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Folkston Bottling Works

By Lois B. Mays

Charlton County Herald

March 11, 1987

Recently two broken bottles that had been used at the Folkston Bottling Works were found and were given to the local historical society for their archives. Mrs. Maxine Deen found in Pearson, Ga. an almost complete lavender, thick-sided bottle embossed with “Folkston Bottling Works, Folkston, Ga.” on the front and a large “F”on the bottom. Later Ralph Crawford of Folkston found the bottom portion of the same type container. The donation of these two bottles led to a search for information concerning the bottling plant. Although this is not a complete history of one of Folkston’s earliest businesses, it documents a ten-year span of events concerning the Folkston Bottling Works.


Courthouse records show that in 1907 C.M. Raybon purchased equipment for a bottling plant, which was a carbonator, liquid gas apparatus, filter, gas engine and washer, for $491.00  from the Liquid Carbonic Company, and later that year constructed a building on the corner of Love and First Streets where the Southeastern Bank’s parking lot is now located. According to an article in the Charlton County Herald in 1908, the business was put in good condition by workers who painted the building and also painted the Raybon dwelling on the corner of Love and Second Street. This house later became known as the J.W. Rodgers homeplace.


The interest generated by the bottling works beginning production was only one of the items the townspeople were discussing at that time. Other events taking place in 1908 in the growing little town of Folkston were: Dr. Adrian Dallas Williams began practicing medicine and opened a drug store, Folkston Pharmacy; the county commissioners made plans to build a road between Folkston and “The Colony” (later named Homeland) and they also decided to meet monthly for their regular business sessions instead of once every three months; members of the Hebard family were visiting the swamp and there was talk of putting their sawmill in Charlton county, and H.J. Davis began building a grand two-story home just south of the school. Contractor Virgil Parker of Waycross stated that when it was finished it would be the best home between Waycross and Jacksonville.


Additional bottling machinery was purchased by Raybon in 1908 but he operated the business only two more years before selling the property to Mrs. Kathleen R. Rodgers.


The business was then purchased by J. Henry Johnson and T.L. Pickren and was a prosperous concern in Folkston. Pickren later sold his interest to Johnson who moved the bottling works to a building near the corner of the railroad and Love Street where the depot was later located.


According to Woodrow W. Pickren and R. Scott Johnson, the two owners’ sons who were very young boys during the time their fathers ran the bottling business, the long frame building seemed to be full of machinery on one end  and wooden crates of bottles on the other. The unusual crates held seventy-two bottles (three present-day cases of drinks) with hinged lids that folded down and could be locked for shipping. The crates were heavy when filled with bottles and were about twelve inches high and four feet long.


A variety of drinks were bottled at the plant including sarsaparilla, ginger ale, strawberry, peach, banana and a cola. Later the purchase of gallons of Coca-Cola syrup from Solomon Drug Company in Savannah enabled the business to bottle this still-popular soft drink. Scott Johnson recalled “Papa let each of us kids take home a certain amount of drinks and we hid them to keep our brothers and sisters from finding and drinking them. We had an “ice house” on the farm which was a small building covering a hole in the ground. This was filled with sawdust and a large block of ice would last a week or longer when it was put there and covered with the sawdust. Perishable food was kept on the ice and it was also a good place to cool bottles of drinks.”


All of the bottles were returnable and were filled many times. They had to be washed by land and then scrubbed by pushing them onto a machine that held a rapidly turning brush which finished cleaning them. Then they were put on a moving track that advanced them to the machine that filled them. Scott Johnson remembers that when he was about seven years old, two important events occurred in a single day: he learned the bottle-washing procedure and received his first pair of store-bought overalls.


Scott remembered, “I had come to town with Papa that day and when he found that the man that operated the bottle washer wasn’t at work, he went to Mr. Paxton’s store (behind McDonald House), and bought my first pair of ready-made overalls, complete with bib and suspenders. I put the overalls on and Papa lifted me up on the platform and showed me how to get the bottles clean. I never will forget that!” Scott wasn’t the only one of the Johnson boys to work at the bottling works - Harry and Ralph were also part-time helpers.


When the moving track pushed the drink bottles to the overhead machinery which held the fruit syrup and gas, another worker filled the clean bottles and in the same operation, crimped a metal cap on it. Woodrow Pickren recalled, “If too much gas was put in the bottle or if it was not in the exact spot it should be in, the bottle would explode, so the person working the machinery wore a protective mask over his face. When he placed the bottle in position, he pressed a foot pedal which brought a section of the machinery over the bottle and capped it. If the bottle broke, it sent shards of glass over the operator so the mask protected him from injury during these procedures.” Woodrow’s brothers, Verne, Exum and T.L., Jr. worked at the bottling plant but Woodrow didn’t, as he was too young.


Many times when the crates were full, they were put on a wagon and Mr. Happy Smith drove Maude, the Pickren’s loveable old gray horse, with the load to the train depot where the drinks were shipped to surrounding communities including Newell, Winokur, Racepond, Uptonville, Braganza, Hickox, Fort Mudge and St. George. Woodrow recalled, “When a shipment was sent to St. George, it had to go first Jacksonville, then by rail up to St. George. The folks at St. George were good customers of the Folkston Bottling Works products.”


Each Friday a wagon, with two mules hitched to it, was loaded with blocks of ice and crates of fruit drinks and was driven to Silver Hill, a large sawmill community near the Paxton Place. This was delivered to the commissary and was sold to the sawmill employees.


Henry Johnson survived, without a scratch, a tragic train accident during the time he was operating the bottling works. Scott Johnson said “Papa was selling drinks and fruit to the passengers on an excursion train that had come from Waycross and was going to Green Cove Springs for the day. He was in the baggage car when the engine of the train went over the open drawbridge spanning one of the rivers near Jacksonville. When the train stopped moving, the engine was in the water and the baggage car was dangling from the bridge. One of the train crew members drowned and another was about to drown in the river but Papa threw drink bottles in the water to alert some fishermen to rescue him. Papa got out of the baggage car without getting hurt at all.”


The bottling works, as did many of the businesses of the early part of this century, had a very heavy iron safe which stored receipts and other important papers, and painted on the steel door in bold letters was “Folkston Bottling Works”. When T.L. Pickren withdrew from the partnership he took the safe with him and Woodrow Pickren still has this reminder of his father’s involvement in the bottling works.


In September of 1914, Henry Johnson grew tired of the bottling works and swapped businesses with E.S. Strickland, who traded Johnson a sawmill, which was near the Solie Chancey place in the Sardis community, for Johnson’s interest in the bottle plant. This began for Mr. Johnson a long career in sawmill operations.


Colonel W.M. Olliff, a civic leader and attorney in Folkston purchased the plant in February 1917.

The two bottles referred to in the opening paragraph now rest on a shelf in the John Harris Archives of the Charlton County Historical Society as a reminder of the part the Folkston Bottling Works played in the early history of Folkston and Charlton County.

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