Cooper: Douglas County's first immigrant family

This is one of the many ads that appeared in the Douglas County Sentinel when the Groodzinsky Brothers were merchants in Douglasville. This one appeared in the Sentinel on March 23, 1917.

Groodzinsky is not exactly a family name that comes to mind when you consider the oldest families in Douglas County, but Sol and Jacob Groodzinsky were prominent businessmen here as early as 1901 and from what I can tell were the county’s first immigrants and Jewish citizens.

While most pioneer settlers who came to this area were from North and South Carolina, Isaac and Jacob Groodzinsky were born in what was at that time part of Russia. Their parents, Abraham Joseph (1857-1916) and Lizzie (1865-1940) Groodzinsky came to the United States in 1887 with their children and arrived in Boston before making their way to Atlanta. Depending on the date the Groodzinsky family was from Vilna, Russia or Poland. Today, we know their homeland as Vilnius, Lithuania.

I don’t have an exact date Isaac and Jacob arrived in Douglasville to set up shop, but as early as April 1901 “The New South” advised Isaac was “again in the mercantile circles of Douglasville,” and the next week he was advertising that he was buying scrap iron and paying a good price for it.

By 1903, Isaac would marry Cornelia Walton in 1903 in Walton County while Jacob would marry a fellow immigrant named Annie and have three children — Sarah, Robert, and Charles. The first two were often mentioned as honor roll scholars at Douglasville’s public school which was located at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Strickland Street which was handy since the family lived on Chicago Avenue in 1917 and East Strickland Street in 1920.

The local newspaper in 1908 advised a mercantile store owned by both brothers would fill one of the new brick buildings on Broad Street, but there is no mention if the brothers owned the building or merely rented.

Isaac filed for divorce in 1914 and abandoned Cornelia and their young son making his way to Tampa, Florida. It appears he also abandoned his part of the business with Jacob in Douglasville. Cornelia had a hard time finalizing the divorce because Isaac never returned to the area. She finally caught up with her wayward husband by tricking him. She knew he was home in July 1915 to visit his father at Grady Hospital. She sent word for him to meet her at a drugstore on Peachtree Street, and he did.

What he did not know is a deputy would be with her to arrest Isaac and compel him to pay a $500 bond that helped to insure he would comply with the terms of the divorce agreement with regards to support.

The first hint of bankruptcy would come in February 1915 when Jacob filed for protection at the Douglasville store, but I will have to say the Jacob kept plodding along though the rest of the decade was challenging for several reasons. J.C. Arrington, the town’s night watchman discovered two burglars attempting to get into the front of the store in March 1917, and the Groodzinsky name was prominent on the Superior Court calendar as creditors began to sue Jacob. Also filed was a Trover filed by Cornelia Groodzinsky against Jacob stating that she was due a piece of the mercantile business.

Even with his challenges, Jacob Groodzinsky was involved in the war effort purchasing $150 in war bonds in April 1918, and he was one of the businessmen who supported the Douglasville Lyceum which was an effort to bring cultural programs to the city I’ve written about before. By March 1919, the business was improved enough that Jacob hired a young lady, Amy Brown, of Cairo, Georgia to work as a milliner.

At some point a second store was opened in Villa Rica, but the ebb and flow of doing business in a small town never ended much of it linked to the agricultural health of the community. When the farmers did well, so did the businesses in town, but when crops failed, the merchants could expect lean times. Though Jacob Groodzinsky was able to build a new home on Bowden Street complete with a private garage in 1920, he also lost some of his stock in a business foreclosure at the end of the year.

At some point in the 1920s Jacob and his family packed up and moved to Atlanta where for the next fifty years he was known as a dress manufacturer owning Lee Dress Manufacturing Company and Crown Garment Company along with his two sons, Robert and Charles. At the time of his death, in 1972, he lived in the Morningside section of Atlanta.

Jacob was buried in Greenwood Cemetery along with his brother Isaac and other family members. Isaac also found his calling in Tampa as a dress manufacturer and passed in 1953.

I have researched the Groodzinsky family on and off for the last few years. One of the challenges happened to be the fact that at some point many family members changed their last name from Groodzinsky to Gordon, Grude, or Grodin depending on which branch of the family I was following.

This column ran in the Douglas County Sentinel in February 2019. Lisa’s books “Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County, Volume 1,” “Douglasville,” a pictorial history, and “Georgia on My Mind: True Tales from Around the State”, are available at Amazon, The Farmers Table, Douglasville Welcome Center, and the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.