Tag Archives: Ghost Towns of Coastal Georgia

Galilee Baptist Church, 1954, Brookman

Galilee Baptist Church Brookman GA Brunswick Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

This historic congregation was founded by Reverend Jupiter Gilliard on 23 October 1891. The first deacons of the church were London Gilliard, Charles Harris, Baker Stafford, Sr., and Hector Blue. The original church building was replaced with this one in 1954, during the pastorate of Reverend Robert J. Leggett. The cornerstone displays the cipher of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall,  Grand Lodge, Free & Accepted Masons, Jurisdiction of Georgia.

Reverend Gilliard’s great-great-great grandchildren operate Gilliard Farms, a Georgia Centennial Farm on the adjacent property. It’s been in the family since 1874 and is one of the most important African-American farms in Georgia, due to its history and longevity.

 

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Brookman GA

Lula & Arthur Wright House, Circa 1900, Brookman

Brookman GA Lula & Arthur Wright House Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

Lula & Arthur Wright built this once-grand Folk Victorian around the turn of the last century. When surveyed for Glynn County in 2009, the house still retained a front porch with hand-carved Queen Anne posts. When I found it the other day, the porch had collapsed and the yard was overgrown. It will be a real loss, as it represents a more accomplished architecture than is usually associated with rural black communities of its day.

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Brookman GA

Tarboro Mercantile

Tarboro Mercantile General Store Feed Seed Country Store Camden County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Tarboro is an isolated community in Camden County’s interior, near White Oak.

 

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Fort Frederica, 1736, St. Simons Island

Fort Frederica is just three years younger than Georgia itself. It represents a time when the colony was a buffer between British South Carolina and Spanish Florida, and was headquarters to Georgia’s founder, General James Oglethorpe during the War of Jenkins’ Ear. The small section of the tabby fort that remains contained the magazine, and is in relatively good condition. It’s maintained by the National Park Service as Fort Frederica National Monument. If you come in summer bring bug spray and lots of water, though the fountain at the interpretive office has the coldest and best water on St. Simons.

The view above shows Fort Frederica from the riverside, with a 29-pound English cannon of the period.

The view above shows the magazine and the two below show the interior.

This bronze plaque was placed in memory of James Oglethorpe by the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames in 1904. The supporting text reads: This remnant is all that time has spared of the citadel of the town of Frederica built by General Oglethorpe A. D. 1736 as an outpost against the Spaniards in Florida.

National Register of Historic Places

 

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Frederica GA, St. Simons Island GA

Frederica Burying Ground, St. Simons Island

No one buried here is known today. The few remaining crypts are in critical condition.

 

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Frederica GA, St. Simons Island GA

Frederica Homesites, St. Simons Island

The images below illustrate archaeological excavations made at the site of the town of Frederica, on St. Simons Island. Frederica was planned by Georgia’s founder, General James Oglethorpe, who preferred it to Savannah. It was named to honor Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son of King George II. Integral as a military outpost against the Spanish in its early days, the town fell into decline after the Battle of Bloody Marsh and was largely abandoned by 1755.  Frederica  survived a fire in 1758, but soon thereafter, was all but forgotten. All homes below are thought to have been built between 1736-1741 and represent the most important evidence of Georgia’s early European settlement.

This is thought to be the homesite of Francis Moore, who served as General Oglethorpe’s secretary, town recorder, and keepers of the King’s stores. He and Oglethorpe were often at odds and when Moore returned to England in 1743 he published an account of the founding of Frederica, A Voyage to Georgia.

This is believed to have been the site of the home of Lieutenant Primrose Maxwell of Oglethorpe’s Regiment. Lieutenant Maxwell took part in the 1740 expedition against the Spanish at St. Augustine and was one of the pallbearers at the funeral of Chief Tomochichi in Savannah.

John Calwell and his family lived at this site and made the finest soaps and candles in the town of Frederica, which were exported to New York and Philadelphia. Calwell was also “Conservator of the Peace” for the town.

Daniel Cannon is thought to have lived at this location. Cannon was perhaps the finest builder in Frederica and notably made the oars for Oglethorpe’s 1740 expedition against the Spanish at St. Augustine.

Archaeologists believe this home was destroyed during the Great Town Fire of 1758. Captain James McKay, who acted as Oglethorpe’s commanding officer during the General’s 1743 attack on St. Augustine, likely lived here, after baker Will Allen and carpenter Thomas Sumner.

This was the homesite of one of Frederica’s first settlers, Samuel Perkins. Perkins was a coachmaker and while renowned for his skill, was in constant conflict with General Oglethorpe and was “persecuted out of the colony” in May 1741. He settled in Charleston, South Carolina.

On this site were located two houses which shared a common wall, much in the style of English rowhouses of the day.
Samuel Davison lived in the house in the foreground and operated a tavern, made gunstocks, and served as town constable. Charles Wesley called Davison “my good Samaritan”.

Dr. Thomas Hawkins lived in the other section and served as Regimental Surgeon, as well as town doctor, apothecary, and magistrate. He and his wife Beatre were constantly quarreling with the Davisons, who left Frederica in 1741. Beatre even threatened to kill Reverend John Wesley with a pair of scissors and a pistol in this house.

National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Frederica GA, St. Simons Island GA

Roadside Produce Stand, Eulonia

Roadside stands selling peaches, peanuts, watermelons, and other iconic local crops, seem to be making a huge comeback, as the traffic at this one just off I-95 would attest.

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Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Eulonia GA

American Foursquare House, Meridian

 

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Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Meridian GA

Midway & The Retreat Churches

View from Slave Gallery, Midway© Brian Brown

A Brief History of Midway & The Retreat Churches

In any survey of the early history of Georgia, the name of one church comes up far more often than any other as a seat of power in the colony. Midway Congregational Church, about thirty miles south of Savannah, was founded by families quite unlike other Georgia colonists, who were usually recent immigrants from the British Isles. The settlers who came to St. John’s Parish in 1752 descended from English Puritans from the counties of Dorset, Devon, and Somersetshire, who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, naming their settlement Dorchester, after a beloved town in England. They were the first commercial fishermen in New England and had as much a commercial motive for being in the New World as they did a religious one. It should be noted that the town charter of Dorchester in 1633 was the first in Massachusetts and, indeed, in all of the English colonies. By 1636, though, weary of Governor John Winthrop’s dominance and an increasingly authoritarian clergy, many of the families resettled to the Farmington River in Connecticut, establishing the town of Windsor.

In part because of their success and the need for more land, and because they felt a calling to “settle the gospel” elsewhere in the colonies, they left New England for good in 1695 and spent the next half-century in South Carolina. Their colony along the Ashley River, which also bore the name Dorchester, soon thrived to the point that land holdings were becoming inadequate to perpetuate their industry. Though a necessity for the cultivation of rice and other labor-intensive crops, their embrace of slavery seemed out of synch with Calvinist ideology, and many of their New England brethren openly expressed disdain with this unusual alliance. However, the Puritan principles of  thrift, the dignity of hard work, social and racial superiority, and profit made this alliance inevitable. When large land grants in Georgia were made available in December 1752, Benjamin Baker and Samuel Bacon brought their families to a sparsely populated district between Georgia’s two most important ports, Savannah and Darien. This foray into the southernmost colony was soon met with interest by their South Carolina compatriots.

By 1754 the Reverend John Osgood and sixteen families in his charge came to Georgia and officially transferred the Dorchester church and its mission to this new location. In late August of that year, they drew up articles of incorporation of the “Society Settled Upon Medway and Newport in Georgia.” [Medway refers to the nearby Medway River, which ran through historic Sunbury. Some have surmised this to be the origin of the name Midway, though most historians agree that the name is solely geographical.] One of the objectives of the society was to establish peace and harmony among themselves and inoffensiveness to their neighbors, and to this goal they succeeded. The first school of any importance in Georgia was established by Midway members at nearby Sunbury, and one of the first notable libraries in the state was maintained by the Newport and Midway Library Society, which evolved from the plantation-based Beech Hill Alphabet Society.

Midway Congregational Church, 1792 – © Brian Brown

Some of the best-known names in early Georgia were associated with Midway Church. Two of the state’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence were counted among the membership. Dr. Lyman Hall, whose plantation Hall’s Knoll was located just northwest of the church, was a regular congregant. Hall, who also served as governor, was instrumental in convincing the fledgling, loyalist-leaning colony to vote for independence. Button Gwinnett, infamous for his duel with Lachlan McIntosh, was also a member of the Midway congregation, as he maintained a home and small farm on nearby St. Catherine’s Island. Two important generals of the Revolutionary War, James Screven and Daniel Stewart, were also members. General Screven lost his life in a battle near Midway Church. So esteemed was the patriotism of Midway members that in 1777 the legislature combined the historic parishes of St. John, St. James, and St. Andrew and named them Liberty County.

Other prominent members of the congregation included Governors Nathan Brownson, Richard Howley, and John Martin; United States Senators John Elliot, Alfred Iverson, and Augustus O. Bacon; Continental Congressman Benjamin Andrew; U. S. Representatives John A. Cuthbert and William B. Fleming; and the first U. S. Minister to China, John E. Ward. Another member, Dr. Louis LeConte, who owned Woodmanston Plantation and its well-known botanical gardens, was the father of two of 19th century America’s most important scientists, John and Joseph LeConte. John was the second president of the University of California. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., telegraph inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, and President Theodore Roosevelt were all descended from Midway families. Five Georgia counties were named for citizens of this era: Hall, Gwinnett, Screven, Stewart, and Baker, created in 1825 in memory of Colonel John Baker.

In the interim between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, change gripped the Midway community. Much of the population of Liberty County was pushing westward to the interior, and in this time, the so-called “retreat” communities of Walthourville, Flemington, and Dorchester developed. These retreats were no more than a summer safeguard against the malarial mosquito invasions which plagued settlements near the coast, but their emergence hinted at great changes for the future of Midway Church. The shift in agriculture to a more stable inland base and the destruction wrought by the Civil War hastened the end of the congregation. By 1867 the last regular minister was dismissed. Soon thereafter, the trustees leased the building to a group of African-Americans for use as a church and school.

The first retreat of the Midway colonists was located about fifteen miles inland, on higher and sandier ground. Initially, it was known as Sand Hills. Midway member Andrew Walthour built the first dwelling in the area in 1795 and was soon joined by a multitude of others. By 1800 the settlement became more permanent, and the name was changed to Walthourville. In 1820 a Union building was erected, since the retreat population were still congregants of Midway. At first, they went back and forth to the main church for baptisms and communion, but eventually the congregation at Walthourville was established. A new church was built circa 1845, and in 1855 they officially became Presbyterians. At this time they were given independence from Midway, but still maintained a spiritual bond. They were vastly successful as a congregation, being the second largest in the Savannah presbytery and the largest in terms of benevolent gifts. The journal of Judge John LeConte Harden, who spent much of his boyhood in the 1840s in Walthourville, fondly recalled a place called Tea Grove Farms. It was one of the most prosperous in the county, and quite early for a commercial farm; everything from tea, which was in cultivation in several locations around Liberty County at the time, to peaches, pears, apples and scuppernongs was produced at Tea Grove. The descendants of the Midway congregation who now made Walthourville their home were quite industrious and also grew sugar cane and were pioneers in the Southern naval stores industry. Fire destroyed the 1845 church and the present Walthourville Presbyterian Church was built in 1877-78.

Walthourville Presbyterian Church, 1878 – © Brian Brown

In 1815, another Midway member, William Fleming, established Gravel Hill, a retreat in the pinelands of Liberty County. Like the settlers of Walthourville before them, the people who came to Gravel Hill established a more permanent presence as time passed. For many summers, worship services were held in homes and then in a log structure which also housed a magistrate court. The first permanent church was built in 1832 on land given by Simon Fraser and was used for twenty years. The church followed the organization of Midway and was seen as a branch, not a mission, of Midway. In 1850 the name of the retreat was changed to Flemington in honor of William Fleming. A new home for the old Gravel Hill church was constructed between 1851 and 1852, and one of the selectmen of the congregation, T. Q. Cassels, was the architect. Though an amateur, he was well read in classical civilization and its monuments. The impressive steeple, to this day the pride of the congregation, was built by member Irwin Rahn. By the end of the Civil War, those who had settled in Flemington found the ten-mile trip to Midway nearly impossible, sought and were granted independence. In the spring of 1866, they officially adopted Presbyterianism. Upholding Puritan values of good education, a school was established, known by the 1830s as the Tranquill Institute. Confederate, then Union soldiers, used the old school as a hospital in 1864, and three of the Union casualties are buried in the Flemington cemetery. By the Victorian era, the Flemington Musical Society’s influence on popular entertainment in the area illustrates the shift away from Puritan roots toward a more secular society.

Flemington Presbyterian Church, 1852 – © Brian Brown

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. Descendants of the original members continue to gather once each year and on special occasions.

Dorchester Presbyterian Church, 1854 – © Brian Brown

In The Children of Pride, which details the lives of a Liberty County family during the Civil War, Robert Manson Myers said the record of the Midway district was both astonishing and unique for a small rural community that never had a population of more than a few hundred people and that was dispersed little more than a century after its founding. Besides the obvious contributions these relocated Puritans made to the early history of Georgia, especially through service in the Revolutionary War, there was the broader impact of plantation society on the fledgling economy. This fostered an agrarian pattern that persisted well into the 20th century. Moreover, many of the Puritan ideals which the Midway settlers brought from England were instrumental in framing our modern social and legal structure. That the three retreat churches remain influential forces in the social and spiritual life of Liberty County today is proof enough of their enduring legacy.

–All Content and Photographs © Brian Brown 2012

Facts to Keep in Mind if You Visit Midway Church

Midway Church is one of Georgia’s most iconic structures. Several buildings have served the congregation in its history. The first was a log structure built in 1754; the second was of frame construction, built on land deeded by John and Mary Stevens in 1756. It was torched by the British in 1778. A temporary church was raised in 1784 and served the congregation for eight years until the present facility was completed in 1792. When U. S. Highway 17, also known as the Atlantic Coast or Coastal Highway, was widened in the 1930s, the church was moved slightly to the east. The Midway Museum, built in 1957 and based on the plantation houses typical of the early coastal settlers, is the starting point for a tour of the church. The only way to get inside the church is to visit the museum and ask for a key, though be advised that the museum is closed on Sundays, Monday, and all holidays.

All the retreat or daughter churches, as they are sometimes called, are architecturally distinct, with one exception: each features a slave gallery, a balcony at the rear of the sanctuary. The Midway Puritans felt obligated to the religious indoctrination of their slaves. Even after the Civil War ended, many of the freed slaves attended services in these facilities until they could build their own. Midway is the only one of these churches accessible for tours today, as Flemington, Walthourville, and Dorchester are still in use. And keep in mind if you visit Midway Church, the tour is self-guided. The adjoining cemetery, across U. S. Highway 17, is one of the most fascinating in Georgia.

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Filed under -LIBERTY COUNTY, Dorchester GA, Flemington GA, Midway GA

Tarboro Mercantile Company, White Oak

This is one of my favorite landmarks along U. S. Highway 17 and among the most-photographed locales on the coast highway. It was built in 1924 by Edgar Allen Poe McCarthy as a warehouse for his Tarboro Mercantile, located nearby.

 

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Filed under -CAMDEN COUNTY, White Oak GA