Ray City, GA ~ Town is Smaller Now

A sign on the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad indicates the town of Ray City, GA to passing trains. The trains no longer stop at Ray City, although the town once had a bustling depot.


Times Union

Ray City
The town is smaller now, but folks are coming back home

RAY CITY, Ga. – Before the turn of the century there were more than 27 businesses, five doctors, a pharmacy, corn mill, sawmill and several thousand people.

Ray City has changed.

The town now has a population of 725. What remains are a few stores and churches, the remnants of the corn mill – now a restaurant and fish camp – and Victory Soda Shop and General Store, where people meet to exchange news and gossip.

Billy Clements, owner of The Victory and long-time Ray City resident, said the closing of the sawmill and the Depression drove most of the people away, but old residents are “gradually creeping back.”

People come from all over to listen to John Guthrie play his guitar or just talk.
“I could talk all day about music, Guthrie said.

Guthrie teaches music to anyone who wants to learn, and musicians from all over the country meet in Ray City for jam sessions.

Lamar Booth, who runs the fish camp, points out that the Old Mill Pond draws a number of out-of-town fishermen during the summer. The lake is more than a mile wide but only 5 to 7 feet deep.

Booth’s mother, Mrs. Ann Campbell, owns a cafe, which is the main attraction at the pond. People say she serves the best fish dinners in the area.

The original post office and general store were at the lake during the late 1800s, and the corn mill (it opened in 1863) was once the heart of Ray City’s economy.

The town limits form a one-mile circle, located on Highway 37, 15 miles east of Adel between Nashville and Valdosta.

Farming is the main occupation in Ray City now, though many of the town’s people travel to Valdosta, Adel, Lakeland and Nashville for work, according to Mrs. Don Wilson, the town clerk said. Many residents also own or work in local businesses, she said.

Clements said there is not much for people to do after work except hunt or fish and many young people go to other places for entertainment.

He said he likes it there, because “people care for each other and pitch in and help each other when they need it, like a big family.”

4-H and the Berrien Poultry Project

4-H  sponsored many activities for rural youth in Georgia.  Ray City kids played 4-H basketball, spent summers at Camp Wilkins, participated in corn clubs and canning clubs, and other agricultural activities.  In 1947, Winona Williams and Donald Gaskins represented Ray City on the 4-H Poultry Project.  Nora Harnage lived near Ray City, GA, but attended school in Nashville, GA.

4H Poultry Project, Berrien County, GA. September 1947

4H club members gather on the courthouse square in Nashville, GA to participate in the Berrien Poultry Project, GA. September 1947. The pedestal of Berrien County’s Doughboy Monument can be seen in the background, along with Bennett and Taylor Drug Store, one of three drugstores on the square at that time. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com 

The Atlanta Constitution,
September 10, 1947

BERRIEN POULTRY PROJECT – Poultry Specialist R.J. Richardson goes over prize-winning points of this Rhode Island Red for Berrien County 4-H members who participated in the annual chain poultry project this year. Four-H Club members shown with Richardson are, left to right, front row: Joel Smith, Edwin Register, and Billy Nix; back row: Nora Harnage, Dot Guthrie, Billy Clements, Bertha King, Winona Williams and Donald Gaskins. The Berrien County youths were given 100 baby chicks last February to care for and enter in this show by the sponsor of the project, Sears, Roebuck & Company. – Photo by Jamie Connell

Transcription courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Billy Clements was a Combat Engineer

1942 recruitment poster for the Army Corps of Engineers

1942 recruitment poster for the Army Corps of Engineers

On August 2, 1942, William A. “Billy” Clements enlisted “for the duration of the War.”  He was inducted first as an Army private at Fort Mcpherson, Atlanta, GA.

A line of soldiers during induction at Ft. McPherson, Atlanta, GA, 1942.

A line of soldiers during induction at Ft. McPherson, Atlanta, GA, 1942.

Billy had four years of college education, and after basic training it was decided his “civilian occupation, training and background were more suited for conversion to Specialist use in the Engineer Corps than in other branches of the services…The army engineer is a builder as well as a combat soldier.”  It was in 1942 that the construction of domestic military bases reached its peak.

On October 5, 1942 The Atlanta Constitution reported William A. Clements had been transferred to the Engineer Replacement Training Center at Fort Leonard Wood, MO.

William A. "Billy" Clements was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood in October of 1942.

William A. “Billy” Clements was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood in October of 1942.

The Atlanta Constitution
October 5, 1942

The Army and Navy

Fourteen Georgians are now stationed at the Engineer Replacement Training Center at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
    From Atlanta are Herbert C. Johnson, of 476 Lytle avenue, S. E. and James B. Owen, of 1189 McLendon avenue.
    Other Georgians are: Earl L. Nash, of 3787 Highland avenue, Hapeville: Thomas B. Jordan, of Greenville; Roy W. Smith, of Jonesboro; Philip E. Williams, of Colquitt; Glen B. Phillips, of Forest Park; James E. Terrell, of North Roswell; Charles A Lindsey, of Dalton; Arthur L. Long, of Woodbury; Robert F. Meek, of Smyrna; William A. Clements, of Ray City; John V. Benson, of Nelson, and Frank W. McCrae, of Raleigh.

New arrivals at Fort Leonard Wood were greeted with a pamphlet, Introdution to ERTC Fort Leonard Wood,  which provided an orientation to the base and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The prime reason for your being here is to be trained as a combat engineer.  You will learn the use of hand and motorized tools, to construct fixed and floating bridges, to build roads and obstacles, to execute demolitions, and to protect yourself against  enemy attacks.

WW II era yearbook, Fort Leonard Wood

After the War, Billy Clements returned to Ray City, GA. He later became the owner of the Victory Soda Shop, Ray City’s iconic landmark of World War II.

Billy Clements (left) on Main Street outside the Victory Soda Shop after the Ray City fire of March 1969. Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Billy Clements (left) after the Ray City fire of March 1969. Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com


The Berrien Press 
February 2006

The Berrien Press — William A. “Billy” Clements, 88, of Ray City died February 2, 2006 at Louis Smith Memorial Hospital in Lakeland. Born October 3, 1917 in Berrien County to the late William A. and Mary  Elizabeth Clements, he owned and operated Victory Soda Shop in Ray City for 33 years. He served in the U.S. Army during WWII and was a member of First  Baptist Church in Ray City. Survivors include his wife, Helen Wood Clements of Ray City; three sons, Richard Clements of Chula, David Clements of Ray City, Chris Clements of Virginia Beach, VA; two sisters, Ann Ryals of Valdosta and Grace Howell of  Houston, TX; one brother, Wendell Lee Clements of Conyers; seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. Funeral services were held February 5 at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Ray City. Interment was in Beaver Dam Cemetery. Music Funeral Services of Lakeland was in charge of arrangements.


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Hyman Hardeman Sirmans of Ray City, GA

Hyman Hardeman “Brocy” Sirmans (1919 – 1969) of Ray City, GA was a son of Mamie and Daniel W. Sirmans.

Hyman Hardeman "Brocy" Sirmans of Ray City, GA.

Hyman Hardeman “Brocy” Sirmans of Ray City, GA.

H. H. Sirmans  was born on March 22, 1919 at Ray City  just in time to be enumerated in the census of 1920. His father  rented a farm on one of the settlement roads near Ray City.  Next door was John and Anne Sirmans Matheny, and on the adjacent farm, George W. and Mary Fender.

1920 enumeration of the household of Daniel W. Sirmans.

1920 enumeration of the household of Daniel W. Sirmans.


Hyman H. Sirmans was enumerated in the Census of 1930 in his father’s household at Ray City, GA.  He was 11 years old, and attended school along with his sisters Lerine and Victoria. Edith and Margaret were too young to attend.

1930 enumeration of the household of Daniel W. Sirmans.


Hyman H Sirmans worked on a Liberty Ship  during WWII.  His service records give his physical description as 5′ 6″ tall, and 228 pounds.

He began his service at sea in 1940, and served as a Fireman/Watertender on the S. S. William G.  Lee.  The William G. Lee liberty ship was built in Savannah, Georgia by the Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation.

The WWII liberty ship S. S. William G. Lee, photographed after the war.

The WWII liberty ship S. S. William G. Lee, photographed after the war.

The Merchant Marine website provides the following:

“Liberty ship” was the name given to the EC2 type ship designed for “Emergency” construction by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II. Liberty ships were nicknamed “ugly ducklings” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The first of the 2,711 Liberty ships was the SS Patrick Henry, launched on Sept. 27, 1941, and built to a standardized, mass produced design. (2,710 ships were completed, as one burned at the dock.) The 250,000 parts were pre-fabricated throughout the country in 250-ton sections and welded together in about 70 days. One Liberty ship, the SS Robert E. Peary was built in four and a half days. A Liberty cost under $2,000,000.

The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.

As a Fireman/Watertender on the S.S. William G. Lee, H. H. Sirmans would have been responsible for tending to the fires and boilers in the steam ship’s engine room.  His duties would have included tending the boilers to maintain steam at specified pressure, and regulating the amount of water in the boiler,  observing gauges, and cleaning equipment and work area.  He may have also done maintenance and repair work in the fireroom and engine room, and monitored operation of evaporators and condensers used to convert salt water to fresh water.

The William G. Lee  was launched in July, 1944 and made numerous Atlantic crossings during WWII. According to the ConvoyWeb database for Merchant Ships during WW2, the William G. Lee departed from NYC on July 25, 1944 with Convoy HX.301, and arrived at Liverpool, England on August 8, 1944. She departed Methil, Scotland with Convoy FS.1541 on August 11,1944 for Southend, England, arriving on August 13, 1944. She departed Southend, England with Convoy FN.1455 on August 20, 1944, for Methil,Scotland. Two days later she departed Methil Scotland with Convoy EN.425 on August 22, 1944 bound for Loch Ewe, Scotland, arriving August 24. She joined Convoy ON.250 departing from Liverpool and arrived NYC on September 7, 1944. She departed from NYC on October 5, 1944 with Convoy HX.312, and arrived at Liverpool, England on October 21, 1944. She joined Convoy ON.267 departing Southend on November 18, 1944, and arrived NYC on December 5, 1944. She departed Boston, MA with Convoy BX.138 on December 21, 1944, arriving off Halifax on December 23. She joined Convoy HX.328 departing from NYC on Christmas Eve, 1944, arriving at Liverpool England on January 8, 1945. On January 10, 1945, she made the run from Southend with Convoy FN.1598, bound for Methil, Scotland. Nine days later, she made the return run with Convoy FS.1702. She departed Southend with Convoy ON.280 on January 22 1945, arrived NYC on 9 February 9, 1945. She joined Convoy HX.341 and departed NYC on February 28, 1945, arriving at Liverpool England on March 15, 1945.  On 27 March 1945 she departed Southend with Convoy ON.293, and arrived NYC on April 15, 1945. She departed from NYC on May 3, 1945 with Convoy HX.354 and arrived Liverpool on 18 May 1945.

H. H. Sirmans married Marjorie E Garner in 1944 in Baker County, FL 1944  21268

1969 Obituary of Hyman Hardeman Sirmans, Ray City, Berrien County, GA.

1969 Obituary of Hyman Hardeman Sirmans, Ray City, Berrien County, GA.

LAKELAND, Ga. – H. H. (Brocy) Sirmans, 49, of Ray City, died at his home early today of an apparent heart attack.
    He was born and lived all his life in Berrien County.  He was a member of Ray City Baptist Church, the National Farmers Organization and the Farm Bureau.
    Survivors are his wife the former Marjorie Garner; a daughter, Patricia Ann Sirmans of Valdosta; mother, Mrs. Mamie Sirmans of Ray City; four sisters, Mrs. Lerine Harris and Mrs. Margaret Stalvey and Mrs. Edith Peters of Ray City and Mrs. Victoria Bradly of Savannah.
     Funeral services are to be held at 3 p. m. Wednesday at Ray City Baptist Church with burial at Beaver Dam Cemetery. The body is to be taken to the residence late today.
    Music Funeral Home of Lakeland is in charge of arrangements.
    Active pallbearers are to be Jackie Giddens, Murice Lankford, Marvin Harris, J. Bart Gaskins, Clyde Miller, Albert Studstill, James Swindle and Lonnie Plair.
    Honorary pallbearers are to be Walter J. Gaskins, Billy Clements, Glen Lee, John David Luke, Lawson Fountain, Sam Barker, Joe Latham, Jack Knight, Herbert Allen, Thomas Patten and Leland Kent.

Jewel Wood and Ray City’s Victory Soda Shop

Jewel Wood worked in the Victory Soda Shop in down town Ray City, Georgia. She was hired in 1943 by Ralph Gaskins, the shop’s original owner, and was employed there for more than 40 years.

In its heyday the Victory Soda Shop was one of the best known  landmarks of Ray City.  It was located in a brick commercial building on the corner of Main Street and  Street. The shop was a popular gathering spot for local citizens, and once boasted the town’s only telephone.

 In a 1984 newspaper article Wood reflected, “I was there when they first had fountain drinks. They provided special glasses with marks to show you where to put the syrup, the soda, and the ice.  The brass cash register is still there, the five and one cent keys all but worn out from the days when coffee was a nickel and candy was a penny.”  Besides the obligatory soda fountain offerings, she served the patrons quick fare like hamburgers and hotdogs. The Victory Soda Shop’s hand squeezed lemonade was widely regarded as the best in the area.  In the early days, she knew all the customers by name. One any given day, you could expect to find the town’s old timers, pundits and sages gathered around a table swapping yarns, offering advice, or analyzing current events over a cup of coffee.

From behind the counter, Jewel Wood saw Ray City change with the times.  With the triumph of the Allies in World War II, the little shop earned its name. In the Sixties, the Civil Rights movement ended the segregation of the shop’s clientel. Later, the construction of Interstate 75 meant less traffic passing through town, but the local fame of the Victory Soda Shop would still draw the occasional visitor from the highway.

Over the years the shop had different owners.  Billy Clements was the proprietor for many years.  In 1984 it was owned by Jewel Wood’s son, Johnnie Wayne Wood.  The Victory Soda Shop is closed now, although the brick building where it was located still stands, the last remaining commercial brick building in Ray City.

 A previous Ray City History post included a newspaper photo Victory Soda Shop ~ Ray City, GA 

Brian Brown  provides a photograph of the building that once was home to the Victory Soda Shop at

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