Coffee Road Led to Creation of Lowndes County

When south Georgia was first organized into counties in 1818, the area of present day Berrien County was originally part of  old Irwin.  The land lots and districts in Berrien County are still derived from the original plat of Irwin County.  As related in a previous post (see Coffee’s Road Passed Seven Miles West of Ray City, the earliest roads in Berrien County date from shortly after the formation of Irwin.  In writing on the local histories of Wiregrass Georgia counties, Folks Huxford made a number of references to the Coffee Road, portions of which are  excerpted below.

1822 Map Detail showing Irwin County, GA

1822 Map Detail showing Irwin County, GA

The Coffee Road

The first two roads to be opened up in the new County of Irwin were the Roundtree Trail and the Coffee Road. The former extended from Pulaski County across the headwaters of the Alapaha River and entered present Tift County near Tifton, and then down the Little River. However, the Coffee Road became the great thoroughfare of travel.

It was the main thoroughfare from the older settled portion of the state into South Georgia and  Florida; and practically all traffic from and into Florida west of the Okefenokee Swamp, was over that road.  It led from Jacksonville on the Ogeechee River in Telfair County, southwesterly through the then county of Irwin (but now Coffee, Irwin, Berrien) through the then county of Lowndes (but now Berrien, Cook  and Brooks) into Thomas County and via Thomasville southwardly to the Florida line.

Coffee Road was opened up by the State under authority of an Act of the Legislature approved December 23, 1822.  John Coffee and Thomas Swain were  appointed to superintend the construction, which was undertaken at a cost of $1500.00  (see Coffee’s Road Passed Seven Miles West of Ray City. Enoch Hall, a Lowndes county pioneer and son of Sion Hall and Mrs. Bridget “Beady” Hall, was an overseer in the laying out of the Coffee Road.

 The road was duly opened and became known as the ‘Coffee Road’ from the fact that Gen. John Coffee of Telfair County, one of the Commissioners, had charge of its opening.  It ran through the present counties of Berrien and Cook into Brooks and thence into present Thomas. It afforded the main highway of travel for some years down into Lowndes and Thomas and Decatur Counties and into West Florida.

Just two years after the cutting of Coffee’s Road, Lowndes County was cut from Irwin. The area of Lowndes county was still a huge country which then included present day Berrien County and many surrounding counties.  In those early days of Old Lowndes County, most of the settlement had occurred along the route of Coffee’s Road, or else along the Alapaha and Little rivers.

Glory, GA
Glory was a community that  grew up along the Coffee Road in Berrien county. In 1906 it was described as, “a post village on the Atlantic Coast Line railroad, about twelve miles northeast of Nashville, GA. It has some stores, which do a good local business, and does considerable shipping. The population in 1900 was 54.”

It appears there were several crossings of Coffee Road over the Alapaha River, being in service at different places and times

Lopahaw Bridge
The General Assembly acted in 1836 to fund the construction of a bridge across the Alapaha River stating”it is all important that a bridge should be built across the Lopahaw, at or near Coffee’s Road.”  According to the Legislative Act authorizing the Coffee Road, it crossed the Alapaha “at or near Cunningham’s ford on said river.”  In 1836 a public bridge was constructed over the river, but this bridge was condemned at the January 1856 term of the Irwin County Inferior Court.

Marsh’s Ferry
William Green Avera stated that in the early days of the county, Coffee Road crossed the Alapaha River at Marsh Ferry.   James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County states, “At the January term, 1842, an order was passed by the Inferior Court [Irwin County] an order was passed establishing a ferry across the Alapaha River at a place known as Marshes Ferry. The rates were fixed as follows: man and horse, twelve and one-half cents; man, horse and cart, twenty-five cents; two-horse wagon, fifty cents; four-horse wagon, one dollar; pleasure carriages, one dollar; gigs, fifty cents; jersey wagons, thirty-seven and one-half cents; mules and horses, 3 cents per head; cattle, 3 cents per head, sheep and hogs, one and one-half cents per head; foot  persons, free. Rates to be advertised at ferry.”

Tyson Ferry
At the 1856 term of the Irwin County Inferior Court, according to James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County“Cornelious Tyson was granted authority to erect a ferry on Alapaha River on the Coffee road at the location of the condemned bridge and he is allowed to charge the following rates: man and horse, six and one-fourth cents; horse and cart, twenty-five cents; four-horse wagon, fifty cents; horse and buggy, thirty-seven and one-half cents.”  Cornelius Tyson was one of the five marking commissioners appointed by the state legislature in 1856 to fix the boundary lines of the newly created Berrien County.  Cornelius Tyson is enumerated in Berrien County, GA as Cornelius Tison in the Census 1860.

Futch’s Ferry
Futch’s Ferry was at the Withlacoochee River on the Coffee Road.

 

Among the earliest waypoints on the Coffee Road were the homes of David Mathis, Sion Hall, Daniel McCranie, Hamilton Sharpe, and James Lovett.

Mathis House Stagecoach Stop
In January 1826, David Mathis built a log home, a sturdy and comfortable home  for his wife, Sarah Monk, and family. This home was on the Coffee Road, one mile east of the present village of Cecil, Cook County. It was a stagecoach stop where the horses were rested. Many people in those pioneer days enjoyed the hospitality of the Mathis home. 

Folsom Bridge
Another waypoint on the Coffee Road, to the north of Hall’s Inn, was the Folsom Bridge,  where Coffee’s Road crossed the Little River.  William Folsom’s place was located about a mile and a half east of the bridge.

 Hall’s Inn
The home of Sion Hall, who had settled in the territory of present day Brooks County near Morven immediately upon the opening of Coffee Road  in 1823, was the county’s earliest tavern.  Hall’s home was the place of the first Superior Court in Lowndes County, with Judge Thaddeus G. Holt presiding and Levi J. Knight foreman of the Grand Jury.   Being located on the only thoroughfare in the section, ” it was therefore accessible to other pioneers settling in the area.  When Lowndes county was being organized, the Georgia legislature designated Hall’s residence as the site for elections and county courts, until such time as a permanent site could be selected.  The Sion Hall home was situated about 1 1/2 miles northward from Morven, and was on land lot No. 271, in the 12th District of old Irwin County….  The home of Hon. Sion Hall was a public inn on the Coffee Road for many years, and many people stopped there for a meal or to spend the night, and the place found favor with the traveling public.  The Hall home was capable of accommodating as many as twelve or fifteen people at one time without inconvenience.  Overflow guests were allowed to sleep on improvised beds on the floor.  ‘Hall’s’ was always a stopping point usually for the night for judges and lawyers going from Troupville to Thomasville during the semi-annual court sessions.”

McCranie’s Post Office
“The first post office in original Lowndes County was established in 1827 at the home of Daniel McCranie in present Cook County.  This was on the Coffee Road.  The Coffee Road was the main stagecoach route from the upper part of the state, and was also the mail route.”

Sharpe’s Store
“The next point of interest on the Coffee Road after leaving McCranie’s post office was ‘Sharpe’s Store’ which was in present Brooks County and situated some fifteen miles westward from old Franklinville [ approximately 25 miles southwest of the point where the Knights settled at the present day site of Ray City, GA]. Hamilton W. Sharpe, then a young man hardly in his twenties, had come down from Tatnall County over the Coffee Road, and decided to locate near the home of Hon. Sion Hall at whose home the first court in Lowndes was held a few months afterwards.  So young Sharpe built a small store building out of logs near the Sharpe home; that was in 1826.  He along with others expected that the permanent county-seat would be established there.

Lovett’s Dinner House
“There were no further inns on the Coffee Road until James Lovett’s home and inn was reached, which was about fifteen miles east of Thomasville near the then Lowndes and Thomas county line.  Lovett’s was reached about noon after setting out from Hall’s after breakfast.  Most travelers stopped there for dinner, hence Lovett’s hospitable home was called a ‘dinner house.'”  According to Ed Cone’s Coffee Road website, “This dinner-house was operated by James Lovett and is located at the crossroad of the Salem Church Road and the Coffee Road about two miles west of Barwick, GA. James Lovett married Catherine (Katy) Zitterauer and they are the parents of Rachel Lovett who married James Cone. They are ancestors of a large Cone family in Thomas County. The “Lovett’s Dinnerhouse has been remodeled but still stands.”

Construction and Maintenance of Coffee Road

“The Coffee Road was maintained by road-hands in the various counties through which it passed, and was in no sense a state road as would be understood nowadays.  The only part the state had was in the opening of it before people ever settled in the territory through which it passed. Gen. Coffee, at the expense of the State, employed a crew of men, some thirty or forty, free-labor, and with the help of state surveyors, projected the road through a wild and uninhabited territory.  It was just wide enough for two vehicles to pass and was not ditched or graded as is done at present (roads never had ditches until after the Civil War and very few then for many years). “

The streams were either “forded” or crossed by means of ferries owned by private individuals.  Fares for ferries were fixed in each county in those days by the Inferior Court.  In times of high water the streams which were “forded” would often “swim” the horse and vehicle for two or three days and at times even longer, and only those on horse-back could have any reasonable hope of making a trip without interruptions.  There were no bridges on any of the streams until after the Civil War.

The 1829 Gazetteer of the State of Georgia, in describing the road from Milledgeville to Tallahassee, stated:

“This is a stage road once a week. Fare $25. Leaves Milledgeville on Wednesdays… The road via Jacksonville and Thomasville is [246 miles] and is destitute of water for many miles.”

Using a historic standard of living for comparison, the $25 fare would have equated to about $612 in 2010 dollars.

Charles Joseph La Trobe, an early traveler on the Coffee Road, wrote about his experiences in 1837.

Charles Joseph La Trobe, an early traveler on the Coffee Road, wrote about his experiences in 1835.

In 1833, Charles Joseph La Trobe, an English traveler and writer, rode from Tallahassee, FL to Milledgeville, GA  via the weekly stagecoach.  Before departing Tallahassee, La Trobe apparently sampled the local hospitality:

In referring to Tallahassee beverages, the traveler [La Trobe] described the mint-julep, mint-sling, bitters, hailstone, snowstorm, apple-toddy, punch, Tom and Jerry and egg-nogg. He was about to give the recipe for mint-julep when he used the following language: “Who knows, that if you get hold of the recipe, instead of being an orderly sober member of society, a loyal subject, and a good Tory; you will get muzzy, and hot-brained, and begin to fret about reform, and democratic forms of government, – doubt your bible – despise your country – hate your King – fight cocks, and race like a Virginian – swear profanely like a Western man – covet your neighbors’ goods like a Yankee speculator – and end by turning Radical Reformer!”  –Thomasville Times, Jun. 22, 1889 — page 7

Despite his warnings to others, La Trobe made notes on the recipes of these concoctions for his own personal use. One wonders if the aftereffects of too much ‘Julep’ were not causative of the ill description of the trip to Milledgeville in his book, “The Rambler in North America:

“…we were well aware that there was some sore travelling in advance.  The roads through the south of Georgia are in the roughest state. The public vehicle which, as it happened, we had all to ourselves, rattled however over the country, when practicable, at the heels of a pair of stout young horses, from stage to stage, with a good-will and rapidity, which would have been very satisfactory, had the impediments in the roads and in the state of the crazy carriage permitted constant advance; but we only reached Milledgeville, the capital of Georgia, after three days and nights of incessant travel and that after a goodly proportion of breakdowns and stickfasts, besides having to wade many deep creeks and swim one or two.
The streams were all flooded and ferries and bridges were seldom seen and I would rather take my chance for swim than pass over the rocking and fearful erection they call a bridge which under that name span many of the deep rivers on the road nearer the coast, and however rotten, are seldom repaired till some fatal accident renders the repair imperative.  Yet the coolness with which the coachman, after halting for a moment on the edge of the steep broken declivity, and craning forward to look at the stream in advance, broad, muddy, and rapid, running like a mill-race, will then plunge into it with his horses, descending down till the water covers their backs, is admirable.  On these occasions we always thought that a preparation to swim was no sign of cowardice, and made our precautions accordingly.  From all this you may gather that travelling in the South is still in its infancy, and I may add shamefully expensive.  You pay exorbitantly for the meanest fare.
Of the scenery, I need say but little.  A great proportion of our route lay over an uninteresting pine-covered country, but there were frequent towns springing up along the line which will doubtless become more and more frequent…’

Prior to the opening of the Coffee Road in 1823, there were very few pioneer families in all of Irwin County ( then encompassing present day Lowndes, Thomas, Worth, Berrien, Cook, Brooks, Coffee Lanier, Tift, Turner, Ben Hill, Colquitt, and parts of Echols and Atkinson counties). Folks Huxford dated the earliest settlement of present day Brooks County. originally part of Lowndes, as occurring in 1823 after the Coffee Road was opened.

“The influx of settlers was so great that within two years after the Coffee Road was opened up there had moved in approximately two hundred families, so that the southern half of the county [of Irwin] was cut off and made into the new County of Lowndes.

Mapquest Route connecting remaining sections of Coffee Road.

Mapquest Route connecting remaining sections of Coffee Road.

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