Midway Congregational Church, founded in 1754 and a seat of power in the Colonial period, was associated with three satellite congregations known as retreats, because their locations, slightly more inland than Midway, offered a respite from the malarial swamps of the coast. The last of the retreat churches to be established was located at Dorchester. Its origins can be traced to nearby Sunbury, a short-lived boom town founded in 1758 whose trustees were members of Midway Church. Sunbury thrived nearly from its inception, rivaling Savannah in commercial importance, but its proximity to Fort Morris lead to its capture and subsequent burning by British troops during the American Revolution. While many such casualties of the war recuperated, Sunbury never seemed to regain its prominence after the devastating four-year occupation that followed. The hurricane of 1824 and a yellow fever epidemic sent many of its residents scattering into the nearby countryside. Huge plantations with names like Laurel Grove, Arcadia, Melon Bluff, Cedar Point, and Palmyra were emerging in the countryside around old Sunbury. In 1843 upon the suggestion of Reverend Thomas Sumner Winn, a tutor for prominent Presbyterian minister Charles Colcock Jones, a site was chosen for a retreat between Sunbury and Midway. It was originally known simply as “the Village,” but was soon christened Dorchester, in tribute to the heritage of its citizens. Some families built summer homes at Dorchester, though many tore down their dwellings near Sunbury and rebuilt them on the higher and drier ground the retreat afforded. As this new location was only six miles from Midway, the idea of building a church was not initially entertained, though an academy was built in which Sunday school was regularly taught. By 1854, with the continuing decline in membership at Midway, the families of the village built a permanent church, which still stands today. The old town bell from Sunbury, dated 1799, was placed in the steeple. The land was donated by Bartholomew Busby, who owned the nearby Melon Bluff Plantation. At first it was used only in summer, but by the onset of the Civil War was in regular use. The church was officially recognized by the Savannah Presbytery in 1871 and named Dorchester Presbyterian Church. The church holds services on the first Sunday of each month at 5 PM.
National Register of Historic Places
Darrell Sheppard writes: The old building in Allenhurst was Sheppard’s Grocery. It was built by Troy Allen Sheppard, Sr., after leaving Willie, Georgia, in the 1940s. It had the living quarters in the rear. After his death in 1967 Troy Sheppard, Jr., opened an auto electric repair and operated it until his death in 1991. It now belongs to Darrell Sheppard.
The Gum Branch (sometimes written as one word, Gumbranch) community dates to at least 1833, when records show that members of Beard’s Creek Primitive Baptist Church organized Gum Branch Primitive Baptist Church in western Liberty County.
Kyle Corrigan writes: According to my grandma, the store was opened by Charles and Vera Todd, my great-grandparents, sometime in the 1940s. My grandma has memories of working in the store as a teenager in the 1960s, and they actually lived in the house behind the store. In the 50s the store also had gas pumps outside the building, which are currently in my grandma’s possession. The store closed in the late 1980s after Charles passed away and Shuman’s Gas Station (now called E-Z Quick Stop) opened across the street.
My great-grandparents originally lived in Willie, Georgia, but left during World War 2 because of the creation of Fort Stewart on that land. To this day many Todds still live in Gum Branch. In fact, my grandpa actually served as the first mayor after the city was incorporated in 1979. According to my grandpa, they incorporated in order to stop nearby Hinesville from expanding their area, as they feared there would be an increase in tax rates. Also, almost everyone who lives here calls it Gum Branch, but legally it is Gumbranch, apparently the result of a clerical error.
Also known as the Bird-Everett-Morgan House, Glen Echo is the oldest house in Bryan County, and among the oldest in Georgia. The land on which it stands was part of a 400-acre king’s grant made to Abraham & Israel Bird and Hugh Bryan on 1 January 1771. Family lore suggests that construction on the house began in 1773. [While it’s unclear who built the house, an article by descendant and historian Kenneth Dillon Dixon in a 2014 issue of Richmond Hill Reflections notes: …it was likely built by Burgund Bird, as it descended to his son Sylvanus Bird’s family and it was built on land granted to his other son, Abraham Bird]. The Birds were millers and may have selected the land due to its proximity to two creeks. One of the creeks came to be known as Birds Mill Creek (now Mill Creek) and the other was Black Creek. By 1802, Andrew Bird, Sr., was in possession of the house. He had three sons, Andrew, Jackson, and Cyrus, and a daughter, Isabel. Isabel married a Salzburger descendant named Joshua Smith in 1824.
It was their son, Albert Glenn Smith, who eventually received the house and property from his mother’s bachelor uncles in the 1850s. At the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Van Brackle in 1858, Smith moved into the house and the moniker “Glen Echo” came into use. Twin sons were born to the couple around this time. At the outset of the Civil War, Smith owned 17 slaves and his estate was valued at nearly $10,000. A. G. Smith was a captain of the Bryan Independent Riflemen, 1st Company, 25th Georgia Volunteer Infantry and trained soldiers at nearby Fort McAllister. When Sherman’s troops made their approach to Savannah, breastworks were constructed on the property and though the house was spared, all of the outbuildings were burned and livestock set free. To a student of the Civil War, the survival of the house might seem quite extraordinary, but actually, orders mandated that only unoccupied houses be burned. At any rate, Captain Bird’s military prominence should have made his property a prime target. A. G. & Elizabeth Bird had ten children, the last of whom was born in 1876. Their heirs still own the property and maintain the historic family cemetery adjacent to the house.
THE HOUSE IS LOCATED ON PRIVATE PROPERTY & TRESPASSING IS FORBIDDEN.
The Plantation Plain appearance of the Glen Echo is generally advanced as evidence of the house being later than 1773, but 18th-century examples of this style do exist in the Carolinas. Numerous changes have been made to the house in its nearly 250-year history and most of the original structure has been obscured by additions and alterations. This is often the case with properties of such an age and it doesn’t deter from their historical significance and local importance. Interior details on the first floor are said to confirm the 18th-century construction date, especially the presence of iron HL hinges on some doors. “Shed rooms” were located at the rear of the house in its early incarnation, but as seen in the image above, an elongated attached kitchen replaced them at some point.
The boxed cornice and returns, seen above, likely date to the early 19th century, and the brick chimney, replacing a stick-and-mud example, is thought to have been added around the turn of the last century. Outlines of earlier shutters indicate that different windows were in use, and the front porch is definitely a later addition.
Today, this property is endangered by neglect and isolation. After speaking with the legal representative for the property owner, I’m confident that restoration is in its future. Theft and vandalism have plagued the house in recent years, I’m told, and this is a real tragedy. To say that a house connected to one family in Georgia for nearly 250 years is of utmost importance is an understatement. The subjects of the following photos, also shared by Kenneth Dillon Dixon, are unidentified descendants of the Bird family, probably made between 1910-1930; he notes they’re definitely Mingledorfs, Morgans, or Smiths.
National Register of Historic Places