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  •  Social Events in Early Charlton

  • Radcliffe Chatauqua 1921

  • Traveling Medicine Show 1930s

  • July 4th, 1947


Social Events in Early Charlton

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 because their survival depended upon it. The territory that had recently been named Charlton County was, at that 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 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 provi nded 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!


Interview with Mrs. Sarvility E. Ellis, February 8, 1995.

By Lois Barefoot Mays

Free entertainment was hard to resist in the midst of the economic depression of the 1930s so small groups of people gathered when the traveling medicine show came to town. Picking the best spot to set up his stage the “Doctor” some times chose a small park behind Thomas’s Camp on the Dixie Highway, about a half mile south of Folkston’s city limits. Good-natured Wilbur Thomas was known for his many kinds of car hubcaps strung all over the outside of his store near the camp. Junior Thomas, his son, is still a favorite with the women of Folkston for his teasing ways with the older generation.

Whole families attended the medicine show, many having walked from their homes – mothers carrying the baby and daddies with an older one on his shoulders so the child could see above the laughing crowd. Gathering late in the evening just before dark, usually in the fall of the year, they enjoyed this seasonal entertainment. The comedy was so amusing that some would return each evening for the weeklong visit of the wandering salesmen.

The doctor and his comedian partner, the entire cast of characters, bounded up on a makeshift stage anchored to the tailgate of a rickety truck. The comedian’s face makeup brought much laughter before he even started with his rapid-fire patter. For the next ten or fifteen minutes he entertained with jokes and fast-stepping jigs in order to get the audience in a mood to part with their money. Wearing a black swallowtail coat and the outlandish makeup, the comedian kept the audience laughing. As his routine wound down, he sailed off the stage and the “doctor “ jumped on, waving a bottle of snake oil in each hand.  The “doctor’s” name was printed in bold letters on the front label and the reverse listed many ailments that could be “cured”.

Mrs. Sarvility Everett Ellis, known as the best apple tart baker in Georgia,, recalled “The medicine man came up there with bottles of medicine that he said would cure anything. ‘Buy this! Good for arthritis and different things’ And some in the audience would gladly buy a bottle.”

Pacing the small stage the doctor urged the audience to come closer so that he could sell another bottle of the so-called miracle drug, while he stuffed the money in his pocket and then picked up another bottle from the stage floor.

“My daddy used to buy it. He’s say ‘That medicine is good for anything. I’m going to get me a bottle and a jar!’ ” she said. There was bitter liquid in the bottle and slippery ointment in the jar.  “He said it helped him!” she recalled.

But most of the audience, forgetting about the economic depression, and laughing about the ridiculous claims for the medicine, turned back toward home. Pulling their sweaters closer in the night air, they smiled and laughed with their friends at the foolishness of the traveling medicine men.



Charlton County Herald, July 11, 1947

The 171st Fourth of July was observed here by the closing of all business establishments and the public at large joining in civic sponsored events for appropriate celebration, relaxation and amusement. Practically all business activity in the city was suspended with the post office, bank and offices in the courthouse being closed for the day.

While many observed the “Glorious Fourth”, a day of rest from everyday business cares and work, a large number of local people as well as those from adjoining towns, joined in widespread events for a gala celebration.

More than a hundred Charlton people were feted with tasty Bar-B-Que and Brunswick Stew by Captain W.N. McHan, warden of the local convict camp, an event thoroughly enjoyed by all present.

During the afternoon, local baseball fans attended an unusually good baseball game, Folkston defeating Callahan 9—15.

The highlight of the afternoon and evening agenda of events was entertainment sponsored by Folkston American Legion Post 130. During the early afternoon a large crowd gathered in the local high school gym to enjoy the music of Toby Dowdy’s High-Pointers from Florida.

The conclusion of the Jamboree Program brought an event that had excited widespread interest throughout Charlton County as well as adjoining counties – the awarding of a 1947 Deluxe Plymouth Sedan, which was given to Mrs. John L. Eunice of the local Hercules Camp. The automobile for this occasion was obtained from P.O. (Pack) Stokes of Stokes Motors, for which the Legion Post is very grateful.

At nine o’clock in the evening a dance was held under the auspices of the local Legion Post at the Homeland clubhouse, music for the occasion being furnished by Charlie Dowdy and his Prairie Boys.

The Legion Post derived more than $800.00 profit from events sponsored during the day, which will be added to the building fund.

Much progress has been made during the past year on plans for the construction of an American Legion Home in this city, the building fund total as of June 1st, 1947 being $3,915.31 and sand and gravel is already on the building site. An ideal piece of property, conveniently located for a Legion Home, was obtained a year ago. It is hoped that actual construction for this project will begin at an early date.

The Radcliffe Chatauqua

Scanned program

from DeBrahm's Report
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