by Larry Upthegrove
The Inmans were located in Jefferson County, Tenn., before the Civil War, around the town of Dandridge. There, Sam’s father Shadrach Inman was a river trader. He used a flat-bottomed boat to move around and buy the cotton that many small store owners accumulated from barter trade with local farmers.
For many, Shadrach’s was the only market for selling their cotton; only having a few bales each, they did not enough to ship to a factor. Shadrach acquired considerable wealth and a large plantation. Life was good. Then came the war, and the Inmans lost everything.
Young Sam was born in 1843, educated in local schools at an early age and being of good Presbyterian stock, was sent to finish his education at Princeton College. At the war’s outset, he went straight from being a student to being an 18-year-old warrior, joining the Confederate Army of Tennessee. He quickly attained the rank of lieutenant and served as such for much of the war, though near the end he was promoted to staff officer.
Sam Inman surrendered with Gen. Johnston on April 26, 1865 near Durham, N.C., and located himself in Augusta, Ga., where his uncle, Walker P. Inman operated a dry goods store.
In Augusta, Sam was joined by his good friend and future brother-in-law, Samuel K. Dick. They, with uncle Walker Inman, began to engage in the cotton trading business and were successful with it. Meanwhile, Sam’s father Shadrach left Tennessee and brought his family to Atlanta. There, he secured financing and with another son, Hugh, established separate dry good stores. By 1867, Sam could see the business opportunities in Atlanta and removed himself to the city, along with his uncle Walker.
Shadrach had done well the past two years, accumulating some wealth, and Sam and Walker had acquired some too. The three of them invested everything they had into a cotton company, S.W. Inman & Son. Walker handled the financing and Shadrach and Sam handled the buying. It was a huge success, there being almost no competition in Atlanta at this time. Having built his wealth back up to where he could live comfortably, and retaining part ownership of the cotton company, Shadrach retired in 1871, leaving his capable son in charge of the business. Sam then re-named the business S.M. Inman & Company.
The newly-reorganized company would grow rapidly and expand into other industries, including railroading, banking, vessel shipping, and real estate. Sam Inman was quick to invest in small businesses as a money partner if he had confidence the proprietor, providing the feasibility favoring the venture. It was this characteristic that brought him into Joel Hurt’s East Atlanta Land Company in 1882. With Sam Inman’s help, the company was able to get the financial resources to purchase 140 acres of land just east of Atlanta, build an electric plant and railroad to supply transportation to and from downtown Atlanta, construct the city’s first high-rise (The Equitable Building) and develop the first suburb of Atlanta, Inman Park, named for Sam Inman. All this was mostly accomplished in 10 years’ time.
The Equitable Building, the brain-child of Joel Hurt, was something to see in its time. It
was a whopping eight floors high and the tallest structure in Atlanta except for the state capitol building. It housed the 2-year-old Trust Company of Georgia, which eventually became SunTrust Bank, co-founded by Joel Hurt. One hundred years after the opening of the Equitable Building in 1892, the Suntrust Building was finished, 60 floors above the street. The original Equitable Building was demolished in 1971.
Sam Inman died in 1915, and Joel Hurt died in 1926. These days, the two men, as well as many who were touched by their lives, sleep peacefully, only a few families apart, beneath the sweet soil of Historic Oakland Cemetery.