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Centerville

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Center Village, Ghost of the Past

Folkston and Centre Village as Described in 1884

Recollections of Coleraine, Sawmills, and Centerville

Center Village, Ghost of the Past

 

By Carolyn DeLoach, Staff Writer

Charlton County Herald, 1976

 

As the old King’s Road became more and more important for overland travel, there was established, in 1800, a trading center more inland from the river [St. Marys River] and convenient for both the river travelers and those pioneers who settled deeper in the interior of the area. Center Village served as a way-station for stage coaches, a freight depot for all supplies unloaded at Camp Pinckney, and as a bargaining center for neighboring counties who did have easy access to the river.

Whenever supplies were brought down the river they would be unloaded at Camp Pinckney if their destiny meant over-land travel.  If not, they would simply be carried on down to Traders Hill, which was still the leading river trading post. However, Center Village had one advantage over Traders Hill, it was away from the river and yet close enough to use it. Historians believe that many settlers were superstitious of living on the river for fear of malaria. Of course, Traders Hill was a continuous proof that this was not true, least wise, not true with the St. Marys.

Center Village established the reputation as being the meeting place for settling disputes and business deals. It was the place where tinkers would present their wares, braggarts would tell their tales and musclemen would demonstrate their strength – sometimes on some weaker soul. Fights would break out, fists would fly and there are records of some ending in death. It was a place where races were run and bets were laid. Center Village was just that – a village in the center of everything.

Settlers from other counties would travel in groups to the little pioneer town, carry out their business, and then take time out for fun. It was a place where the habit of the day was to prove yourself, but enjoy it.

As taken from the “History of Charlton County” by Alexander McQueen, “…Those merchants bought the produce brought in by the farmers and sold in exchange flour, sugar, shot, powder, coffee, nutmeg, etc. and every store sold whiskey. One could buy New England rum for $1.00 per gallon or foreign whiskey for $1.25 per gallon. In those days no store was complete without several barrels of whiskey.” Thus giving explanation for the number of fights and “deaths due to self-defense” for the little town.

Some of the early families known to have lived in  the settlement of Center Village were” Roddenberrys, McCalls, Hilliards, Mumfords, Mizells, Bakers, Lowthers, Johnsons, Vickerys, and Holzendorffs.

Records show that the thriving little town survived the civil War but did not survive the coming of the railroad. When the first railroad was laid from Savannah to Jacksonville, Center Village began to die. As it began to decline, the little railroad terminal some two miles southwest of it began to grow in size. The inhabitants who once helped Center Village become the leading inland trading center because of its perfect location for stagecoaches and river boats, began to move to the little spot that was rapidly growing near the tracks for its perfect location with the railroad. It was called Folkston.

Again a quote from McQueen’s history should be offered. “The change in freight transportation from water to rail and the passenger traffic from the stage coach to trains sealed the doom of Center Village, a town of the pioneer days more important than all others in Southeast Georgia.

What was once a beautifully shaded area, with the famous live oaks dotting the scenery, where houses and stores once sat in a natural rustic manner, now there is nothing but a barren spot. Due to industrial development in the past fifty years, Center Village in completely gone forever. There is absolutely no visible evidence that it was ever really there. But it was …

[A photograph of a small graveyard was included with this article. The cut line read as follows:  Lone grave sites received special attention from Humphrey’s Mining Co. as the area that was once Center Village (Centerville) became the location for mining projects. The graves are marked: In memory of R.A. Baker who was born May 8, 1824 and died Nov. 23, 1868.   Sarah E. Wife of R.A. Baker, born June 14, 1832, died Feb. 12, 1901. Both stones read “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”]

 

Folkston and Centre Village As Described in 1884

From Savannah Morning News, August 6, 1884

In the whole of Southeastern Georgia there is no place that has made more progress in so short a space of time than Folkston, Charlton County. It certainly cannot compete with those mushroom towns of Colorado or the great Northwest, for as far as our knowledge goes no large silver or gold mines have been found in its vicinity, and though we meet men bearded and tanned they certainly are not miners, for they have no top boots on, neither do they carry dirks or pistols in their belts as the regulation miner does.

Centre Village

On making inquiries into this evident prosperity we found the causes were internal, for though Folkston was not in existence until the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway made a station here, this led the energetic men of the district from Charlton, Camden and from Nassau, Fla. to Folkston, for they at once saw this was the business centre of this part of the country. In consequence of this knowledge we find that Centre Village, which was one of the most important settlements, having a flourishing population – being in fact, the place where the foundations of the fortunes were laid of more than one large mercantile house in Savannah with a business reputation now world-wide, is now entirely deserted. Looking over this village of the days gone by with one of the “old inhabitants”, who points out to us the stores once occupied by men who now stand in the foremost rank in commercial circles, reminds us forcibly of Gibbons’  “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, on a small scale. Centre Village has seen its day, the Roman Empire has seen its day, both are now things of the past and though to the general reader the history of Rome is of far more importance than the history of a place that was not thought of long after Rome had passed the zenith of its glory, yet the “old inhabitants” love to dwell on its history, surrounding it with all the halo of a sacred past.        

Folkston

On our last visit to Folkston we found many improvements and many more being talked about. Men of capital and business standing have taken up their residence there. We were asked to go over and see a large house, built very similar to the houses we have seen in our Northern towns, and we were not surprised to hear that Mr. Frank Chase was the architect and builder, a young man from Boston, Mass. This house [later was Oscar E. Raynor home place] was erected for Mr. L.L. Bedell, and it certainly is the finest house anywhere around. It was our good fortune to see the energetic proprietor, who took great pleasure in showing us over his recent acquisition, pointing out all the conveniences of his establishment. We were on the point of sympathizing with Mr. Bedell on having no bird to occupy so elegant a cage, when he told us how much he reckoned it would cost him to furnish his house, which he intended to be in keeping with the rest, for, said he, “a bridal suite must be a nice one.” We agreed with the gentleman, who said he expected to go to Savannah soon, and we guess he will be looking round some of the furniture stores. Mr. Bedell values his house at $2,000. 

There was to be a ball, got up as a preliminary house-warming, by the young men of Folkston, to which we had a cordial invitation, but unfortunately we felt unable to stay.

On leaving Mr. Bedell the first place we came to was the mill [later was home site of Dr. A.D. Williams] owned by the Chase Bros. These energetic young men have lately started their mill and they assure us they are prospering beyond their expectation. Their mill is for small work. At the time we were there they were making fruit crates, of which they have made over one thousand this season, some of which they have shipped, but the greater part has been used by the local fruit-growers. We had a long talk with “the boys”, who it appears came from the North in 1881, and never intend to live there again, so satisfied are they with the South.

They take great interest in Folkston, and in fact the whole of Georgia. We learn from them that Mr. Newton Roddenberry had brought some new corn to their mill to be ground on July 25. This is the first we have heard of. Their grist mill is a great convenience to the district, for they grind any day, and the farmers can have their grist as fine or as coarse as they like. Mr. C.C. Chase, the father of the “boys”, is a jovial old gentleman, with whom we had a long talk. He informed us he prefers farming, but until his boys get a fair start, he intends to help them.

The new mill of Upton & Dial at Spanish Creek [Uptonville] is a great convenience to them [Chase Bros.], for they can have their lumber sawed to a convenient size for handling, and then dress it themselves. By this means they can get out anything in the way of lumber for building, they having a very good shingle machine on which they have got out a good stock of shingles.

We went across the track at this point to Mr. J.W. Leigh’s store [later was site of Gladys’ Beauty Shop]. This store has not been built long, but has engaged the “Chase boys” to enlarge it for him. This gentleman, besides his store, runs a large farm not far from the St. Marys River, but so energetic is he that he is about to clear a tract in Folkston for a truck farm.

He says that after the experience he has had this season of supplying the Jacksonville market, he knows truck farming will pay. This gentleman has been taking all the peaches he could get in these parts and shipping them to Savannah and Jacksonville. This has proved a good thing for the farmers who last year scarcely could sell any. There are four other gentlemen besides Mr. Leigh engaged in the fruit shipping business: Messrs. John Bachlott, John Boynton, Brown and L.W. Hobbs. We learned from Mr. Brown, the obliging agent of the Southern Express Company, that 932 fruit crates had been shipped up to that date, July 26.

We read every week in the Savannah Weekly News of the many inducements offered to men of energy and sense in our sister state, Florida; but we will venture to say that in no part of Florida are there better chances for this type of men, all things being equal, than in Southeastern Georgia.

Recollections of Coleraine, Sawmills, and Centerville

April 13, 1934

W..O. Gibson

To the Editor of the Herald:

This morning when the rural mail carrier passed our gate and put some letters in the mailbox I began again my "meditations" and to compare in my mind the present with the past.

When the Civil War was over mail facilities were restored and a system that was satisfactory then was established. What was the system? The mail was brought from St. Marys and Camden County to Centrevillage, a distance of 32 miles once a week with a horse and buggy. Sometimes when there was a heavier mail than usual there would be as many as fifty letters and perhaps half a dozen newspapers. Of course as conditions improved more letters were sent and sometimes an ordinary mail pouch would be half filled with letters and papers. It is safe to say that in those days three-fourths of the grown people in Charlton County did not receive a letter through the mails in a year.

For some time Centrevillage was the only post office in the county, and it was with some difficulty that this office was filled. Of the few men left by the war, none were republicans and of course democrats were not eligible. Finally an old man, who was a comical indifferent sort of a character, agreed to become a republican and he was appointed postmaster. He put Mr. John R. Bachlott in charge of the office. The "office" consisted of enough pigeon-holes to use all the letters of the alphabet that was supposed to begin proper names. The case containing these pigeon-holes was about four feet square and was set on the end of a counter near to the front door of a store. Very few, if any, went to the post office to inquire for mail, only on Saturdays when they went to town on other business.

In or about the year 1867, three gentlemen from middle Georgia, Capt. W.W. Parker and Capt. J.S. Tyner, who were officers in the Civil War, and a Mr. David Hill came to Coleraine and under the firm name of Parker-Tyner and Co. erected a sawmill at Muscogee Landing about 3/4 mile up the river from where Mr. Hebard's winter home is located. I learned in my childhood that here is where the Indians used to cross the river. Not long after the sawmill was put in operation, Mr. Hill who was afflicted with a severe case of asthma, ended his life by putting a pistol in his mouth and sending a ball into his brain. Capt. Parker soon sold his interest in the business to Capt. Tyner and returned to Macon where he engaged in the hardware business. Capt. Tyner, who was held in the highest esteem by all who came in personal contact with him, continued to operate the sawmill till the time of his death which occurred as the result of tuberculosis about the year 1875.

Perhaps very few of your readers know that if he had lived, no doubt Centrevillage would have been a railroad town long before Folkston was ever thought of. A company was organized under the name of the St. Marys and Western Railroad Co. having for its purpose the building of a railroad from St. Marys to Tebeauville which is now a suburb of Waycross called Old Nine. Capt. Tyner was one of the promoters of the enterprise and was the civil engineer who surveyed the line. Col. W.G. McAdoo, father of U.S. Senator McAdoo, was president of the company.

Walter B. Baker, who was born and reared in Centrevillage and died in Fernandina a few years ago, and myself, were the chain-carriers. Walter and I were then about 19 years of age and Col. McAdoo assured us that if we remained with them and the road was built we would be advanced as rapidly as conditions and our ability would warrant. I can say with certainty that I am the only living person in this part of the state who ever knew the father of Senator William McAdoo of California, who in my opinion is one of the foremost statesmen of our country and who I hope will be President Roosevelt's successor.

In my next, if I write again, I will have something to say about the sawmill at Coleraine and about matters and persons connected with it.

--W.O. GIBSON

April 13, 1934 - also from that same article “Incidents In the History of Charlton County:”

"In the original Act, Charlton County was created entirely from territory taken from Camden, one of the state's original counties. During the session of the General Assembly of 1855-56 territory was added from Ware County and the line between the counties of Camden and Charlton was slightly changed. There were no further changes until the creation of Brantley County."

Folkston and Centville
Recollection Coleraine
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