William Alonzo “Lon” Fender was a son of William Alfred Fender (1836-1920) and Susannah Allen (1841-1920). His father was a Civil War veteran and a farmer of the Naylor district, Lowndes County, GA before moving to Ray City, GA in his final years.
Lon Fender was involved in some biggest business deals in the Wiregrass and in the history of Ray City. He owned farmland near here in the 1920s and a turpentine still at Milltown (now Lakeland), GA.
Lon Fender was born December 14, 1868, the 5th among 12 Fender children. He grew up on his father’s farm in the area of Naylor in Lowndes County, Georgia. In 1898, he married Texas Irene Hagan, a daughter of John William Hagan (1836 – 1918) and Mary Susan “Pollie” Smith (1834 – 1908). The couple made their home in Tifton, GA for a time, and afterward at Valdosta, GA.
The 1910 census shows “Alonzo” Fender and his brother John Franklin Fender in Valdosta, GA with their families residing in neighboring households on Patterson Street; both were occupied as turpentine operators.
His parents were still in the Naylor area at that time, renting a farm. The farm was on a road parallel to the new railroad, and was just off the “Milltown Road.” Their neighbors were Thomas A. Ray, and the widow Mary C. Stone. Sometime before 1920 his parents moved to Ray City where they purchased a house on Main Street. Lon’s older brother, Wilson W. Fender, had come there to Ray City prior to 1910 and operated a hotel there.
Lon’s father, William Alfred Fender, died prior to the enumeration of the 1920 census. His mother remained in their Ray City, GA home until her own death (said to be later that year), living with her widowed daughter Nita Knight, and her grand daughters Reba A. Knight, Dorothy Knight, and grandson Ezekiel Knight. William Alfred Knight and Susannah Allen Fender are buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA, with an undated grave marker.
Lon Fender and his brothers grew to be big-time Wiregrass timber men, and for decades the South Georgia newspapers were full of stories about land deals, sawmills, and turpentine stills operated by the Fenders. The Thomasville Weekly Times Enterprise and South Georgia Progress, Nov. 30, 1906 edition reported one of Lon (W. L) Fender’s big deals:
Thomasville Weekly Times Enterprise and South Georgia Progress
Nov. 30, 1906 — page 8
TURPENTINE AND TIMBER
Big Deals Completed at Valdosta and Milltown
Valdosta, Nov. 27. – (Special) The largest and most important turpentine and timber deal which has occurred in Georgia in many a day was consummated here Saturday. W. L. Fender, of this city, bought the entire turpentine and timber interests of Clements, Lee & Co., at Milltown. The property consists of 7,000 acres, 4,000 acres of which is “round” or unboxed timber, and 3,000 back-boxed, also stills, fixtures, mules, wagons, etc. There are few finer bodies of timber lands now in Georgia lying as it does in one body, and its value is increasing every day. Buyer and seller both decline to state the price paid for the property but it is believed that it was not much under $100,000.
Among the most significant of Lon Fender’s Ray City dealings was his 1921 acquisition of the Sirmans Tract – 2,400 acres of virgin pine forest which was situated just north of town.
November 5, 1921
2,400 ACRES OF TIMBER LAND BRING $100,000
VALDOSTA, Nov. 4. – W. L. Fender, of Valdosta, has bought 2,400 acres of timber land in Berrien county for $100,100, this being the largest and most important transaction of this kind recently in south Georgia. The land belonged to the J. C. Sirmans estate and was sold by the administrators. This is virgin long leaf yellow pine, and Mr. Fender will turpentine it and afterward saw the timber.
This valuable tract of timber figured prominently as a part of the transaction in which the Jackson Brothers acquired the big sawmill at Ray City – simultaneously purchasing the Clements Lumber Company from the Clements Family, and the Sirmans Tract from Lon Fender. Local and state newspapers reported the transaction:
The Nashville Herald
February 16, 1923
The new owners [Jackson Brothers] have bought the Lon Fender timber tract, which Mr. Fender bought more than a year ago from the Sirmans estate. It is one of the finest timber tracts in this section of the state. This with the other timber insight affords at least five years running yet, and there is more to be had, it is said, that will run them ten years.
The Atlanta Constitution
March 4, 1923
The [Jackson Brothers] company purchased the Sirmans Timber, the largest body of original pine in south Georgia. Several hundred acres of this timber had not been turpentined until last year. This body of timber sold some two years abo for over $100,000 and let at once for turpentine purposes. It lies between Milltown and Nashville. As soon as the turpentine lease is off the Jackson brothers will begin sawing.
In the fall of 1925, Lon Fender leased farmland near Ray City from John Levi Allen. This land was most of the former Jehu Patten farm, which consisted of a home and 260 acres in section 454 of the 10th district, located just southwest of Ray City, near the farms of Francis Marion Shaw, Lacy Shaw, and Jesse Shelby Shaw. (John Allen had purchased the farm from Jehu Patten in 1902 – see http://www.audubon4tet.com/FMS/21_John_Levi_Allen.pdf)
William Lon Fender continued to make his home on Patterson Street, Valdosta, GA for the rest of his life. He died March 10, 1949 while in Baldwin County, GA, and was buried at Sunset Cemetery in Valdosta, GA.
- Lon Fender Loses Milltown Stills
- November 6, 1923 ~ Big Fire Loss at the Ray City Sawmill
- R. S. Thigpen ~ Turpentine Man of Ray’s Mill
- The case of Joe Wilmot
- The Barrel Makers
- Lacy Lester Shaw
- Claudie Royals ~ 1920s Skidderman at Ray City, GA
- The Vanceville Affair