What follows is a compilation of memories from three people who were neighbors in Athens many years ago. Milly Betts and her husband, Joe, brought their newborn daughter, Dorsey, home from the hospital in June, 1941. They moved into the little house at 390 S. Church St. that Joe’s father, Frank Betts, built for them. Terry Wingfield, son of Lura May and Mid Wingfield, a mortgage banker and insurance broker, grew up at 150 Henderson Ave., just around the corner. I moved with my family to 126 Henderson Ave. in 1946 after my dad was released from the War Manpower Commission in Augusta and came back to his job here in Athens. Together, bringing back the past, the three friends contributed to this story not many people know.
World War II ended in August 1945, and the University of Georgia, along with the town of Athens, was preparing for the rush of soldiers, now veterans, who would be coming to class the next fall. In 1945, the school’s enrollment was 2,468. In 1946, total enrollment jumped to 6,643, including 4,000 new veterans taking advantage of an education paid for by the G.I. Bill.
These veterans were older than the other students, and many were married. The university had some dormitory space, but those rooms were not what the married students had in mind. Housing was at a premium, and people all over Athens were pondering ways to add a stove and refrigerator to an extra room in order to create a living space to help meet the demand and bring in extra cash.
We recall only one apartment building in Athens at the time: the Henrietta Apartments on Lumpkin Street in Five Points, which remains today as The Park at Five Points. In 1946, the Henrietta was already fully occupied by Athens residents.
Seeing the need for married-student housing, Mid Wingfield went to work. Behind the Henderson Avenue houses and backyards was vacant land between Church and Harris streets. Terry Wingfield remembers that his family kept a cow tethered there, and his job was to milk it. Otherwise, the land was empty, and teenagers often gathered there to play ball. Terry remembers that men played ball there on Sunday afternoons.
Mid Wingfield bought the vacant land and laid out plans for one-story, one-bedroom apartments that would appeal to the married couples. Construction of six buildings began in 1946, as soon as the weather softened. Terry worked on the apartments during his summer vacation. I was in fourth grade, and I remember playing in the midst of the construction on Saturdays, when the workers were away.
As the units were coming together, a short lane was constructed through the property from Church Street to Harris Street. Mid Wingfield named it “Morningside,” and the structures became the Morningside Apartments.
The location was perfect for access to the campus, and married students pounced on them. They were willing to be on a waiting list for the next available apartment and glad to pay the $50 monthly rent, which Terry collected. Morningside Apartments became the “in” place to live and remained popular.
Today, the apartments are still there and are called “Old Morningside.” The cement-block buildings remain much as they were constructed in 1946, with no plaster on the inside walls. They are still centrally located not far from the campus and are hidden just a block off Milledge Avenue. They still provide affordable, conveniently located housing in a quiet setting in the middle of the city.
Few people happening by Old Morningside realize what a monument the apartments are to an earlier time when the University of Georgia and Athens were pushed to their limits to accommodate the returning veterans and their wives. Few remember, either, what an impact those soldiers, with their education paid for by their government, had on our town, our state and our nation. They were “The Greatest Generation,” and part of that greatness stemmed from the fact that Congress and the president poured federal dollars into rewarding service with education. Because of the G.I. Bill, the Greatest Generation was also an educated generation, and Old Morningside stands as a reminder of that program’s popularity.