Heading northeast on highway 64 out of Ray City, GA in the direction of Empire Church, you will encounter a sign at the Lanier county line that identifies this route as the Sam I. Watson Highway. Sam Watson was raised on the Watson family farm, located near Empire Church about 5 miles northeast of Rays Mill, originally settled by his grandparents about 180 years ago.
Born August 9, 1877 in Lowndes county, GA Samuel Irvin Watson was a son of Mary and Joseph Watson.
By age 22, Sam Watson was occupied as a school teacher. Enumerated in the census of 1900 next to his father, Sam had by that time established an independent household on a part of the family land. As yet unmarried, he owned a farm, free and clear of mortgage. Perhaps the establishment of his homestead was in preparation for matrimony; later that year Sam married Jennie Lee, a daughter of Amanda Clements and Moses C. Lee. Jennie was born on January 5, 1882 in Berrien County and grew up on her father’s farm near Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), GA. As a girl she attended the Green Bay School, along with her brother, Bill.
Sam and Jennie were married July 1, 1900 at the home of the bride’s parents. The ceremony was performed by William C. Patten, Notary Public and Ex Officio Justice of the Peace. (W.C. Patten was the husband of Jennie’s aunt Sarah Lee, and he later married Sam Watson’s sister, Laura Watson.)
In September of 1918, Sam Watson registered for the draft for World War I. At age 41 he was of medium height and build, with blue eyes and gray hair.
Perhaps Sam found the pay of a teacher was not sufficient to support his growing family. By 1920, had returned to the occupation of farming, and was an employer in general farming. One of his employees was John Kirkland. Sam’s eldest daughter, Gola Watson, was already a student in college. The census of 1920 shows the Watson farm was located on the Ray City & Mud Creek Road in the Milltown District of Berrien County, and area soon to be cut into the newly created Lanier county.
Sam Watson, a man of Berrien and Lanier county his entire life, and was again enumerated on his farm near Ray City in the census of 1930. That year the enumeration included a count of citizens who owned radio sets, which Sam Watson did. In the enumeration of Ray City, there were only eight radio sets within the city limits, the owners being James A. Grissett, John D. Luke, Henry Swindle, Marvin Purvis, Walter Altman, John Simpkins, Joseph Johnson and Fannie Parks. The average cost of a radio in 1929 was around $139 dollars. In terms of comparable “affordability” for an average person in today’s dollars (2010 index) this would be like making a $7,600 purchase (relative worth based on nominal GDP per capita index – see MeasuringWorth.com).
It is safe to say that Sam Watson was among the prominent citizens of Lanier County. He was a former educator and a successful farmer who could afford relative luxuries, like a radio. He followed the politics of Ed Rivers, State Assemblyman from Lakeland, GA.
After Ed Rivers was elected Governor of Georgia in 1936 he appointed Sam Watson to the State Board of Education.
But more about that in the next post.
- Sam I. Watson and the State Board of Education
- Sam I. Watson Dies in Explosion
- Ray City Citizens Fought Creation of Lanier County
- The Barrel Makers
- Dicey Guthrie Watson
- 1922 Spring Fever Hits Ray City
- Everything is Illuminated in Ray City, GA