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Folkston's Old Eyesore

By Lois B. Mays, Charlton County Historical Society

In the early days of Folkston, Ga., its main water supply was an artesian spring that was conveniently located near the center of town, and a half block east of the railroad tracks. A wooden structure containing an elevated water tank, commonly referred to as “the old eyesore”, was built over the spring. As the town grew up around it, however, the well found itself somewhat inconveniently located in the middle of Courthouse Avenue [Main Street].

The May 27, 1909 issue of the weekly Charlton County Herald notes that “W.M. Olliff [attorney] is running a pipeline from the artesian well to his residence and will use the water in his home, in his garden and for watering his livestock...For some time the people have expected the town to be piped but nothing has been done by the city council, so Col. Olliff will soon have his own piping in the ground and plenty of water at his home.”

W.C. Waughtel, in September of 1909, was the first county resident to purchase an automobile and in addition to mules and wagons, oxen and carts, or horses and carriages, this was the only traffic that used Courthouse Avenue.

In 1916, As World War One raged across Europe, Folkston was experiencing a spurt of growth and local leaders decided that the water tank with its wooden trough filled with water underneath for horses, mules or oxen, was no longer large enough to support the growing community.

Emory Dean, Jr. received a contract from the City of Folkston to build a new, larger tank over the well and J. Mack Wildes and W.W. Bauman were hired to do the carpentry work.

One of the sons of Henry G. and Martha Gibson, Madison Gibson, from the Bethel Church settlement, was an eager teenager and anxious to do most any kind of work. He was trying to learn a trade so he could make his own living, and also help his Papa with the expenses of their large family.

“Mack and I did most of it. He was the County Surveyor but when he wasn’t doing that, he worked on carpenter jobs,” Madison recalled in an interview many years later.

They began by sinking four 10 x 12 inch pilings that were considerably longer than those in the original structure. After bracing the four corners, the men nailed sills on the tops and attached a layer of flooring which became the bottom of the new tank.

A scaffold was built for the carpenters to stand upon and the water tank was carefully assembled, one board at a time, using very tight tongue-and-groove lumber. When the tank was finished the roof was nailed on the top, “”just like the covering of a house,” Madison recalled. “As soon as the new one was built, we tore down the small water tank,” he said.

The locals still referred to new tank as “The Old Eyesore."

It was about this time in Folkston’s history that unruly behavior of the town’s young boys became an issue in the community. There were an increasing number of incidents of misbehavior and rowdiness after dark, which left many of the townsfolk feeling threatened.

One member of the city council complained “They were hanging around, chewing tobacco, smoking cigarettes and cussing like men.”

And so it was agreed that the city would install a curfew bell, to remind the delinquents that all youths were required to return to their homes at sunset.

A large brass bell was ordered in February 1916 and by the middle of March it had arrived. The bell was installed atop the new water tower, above the rooftops and trees so the sound would carry. It had its desired effect and soon the people of Folkston were feeling safer when they went downtown after dark.

The “Old Eyesore” remained in Courthouse Avenue until 1921 when the Central Dixie Highway passed right down Folkston’s main street, demanding the relocation of the water tank.

At a cost to taxpayers of $2,000, another, deeper well was dug and a higher tank was erected on First Street which furnished water through three-inch mains to many homes and businesses.

Construction of eight-foot wide concrete sidewalks was completed along both sides of Courthouse Avenue at this time as well.

Removing the “old eyesore” then provided plenty of room for the increasing number of touring automobiles and trucks to easily travel the first paved highway through Folkston.

Ten years later, in February 1931, the city fathers borrowed $5,000 and purchased a used 75,000 gallon water tank from Georgia Power and Light Co. Mayor W.D. Thompson and his committee visited the closed Hebard Cypress Co. in Waycross and inspected water mains that were not in use, purchasing about 4,000 feet of the eight-inch mains.

In April 1931 work on the big water tank was directed by Leonard O’Cain and Emory L. Martin. The big steel uprights were put in a concrete base driven down 25 feet. These tall beams pushed the tank up 120 feet high and supplied sufficient force to give strong pressure all over Folkston.

Red electric lights installed atop the tank warned low-flying airplanes of its presence.

More than eighty years have passed and modern improvements have been made assuring the citizens of Folkston a continuing supply of fresh clean water.

Notes On Folkston's Water Tanks

by Lois Barefoot Mays

June 3, 1921

With the removal of the “old eyesore”, the city water tank, from the middle of Main Street, and the completion of the eight foot concrete sidewalks on both sides of the street makes the business section look the part as designated by the Georgia legislature “The City of Folkston.”

February 20, 1931

Following up on the offer of a 75,000 gallon steel water tank and equipment made the town of Folkston by the Power and Light Co., the city fathers passed a resolution to borrow $5,000. for its purchase. The money will be supplied by the Citizens Bank and the water rent should repay the loan. Monday Mayor Thompson, Aldermen Passieu and Raynor with J.M. Hopkins visited Hebardville, former headquarters of the Hebard Cypress Co. and inspected some water mains belonging to that company, which were not in use and made a trade for about 4,000 feet of eight-inch mains. These will be laid from the power company’s plant, where the tank will be installed connecting with an artesian well there.

March 20, 1931

Contractor Connally has an agreement with the city of Folkston to drill an artesian well near the present tank. E.L. Martin has the job of putting down the foundation. He will drive piling 25 feet down and pour a cement base for the tank.

April 17, 1931

The work on the big water tank is going on under the direction of Leonard O’Cain and E.L. Martin. The big steel uprights are being put on the concrete base that piling were driven down 25 feet underneath. These big beams will push the tank 100 feet in the air so that there will be pressure to send water with force all over the town.

May 1, 1931

Folkston is all set for a water system equal to the best of any in southeast Georgia. The flowing water, crystal in color, has been pleasing the many who have been visiting the place this week. The erection of the large forty feet beams attract the interest of many. The first beams were easy but the second ones, placed up on top of the first ones had to be drawn up and riveted. The third tier of beams is now being placed on top of the eighty-feet extension and will hold the large tank 120 feet high which will give sufficient force to give a fine pressure all over Folkston.

May 8, 1931

The City of Folkston purchased water meters this week. The customers will pay for them at $1.00 per month. The water system will be put on a strict business basis. The meters will show who uses the water, and rates similar to those used by the electric companies will be used. They will have to pay or be cut off.

The new water tank will be electrically lighted on top to keep airplanes from running into it.

Lois B. Mays


from DeBrahm's Report
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