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By Lois B. Mays, Charlton County Historical Society

Henry Ford’s Motor Co. introduced the Model T automobile in October 1908, priced at $850. Immediately the entire country came down with a severe case of “New Car Fever” and Charlton County was no exception.

In the years that followed, the weekly front page of the Charlton County Herald was sprinkled with reports about the arrival of the horseless carriage. Suddenly the oxcarts and horse buggies that traveled down Folkston’s main street had to start making way for the new sputtering machines.

One of the first local businesses to take advantage of the new trend to automobiles was noted in the Herald in July 1915. “There arose, in a day, a garage, Monday, James Wright is the owner and it is located opposite the post office.” [About where Barbara Davis’ children’s dress shop is.] Two weeks later the paper noted “Jim has added another tank, making it a five-barrel capacity.”

In August 1915 the Herald proclaimed “Folkston is some auto town! There’s already a dozen here and we hear of more to come.” Three weeks later Dr. Reville had installed in front of Scott’s store an automatic measuring 400-gallon gasoline tank, “placed to supply cars quickly.”

At a city council meeting the following spring, Alderman L.E. Mallard presented an ordinance regulating the speed limits of motor cars at eight miles per hour on curves and fifteen mph on the straight course. The Herald noted at the time “The highway traffic was good, fifteen cars and a motor cycle came this way.”

At that time vehicles heading south had to cross the St. Marys River by using Kolar’s Ferry. That was about to change, however, as construction had recently begun on a toll bridge that would make the crossing much easier. T.W. Wrench, editor of the Charlton County Herald, predicted “The automobiles will look like one long train reaching from Folkston to Miami.”

L.E. Mallard became an official Ford agent in August. He received a railcar load of “knocked-down” Fords and a crew of mechanics assembled them. Each Ford readily found a sale: Melvin Prescott, Arnold Scott, T.L. Pickren, F.E. Brock and H.N. Mizell.

The first recorded automobile accident in town occurred in 1918 when cars driven by C.W. Waughtel, (the county’s first car-owner), and Jim Thomas collided head-on coming around the corner at Paxton’s store on the Dixie Highway [West Main and St. George Highway]. No one was hurt in the accident, but both cars were demolished. In an interview several years ago, Miss Gerry Waughtel said “Daddy would take off through the woods! He went anywhere! It didn’t make any difference!”

A few months later, the Herald noted that Lawrence Suggs, St. George, had a new motor truck with a large engine and marveled how he could make speed and carry heavy loads while sitting in the car protected from dust and rain.

L.E. Mallard sold several cars but the rail freight traffic was congested and delivery was taking too long, so accompanied by Sidney Robinson and Clifford Mizell, left via train to Atlanta to drive Fords through to Folkston, because driving through was the surest way to get his Fords.

In his book “Memories of Charlton” Madison Gibson told of his cousin John S. Gibson [future congressman], when he saw a car for the first time: “One day John was in the front yard when he heard a strange noise. He looked down the lane and saw a car coming. Just churning up the dust. John didn’t know a thing about an automobile, but he did have a loud voice. He yelled out “Look a-yonda, Papa! Look a-yonda! There comes a train a-tearing up the road!”

Madison Gibson also recalled the first time he rode in a car. He was in a field by himself, chopping weeds when he heard an unfamiliar noise. It was a car coming through the woods, lost. Madison ran over to the fence and the car stopped. The driver was looking for Bethel Church and asked for directions. Madison said if they let him sit on the back seat he would show them the way. They told him to jump in and he led them to the little white church. Then he walked back home, eager to tell everyone at the supper table that evening how he was the first one in the family to ride in a car!

In August, 1910, the county editor posted important rules for the new auto owner:


Don’t smoke a cigar when filling the gasoline tank or you will be jammed through the pearly gates before you make your proper farewells.

Don’t run away if your machine injures a person. Every law of humanity demands that you do what you can to help the injured person whether the accident is the result of your own or the other fellow’s carelessness.

Don’t get a swelled head just because you own or drive an automobile. Remember that every man, especially the one on foot has as much right to the street as you have.

Don’t dismantle the engine entirely if it refuses to start. You may find you have not turned on the switch or the gasoline.

Don’t chase back along the road looking for a missing cylinder. You will probably find the trouble right under the hood.


from DeBrahm's Report
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