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History of St. George

St. George Memories Are Foundation for Small Georgia Town

St. George: Tiny and Isolated, Just the Way its Residents Like It



History of St. George

By Lois B. Mays

Established as a “colony city” by a northern newspaper man, the town of St. George has had a most unusual history. P.H. Fitzgerald, an Indianapolis, Indiana editor, had been successful in colonizing the town of Fitzgerald, Georgia so in December 1904 when his son John P. Fitzgerald found 9,000 acres of land for sale in the southern part of Charlton County, they purchased it to begin another colony town. The property was near the village of Cutler and was also on the Georgia, Southern and Florida Railroad.

Ed Mahan, a surveyor, laid out the city of St. George with over 1900 small lots for businesses and almost 2,000 residential lots. This was surrounded by 265 five-acre lots and these were enclosed by 128 forty-acre tracts. Fitzgerald’s newspaper published large ads which were distributed over most of the northern states and many, including a number of Union veterans of the Civil War,  purchased lots in the sunny south. The deeds were allotted at a public drawing held in St. George in February 1905.

Many lots were sold during the next two years and settlers began arriving from 26 states on the GS&F trains almost daily. A thousand residents soon called St. George home and they established 54 different businesses. A subdivision adjoining St. George, named for Captain Parker, an old Union veteran, attracted a number of federal pensioners and most of these old soldiers are buried in a special section in the St. George cemetery.

For two years, 1906 and 1907, St. George was the largest town in Charlton County.

But a most important ingredient for a prosperous village was missing, and that was some type of  industry to give employment to many of the citizens. When the colony company refused to make any of the promised improvements the newcomers tried to form a new county with St. George as the county seat, but this failed. Two new railroads with plans to pass through St. George could not get the needed financial backing and attempts to promote truck farms so produce could be sold at Jacksonville also failed. Many became discouraged and returned to their original homes, but some remained, determined to develop a successful community. 

Fitzgerald had advertised that his 1904 Colony Co. was to be incorporated but he failed to do this. No public improvements were made and no streets were opened, as was promised. Angry landowners filed a suit in December 1906 which led to a federal indictment of P.H. Fitzgerald for violation of the postal laws. He pled guilty and was fined $1,600.00.

A receiver, Mr. Jesse W. Vickery, was appointed and under court order he sold the rest of the colony lands. The money received from this was used to pay for the brick school for St. George.

The remaining citizens incorporated the city of St. George in August 1906 and its first city officials were elected. They were John Harris as Mayor; T.W. Wrench, Clerk; James A. Sage, Treasurer; H.C. Myers, Tax Assessor; A.F. Carmichael, Marshal; and E.T. Torode, Amos Bennett, D.C. Welch, J.W. Strickland and A. H. McConahie as Aldermen. The leaders of St. George then had the streets graded, had drainage ditches dug, built bridges and planted trees.

The most important structure in the village was Union Hall, a building erected by the people for church and school purposes. A three-teacher school operated upstairs and downstairs until 1910 when the brick school was erected. John Harris, editor of the St. George Gazette, began his illustrious career in education when he was selected principal. In 1924 the second half of the brick building and a school auditorium was constructed and the small “field schools” of Toledo, Wilkerson and Stokesville were consolidated with St. George, bringing the student enrollment to its highest point. A fire destroyed this building in 1937 and the following year the present school was erected.

St. George had its own bank for several years, had two newspapers, the St. George Gazette and the St. George Outlook, a hotel, a Northern Methodist Episcopal Church and its own post office. The first post office was known as Battenville, then McNeil, then Cutler and finally St. George. 

 For the next eighteen years the City of St. George prospered, until the population began to decline and the charter was repealed by the state legislature in 1924.

In 1967 a much-needed telephone exchange was built in St. George, giving the residents, for the first time, complete telephone service of local and long distance connections.

The popular trend of building homes near the St. Marys River has brought new growth to the area in recent years, with many new families and an increase of students in the school. Fiercely independent and loyal to their community, the people of  St. George have carved out a set of  customs and family traditions all their own, bound tightly to their school and churches. 

The trend toward consolidation of government and educational institutions still threatens small towns like St. George but the citizens of lower Charlton County are more than a match for them. Other small towns could learn a lot from St. George and the way its people work together to accomplish their goals.

St. George, Memories are Foundation for Small Georgia Town

By LaViece Smallwood

The Florida Times-Union

December 30, 1981

Some describe it as the most peaceful spot in Georgia while others say it is the most desolate spot in the state. Some insist it is the perfect spot to spend a leisurely day fishing from the cool sloping banks of the winding St Marys River while many argue there is too much else to see to waste time basking in all that quiet. Then there are those who remember it chiefly as home and the source of some of the best memories in anybody’s world.

They are talking about St. George. It is a sparsely populated, secluded community, southeast of the Okefenokee Swamp.

 The people who live there know its history. They point with pride to newspaper clippings, yellowed and brittle with age, penned by curious reporters awed by scenes from a past that was scarcely touched by modern times.

Few residents, if any, remember the old St. George. They consider “what we’ve heard” almost unbelievable compared to the populated community of 400 today. But official records show that once, back in 1904, 9,000 acres of land were purchased as a colonization project by Indiana newspaper publisher P.H. Fitzgerald. He was trying to promote emigration to the South.

By 1906 almost every train entering the newly incorporated City of St. George brought in settlers. They came from as many as 26 states. Buildings were erected at the rate of one a day and the resident population soon reached 1,000 with 54 businesses being established. There was a bank, school, hotels, newspaper and churches. St. George soon became the leading town of Charlton County.

During this prosperous growth period, Fitzgerald was indicted by a federal grand jury for violation of postal laws and the Colony Company failed to meet obligations to the people. Most settlers from other states returned to their former homes. Despite an effort by the remaining people to undertake the project, lack of industry to support the town caused the economy to fail. The political in-fighting that followed prompted the Georgia General Assembly in 1924 to abolish and repeal the city’s charter.

Today the city consists of an elementary school (high school students commute by bus to Folkston), an IGA grocery, a café, two general stores and a post office. Other evidence of a once-thriving city can only be found in history books.

For whatever reason a few of the settlers who came stayed. The local people, most of them descendants of the original settlers, are glad they did.

“I wouldn’t leave here unless I was carried out in a pine box,” said 80-year-old John Arthur Barker, the area’s first rural mail carrier. Barker said he was 16 years old in 1917 when he drove a pair of mules down from Wilcox County.”My daddy was a cattleman running ahead of the stock laws but he ended up a farmer here,” said Barker.

Sara, Barker’s wife of more than 50 years, came to St. George from Pennsylvania. “My granddaddy had advertised for a wife and found one, so I came down to visit him and met Arthur,” she said. During their courtship, Mrs. Barker said, she once left a message at the local boarding house where Barker lived. Later Barker was told, “that foreign girl came by here and left a message for you but we couldn’t understand her.”

The Barkers live three miles south of St. George. They raised nine children on the 1,000-acre farm purchased by his father for $4 an acre. Other than the price tag, little else has changed. The Barkers, until a few years ago, shared a telephone line with 18 of their neighbors.

Most of those who remained in St George grubbed a living out of the earth and nearby rivers and streams. Area employment, mostly pulpwood mills and turpentine industries, netted the wage earners from 25 to 50 cents a day.

St. George: Tiny and Isolated, Just the Way its Residents Like It



June 11, 1979

By Mike Dillin, Staff Writer

St. George, Ga. – Settled at the turn of the century, St. George seems hardly affected by modern times.

Resting lazily on the banks of the St. Marys River, this tiny South Georgia community is tucked away below the Okefenokee Swamp, just across the border from Florida.

Though only 12 miles (as the crow flies) from Jacksonville, St. George is far off the well-worn path to Jacksonville, Atlanta, or for that matter, anywhere – except maybe Fargo, Ga.

The people who live there, however, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I wouldn’t trade it for any place to live,” says the town’s postmaster, Rudolph Raulerson. “I’ve lived here 51 years, and I’m looking to finish up here.”

St. George got its beginnings in 1904 says Raulerson. “when a bunch of Yankees colonized the place.

“They came down with some big ideas,” he said, “but when their ideas didn’t pan out, they sold the land to anyone with money.”

There’s still plenty of land in St. George, if not plenty of people. The population, liberally estimated is about 400.

Like most rural areas of the country, St. George lost population during the 1950s and 60s. Unlike most rural areas, though, St. George has begun to get some of those people back.

“Lots of people used to live in these woods,” said lifetime resident L.G. Gainey. “Most of ‘em who left would like to be back now, but they can’t afford it.”

The reason people are coming back to St. George, says more than one resident, is to get out of Jacksonville.

“I’d rather be a big dog in a little town, than a little dog in a big town,” said Mrs. W.R. (Grace) Simpson.

It’s not that people here dislike Jacksonville – more than a few commute the 45-minute trip to and from town – they just don’t want to live there.

In fact, if residents don’t commute to Jacksonville to work, they commute to nearby Callahan, Macclenny or Bryceville.

Other than jobs at a school (grades 1-12), three gas stations, a café and post office, employment opportunities in St. George are limited. Timber, pulpwood and chicken farming are about all that is left.

It wasn’t always that way said one resident who remembers the days when another industry flourished in St. George – moonshine.

“Fifteen years ago you could get all the homemade whiskey you wanted,” said W.R. Simpson, who runs a gas station with his wife.

“Not anymore, though,” he said. “The ‘revenuers’ took care of that.

“I don’t know where I’d go if I wanted a drink of homemade whiskey today.”

Although somewhat isolated from the world around it, St. George is not isolated from the world’s problems.

Gasoline, when available, sells for as much as 90 cents per gallon. At one point in May, all three gas stations in town were completely out of fuel, which is a particular hardship on residents who commute.

And workers aren’t the only ones who will be commuting. Beginning in 1981, high school students will no longer be allowed to attend classes in St. George.

The Charlton County School Board has ordered the students to be bused to Folkston, which for some is a 70-mile round trip per day.

Townspeople are angered over the proposal, even though the elementary school will remain.

“We’ve always been the county’s stepchild,” Raulerson said.

St. George Memores
Tiny and Isolad
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