A Plank Road for Troupville

In 1852, when all of Berrien County and the site of Ray City, GA, and other surrounding counties were still a part of old Lowndes County, the seat of county government was at Troupville, GA.

Troupville

The people of Troupville aspired to a transportation connection that would link them to the national economy.  Troupville already had a stage road, and a mail route, but the area’s main thoroughfare, the Coffee Road, lay 12 miles to the northwest. Troupville, nestled in the fork of the Withlacoochee River and the Little River, dreamed of a river way connection to float goods down to the Gulf of Mexico.  The folks of this section worked to get a railroad line through the town, but when it did come in 1857 the railroad would miss the mark by four miles.

Before that, in 1852, Troupville awaited the construction of a Plank Road which had been authorized by the State legislature.

Plank Road construction

Plank Road construction

The Act to incorporate the Satilla Plank Road Company, approved January 22, 1850, was a part of the  decade-long Plank Road Boom which began in 1844.

An Act to Incorporate the Satilla Plank Road Company

An Act to Incorporate the Satilla Plank Road Company

The Satilla Plank Road was to run from the Satilla River, through the Okefenokee Swap to Troupville, then on to Thomasville and on to the steamboat docks on the Flint River at Bainbridge, GA.  At Thomasville, it could connect with the Florida and Georgia Plank Road, already under construction, which ran to Monticello, FL then on to Newport, FL  on the St. Marks River.

 

Savannah Daily Morning News
January 20, 1852

A Plank Road through the Okefenokee Swamp

The Committee on Internal Improvements in the House, have reported in favor for a plank road through the Okefenokee Swamp to some point on the Flint River. According to the representations of the report, the enterprise is one of vast importance to Southern and South-western Georgia. The Bill reported proposes to grant the company one half of the unsurveyed portion of the swamp on condition that they build a good and sufficient road through the same. The following are the advantages as enumerated in the report:

         Looking upon the map of Georgia, we see the St. Ilia [Satilla], a bold river stretching from the sea coast inland, in a western direction, and navigable for steamers for forty-five miles. Measuring from thence, we pass in almost a direct line through the Okefenokee swamp, through Clinch county to Troupville, in Lowndes county, from thens to Thomasville, in Thomas county, to Bainbridge on the Flint river. The distance from the St. Illa to Bainbridge is one hundred and sixty miles.
          Diverging to the left from Troupville, we reach Monticello, thence to Tallahassee in Florida. The distance from the St. Illa to Tallahassee is one hundred and forty miles. From Monticello to Newport, (the sea port of the Gulf,) the distance is twenty-seven miles, between which places we are informed, a plank road is now being constructed, and some eighteen or twenty miles of which are already completed.
          From the St. Illa to Monticello, the distance is one hundred and thirteen miles, over which, if a plank road were constructed, would give a plank road connection between the shipping port on the Gulf, with a shipping point on the Atlantic side, the entire distance being one hundred and forty miles.
          We are informed the usual rate of freight on plank roads is one cent per bale of cotton, for each mile.
         The freight, then, from Bainbridge to the St. Illa, would be one dollar and sixty cents per bale, and from Tallahassee to the St. Illa, would be one dollar and forty cents per bale, the respective distance being, as before stated, one hundred and sixty miles, and one hundred and forty miles from Bainbridge and Tallahassee to the St. Illa river.
          From the St. Illa, the run can be made to Savannah by steamboats in ten hours, and a fair average rate of freight on cotton, would be forty cents per bale.
          Thus it will be seen that cotton can be transported through this route from Bainbridge to Savannah, from two dollars to two dollars twenty-five cents per bale, and from Tallahassee (in Florida) to Savannah, at one dollar and eighty cents to two dollars per bale.
          The Okefenokee Swamp, stretching as it does from North to South, forty-five to sixty miles, from Georgia into Florida, intercepts and cuts off the trade from a large and fertile portion of our State, and forces its products for shipment, through the Gulf ports in Florida, where the charges attendant on shipment are peculiarly extravagant.
          There is not a planter in Southern or South Western part of our State, but can bear testimony of the heavy charges, high rates of freight and insurance, and vexatious delays attendant on shipments of their produce from the Gulf ports.
          We have before us evidence from a planter of Thomas county, a member of this House, stating that the cost of sending his cotton to Thomasville, through the Gulf ports, to New York, and selling the same there, averages eight dollars per bale.
          It is apparent, then, to your committee, that by opening a plank road communication through the proposed rout, would cause a saving to the planters of the Southern portion of this State of from four to five dollars per bale, and the result would be that the produce of this State, being shipped through the ports of Florida, would in turn draw the products of Florida to Savannah, our own shipping port.

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Plank Road Boom

The Plank Road Boom was an economic boom that happened in the United States. Largely in the Eastern United States and New York, the boom lasted from 1844 to the mid 1850s. In about 10 years, over 3,500 miles of plank road were built in New York alone- enough road to go from Manhattan to California, and more than 10,000 miles of plank road were built countrywide.

The Plank Road Boom swept across Georgia, as it did the rest of the nation. At least 16 Plank Road Companies were incorporated in Georgia. By 1847, plank streets were being constructed in Savannah, connecting warehouses and wharves with the railroad. Over the next several years plank roads were planned all over Georgia. In 1849, North Carolina undertook the construction of a plank road connecting Fayetteville, NC to Savannah, GA. In Georgia, a plank road was proposed to run from Griffin to West Point. Another plank road was proposed from Barnesville, GA to the Montgomery Road at Macon.  A plank road was proposed from Washington to Elberton. In 1850, a bill was introduced “to incorporate the Dahlonega and Marietta Turnpike and Plank Road Company; and also to incorporate the Cumming and Atlanta Turnpike and Plank Road Company.” Also, “to incorporate the Cobb county and Alabama Turnpike or Plank Road Company; also, authorizing the construction of a Plank Road from Washington, in Wilkes county, to some point on the Georgia Rail Road.” A plank road was proposed from Albany to Oglethorpe. Among others planned were the Macon, Perry and Albany Plank Road, the Ogeechee Plank Road, the Columbus and Greenville Plank Road, the Atlanta and Sweetwater Plank Road, the Henderson and Marthasville Plank Road, and the Columbus and Lannahassee Plank Road.

          Proponents of plank roads stated that plank roads would make it much easier to carry goods and travel in general. They were stated to be 1/3 the cost of gravel roads. Plank roads were said to give a return on investment of 20% They also claimed that the roads will last for at least eight years, and if they don’t, that will be because of more people travelling on the road, which would thus result in more tolls collected. Much of the plank road building occurred in places where lumber was comparatively affordable due to thriving timber industries, as wood was usually over sixty percent of a plank road’s cost.
           National newspapers helped spread the plank road craze. In 1847, Hunts Merchants Magazine published an article titled “Plank Roads-New Improvement.” In 1849, Niles’ Weekly Register said plank roads were “growing into universal favor.” in the 1850s, the New York Tribune praised their ease of construction and said that the roads added a great amount to the transportation abilities of the New York. In March 1850, Scientific American said they viewed plank roads as a means of “completely reforming the interior or rural transit trade of our country.”  In 1852, Hunts Merchants Magazine published an article titled “The First Plank Road Movement,” it extolled plank roads.

In the list of great improvements which have given to this age the character which it will bear in history above all others-the age of happiness to the people-the plank road will have a prominent place, and it deserves it…the plank road is of the class of canals and railways. They are the three great inscriptions graven on the earth by the hand of modern science…

— Hunts Merchants’ Magazine

They also published an editorial saying “every section of the country should be lined with these roads.” Other written items include “Observations on Plank Roads” by George Geddes, “History, Structure and Statistics of Plank Roads in the United States and Canada,” by William Kingsford, and “A Manual of the Principles and Practice of Road-Making” by William M. Gillespie.

 It does not appear that the Satilla Plank Road was ever constructed.

Post Offices of the Old Berrien Pioneers

EARLY POSTAL SERVICE

In was not until after the Civil War that mail service  at Rays Mill (Ray City, GA) became available.  But the mail was one of the earliest public services provided in the Wiregrass frontier of Georgia and the postal service for the region of present day Ray City stretches back more than 185 years.

Access to this early postal service was hardly convenient.  When pioneers like Levi J. Knight brought their families to Beaverdam Creek in the 1820s, this area of what was then Lowndes County was on the remote southern frontier.   A small frontier community was beginning to grow about ten miles to the east, near the Alapaha River where Lakeland now is, where a settler named Joshua Lee had established a grist mill a few years earlier.   Joshua Lee and his brother Jesse had come to the area in 1820 , and in 1821 began using slave labor and free labor to construct a dam to impound Banks Lake for a mill pond.

But, in 1825  no postal service had been established at the Lee Mill  nor anywhere else in the region. In 1827, when an official post office finally was established, it was situated on the Coffee Road, some 25 miles from where the Knights homesteaded on Beaverdam Creek.

McCRANIE’S POST OFFICE
The first post office in Lowndes County (which then encompassed present day Lowndes, Berrien, Cook, Brooks, Lanier, and parts of Tift, Colquitt, and Echols counties) was established on  March 27, 1827, at the home of Daniel McCranie on the newly opened Coffee Road.  Coffee’s Road was the first road in Lowndes County, but it was only a “road”  in the sense that it was a path cleared through the forest with tree stumps cut low enough for wagon axles to clear them.  Officially,    McCranie’s Post Office was designated simply as “Lowndes.”

The Waycross Journal-Herald
April 8, 1952 Pg 3

The McCranie Family

Daniel McCranie settled on the Coffee Road on lot of land No. 416, 9th District of present Cook County, according to the writer’s information.  It was at his home there that the first post office in Lowndes County was established March 27, 1827, and he became the first postmaster; was also there that the first term of Lowndes Superior Court was held in 1826.  The next year 1828, the post office was moved down Little River to a new place called ‘Franklinville’  which had been designated the county seat, and there William Smith became the postmaster.  The mail in those days was carried by the stage coach except to those offices off the main lines of travel when it was carried in saddlebags on horseback.

1830 Georgia map detail - original Lowndes County, showing only a conceptual location of Coffee Road, Franklinville, Withlacoochee River, and Alapaha River.

1830 Georgia map detail – original Lowndes County, showing only a conceptual location of Coffee Road, Franklinville, Withlacoochee River, and Alapaha River.

SHARPE’S STORE POST OFFICE
The Milledgeville Southern Recorder, May 17, 1828 announced that Hamilton W. Sharpe had opened a post office at Sharpe’s Store, Lowndes County, GA.

Hamilton W. Sharpe announces post office at Sharpe's Store, Lowndes County, GA. The Milledgeville Southern Recorder, May 17, 1828.

Hamilton W. Sharpe announces post office at Sharpe’s Store, Lowndes County, GA. The Milledgeville Southern Recorder, May 17, 1828.

Milledgeville Southern Recorder
May 17, 1828

A Post Office has been recently established at Sharpe’s Store, in Lowndes county, Geo. on the route from Telfair Courthouse to Tallahassee – Hamilton W. Sharpe, Esq. P.M.

Hamilton W. Sharpe served as Postmaster at Sharpe’s Store until 1836.  At that time the name of the post office was briefly changed to Magnum Post Office, with John Hall appointed as Postmaster.

FRANKLINVILLE POST OFFICE
Franklinville, having been selected in 1827 as the public site new county of Lowndes, was situated near  the Withlacoochee River at a location about 10 miles southwest of  Levi J. Knight’s homestead (see Reverend William A. Knight at old Troupville, GA; More About Troupville, GA and the Withlacoochee River.)

…the post office was moved down the Withlacoochee River to the home of William Smith on lot of land No. 50, 11th district of present Lowndes where the court house commissioners had only recently decided to locate the first court house and name the place ‘Franklinville.’  On July 7, 1828, the Post Office Department changed the name of the post office to ‘Franklinville’ and appointed Mr. Smith as postmaster.

Postmaster Smith’s annual salary in 1831 was $16.67.

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.

    There began to be dissatisfaction about the location of the court house.  It was off the Coffee Road which was the main artery of traffic and communication, and from the beginning was not an auspicious location.  The legislature in 1833 changed the county-site to lot of land No. 109 in the 12th district, about three miles below the confluence of Little River and the Withlacoochee River.  It was named ‘Lowndesville.”  The post office however was not moved there, but the little court house was torn down and moved there.”

Newspaper accounts of the time indicate the courthouse remained at Franklinville at least as late as 1835, when a big Fourth of July celebration was held there.  Among the speakers celebrating the “Declaration of American Independence” at Franklinville that day were Levi J. Knight, Hamilton Sharpe, Reverend Jonathan Gaulden, William Smith, John Blackshear, James Williams and John Dees.

By 1836, the federal government acted to ensure reliable postal routes to the post office at Franklinville to serve the residents of Lowndes County (although the county seat had been removed to Lowndesville.)

 CHAP. CCLXXI.- An Act to establish certain post roads, and to alter and discontinue others, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the following be established as post roads:

***

In Georgia—From Franklinville, Lowndes county, Georgia, via Warner’s Ferry, to Townsend post office, in Madison county, Territory of` Florida.From Jacksonville, Telfair county, via Holmesville, in Appling county, and Wearesboro, in Weare county, to Franklinville, in Lowndes county.

***

Approved July 2, 1836

This post road, built with slave labor, ran through Allapaha (now Lakeland), passed just south of L. J. Knight’s place, and continued west to Franklinville. With a public road established, a stagecoach route went into service from Thomasville, via Frankinville, to Waycross.

Detail of J.H. Young's 1838 Tourist Pocket Map of the State of Georgia showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville, GA.

Detail of J.H. Young’s 1838 Tourist Pocket Map of the State of Georgia showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville, GA.

Detail of Burr's 1839 map showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville via Franklinville and Magnum, Lowndes County, GA

Detail of Burr’s 1839 postal map showing the route from Waresboro to Thomasville via Franklinville and Magnum, Lowndes County, GA

TROUPVILLE POST OFFICE
Only a year after the clearing of the post roads to Franklinville, it was decided to move the Lowndes county seat  yet again, this time from Lowndesville to a new site, named Troupville, at the confluence of the Withlacoochee and the Little River  (Map of Old Troupville, GA with Notes on the Residents).

November 10, 1841 letter from Samuel Swilley to Charles J. McDonald, Governor of Georgia, posted at Troupville, GA

November 10, 1841 letter from Samuel E. Swilley to Charles J. McDonald, Governor of Georgia, posted at Troupville, GA and reporting Indian activity in the area. Captain Samuel E. Swilley was a militia leader in the 1836-1842 Indian Wars in Lowndes County, GA.

1845 letter sent from Troupville, GA had franked by Postmaster William Smith. Image source: http://www.cortlandcovers.com/

1845 letter sent from Troupville, GA hand franked by Postmaster William Smith. Image source: http://www.cortlandcovers.com/

In 1837, the transfer of the post office and Postmaster William Smith from Franklinville to Troupville inconvenienced many residents of north Lowndes county, possibly prompting the resumption of postal service at Sharpe’s Store on Coffee Road.  The name of Magnum Post Office reverted to Sharpe’s Store Post Office, and Hamilton W. Sharpe was again Postmaster.

H. W. Sharpe re-opened the post office at Sharpe's Store. Southern Recorder, April 18, 1837

H. W. Sharpe re-opened the post office at Sharpe’s Store on the Coffee Road, Lowndes County, GA. Southern Recorder, April 18, 1837.

Unfortunately,  Sharpe’s Store was even farther distant from Beaverdam Creek;  the Knights, Clements, and their neighbors were left with a forty mile round trip to Troupville fetch the mail.  Sharpe himself served as Postmaster 1837 to 1848.  James Perry took over as Postmaster at Sharpe’s store from 14 December, 1848 to 16 August, 1849, when Sharpe returned to the position. John G. Polhill took the position 5 July, 1850, and Norman Campbell took over 21 August, 1850 to 21 July 1853 when the post office was moved to Morven, GA.

By 1838, Postmaster William Smith at Troupville was receiving weekly mail via routes from Waresboro and Bainbridge, and from San Pedro, Madison County, FL. In 1847 weekly mail was coming and going from Irwinville and Bainbridge, GA, and from Madison, FL.  William Smith continued as the Troupville Postmaster until  October 30, 1848 when attorney Henry J. Stewart took over.  On  August 16, 1849 William Smith resumed as Postmaster at Troupville.

Weekly service extended in 1851 to Waresboro, Albany and Irwinville, and to Columbus, FL.

Travel in the South in the 1830s

Travel in the South in the 1830s

 ALLAPAHA POST OFFICE
By the late 1830s, Allapaha (now Lakeland, GA), had grown into a bustling trade center with several mills and businesses. Ten miles east of Knight’s farm, Allapaha was situated at the point where the Franklinville-Jacksonville Post Road crossed the Alapaha River. In 1838 a post office was established there , and Benjamin Sirmans was the first postmaster.  Weekly mail service berween Waresboro or Waynesville and Troupville came by Allapaha.

Early Postmasters of Allapaha (now Lakeland, GA)

Benjamin Sermons Postmaster 06/27/1838
Isaac D. Hutto Postmaster 05/03/1841
James S. Harris Postmaster 03/05/1842
Samuel H. Harris Postmaster 09/12/1846
Peter Munford Postmaster 01/28/1848
James S. Harris Postmaster 02/09/1849
Andrew J. Liles Postmaster 11/27/1849

While Andrew J. Liles was Postmaster, the name of the town was changed from Allapaha to Milltown, GA.

FLAT CREEK POST OFFICE
Another early  Berrien post office was located at Flat Creek, about 15 miles north of present day Ray City, GA. This post office was established on August 9th, 1847. At that time, Flat Creek was a growing community located on one of the first roads in Berrien County, and warranted the establishment of a post office. The community center was built largely by Noah Griffin with the aid of his sons and African-American slaves.  “At the time of the establishment of the post office there was a saw mill, grist mill, cotton gin, a country store and farm, all owned and run by Noah Griffin and his sons…”   The J. H. Colton Map of Georgia, 1855 shows the Flat Creek community situated on Lyons Creek, a tributary of the Alapaha River now known as Ten Mile Creek. The store at Flat Creek was located on a road that connected Irwinville and points north to the town then known as Allapaha (now known as Lakeland, GA).

HAHIRA POST OFFICE
On May 7, 1852, a post office was opened at Hahira, GA and Barry J. Folsom was appointed as the first postmaster. Randal Folsom took over as postmaster in 1858. The post office at Hahira was closed in 1866, and postal service did not resume there until 1873.

STAR ROUTES
When Berrien County was created in 1856, there were still very few post offices in the area. “These were supplied by star routes, the carrier rode horseback.”   Prior to 1845, in areas inaccessible  by rail or water transportation delivery of inland mail was let out to bid by contractors who carried mail by stagecoach.  On March 3, 1845 Congress  established an Act which provided that the Postmaster General should grant contracts to the lowest bidder who could provide sufficient guarantee of faithful performance, without any conditions, except to provide for due celerity, certainty and security of transportation.  These bids became known as “celerity, certainty and security bids” and were designated on the route registers by three stars (***), thus becoming known as “star routes.”  In rural areas, a bidder who could provide delivery by wagon, or even horseback, could win a Star Route mail contract.

NASHVILLE POST OFFICE
With the creation of the new county of Berrien in 1856, a public site was selected and Nashville was established as the county seat. The site was near the geographic center of the county and located on the Coffee Road, one of the earliest public roads in Georgia. “Previous to the creation of Berrien County there had been for many years a farm and public inn located at this point on the Coffee Road.” “The new county site had been laid out and christened and stores, shops and eating houses and other industries had been launched, where only a few months before there had been a farm and cow pens.”  In 1857 a post office was established at Nashville to serve the new town and the county residents. The early road from Nashville to Milltown passed through the Rays Mill community by way of the residences of General Levi J. Knight, Isben Giddens, and John M. Futch. Although Levi J. Knight’s farm was situated at the midpoint on the Nashville – Milltown(Lakeland) road, it probably became a matter of convenience to post mail at Nashville as that was where the business of the county was conducted.

CONFEDERATE POSTAL SERVICE
With Secession, the services of the U.S. Post Office were lost to the South and to Berrien County. The Southern Recorder, Dec 29, 1863 reported on Acts passed by the [Confederate] Legislature and signed by the Governor, Joseph E. Brown, which included an act, “Requesting the establishment of a mail route between Milltown and Nashville in Berrien county.”  The 1864 Census for the Reorganization of the Georgia Militia shows that A. K. Harmon was then serving as a postmaster for the 1144th Georgia Militia District, which was centered on Ray’s Mill. After the war, Nathan W. Byrd, a Nashville farmer and father-in-law of Matthew H. Albritton, served as the mail carrier on the route between Nashville and Milltown (Lakeland), GA.

RAY CITY POST OFFICE

After the Civil War postal service was established at the present site of Ray City, GA.  The previous post, Posting Mail at Ray City, describes how the grist mill built by General Levi J. Knight and his son-in-law Thomas M. Ray on Beaverdam Creek became the first post station here.

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