Old Land Mark Gone ~ Death Of “Uncle Billy” Smith

William Smith (1797-1882), pioneer settler of Lowndes County, GA, homesteaded on land lot No. 50, 11th District along the Withlacoochee River in the 1820s.  Smith would serve as clerk of the court, postmaster, and Ordinary of Lowndes County.

This section was then truly a wild southern frontier of the young American nation, replete with wild animals, panthers, bears, wolves, and snakes; Indians who resented the forceful and often illegal intrusion of settlers on to their native lands; and many febrile diseases, typhoid, malariascarlet fever, and other little understood diseases among them. Through this wilderness in 1823, General Coffee cut a military thoroughfare into north Florida. The Coffee Road opened up the territory and led to the creation of  Lowndes County by an act of the legislature on December 23, 1825.  It was around this time that the Knights first came to Lowndes county and settled in that portion which was later cut into Berrien County.    

The first Courts and first elections in Lowndes County were held at the house of Sion Hall,  who built an Inn on the Coffee Road.  But soon the commissioners of Lowndes County appointed to determine the location of the county courthouse chose William Smith’s place on the Withlacoochee as the site of the county seat, and named the place Franklinville, GA.

Lowndes at that time included all of present day Berrien County, and Lanier, Cook, Tift, Brooks, and Echols, besides. For a time the post office for this vast frontier county was at the home of Big Thumb Daniel McCranie. However, On July 7, 1828, the Post Office Department established a post office at Franklinville and appointed Mr. Smith as postmaster.

FRANKLINVILLE
    The erstwhile town of Franklinville did not exist long –  only about four years.  At its best, it could only boast one store and three or four families and the court house.

    The court house was built there in 1828-29, and was a small crude affair, costing only $215.00.  The first term of court in it was held in the fall of 1829.

    William Smith was the first one to settle there, and was living there when the site was chosen.  The only other families to ever live there, so far as can be determined were John Mathis, James Mathis and Sheriff Martin Shaw.  After a short residence there the three last named moved to that part of Lowndes cut off into Berrien in 1856.

William Smith, “Uncle Billy” as he was known, was a member of the State Rights Association of Lowndes County, GA,  along with Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharp, Aaron Knight, Jonathan Knight, John Knight and William Cone Knight,  Noah H. Griffin, Martin Shaw, Malachi Monk, Captain David Bell and many others.  The Association gathered  at the county courthouse at Franklinville in 1835 to toast State Rights.

Just a few years after its founding, Franklinville was found to be unsatisfactory as the seat of Lowndes county.

… an act was passed by the Georgia legislature, appointing a commission to select an appropriate place for a county site. Franklinville had been its capital, but was not near enough to the center. As the legend goes, Big Billy Knight and Big Billy Folsom were appointed. So it came about that where the wine-red waters or the Ockolocoochee and the black current of the Withlacoochee meet at the end of a long sandbar and go tumbling and writhing, eddying and curving down the long reach of moss-grown trees, like two huge serpents struggling for the mastery, the plat of a town was drawn, and it was called after Georgia’s great chevelier governor, “Troupville,”

William Smith moved to Troupville where he continued to serve as Postmaster.  There, he also operated “Tranquil Hall,” one of the three hotels in the town.  Tranquil Hall was widely famed for its hospitality, and when court was in session at Troupville, the judge and lawyers usually stayed at the tavern.  Tranquil Hall was situated on the public square, along with the court-house and jail, the stables belonging to the stage line and a convenient “grocery.”  The other inns were the Jackson Hotel , situated on the town square and run by Morgan G. Swain and his wife, and a hotel operated by Jonathan Knight for eight or ten years until he moved away to Appling County about 1849.

Troupville itself would suffer the same fate as Franklinville. When the Atlantic & Gulf railroad (later the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway) came to Lowndes County, it bypassed Troupville, following a route four miles to the south through the site now known as Valdosta, GA:

The railroad was in process of building when residents of Troupville began to move. William Smith, one of the pioneers, and known as “Uncle Billy” Smith, the day the deed was signed by Mr.Wisenbaker giving the railroad six acres of land on which to build the first station, tore off the wing of his hotel at Troupville and moved it to Valdosta, where he operated his hotel several years. The first house moved to the new town was owned by Judge Peeples and it was rolled from Troupville to Valdosta, being placed on pillars on the lot on Troup street where it now stands. Several other houses were also moved bodily and some few of them are yet standing. In a few weeks time Troupville as a town was no more.

— — ◊ — —

Advertisement for Tranquil Hall, upon its relocation from Troupville, GA to Valdosta, GA, 1870.

Advertisement for Tranquil Hall, upon its relocation from Troupville, GA to Valdosta, GA, 1870.

Albany News
January 7, 1870

The Proprietors of Tranquil Hall, formerly of Troupville, have opened a house at Valdosta, Ga., for the accommodation of the Traveling Public, where they will find the fare equal to that of any House on the line of the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad, and charges as reasonable.

WM. SMITH
MARGET SMITH

— — ◊ — —

Uncle Billy and his wife Margaret continued to operate Tranquil Hall at Valdosta, GA.  Eventually, in their declining years they sold out to Darius M. Jackson.

William “Uncle Billy” Smith died February 1, 1882.  His obituary was reported in the Valdosta Times:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, February 4, 1882

Old Land Mark Gone.

Death Of “Uncle Billy” Smith.

Mr. Wm. Smith, an old gentleman, whose history is intimately connected with that of Lowndes County, died last Wednesday morning at his residence in Valdosta in the eighty-fourth year of his age, leaving his aged wife (who we believe is about the same age) to tarry a while longer with us. The funeral services were held at his late residence Wednesday afternoon and his remains were buried in our cemetery Thursday morning at 10 o’clock. Mr. Smith was born in 1797, in North Carolina, and emigrated to Irwin, now Lowndes County, and settled the place now known as “Old Franklinville.”

       The Indians, bears and panthers were numerous in these pine forests then and Mr. Smith’s early life was one of some adventures. (Here we will remark that Mr. Smith promised us to write up a history of those early days for publication, but from a feebleness which had been growing on him for six months we suppose he was not able to do the work.)

       When Lowndes was made a county the county site was located at Franklinville, (Mr. Smith’s home,) and he was elected Clerk of the Court. An interesting account of the first court held was published in these columns about a year ago from his pen.

       Later, the county site was moved to Troupville and there Mr. Smith kept a hotel. “Tranquil Hall,” as it was known, was noted for its hospitable landlord and lady and for its splendid table. Travelers carried the good name of this country inn far and wide.

“Tranquil Hall,” with Troupville, was moved and helped to make Valdosta, when the Gulf Road came through here; but the hotel declined with the old people and about ten years ago they gave up the business, and sold the building. It is now occupied by Mr. D. M. Jackson.

Mr. Smith has more than once been Ordinary of the County, having held that office as late as twelve or fourteen years ago. He has held other positions of honor and trust, and in his prime of manhood was a leading and influential man. He had two sons, William and Henry, who died after the war, leaving families. All of Wm. Smith Jr.’s family have died, we believe, but Mr. Henry Smith’s widow, four children and one or two grandchildren are living. So Mrs. Wm. Smith, the widow of the deceased, survives all but four grandchildren and the great grandchildren. We hope the good old lady will find her remaining days as comfortable and as happy as they can be to one left alone at such an age. We would like, at some other time, to give Earthier reminiscences of the old gentleman’s life, if we can get hold of the data.

 † † †

To this obituary, Hamilton W. Sharpe added the following testament (By 1880, Hamilton Sharpe had removed to Quitman, GA where he operated a hotel known as Sharpe House.) :

The Valdosta Times
 Saturday, April 22, 1882

Mr. Wm. Smith. Christian Advocate. William Smith died in Valdosta recently in the eighty-fifth year of his age.

I have known him for over half a century. He was elected Clerk of the Superior Court of Lowndes County in the year 1827, which office he held consecutively for a number of terms, and filled other offices of trust and honor in that county. He was the proprietor of “Tranquile Hall,” located in Troupville, the then county site of Lowndes, and the house was long and favorably known as one of the best hotels in the state. The result of the late war between the States was very hard on him, as his all consisted of slave property. His life was long and varied, a true friend in every respect. He became a member of the M. E. Church South many years ago, but was not very demonstrative in his religious duties until late in life. He was a constant attendant on Church, and always enjoyed the services of God’s house. His departure was very sudden, but we have no fears as to his being well prepared for the change, which was a happy one to him. His children, one by one, all preceded him to the grave, but his wife, like himself very old, still lingers on these mundane shores.

Peace be to his memory.

H.W. Sharpe.

† † †

Related Posts:

Juanelle Wilson, Mayor of Ray City

Juanelle Wilson, Mayor of Ray City

Juanelle Wilson, 1986, Mayor of Ray City, GA

Juanelle Wilson, 1986, Mayor of Ray City, GA

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Juanelle Wilson was elected May of Ray City, GA, 1986

Juanelle Wilson was elected Mayor of Ray City, GA, 1986

Valdosta Times
January 20, 1986

Ray City Gets First Female Mayor

RAY CITY- For the first time in the history of Ray City, a woman has been elected as the mayor.

Juanelle Wilson was sworn into office at City Hall by City Clerk Betty Shearl Jan. 7.

She is excited about her election. “I was pleased to know people wanted me and supported me,” she said.

Mrs. Wilson, wife of Don A. Wilson, isn’t a newcomer to the political arena. She ran for the Ray City mayor’s office unsuccessfully three times, the first being in 1973. But later that year she was placed on the City Council by a special election and has been very active in politics since that time.

In addition to serving on city council, she has worked as city clerk and she still serves as director of the Ray City Bicentennial Park.  Mrs. Wilson would like to see a swimming pool and tennis court added to the park in the near future.

She is also active with the homecoming committee, which is in charge of annual homecoming activities on tap for the July 4th weekend celebration in Ray City.

“I have worked as hard as I could and enjoyed every minute of it,” she said of her hectic schedule.  Mrs. Wilson sees a progressive year for Ray City.  She would like to see the sewer system upgraded and a multi-housing plan started. She adds that a small industry would also contribute to the city’s expansion.

Mrs. Wilson attended Mayor’s Day in Atlanta where she sought funds for the projects she has on the agenda. “When we lift the face of the city, we need to lift mine, too,” she joked.

She said her husband and their only grandchild, Miriam, who lives with them, are excited for her and supportive of her endeavors.

No one in Mrs. Wilson’s family was ever interested in politics, with the  exception of her grandfather, the late Fred Purvis of Berrien County. She said whenever he served on the jury, he usually would up bringing some of his fellow jurors home for the night, if they lived too far away.

“I like people,” said Mrs. Wilson. “I have to be around people.” She has good rapport with the city’s council members. They are Willie James Doe, Raymond Bailey, Johnny Cooper and Eston Giddens.

At one time, a telephone service which contacted senior citizens on a daily basis to ensure their safety, was operative in the city. Mrs. Wilson would like to see this project re-established.

“We desperately need a community center to be used for the youth and senior citizens as a gathering place,” said Mrs. Wilson.  She sees that as one of her goals.

Mrs.Wilson said she feels her efforts for the city and the people who live there will be successful. “I think I’ll have their support and I’ll do the best job I can,” she said.

The 62-year-old mayor, who will celebrate her birthday Feb. 17, was born in Atlanta. Her father, the late Henry L. Starling, was a student of Georgia Tech on the GI Bill at that time. Mrs. Wilson said her father designed the tobacco flue and that required her family to move constantly. Her family returned to Berrien County when she was 6 months old.

Mrs. Wilson and her husband were married on Jan. 14, 1943. She and her husband move 22 time during his 27 1/2 years of service in the Air Force. “It was fun traveling and being part of the communities,” she said.

The Wilsons have two children, Barbara Joyce, who lives near Ray City, and a son, Dale Allen of San Diego, Calif.

Related Posts

1922 Ray City Elections

 

Ray City Theater shows Destination Moon

Ray City Theater 1950

The Ray City theater first opened in one of the  brick buildings on the north side of Main Street, near the corner of Paralleled Street. Later, it moved around the corner to a brick building on Paralleled Street facing the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad.

December 7, 1950, Ray City Theater was showing Destination Moon.   Some rights reserved by markbult

December 7, 1950, Ray City Theater was showing Destination Moon.

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by markbult

The Nashville Herald,
January 19, 1950, front page,Des

New Ray City Theater Opens Friday Night

      Ray City is all set for the opening of its new $20,000 modern theatre Friday (tomorrow) evening at 7 o’clock.
      Showing appreciation for the new enterprise Ray City merchants banded together for a full page advertisement in the middle section of this paper.  In addition, the theatre carries a liberal announcement of the opening together with the program for the next week.
      The new theatre is owned by L.O. West, who also is owner of Luke’s Theatre in Hilliard, Fla.  Mr. West is an experienced theatre man and will give a well rounded program of entertainment for the people of Ray City and vicinity.
      Modern in every respect, the theatre has spring cushion seats and back, rest rooms for both white and colored, drinking founts and a balcony for colored people.
      It is the first modern theatre for Ray City, and is understood to be one of the most modern in this section of the state.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

 

The Nashville Herald, December 7, 1950
Ray City Theatre Shows “Destination Moon” Sun., Mon.

       After having been closed several weeks, the Ray City Theatre is now reopened with pictures slated for Friday and Saturday and Sunday and Monday.
       A special picture, described as one of the most unusual in motion picture history, will be shown Sunday and Monday as advertised elsewhere in this issue of the paper.
       It is George Pal’s Technicolor space ship epic, “Destination Moon.”  Featured in the cast are John Archer, Tom Powers, Dick Weston and Erin O’Brien Moore.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

 

Obituary of Mable Virginia McDonald Roberson

Mable Virginia McDonald (1916-2011)

Mable McDonald Roberson

Mable McDonald Roberson

Mable Virginia McDonald (1916-2011) was born born on January 31, 1916 in Ray City,GA. She was a daughter of Carrie Eugenia Langford  and Lacey A. McDonald, and the elder sister of Billie McDonald.  Her father was a rural mail carrier serving the Cat Creek area near Ray City. As a girl,  Mable attended the Ray City school.  She finished high school in Valdosta, GA and graduated with the Valdosta High School class of 1932.  On September 23, 1936 she married John F. “Fred” Roberson in Ray City, GA.   He was a career officer in Army Air Corps, later the U.S. Air Force.  The couple made their home in Jacksonville, FL  and throughout the United States, Asia, and Europe where Fred was assigned to duty.

Obituary of Mable Virginia McDonald Roberson

ROBERSON Mable Virginia McDonald Roberson age 95, of Keystone Heights passed away at her home on December 28, 2011. She was born on January 31, 1916 in Ray City, Georgia to the late Lacey and Carrie (Langford) McDonald. Mable graduated from Valdosta High School, Valdosta, GA in 1932 and also graduated from Business School in Jacksonville, FL. In September of 1936 she became the beloved wife of John F. (Fred) Roberson in Ray City, GA. During their early years together, Mable worked as a clerk, bookkeeper and accountant for several businesses in Jacksonville. The majority of her life energy was given to being a loving wife and a nurturing, loving mother to four children, fourteen grandchildren, and twenty-one great grandchildren. She and Fred had over 74 wonderful, loving years together. Mable lived all over the world with her husband, a United States Air Force Officer. The time they spent in Japan, Alaska and Germany were among her favorite memories. Mable was a devoted daughter, sister, wife and mother. She enjoyed water skiing, traveling, cooking, gardening, and hosting family gatherings at the lake. Her compassionate caring for others included her ill mother for fourteen years and tenderly caring for her cherished husband. She was cheerfully generous with her time, energy and resources. She and her husband provided financial support to innumerable Christian Missions and Charitable Programs. She worked as a Volunteer at a children’s orphanage in Japan and the Lake Area Ministries, Keystone Heights. Her faith in the Lord was total and unwavering. Her desire that all come to a saving faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ was her highest priority. She was a faithful and active member of the Faith Presbyterian Church of Melrose. Colonel Roberson had preceded her in death in March 2011. She is survived by her four children; John F. Roberson, Jr. of Middleboro, MA, Virginia Jane Quine of Puyallup, WA, Carol Ann Seiders of Warwick, RI and Jeffery Lee Roberson of New Market, MD. She also leaves behind her brother; Billie McDonald of Ray City, GA, fourteen grandchildren, twenty-one great grandchildren, numerous loving nieces, nephews, and cousins. We, her children, do arise and call her blessed. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Mother, we rejoice with you, because we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord!

Funeral services were held on Saturday, January 7, 2012 in the Faith Presbyterian Church, Melrose, FL.  Interment followed at the Keystone Heights Cemetery.

 

Obituary of Colonel John “Fred” Roberson

ROBERSON Colonel John F. Roberson (retired) age 96 was born in Crescent City, FL on 24 November 1914. He passed away on March 29, 2011 at his home in Keystone Heights, FL after several months of illness. On September 23, 1936, Fred married Mable V. McDonald of Ray City, Georgia. They were devoted to each other for 74 years. His faith in the Lord was total and unwavering, and his desire that all come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was his highest priority. He is survived by his wife, Mable, his four children, and was blessed with fourteen grandchildren, nineteen great grandchildren, and numerous loving nieces and nephews. Fred earned a degree in Business Administration from Ohio State University and a Master of Business Administration from Michigan State University. As a career military officer, he served with the Army Air Corps until it became the Unites States Air Force. During his service he rose to the rank of Colonel and was assigned throughout the United States, Asia, and Europe. He retired in 1974 to Keystone Heights where he was active in his church, on the golf course and on White Sands Lake where he taught three generations to water ski.

The funeral services  for John F. Roberson were held on Saturday, April 2, 2011 in the Faith Presbyterian Church, Melrose, FL. Interment followed at the Keystone Heights Cemetery.

Charlie Parker was a Splendid Soldier

Charlie Parker (1919-1945)

In Lakeland, GA there is an official military headstone marking the grave of Charlie Parker, who was a resident of Ray City. Charlie Parker enlisted in the army days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He was in the first African American military unit to arrive in England, and he was the first African-American from Berrien County to die in WWII. Like the Army in which he served, the cemetery where he was buried was racially segregated  –  the Lakeland Colored Cemetery. Today this burial ground is known as the Charles Knight Cemetery.

Grave of Charlie Parker (1919-1945), Lakeland, GA <br> CPL 65 ORD AM CO <br> World War II

Grave of Charlie Parker (1919-1945), Lakeland, GA
CPL 65 ORD AM CO
World War II

Charlie Parker, a son of Will Parker and Girtrude “Trudie” Reddick, lived most of his short life at Ray City, GA. He was a nephew of Stella Reddick Wright and Mose Wright.

His father, Will Parker, was born August 8, 1884.  As a man, Will Parker  was medium height and build, with black eyes and black hair.  His mother was Girtrude Reddick; She was a daughter of Albert and Sylvia Reddick. His parents were married  in Coffee County, GA on November 4, 1916 in a ceremony performed by Reverend R. N. Thompson.

By 1918, Charlie’s parents were residing in Berrien County, GA. Will Parker,  was employed by Samuel I. Watson as a farmer, working Watson’s property on RFD #2 out of Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. By 1920, Will  and Girtrude Parker had  relocated to Ray City, GA, renting a house in the “Negro Quarters” which were located between Hwy 129 and Cat Creek in the present day vicinity of the Ray City Senior Citizen Center. Will Parker had taken a job with the Georgia & Florida Railroad, and Gertrude was working as a laundress.  Will  and Gertrude had started a family, with their firstborn son Albert Parker born March 1917, and Charlie Parker born January 9, 1919.  Matthew Parker was born in 1921 and Mary Parker in 1922, followed by Stella, Mack, and the twins, Ethel Mae and Willie both of whom died young.  The Parkers neighbors were men like Charlie Palmer, Joe Davis, and Jerry Mullin, all of whom worked for the railroad, and their wives Henrietta Palmer and Essie Davis, who, like Gertrude, worked as laundresses, and Annie Mullin, who was employed as a domestic cook.

1920 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker and his family in Ray City, GA https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n293/mode/1up

1920 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker and his family in Ray City, GA
https://archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu235unit#page/n293/mode/1up

Charlie Parker and his siblings attended grade school, Charlie completing the 5th grade according to his later military records. Of course, at the time schools were segregated. It wasn’t until 1954 that the supreme court ruled on segregation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act compelled the desegregation of schools. Yet segregated schools persisted in the South; In 1965, “In Berrien County, Georgia, 32 Negro parents chose white schools for their children, but the school Superintendent told the U.S. Office of Education that all 32 parents came to him before school opened and said that their names had been forged on the choice forms.”

Charlie’s mother, Girtrude Reddick Parker, died some time in the 1920s.  The 1930 census shows Will Parker, widower, raising Charlie and his siblings alone, although Girtrude’s sisters also mothered the children. Will was renting a house in Ray City for two dollars a month and  continued to work for the railroad. Charlie’s older brother, Albert, quit school and went to work as a farm laborer to help support the family.  The Parkers also took in boarders to help with family expenses; Census records show Eugene and Luvicy Thomas Campbell living in the Parker household. Their neighbors were the widow Nina Dowdy and Charlie Phillips.  Down the street was the residence of Henry Polite, who later married Queen Ester Wright.

1930 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker, his father and siblings in Ray City, GA

1930 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker, his father and siblings in Ray City, GA
https://archive.org/stream/georgiacensus00reel338#page/n354/mode/1up

In 1939, Charlie Parker was working on the Guthrie farm on Park Street extension. When the men were cropping tobacco in the summer of 1939, one of Charlie’s tasks was to go into town to get ice. The Guthries had a mule that pulled a sled which was used to haul the tobacco from the field to the tobacco barn for curing. At lunch time, when the tobacco croppers were taking a break, Charlie would take the mule and sled down the dirt road into Ray City to the ice house.  Ferris Moore kept a little ice house by the railroad track in front of Pleamon Sirman’s grocery store. The ice was shipped into Ray City from an ice plant in Nashville. Sometimes seven-year-old Diane Miley, one of the Guthrie grandchildren, would ride in the sled with Charlie for the trip into town and back.

Sometime in late 1939, Charlie Parker and his cousin, Dan Simpson,  left Ray City and went to Florida to try their hand at working for the Wilson Cypress Company. Dan was a son of Charlie’s aunt Luvicy Reddick and her first husband, John H. Simpson.

1940 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker at the Wilson Cypress Sawmill Camp, Crows Bluff, FL

1940 Census enumeration of Charlie Parker at the Wilson Cypress Sawmill Camp, Crows Bluff, FL

The 1940 census enumerated Charlie Parker and Dan Simpson in Lake County, FL, working  at the Crows Bluff Camp of the Wilson Cypress Sawmill. Each rented a place to live at the camp for $2.00 a month.

Crows Bluff on the St. Johns River, was about 65 miles up stream from the Wilson Sawmill at Palatka, FL. At one time, the Wilson sawmill was the largest cypress sawmill in the world.

Parker and Simpson worked as “rafting laborers.” The cypress trees were cut and hauled to the river. They were dumped into the water and assembled into rafts which were floated down the river to the sawmill.

Wilson Cypress Company dumping logs into the Saint Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38983

Wilson Cypress sawmill camp in Lake County, FL, dumping logs into the Saint Johns River.
Charlie Parker and Dan Simpson, of Ray City, GA found work with Wilson Cypress Company in the late 1930s as “rafting laborers.”
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38983

Wilson Cypress Company logging operation on a tributary of the St. Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38992

Wilson Cypress Company logging operation on a tributary of the St. Johns River. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/38992

Timber rafting on a tributary of the St. Johns River, Florida. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/27761

Timber rafting on a tributary of the St. Johns River, Florida. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/27761

Wilson Cypress Sawmill. Charlie Parker worked for the Wilson Cypress Sawmill prior to WWII. At the time, the sawmill was the largest producer of red-heart tidewater cypress lumber in the world.

Wilson Cypress Sawmill.
Charlie Parker worked for the Wilson Cypress Sawmill prior to WWII. At the time, the sawmill was the largest producer of red-heart tidewater cypress lumber in the world.

The Palatka sawmill operation of the Wilson Cypress Company was shut down December 5, 1945 during WWII.  Later, the chairman of the company board remarked, “There just was no more marketable timber. We had cut it all.”   Over the next 37 years,  the company’s assets were sold off piece by piece, including 100,000 acres of cut over cypress wetlands.

But the war drew Charlie Parker away before the end came for the sawmill.    His elder brother, Albert Parker, had joined the Army nearly a year before the U.S. entered the war, enlisting at Fort Benning, GA on January 21, 1941.

U.S. Army records show that Charlie Parker enlisted with the Army on November 26, 1941, eleven days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He entered the service at Camp Blanding, FL. His physical description at induction was 5’9″ tall and 151 pounds.  His cousin Dan Simpson would be inducted at Camp Blanding the following year.

Camp Blanding was established in 1939 and by 1941, the camp had grown to be the fourth largest city in Florida with more than 10,000 buildings to accommodate two divisions, about 60,000 trainees.  In addition to housing and mess halls, maintenance buildings, PXs, field artillery and rifle ranges, the camp had a 2,800-bed hospital, enlisted men’s and officer’s clubs, bowling alleys, four theaters, and five chapels… The camp had separate training and induction centers for soldiers of both races, although they remained in separate areas of the post…During World War II, approximately one million men received basic training here, the largest of Florida’s 142 military installations built in the 1940s.

Following training, Charlie Parker was initially assigned to the 60th Ordnance Ammunition Company and later transferred to the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company.

“The 65th Ordnance Company were the first Aviation ammunition Unit to arrive in the UK. They were set to immediate work establishing the first Aviation Ordnance Section in a General Service Depot, at Burtonwood. They were briefly transferred to Barnham before being moved to Wortley, Yorkshire to man the first depot to accept AF munitions in quantity from the US. This Unit was the first African American Unit to arrive in England!  Its arrival being the subject of an FBI document, relating to a press release, downplaying the arrival of ‘negro’ troops.”

“The all black 65th Ordnance Company who arrived from Fort Dix, New Jersey in the middle of July 1942 at the nearby small village of Wortley. They were joined the following month by a further 98 black GIs. They had come to service an aerial bomb depot in the vicinity, and were barracked at Wortley Hall, the home of Lord Wharncliffe. According to the detailed account of this by Graham Smith, the locals of Wortley and Sheffield got on very well with the black soldiers, apart from some young men who resented them having relations with local young women. They were resented too by Lord Wharncliffe, who didn’t like having them milling around his living quarters.”

When America entered the war, there were fewer than 4000 African Americans in the armed services; by the war’s end more than 1.2 million African Americans would serve in uniform. Like Charlie Parker, many black soldiers served in segregated units in support roles:

“While most African Americans serving at the beginning of WWII were assigned to non-combat units and relegated to service duties, such as supply, maintenance, and transportation, their work behind front lines was equally vital to the war effort, serving behind the front lines…By 1945, however, troop losses virtually forced the military to begin placing more African American troops into positions as infantrymen, pilots, tankers, medics, and officers in increasing numbers.  In all positions and ranks, they served with as much honor, distinction, and courage as any American soldier did.  Still, African American MPs stationed in the South often could not enter restaurants where their German prisoners were being served a meal. ”  

The 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company served in campaigns in Algeria-French Morocco, Tunisia, Naples-Foggia, and Rome-Arno. By 1945, the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company (munitions supply) was assigned to Mondolfo Airfield, Italy.  USAAF units known to have been stationed at Mondolfo were:

307th; 308th; 309th Fighter Squadrons, P-51D/K Mustang
Primary mission was to escort B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers on missions into Northern Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Austria.
317th; 319th Fighter Squadrons, P-51D/K Mustang
Primary mission was to fly ground air support missions for advancing Allied ground forces in Italy.

Part of Charlie Parker’s job while serving in Italy as a corporal in the 65th Ordnance Ammunition Company was handling toxic bombs.  According to the textbook Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare published by the U.S. Army, the US Army Air Force in WWII:

had 100-lb mustard agent bombs; 500-lb phosgene or cyanogen chloride bombs; and 1,000-lb phosgene, cyanogen chloride, or hydrocyanic acid bombs… None of these chemical weapons was used on the battlefield during the war, but the prepositioning of chemical weapons in forward areas resulted in one major disaster and several near mishaps. The disaster occurred December 2, 1943, when the SS John Harvey, loaded with 2,000 M47A1 mustard agent bombs, was destroyed during a German air raid at Bari Harbor, Italy. The only members of the crew who were aware of the chemical munitions were killed in the raid. As a result of the ship’s destruction, mustard agent contaminated the water in the harbor and caused more than 600 casualties, in addition to those killed or injured in the actual attack.

Just days before the German surrender and the declaration of Victory in Europe, Parker suffered his own chemical weapons mishap, a fatal exposure to the toxic gas from a poison gas bomb . His death was reported in the Nashville Herald.

The Nashville Herald
May 31, 1945

Cpl. Parker, Negro, Passes In Italy

        Cpl. Charlie Parker, colored, of Ray City, died in Italy April 26, in a United States Army Station Hospital, located in Southern Italy, where he had been stationed nearly two years.
        While working with toxic bombs, Cpl. Parker inhaled a concentration of the gas. After reporting to the Medical Aid Station he was admitted to the Station Hospital for further treatment. Reports stated that everything possible was done to save his life but to no avail.
        His burial services were conducted on Sunday, April 29, attended by all officers and men of his company except those on duty. Burial was in an American cemetery in Southern Italy. The letter from his commanding officer stated that Parker was a splendid soldier and well liked by those of his company.
        The deceased volunteered in the U.S. Army about three years ago, having in Italy. He was the son of Will Parker and a nephew of Frances Goff, both of Ray City. So far as known at this time, he was the first Berrien county colored person to make the supreme sacrifice in World War II.

(transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker)

After the end of World War II, Charlie Parker’s body was returned to the United States.  The U.S. government mandated a program to return the bodies of servicemen who had been buried in temporary military cemeteries overseas. Following surveys to the population, the government decided that about three fifths of the 289,000 personnel involved would be returned in accordance with family wishes. Between 1946 and 1951, over 170,000 servicemen were returned.

After WWII, the body of Charlie Parker, of Ray City, GA was returned to Georgia aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson.

After WWII, the body of Charlie Parker, of Ray City, GA was returned to Georgia aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson.

The body of Charlie Parker was returned to America aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cpl. Eric G. Gibson, originally built as a Liberty Ship.  As a funeral ship, the USAT Eric G. Gibson was painted white with a large purple mourning band. The ship arrived at the Brooklyn Army Base, NY, in February, 1949, with the bodies of 92 Georgians along with the bodies of more than 5000 war dead from other states.

Ironically, in the 1960s, the Army loaded the S.S. Corporal Eric G. Gibson with chemical weapons of mass destruction- rockets armed with VX nerve gas – and sank it off the coast of  New Jersey to dispose of the deadly weapons. Today, the sunken ship and its deadly cargo remain one of the most dangerous chemical weapons dump sites  in U.S. waters.

In 1949, Francis Reddick Goff applied for a flat marble military headstone to mark the grave of her nephew.

Application for military headstone for Charlie Parker, WWII veteran.

Application for military headstone for Charlie Parker, WWII veteran.

 

Grave of Charlie Parker. Charles Knight Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

Grave of Charlie Parker. Charles Knight Cemetery, Lakeland, GA.

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Wilma Harper Shultz Began 60-year Teaching Career at Ray City

Eighteen-year-old Wilma Geneva Harper  began her teaching career at Ray City School in 1928. There, while teaching first grade, she met and married Ray City School principal Prentice Munson Shultz.  The couple worked together at the school until 1941.

Wilma Harper was born in Willacoochee, GA on June 13, 1909, a daughter of Minnie Etta Burns and Youngie Harper. Her family lived in Willacoochee and Douglas, GA before moving to Ocilla, GA.

Wilma Harper Shultz taught first grade at Ray City from 1929-1941. Image source: Jack Johnson

Wilma Harper Shultz taught first grade at Ray City from 1929-1941. Image source: Jack Johnson

At Ray City School, Wilma Harper Shultz taught in a wood-frame classroom building that was constructed as an annex to the brick school built in 1923.  In a 1988 article in the  Rome News,  she reflected on her start at Ray City School and 60 years spent in the classroom.

Wilma Harper Shultz reflects on 60 years in the classroom.

Rome News, December 12, 1988. Wilma Harper Shultz reflects on 60 years in the classroom.

Rome News
December 12, 1988

Retired Teacher Can’t Stay Away

Milledgeville – Wilma Shultz has taught a lot of children, their children, and their childrens’ children in her 60 years in the classroom.

She retired after 46 years as a first-grade teacher in 1974, but retirement could not keep her out of the classroom. She has continued to substitute teach at Midway Elementary School, where she spent most of her career, and at Northside Elementary School.

At 78, the petite, immaculately dressed white-haired woman says teaching is the one thing that keeps her going.

She began in 1928 in Ray City, near Ocilla, where she grew up on a farm. She had set her sights on teaching when she met and fell in love with Prentice M. Shultz, who taught and was principal at Ray City school.

The only requirement for teaching then was a teacher-training course, which she took in high school. She began teaching first grade at age 18.

A year later she married the principal.  

They moved to Milledgeville in 1943, where Prentice Shultz taught math at Georgia Military College and his wife worked at a nursery school. They attended college during the summer, getting their education degrees, completing requirements by 1951.

When Prentice Shultz died in 1976, his wife said, she found her life empty and began substitute-teaching to fill the void left by his death.

“It’s hard to be left alone,” she said.  “I’ve seen people my age give up. But, I like being able to get up and go to the classroom.  It’s my therapy.  It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Teaching, she said, has changed. In Ray City she taught in a house converted to a school. There was no indoor plumbing and no lunchroom.

Her students were rural children unprepared for the academic and social aspects of school.  They were shy and frightened, and they didn’t know how to write or count.

“Today, children start off with kindergarten, so you don’t have that long readiness period in first grade,” she said. “When I began teaching, we had to teach them everything from the ground up.  I would say that when children finish first grade now, it is comparable to children in second or third grade then.

But it’s the things that don’t change, she says, that make her love teaching.

“They are still those sweet, innocent children,” she said.

Wilma Harper Shultz died on September 11, 2002.

Obituary

Mrs. Wilma Shultz, 93, died September 11, 2002, in Greenville.

Mrs. Shultz was a native of Barrow County, but made her home in Milledgeville, Ga., for 58 years before moving to Greenville. She was a graduate of Georgia State College for Women, was a retired elementary school teacher in Baldwin County and was a member of First United Methodist Church.

Surviving are her daughter and son-in-law, Janice and Jimmy
Lyon, of Greenville; and two grandsons, Ray Lyon of Appleton, Wisconsin, and Ken and Candyce Lyon of Charleston.

Services will be Saturday, September 14, at 11 a.m., at First United Methodist Church in Milledgeville, Ga., with Dr. Harold Lawrence officiating. Burial will follow at Baldwin Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

The family will receive friends tonight, September 13th, from 7 to 8:30 at Moore’s Funeral Home in Milledgeville, Ga.

In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the St. Francis Hospice, 414 Pettgru St. Greenville, SC 29601; or First United Methodist Church Building Fund, 300 W. Hancock St. Milledgeville, GA 31061.

The Mackey Mortuary is in charge of local arrangements.

Grave of Wilma Harper Shultz, Baldwin Memorial Gardens, Milledgeville, GA. Image source: Jack Johnson

Grave of Wilma Harper Shultz, Baldwin Memorial Gardens, Milledgeville, GA. Image source: Jack Johnson

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