• Marie Hickman

Cotton Bales on the Sidewalk and Other 1901 Ordinances

By Anne Adams

If you were a merchant in Athens in 1901 and you obstructed the sidewalk with a cotton bale you could be fined $25. Or if you lived in an Athens home without indoor plumbing then you had to make sure your outhouse was properly placed and not offensive to your neighbors. Otherwise, you'd pay a fine.

And what if you and your girlfriend went out walking on the Courthouse square? Then you’d have to be sure that she was a decent sort – since it was illegal for a man to “gallant or promenade a lewd woman” around town. 

These ordinances that were published in a very early edition of the Athens Review and naturally were designed to provide rules to assure community safety, morals, and public order.

In 1901 you might find yourself irritated by a parked carriage or delivery wagon blocking your way, so there was an ordinance about that. It was decreed that it was an offense to “obstruct any street, sidewalk, alley or public place in the city of Athens by leaving any wagon, buggy, or other vehicle standing therein with teams hitched to same, unattended with a driver; or by leaving any horse or any other animal hitched on a sidewalk…”  Double parked carriage? Forget it!

It was also illegal for anyone to be “leaving on the streets on the sidewalks, or in the alleys or other public places in the city of Athens, boxes, barrels, kegs, crates, bales of cotton (Not on wagons) or other articles..” And offenders, except for merchants who were receiving or sending merchandise, could be fined up to $25. 

So what about that privy? Ordinances along this line were based on a real concern for health issues and the proper operation of such places.  One ordinance decreed that it was a “nuisance” for anyone to “keep or allow to be kept on any premises owned by him or controlled by him as agent, tenant, or otherwise any privy, vault, or sink in such a matter as to be unhealthy or offensive to any person whomsoever..”  There might be a $25 fine if anyone operated their “privy, vault, or sink in such a manner as to be unhealthy or offensive to any person whomsoever...”  


There were saloons on the Courthouse square so naturally there were ordinances to deal with tipsy Athenians. One ordinance read: “If any person shall while in a state of intoxication or drunkenness go into or near any private house or in or along any highway, alley, or street or into any public place in the city of Athens, and use any loud and vociferous, obscene, vulgar or indecent language, or curse or swear or expose his person,...”  So what was a “public place”? It was defined as any “restaurant, railroad depot building, hotel, boarding house, office of any county, city or state official, store, house, barbershop, bar-room, livery stable or any other place where business is carried on …”

The Athens city council was also concerned about public morals. So they decreed that it was “unlawful for any lewd woman or prostitute to stay or inhabit any place within the city limits of Athens and prohibiting male persons from visiting any such place and prescribing penalty for violation of same.” Also, a “lewd woman” was forbidden “from residing in, staying at or inhabiting any room, house or tent in the city, and also prohibited male visitors. “  So what was a “lewd woman”?  Maybe you’d know one when you saw them.

A later 1933 Athens Review article assumed a humorous tone as the reporter listed some of the unusual regulations of the early days. For example, one ordinance at the time decreed that an offender could be fined $2 for every songbird nest they destroyed, and another regulation stated that “all boys under 18 are expressly forbidden the right to walk about the city’s street after dark.”

Continuing with the humorous tone, the reporter also listed another regulation:  “If another ordinance is enforced it will cost you exactly 100 smackers to appear in the nude on the streets of Athens.”

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