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J.W.Buchanan, M.D. - "Dixie Lake, A Doctor's Dream"

By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Georgia Historian

Okefenokee Times

May 22, 2002

Today, Dixie Lake is a phrase used to describe a loose-knit congregation of single-family homes in the western part of the City of Folkston.

It hasn’t always been that way.

In 1917 the name Dixie Lake would take on an entirely different meaning; a massive project of a transplanted Wooster, Ohio Physician, 56-year-old Doctor J.W. Buchanan who arrived with a dream. Buchanan wanted to give his new neighbors a taste of the good life and to put his adopted county on the map economically.

The rotund physician arrived at the Folkston railroad depot aboard Atlantic Coast Line’s Number 21, late in the evening of September 1, 1916 after the long trip from Wooster, Ohio.

Dr. Buchanan held a satchel in each hand. Exhausted from the long train ride, he started walking toward the Arnold Hotel, just a stone’s-throw from the depot.

He peered into the window of the Arnold Hotel, but the lobby there was crowded. Dr. Buchanan didn’t feel up to a crowd. He chose to walk another block to the Central Hotel.  There, Buchanan would be greeted at the registration by the hotel keeper, Mrs. Charles Sikes. The innkeeper, anxious to get another guest on the hotel register, smiled at the new arrival. Buchanan told Mrs. Sikes he would be staying “several days.”

In the lobby of the Central House on the night of his arrival, Dr. Buchanan heard excited conversation from other guests.

The Charlton County Herald, the county’s weekly newspaper, had changed hands that very day. Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Robinson of Elred, Florida had bought the newspaper from Tom Wrench. Mrs. Robinson would be the paper’s editor. Buchanan’s “several days” in Folkston turned into 18 years. Buchanan had been urged to move to Folkston by some of the 56 families from Ohio who had moved to Nahunta, Georgia.

Buchanan remained in Folkston until his death in November 1934. Thus started 18 years of excitement generated in and around Folkston by the retired physician from Wooster, Ohio.

Building Dixie Lake would not be Buchanan’s first project. The retired doctor had relatives with deep pockets. His favorite aunt was Mrs. Jacob Firestone of Spencer, Ohio and a family member of the fabulously rich tire  manufacturer, Harvey Firestone.

Many thought Buchanan was using Firestone money for his ventures in Folkston. Several Firestone family members bought lands in Charlton County during Buchanan’s years in Folkston.

Two months after his arrival in Folkston, Buchanan bought lands west of Folkston for his Dixie Lake Dairy. He imported from Switzerland, a dairy specialist, Charles Klumph, who he put in charge of acquiring the best dairy cows money could buy. The dairy became the showplace of the county.

Although there was no electricity, Buchanan bought electric milking machines and ran them with gasoline generators. The dairy showed a profit only when Buchanan sold off some of his prize bulls.

Then Buchanan turned to his Dixie Lake project. He bought lands known as Clay Branch, west of Folkston from Abraham Ponce, who had at one time operated a grist mill on the site. The site held the remains of an earthen dam that had been built there 75 years earlier. In addition he bought a large pecan tree grove west of Folkston.

Buchanan’s workers used dynamite to blast out huge holes in the clay soil for Dixie Lake. Men with shovels worked for months to fashion out Dixie Lake. That too, was a showplace of the county.

Next Buchanan decided to build a huge concrete swimming pool adjacent to the lake. The efforts put Buchanan on a pedestal with the people of Charlton County. They knew Buchanan was building projects for their enjoyment. Dr. Buchanan enjoyed the attention.

With World War One approaching, Buchanan was called on by his neighbors to encourage military enlistments. On the Fourth of July, 1917, there was no one more popular in Charlton County than Dr. J.W. Buchanan.

He completed his Dixie Lake project and adjoining swimming pool and invited everyone in the county to enjoy it free.  He served them ice cream made at his Dixie Lake Dairy. The huge crowd paddled around the lake in Buchanan’s rowboats and swam in his pool.  All without cost.

Things were going well with Dr. Buchanan. He turned his attention to ventures at the Folkston airport. He built a hangar there and imported pilots from Atlanta to fly sightseeing flights over the Okefenokee Swamp.

Buchanan brought on board a man named Count DeWay. DeWay was a showman and some said, a con artist. Carrying a riding crop under his arm, he rode through Folkston’s Main Street atop a beautiful Tennessee walking horse. DeWay encouraged Buchanan to buy more and more.

To expand the Folkston airport, and station two airplanes there full time. Buchanan’s luck began to turn sour. An epidemic of typhoid fever struck Charlton County.

People began to blame Dr. Buchanan and his Dixie Lake. They ran newspaper ads condemning the lake as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Buchanan fought back, reminding the people of their unsanitary outhouses, their garbage dumps and privies.

He cited evidence that Dixie Lake’s waters had no mosquitoes breeding there. The people, who had lifted Buchanan to great heights just months before, now were turning their backs on the doctor from Ohio.

Just as the typhoid epidemic ended, more bad luck struck at Buchanan. A massive hurricane worked its way north from Florida, bringing deluges of rain and punishing winds ahead of it.

Weeks of rain had undermined the soil at the Dixie Lake swimming pool. Dixie Lake itself saw the dams begin to crumble under the torrential rain. The dam broke! The swimming pool caved in and the dreams and money of Dr. Buchanan went away with the winds and rain.

Dr. Buchanan was married, but his family did not accompany him on his move from Ohio. Dr. Buchanan’s health began to fail, some say mental depression from the destruction of his projects hastened his death.

Before Dr. Buchanan’s death, his son, Clarence, came to Folkston to help his ailing father wind down his projects and divest himself of his land holdings. Many of Buchanan’s land holding were sold to the Firestone family, some at public auction in front of the Charlton County Courthouse.

Dr. Buchanan, who had so excited Charlton County for nearly two decades, died on November 9, 1934, a broke and broken man that spent millions to make his neighbors in Charlton County love him.

Now, hardly anyone knows of the Wooster, Ohio physician, Dr. J.W. Buchanan, who practiced medicine in his hometown for 30 years before moving to Folkston where he spent his last 18 years trying to make his neighbors love him.

Not just a community, but also a dream that evaporated in despair.

from DeBrahm's Report
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