Ray City Residents Among Refugees from 1926 Hurricane

The hurricane that hit south Florida in September of 1926 was one of the worst storms in U.S. history.

The hurricane that hit south Florida in September of 1926 was one of the worst storms in U.S. history.

When the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 struck, Ray City and Nashville residents were among a number of Georgians caught in the devastation.  Pearlie Sutton Conner and four of her children were among the refugees, as well as Oliver Conner, all of Ray City, GA. Nashville residents stranded by the storm included: M.A. Harper and wife; Mrs. H. Giddings and three children;  Maude Harper  Griner , wife of Arnold Griner;  Rachel Hill Griner, wife of Samuel Bryant Griner; Jerome Griner, and Arnold Griner, Jr.

Miami's new drydock, results of hurricane, Sept. 18, 1926. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Miami’s new drydock, results of hurricane, Sept. 18, 1926. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Pearlie Sutton Conner was the wife of James Wilson Conner. Her father was George Washington Sutton and her mother was Julia Ann “Annie” Spell.  The 1890 Berrien County, GA Property Tax Digests show that Geo W. Sutton owned 100 acres in Land Lot 510, 10th District valued at $300.  The Sutton farm was not far from Ray City, in the Connells Mill District, the 1329 Georgia Militia District. The Suttons took their mail at the Lois community.

James Wilson Conner, born on June 22, 1877 in Pulaski County, GA was the son of Daniel Johnson Conner and Nancy Caroline Conner. It is said that his mother died in childbirth and that he was raised by Louisa Conner, who is thought to be a cousin. His father was a Confederate veteran who was wounded in the Civil War.

By the census of 1900 Pearlie’s family had moved about 200 miles west of Ray City to the small community of Ponce De Leon, FL situated on on the Florida Panhandle, where her father owned a farm free and clear of mortgage.

Pearlie Sutton and James Wilson Conner were married in 1899, and were enumerated in the 1900 census of Holmes County (Ponce de Leon District), FL living on the farm next door to her father’s property.

1900 census enumeration of James W. Conner and family, Ponce de Leon, Holmes County, Florida.

1900 census enumeration of James W. Conner and family, Ponce de Leon, Holmes County, Florida.

Some time before 1920 James and Pearlie had moved their family back to Berrien County, Georgia. They owned a farm on the Nashville Enigma Public Road which James worked on his own account.

1920 census enumeration of James W. Conner and family, 1157 Georgia Militia District near Nashville, Berrien County, Georgia.

1920 census enumeration of James W. Conner and family, 1157 Georgia Militia District near Nashville, Berrien County, Georgia.

http://www.archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n424/mode/1up

Within a few years, the Conners moved to Ray City, GA . At least they made their home there by 1926. James Wilson Conner was a member of New Ramah Primitive Baptist Church at Ray City, until dismissed by letter.

In 1926 their daughter, Cora Lee Conner, was married to Leamon Andy Godwin. The wedding took place in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

So it came to pass that in the very last days of  the summer of 1926, Pearlie Sutton Conner and four of her children were in south Florida. It was then, on September 18, 1926 when the Great Miami Hurricane made landfall.

The 1926 storm was described by the U.S. Weather Bureau in Miami as “probably the most destructive hurricane ever to strike the United States.” It hit Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Hollywood, Hallandale and Miami. The death toll is estimated to be from 325 to perhaps as many as 800. No storm in previous history had done as much property damage. 1926 Miami: The blow that broke the boom

Much has been written about The Big Blow of 1926. The population growth of south Florida in the preceding decade had been explosive, fueled by the Florida land boom. The newcomers and tourists had slight experience with hurricanes.  The approach of the tropical storm raised little alarm with the public, or with authorities.  It was just hours before the storm came on shore that a hurricane warning was finally issued,   “But in 1926 there were few avenues for warning people. Only a handful of people owned radios to hear the warnings broadcast on South Florida’s only radio station.”   After the storm had passed, the damage was captured on film. A 1926 silent movie newsreel, Miami: The Magic City, documents the extent of the damage and The Sun Sentinel and PBS have informative articles.

At the time, Miami’s hurricane was considered the country’s greatest natural disaster since the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Today the Category 4 storm ranks among 20th-century U.S. hurricanes as the 12th strongest and 12th deadliest. After adjustment for 1996 construction costs, the storm is the U.S.’s 20th most costly, with an estimated $1.5 billion in property damage. – The American Experience: The Hurricane of 1926

The Atlanta Constitution headline tolled the death and decimation of the 1926 hurricane.

The Atlanta Constitution headline tolled the death and decimation of the 1926 hurricane.

In the aftermath of the storm, the Red Cross and the National Guard assisted with aid to the refugees. When transportation could be arranged, Florida travelers fled the destruction.  Many Georgians boarded northbound trains at West Palm Beach, including Pearlie Sutton Conner and her children, and other Berrien County residents.

The Atlanta Constitution
September 23, 1926

GEORGIA REFUGEES HOMEWARD BOUND

West Palm Beach, Fla., September 22. – The following Georgia refugees from Hollywood came here today and were given transportation to their former homes:
Mr. and Mrs J. R. Bowman and two babies, Winder, Ga; Mrs. R H. Armstrong and five children, Cochran, Ga.; Martha and Gladys Burgamy, Cochran, Ga; Mrs. B. W. Atkinson and baby, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Mrs. C. J. Sutton and two children, Atlanta; Mrs. H. E. Webb, Vidalia, Ga.
Mrs. J. W. Webb, Vidalia, Ga.; Mrs. J. J. Chancellor and two children, Cordele, Ga.; Mrs. J. M. Thornton and one child, Madison, Ga.; Mrs. Beulah Lester, Columbus, Ga.; Mrs. Annie Franklin and three children, Clarksville, Ga.; Mrs. R. C. Davidson and three children, Comer, Ga.; Mrs. J. B. Bivings and two children, Savannah, Ga., Catherine Bivings, Macon, Ga., Lilla, Lula, Lillian and Robert Hudson, Thomasville, Ga.; Mrs. Lincoln Frost and baby, Thomasville, Ga.; Mrs. Reuben Rushing and baby, Thomasville, Ga.; Mrs. E. M. Stokes, Cochran, Ga.
Mrs. S. A. Crews, Waycross, Ga.; Mrs. L.D. Fletcher and three children, Andalusia, Ga.; Mrs. B. H. Thomas and two children, Winder, Ga.; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Hutchinson and son, Atlanta; Mrs. E. W. Cross and daughter, Cordele, Ga.; Mrs. A. L. Pittman, Athens, Ga.; Mrs. R. A. Clyatt and two children, Atlanta; Mrs. Arnold Griner, Mrs. S. B. Griner, Jerome Griner and Arnold Griner, Jr., Nashville, Ga.
Mrs. G. W. Thomas and four children, Winder, Ga.; Mrs. J. H. King and two children, Comer, Ga.; Julia and Estelle McClanden, Wadley, Ga.; Mrs. W. L. George and two children, West Green, Ga; Mrs. E. E. Olds and child, Lawrenceville, Ga.; Mrs. W. L. Revel and three children, Sargent, Ga.;

GEORGIA REFUGEES LEAVE FOR HOME
Continued from First Page.

Mrs. R. L. Thompson and two children, Winder, Ga.; Mrs. Ruby Hall and six children, Comer, Ga.; Mrs. J. W. Conner and four children, Ray City, Ga.; Oliver Conner, Ray City, Ga.; Mrs. L W. Conder and baby, Columbus, Ga.; Mr. and Mrs. J. D. Daniels and six children, Cochran, Ga; Mrs. R. H. Darnell and four children, Fairmont, Ga.; Mrs. J. W. Ingram, Jr.; and son, Dublin, Ga.; Mrs. A. Roll and two children, Atlanta, Ga; Mrs. W. R. Titshaw and son, Pitts, Ga.; Mrs. H. T. Hosskins and child, Comer, Ga.; Mrs. O. P. Gulibeau, Augusta, Ga.; Mrs. H. G. Harvey and two children, Pelham, Ga; Mrs. J. D. Duvall and daughter, Toccoa, Ga.; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Kramer, Atlanta; Mr. and Mrs. Orris Canatsy and child, Pitts, Ga.; Mrs. J. A. Warren and 10 children, Pitts, Ga.; M. A. Harper and wife, Nashville, Ga.; Mrs. Lillie Titshaw and three children, Pitts, Ga; Mrs. H. Giddings and three children, Nashville, Ga.; Mrs. P. W. Ross, Cordele, Ga.; Mrs. A. C. Wilkens, Cordele, Ga.; Buelah Wilkens, Cordele, Ga; Mrs. R. W. Dowdy and six children, Pitts, Ga.; F. F. Keener and four children, Toccoa, Ga; Mrs. G. G. Sanders and two children, Elberton, Ga.

At home in Georgia, the Conners continued to reside in the Ray City vicinity. In the Census of 1930, they were enumerated in the 1300 Georgia Militia District, to the east of the town, in Lanier County.

Enumeration of James W. Conner and family, 1300 Georgia Militia District, Lanier County, Georgia.

1930 census enumeration of James W. Conner and family, 1300 Georgia Militia District, Lanier County, Georgia.

http://www.archive.org/stream/georgiacensus00reel372#page/n518/mode/1up

 The Conners remained in Ray City, thereafter.   James Wilson Conner died in 1954 and Pearlie Sutton Conner died in 1959. They were buried at New Ramah Church cemetery, at Ray City, GA.

Grave marker of Pearlie Sutton and James Wilson Conner, New Ramah Church Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave marker of Pearlie Sutton and James Wilson Conner, New Ramah Church Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

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1 Comment

  1. Bryan Shaw said,

    November 14, 2011 at 8:40 am

    My grandfather, Charles Bruner Shaw, Sr., was a policeman in Ray City in the early 1920s. He moved his family to Haines City, Florida in 1923, where he was Chief of Police. When the 1926 Moore Haven (as it was called by the victims on the shores of Lake Okeechobee) hurricane hit, he along with many other law enforcement officials went to the devastated area to assist the victims and recover bodies. He befriended a Hatcher family that was left homeless in the wake of that disaster, and hired Mr. Hatcher as his night Chief. The first 26 bodies that were recovered and embalmed were buried in a mass grave at Pinecrest Cemetery in Sebring, Florida. That grave site is marked as “Victims of the Moore Haven Hurricane”. Chief Shaw died in 1950, and it was so fitting that he was buried adjacent to that mass grave at Pinecrest.


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