Cooper: Jesse Johnson and the Home for the Incurables

Photo source: Find-A-Grave

The gravestone of Jesse E. Johnson who sent a letter to the Douglas County Sentinel in 1923 can be found at Chapel Hill Cemetery, also known as New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery, on Chapel Hill Road.

Not too long ago I wrote about a request the Sentinel made to its readers in 1923 asking those who had moved away to send letters regarding their memories of Douglas County and Douglasville. Letters were sent and later a few of them were published in the paper. They provide interesting views of this area during the early 1900s.

A couple of the letters stood out to me one. Back in early March I discussed a letter from Thompson S. Butler. Today, I want to share the short letter from Jesse E. Johnson. He wrote in to say:

"I lived in Douglas County for nineteen years, and I'm one of the many who read the first issue [of the "Sentinel" in 1902]. I now live in Atlanta but look forward to my copy of the "Sentinel." I have a warm place in my heart for folks in Douglas County especially those in the Chapel Hill community who were so good to my mother and uncle. I have now been at the Home for Incurables a little more than a year and have received good treatment and been well cared for. Mrs. Elliott, the superintendent, is one of the kindest [and] motherly ladies that I have ever known."

So, with an address as "The Home for Incurables" you know I had to dig and find out more, and I discovered with a few name changes the place still exists today.

We have many Atlanta ladies and Amos Giles Rhodes to thank for the Home for the Incurables. A.G. Rhodes came to Atlanta in 1875 working to lay crossties for the L & N Railroad. He later formed the Rhodes Furniture Company. His wealth enabled him to give away much of his fortune. One avenue of philanthropy was The Hospital of the Atlanta Circle of the King's Daughters and Sons that was originally located on Church Street now Carnegie Way. Later, the facility moved to Boulevard and Woodward Avenue, and the name "Home for Incurables" was established. A.G. Rhodes owned that land and donated the property for the facility. Today, it is still located at 350 Boulevard and is known as A.G. Rhodes Heath & Rehabilitation. In 1923, the Home for Incurables was just that -- a home for patients who had incurable diseases or conditions.

My research turned back to Jesse Johnson where I attempted to learn more about him and why he was living in a place for "incurables."

The first piece of information I located was Jesse's World War I draft registration card. I instantly guessed he had had some horrible injury during the war, but a draft registration does not necessarily mean the person was called to duty, and Jesse did not serve during the "war to end all wars." Jesse registered because every man between the ages of 18 and 45 was initially required to register. Jesse received an instant release from service because he was born with a handicap.

Jesse E. Johnson was paralyzed from his birth on Oct. 6, 1887. At that time there was no technology, no therapy, and no prevailing point of view that someone who was completely paralyzed could support themselves or have some semblance of a productive life. Jesse never held any sort of job. He was completely dependent on others.

Other family data I obtained from the census indicates he lived with his mother, Odessa Harbin, and an uncle, B.P. Wallace, depending upon them for care and sustenance.

Jesse's mother died in March 1921 followed by his uncle in November. At this point I have no clue whether Jesse chose to live his life out at the Home for Incurables, or if he was forced to do so because there was no one left here in Douglas County to care for him.

However, these few lines we have that Jesse penned to the "Douglas County Sentinel" in 1923 provide his continued connection to the place of his birth. We also are given the impression he appreciated his new home, and there were those who cared for him in a loving way.

Jesse E. Johnson lived at the Home for Incurables for approximately 16 years, leaving this life on April 16, 1939. He is one of the many buried at Chapel Hill Cemetery/New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery. Now that I know a little about his life I will probably always think of Jesse as I drive by and say a little prayer.

Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her book can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art and the Douglasville Welcome Center located at O'Neal Plaza in the former Douglasville Banking Company building.

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