Friday, May 11, 2018

Walthall Robertson Joyner (1854-1925)

Walthall Joyner as he appeared in the August 23, 1906 Atlanta Georgian.

  On occasion, an oddly named mayor of a major American city manages to sneak past my purview, and that is the case with Walthall Robertson Joyner, who served a two-year term as mayor of Atlanta, Georgia in the early twentieth century. Despite his unusual name (and being mayor of Georgia's largest city), I had been unaware of Joyner's existence until a few nights ago when a chance look at a 1908 edition of the Omaha Daily Bee revealed a list of mayors who would be attending the convention of the League of American Municipalities. Our subject's name (misspelled in that article as "Jayne") was mentioned as the then current mayor of Atlanta, and after finding out that those initials stood for Walthall Robertson, I promptly began work on the article you are now reading!
  A lifelong Georgian, Walthall Robertson "Cap" Joyner was born in Cobb County on June 30, 1854, the son of Richard W. and Lucrecia Catherine Joyner. His early childhood was spent in that county and at age seven removed with his family to Atlanta. Joyner's education took place in the public schools of Atlanta and in 1868 left school to take work as a retail clerk with the W.F. Peck and Co., continuing there until 1876. In addition to this clerkship,  Joyner entered into a long career as a fireman at age sixteen, joining the Atlanta Volunteer Fire Department. 
   Joyner would quickly advance through the ranks of the department, becoming a foreman at age nineteen and in 1876 was elected as department chief. Just 22 years old at the time of his election, Joyner served as chief for two years and subsequently declined renomination to that post. He married in May 1878 to Clio Belle Setze (1858-1917), and later had four sons, Richard Wall (1880-1956), Walthall Robertson (1885-1958), Harry Stockdell (1887-1940) and Ralph (1890-1926).
  In 1883 Joyner saw the Atlanta fire department become a paid department and, despite protests, declined the position of chief. Two years later he was again offered the post and this time accepted, beginning a twenty-one-year tenure as chief. Joyner's reputation as a fireman continued to soar through the 1880s and 90s, and in 1887 was elected as president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The first Southern fire chief to be so honored, Joyner would be elected to that post twice more (in 1903 and 1904) and at the time was the only man ever to be selected as association president on three occasions.

From the Cotton States and International Exposition and South, Illustrated, 1896.

  Joyner's position as Atlanta fire chief stretched well into the early 20th century, and during that time several improvements were made to the department under his watch, including the following:
  • The first city chemical engine.
  • The city's first hose wagons and aerial ladder truck
  • The city's first water tower
  • Inaugurating the posts of an assistant fire chief, Chiefs Aide, and Fire Inspector
  • Brought the total number of men employed by the department to "10 companies and 139 men."
  In addition to his lengthy tenure as chief, Joyner also ventured into the world of baseball. Purchasing the Atlanta Baseball Club in 1905, Joyner's interest in "America's Pastime" extended back to 1889, when he served as president of the Atlanta Baseball Club of the Southern League. Following the collapse of that organization in the late 1890s, Joyner and businessman John Dickinson formed the Atlanta Baseball League, of which Joyner was elected president in 1898. Following the purchase of the Atlanta Baseball Club Joyner and Dickinson renamed the team the "Atlanta Fire Crackers", and saw their team win two pennants. Joyner would later serve as president of the South Atlantic League in 1910.

From the Fire Protection Service, Vol. 82.

  In August 1906 Joyner entered the political life of Atlanta when he was elected as Mayor of Atlanta, besting his opponent Thomas H. Goodwin by a "261 majority." Acknowledged as having had "no political backer" as well as being the "architect of his own fortune", Joyner's ascension to the mayor's office was lauded by the Fire and Water Engineering magazine, which remarked that:
"In him the city will not only have an able chief executive, but one whose reputation for honesty of purpose and fixed determination to see the affairs of the municipality fairly and honestly administered is preverbial. It is, therefore, safe to prophesy that, under his regime, Atlanta's progress and increase in prosperity will be very marked."
   Joyner's tenure as mayor extended from 1907-09 and during his service was a trustee for the League of American Municipalities. Following his term he sold his interest in the Atlanta Baseball Club and in 1909 was named as Georgia State Fire Marshal, becoming the inaugural h0lder of that post. Joyner served as Fire Marshal for thirteen years, and his time in office saw him contend with the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917. During his later years, Joyner resided in a room given to him at Engine Co. No. 8, sharing quarters with his son, who was also a fireman. Joyner retired from the marshal's office in 1922 and died at the Grady Hospital in Atlanta on January 5, 1925, at age 70. Widowed in 1917, both Joyner and his wife Clio were interred at the Marietta City Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.


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