HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE OF CORDELE'S ONEAL NEIGHBORHOOD
As railroads reached Georgia's wiregrass region in the mid 1880's, Mr. B.P. O'Neal was one of a number of private investors who rushed to acquire virgin timber acreage at cheap prices. In search of a healthier climate and ready to make his fortune, O'Neal came to what is now the Crisp County area with his young bride from his native McDuffie County in 1887. By 1900 B.O. O'Neal had made nearly $1 million in profits from his turpentine stills, timber leases, and sawmills. As timber was cleared from a substantial parcel of land east of 8th Street in Cordele, he marketed and sold the acreage through the O'Neal Land Development Company, offering tracts varying in size from one town lot to many hundreds of acres. Early on, some of this land was sold for little more than $1 per acre, with individuals purchasing larger tracts for resale.
In 1904, O'Neal donated money to the City of Cordele for construction of a new school. J.S. Pate had previously donated a lot on the corner of 2nd Street and 15th Avenue for school purposes, and the existing wood frame school building on that site (see Image 1) was moved across the street in order to construct a large brick structure in the Renaissance Revival style. The former school building became a medical facility and was destroyed by fire in 1916. The new brick school (see Image 2) named in O'Neal's honor became a neighborhood landmark. In time, this area came to be known as the O'Neal neighborhood.
Mr. O'Neal moved with his family to Macon in 1906, but he continued to have business dealings in Cordele for several years thereafter. The school donation and the surrounding neighborhood development became O'Neal's legacy to Cordele.
Development continued in the O'Neal neighborhood through the Depression, but the District suffered a severe blow by natural disaster on April 2, 1936. A tornado swept through Cordele, killing 25 persons, destroying 276 homes and damaging 212 more. Damage in the O'Neal neighborhood was particularly high, including loss of the school building itself. O'Neal residents began rebuilding immediately and repaired or replaced their homes in comparable scale and architectural detailing. Yet another O'Neal school was constructed. Within two years, all outward signs of the disaster were gone, homes rebuilt, and trees replanted.
After World War II, the O'Neal neighborhood experienced its last real surge of growth. This growth is evidenced by a number of smaller bungalows and ranch style houses which blend for the most part into the canvas of the neighborhood.
Loss again came to the O 'Neal school when it was completely destroyed by fire in 1955. The facility still standing today was rebuilt, still carrying the O'Neal legacy name.
Commercial growth off the city of Cordele with its attendant development pressures began to threaten the significant alteration and even the demolition of structures along the neighborhood's south border. Heightened concern and prompt action by neighborhood residents prevented substantial intrusion onto 15th Avenue. In order to exert a more prominent presence, a group of local residents established the O'Neal Neighborhood Association in 1986. It's mission became and continues still, to serve as a neighborhood advocate in land use planning, to collect and to share historical data regarding the neighborhood, and to encourage recognition and preservation of this area, indeed a very special place in Cordele's history.