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By Lois Barefoot Mays

In the 1850s, in the early days of Charlton County, daily life in this remote spot was often hard work and people had to make the most of the daylight hours to get their daily tasks done. Their survival depended upon it. The territory that had recently been named Charlton County was, at the time, a wilderness of pine forests and swamplands, often with miles stretching between the scattered farms and homesteads. But despite the relentless work of daily life and survival, the early residents of our county took the time to gather together as a community in a variety of traditions that have been largely lost over the years. Sometimes these events were hosted at the homestead of a host family, other times people gathered together at the courthouse and churches.

On Christmas evening 1856, the Brown family hosted a holiday “community hop” at their homestead they had recently built at the edge of the Swamp. Among the invited guests were members of a survey crew who were in the area mapping the Okefenokee Swamp for the State of Georgia. In fact, the presence of the survey crew may have been one of the reasons for the festivities, so the isolated residents of the area might make new friends of these agreeable strangers. Arriving at the Brown homestead, the guests found a lone fiddler straddling a tall stool, who sawed away at his instrument and provided the music for the evening. Twenty-five celebrants danced before a roaring blaze in the fireplace which furnished both heat and light for the gathering. The guests danced the night away, to the entertainment of some who just watched from their seats on the benches placed along the walls. As the party continued into the late hours, when the dancers couldn’t lift their feet for another round, the guests were invited into the kitchen building next door for a late night buffet of sweet potatoes and pork. Afterwards the happily worn-out revelers returned to the cabin which had been prepared as a sleeping room. When they awoke the next morning, they were served breakfast before they departed for the survey camp.

In 1884, builders put the finishing touches on what is now the O.E. Raynor home place. Its white columns commands a graceful authority, overlooking the whole length of Magnolia Street and some of Love Street too. When the building was finished there was a celebration to welcome this newest addition to the little settlement of “Folkstown.” A Waycross newspaper reported that “there was to be a ball, got up as a preliminary housewarming by the young men of the community.” This was probably the town’s very first social entertainment. Many other happy times are surely wrapped in the memories of this old house, as the descendents of Bedells, Paxtons, Gibsons or Raynors can attest. The house still stands, tall and hardy, the oldest residence in the city now known as Folkston.

Early citizens of Charlton traditionally celebrated the Christmas holidays with a Grand Ball held at the courthouse. [Wouldn’t that be a great tradition to revive in honor of our county’s 150thbirthday?] One such celebration was held in 1885, when the Grand Ball at the Traders Hill courthouse was declared a great success in every respect. The hosts served refreshments of fresh fruits, confections of many sorts and an abundance of fancy cakes. Much credit was given to the planning committee, Messrs. Hardie, Andrews and Cason.

Many of the revelers often traveled great distances to attend these affairs, so they usually made the most of the evening. The music played throughout the night and the dawn often found most of the celebrants still present and enjoying themselves. The hosts served their guests a generous breakfast after which some left for home and others bedded down on top of the fodder in the nearby barns for some much needed sleep.

Some of the largest gatherings each year were those during “Big Court Week.” The Superior Court met every six months and that was when the citizens of the county came to the courthouse to attend the trials. As the proceedings took place upstairs with attorneys, witnesses and jurors, others gathered outside on the front steps and the lawn. People came together from their distant corners of the county to renew old friendships and catch up on the latest stories and perhaps transact some business. It was the traditional time for many subscribers of the county paper to pay for the next year’s paper so the editor was always on the scene ready to collect, while the churches’ Ladies’ Aid members were busy selling lemonade and sandwiches under the shade of the oak trees.

Some of the residents opened their homes as temporary boarding houses to host their friends or make a little money. Many of those who attended Big Court Week slept in their wagons around campfires. Those who came from the same area of the county would often camp together, and around their fires there was much yarn-spinning and merry-making. Sometimes arguments also erupted and occasional fights enlivened the scene.

During Big Court Week in April 1908, Dr. C.M. Wells arrived in Folkston with his traveling medicine show. He often followed the court circuit taking advantage of the ready-made crowds. This extravaganza was the largest traveling entertainment that visited Folkston during those days and it required a train car to deliver all the tents, trunks, seats, piano and other paraphernalia.

Throughout the week Dr. Wells sold his patent medicine in grand style, with a troupe of ten singers and dancers, assistants and musicians. He and his company entertained the crowds with song and dance inside the tents which had been erected in Dr. Wright’s yard (near Main and First Streets, site of the old Citizens Bank building). Dr. Wells Medicine Show added an element of carnival entertainment to Court Week, and it was a happy diversion for many of Charlton’s local folks.

The customs of dancing, attending live courtroom proceedings, sleeping on the ground near a campfire, buying lemonade and chicken salad sandwiches and enjoying a patent medicine show makes us realize that our ancestors really did know how to have a good time!

from DeBrahm's Report
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