemer interest because of differing opinions on development issues.
The city’s first mayor, Joel Cowan, found himself in a precarious position acting as manager for developer Bessemer and as the head of the local government, creating divided interests which could no longer be tolerated.
There was a city government, but not much of one. Cowan had worked out some franchise deals with the utilities, but the government itself had no structure. In fact, most of the meeting minutes consisted of the following phrase, “No particular items of business were brought before the meeting and the meeting was adjourned.”
An election was held on Dec. 7, 1965, with 121 votes cast. (The city’s charter called for elections on the first Tuesday in December.) The only polling location was the Civic Room at the Fayette State Bank building. Ralph Jones ran unopposed for mayor.
So, Jones, receiving 118 votes, became the second mayor of Peachtree City, claiming 650 residents at the time.
Upon Jones’ arrival in office, the city’s total assets were $6,940.81. Jones was also on the Planning Commission.
Under Jones, the City Council meetings were held in the conference room at the Fayette State Bank building. By 1969, the council meetings were held in the offices of the Phipps Land Company. In that day, all city council candidates were lumped into one race with the top four finishers taking the posts.
One of the first official actions from Mayor Jones was the council instructing him to write a letter of support for Affirmation: Vietnam, events organized by Emory students to express support for the war in Southeast Asia.
Peachtree City began as a rough backwoods spot, and a culture of community pride was lacking. Keeping Ga. highways 74 and 54 clean was always a concern for Jones.
If you wanted to get something done, Ralph Jones was your man. On the civic end, he helped found the Rotary Club and was an integral part of creating the First Presbyterian Church.
Jones exhibited dogged determination. Unlike the previous city councils that had barren agendas, the Jones crowd had some items they wanted to accomplish.
In an effort to provide reliable fire protection, the city purchased its first fire truck in 1966, a used 1949 Chevrolet 500-gallon-per-minute pumper, at a cost of $4,375. Fellow councilman and planning commissioner, Myron Leach, was appointed the city’s first fire chief.
The first fire station was the car-wash bay at the local Gulf Service Station. A true station would later be built under the Jones administration at Paschall Road and Hwy. 74 in 1968, costing $15,800. Bessemer Properties donated $955.09 worth of firefighting equipment for the volunteers.
The city would continue to use its meager resources to purchase firefighting equipment annually. In 1969, another, better fire truck was purchased for $12,000.
The city also received a grant to create a water treatment plant (1966) with the county government getting an exclusive franchise.
The city’s famed recreation system began under Jones with the formation of Little League Baseball as well as Senior League teams. The ball field was located on Flat Creek Road.
From 1966 to 1969, the City Council unanimously decided there would be no tax levy. The revenue came from franchise fees, alcohol taxes and other fees.
By December of 1966, the city assets had grown to $75,741.27. The accounting back then was a lot easier as there were only three municipal accounts: main account, highway account and savings account.
In February of 1967, the savings account was closed out and transferred along with a significant portion of the main account to the highway account, allowing one mile of Flat Creek Road to be paved. A couple of years later, a capital improvement account was established.
If you were the city clerk in 1967, you would have received a salary of $10 per month, paid quarterly. The salary was later increased to $20 per month.
The city’s ordinances also began to take shape in 1967. Ordinances were created to forbid mobile homes in Peachtree City and requiring the confinement of dogs not inoculated for rabies.
Believe it or not, dogs were one of the biggest issues on Mayor Jones’ agenda. At the time, dogs roamed Fayette County with reckless abandon. Having a dog neutered or spayed was almost unheard of, and the thought of owners getting their dogs vaccinated for rabies was rare.
Jones received constant complaints about uncontrolled dogs, trying for four years to solicit the creation of a countywide dog pound.
Interestingly, I ran into Jones at the Peachtree City Dog Park a couple of months ago. He wanted to get a look at the park for himself. I was delighted to hear him say how pleased he was with the venue.
It should be pointed out that Ralph Jones’ son, Norman, is a significant force in keeping the Dog Park alive and functioning.
In May of 1968 a landfill was started below Kelly Drive on Hwy. 74. Both residents and industry were invited to use the facility. A portion of that site now houses our police station.
Building codes and the building inspection process began to evolve rapidly under the Jones administration.
The first Recreation Commission was created in February of 1968.
The first playground equipment was purchased for the park on Hip Pocket Road.
In April of 1968, the city had to purchase 10 speed signs (“35 mph”) and “Children at Play” signs for Hip Pocket Road, Hilltop Drive, Willow Road and Golfview Drive.
The first Architectural Review Committee was created in 1969. Likewise, the first city business license ordinance was created in 1969.
The Peachtree City Police Department was also formed (1969) with Haskell Barber as chief of police. There was one patrolman. Barber was formerly under the sheriff.
No one can deny that our city took a major leap forward under Mayor Ralph Jones. If Jones thought an idea had merit, he would quickly form a committee and pursue it.
Jones had the respect of the community, which is why I think he was able to accomplish much with a meager budget. He gave the city a sense of direction, creating infrastructure, resolving problems.
Jones benefited from having a solid crew working with him. One member of the crew was the man who would succeed him as mayor, Chip Conner.
When you see the fire engine or police vehicle go by, or when you drive your child to a ball field, look up in the sky and say, “Thanks, Ralph!”
[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at email@example.com.]