On the Home Front, Ray City, GA, 1918

WWI HOMEFRONT

As the late summer of 1918 wore on many young men of Ray City and Berrien County, GA were in training, preparing for overseas deployment in World War I. Others had already shipped out, among them Rossie O. KnightHod Clements, Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Lorton W. Register, Private Carlie Lawson, Carlos Boggs, Joe Roberson, John W. Faison, Claudie Whitford and Gordon Williams of Ray City; and many other WWI soldiers and sailors of Ray City, GA.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

By mid- August, over one and half million and doughboys were overseas and another million and a half were in training.  The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto and the drowning of 29 of Berrien County’s finest young men, along with hundreds of other soldiers, was still weeks away.

The headlines were full of war news, including casualty reports. But the tide had turned and the newspapers were focused on the string of Allied victories. The German offensive against  Paris had failed. The Germans were on the defensive, disorganized, demoralized and rapidly retreating.  As the Allies advanced, thousands of German troops were captured.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as Georgia soldiers parade before King George.

Atlanta Constitution August 22, 1918 reports route of German army as soldiers from Camp Gordon, GA parade before King George.

In the Wiregrass, many people bowed their heads each day “for it is a [patriotic] duty which is being observed in many towns and cities throughout our grand United States of America; for when the whistle blows every afternoon at  at six o’clock, it is the duty of every citizen … who is able to walk, to uncover their heads and stop still wherever they may be and no matter what they may be doing to ask God’s guidance on our armies on land and sea and to give us a speedy victory.”

In many ways, life in Ray City, GA went on as usual. People tended their crops and worked at  their businesses, children went to school and families went to church.  Business was good; in Ray City, the Clements Lumber Company was experiencing a war boom, and,  other than the waste laid to the cotton by the dreaded Boll Weevil which had invaded the state three years earlier, the “hog and hominy” farming was good, too.

A letter from Ray City resident Josh Jones, published in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918 reported on every day events of the home front.  Jones, apparently a native of Walker County, on the Tennessee-Georgia line, who had removed to Berrien County and was writing to the folks back home.

 

Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

A Ray City report in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918

Walker County Messenger
LaFayette, GA
August 23, 1918

Ray City, GA

Mrs. A. L. Fowler is able to be up at present.

Ray City is a very promising little town, a good many useful industries being located here.
    Nashville is the county seat of Berrien county, and as Berrien was such a large county it was divided a few days ago, and Cook county was cut off the west side, Adel being made the county seat.  So I am still in Berrien. Valdosta is our nearest market.
    We have a bumper crop of corn, and a fine crop of peanuts. The boll weevil ruined all of the Long Island cotton, and the short staple will average about half a crop.  The melon crop was fine, several cars shipped from here.  This is a fine hog-raising section of the country. Moultrie and Tifton both have branch packing houses of Armour & Co.
    Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Shumate, of Cooper Heights, have the Ray City School, and we cordially welcome them into our midst.
    I received a long letter from Pat McClaskey, which I enjoyed very much.  The Messenger reaches here on Saturday.
     Best wishes to the correspondents and Messenger and staff.

JOSH JONES

Additional Notes:

  • Mrs. A. L. Fowler was the wife of Reverend A. L. Fowler.  The Fowlers moved to Ray City from Liberty, GA about January 1918.
  • Ray City School, 1918
    At the time Reverend John Wesley Shumate, Jr.and Mrs. Harriet “Hattie” Mudget Shumate came to Ray City, the Ray City School was a wood frame, three-room school, teaching students through the eighth grade. The brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, was constructed 1920-1922.
  • Creation of Cook County, GA
    An Act proposing the creation of Cook County from parts of Berrien County was passed by the Georgia General Assembly on July 30, 1918.
  • The Boll Weevil in Berrien County, GA
    The Boll Weevil had already reached Brooks and Thomas Counties by the summer of 1915. The following summer, 1916, Boll Weevils were found in Berrien  on the farms of Dr. Lovett and Jim Patterson at Sparks, GA. The arrival of the Boll Weevil ended the reign of cotton as the county’s main industry, and forced farmers to shift more to feed and sustenance, or “hog and hominy,” farming.
  • Armour & Co.
    In 1918, both Armour & Co. and Smith & Co. were expanding meat packing facilities in South Georgia, Smith & Co. at Moultrie and Armour & Co. at Tifton, GA.  As the prevailing chaos in the cotton market drove sharply increasing hog production, there was a rush to increase the local capacity of meat packing plants.

Related Posts:

History of Ray City School

In 1918, a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA was let out by the Board of Education. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. The contract for materials went to A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City.

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record, September 25, 1919, announcement of construction at Ray City, GA

Construction on the brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, began in 1920.  The Ray City School opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927. In 1918, the Berrien County School Board put out a contract for a new school building in Ray City, GA. Plans for the building were drawn by Valdosta architect Lloyd B. Greer. Materials were supplied by A. H. Miller Hardware Store in Ray City. The school opened in 1922.

Ray City School, March 11, 1927.

The brick school building at Ray City, GA was designed by Valdosta architect Lloyd Greer.  Among other buildings designed by Greer were:  Federal Building and Post Office, Valdosta, GA; Carnegie  Library, Valdosta,GA; First Church of Christ, Scientist, Tallahassee, FL; James Price McRee House, Camilla, GA; Dasher High School, Valdosta, GA; Barney School, Barney, GA; Barber-Pitman House, Valdosta, GA; Lanier County Auditorium and Grammar School, Lakeland, GA; Ilex Theater, Quitman,GA; Moultrie Theater, Moultrie, GA; United Cigar Store Building, Jacksonville, GA; Quitman Library, Quitman, GA; Echols County High School, Statenville, GA; Barrow Hall, Emory Junior College, Valdosta, GA; Pine Grove School, Fitzgerald, GA; Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, GA; Douglas Negro High School and Douglas White High School, Douglas, GA; Nichols House,Valdosta, GA; Berrien High School, Nashville, GA. The Lyric Theater, Waycross,GA was designed by Greer.

Old Wooden School at Ray City, GA

The Ray City High School Class of 1949 wrote, “The school of our community was begun long before our town received its present name having been known as Rays Mill. “

Among those early teachers of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) was  Henry Harrison Knight (1840-1898).  These teachers   taught in the little one room log house schools  of Berrien county, and were often paid in “found” – bartered, homegrown commodities such as ham, chickens, eggs, or butter.

The first school building was located on the east side of town. This building was destroyed by fire. Then a log cabin called the Alliance Building was constructed in 1898, and was used for about two years.

In January 1898, the Tifton Gazette reported that Robert Crawford Woodard was the teacher at the Rays Mill academy.  He later went on to become a physician.

In 1900 the interested people of the community decided to make an improvement in the school plant. Trees were cut from their lands and carried to Sutton’s Sawmill to be made into lumber, for the purpose of erecting a frame building. That stood where our present building is now standing. It consisted of one large room. Some of the interested patrons who helped with this building were: J. S. Swindle, W. E. Langford, Isaac Burkhalter, Redding Swindle, and W. M. Knight. With the aid of other patrons they completed the first Ray City School. -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The town experienced a boom period when the Georgia & Florida Railroad came to Ray City in 1909.The increased population made it necessary to make an addition of two more rooms to the school.” -History of Ray City School (1948-49 Yearbook)

The January 19, 1911 edition of the Valdosta Times reported news of the school in Rays Mill (now Ray City).   Husband and wife team James Marcus Patten and Ida Lou Hall Patten were running the school. Professor J.M. Patten was college educated, having completed the teacher education program at North Georgia Agricultural College, and had twenty years experience teaching in the common schools of Berrien County.

In 1918,  the Reverend John W. Shoemate and Mrs. Harriet M. Shoemate came to Ray City to take charge of the school.   Reverend Shoemate was a native of Tennessee, and a Baptist minister.  Mrs. Shoemate was a native of South Dakota, and college educated. In Ray City, they were the neighbors of Professor and Mrs. J. M. Patten.  Mrs. Patten was also then occupied teaching public school.  The Ray City School was then still held in the three-room, wood frame building, and educated  students through the eighth grade. One student from this time period was Claudey Belle Hester, who wrote well enough for publication in Progressive Farmer.

According to the Annual Report of the Department of Education, in 1920 the public high school in Ray’s Mill was a 2-year Junior High School. Sankey Booth was Superintendent of the school and later served on the Berrien County Board of Education. One of the teachers in old Ray City was Louannie Eudell Webb (1902-1972), who started teaching by age 17.  She was a daughter of Luther Webb and Mary J. Albritton, and had only an 8th grade education herself. She married Leroy Lorenzo Carter on August 3, 1922. Another teacher at Ray City in 1920 was Lucile Fountain; she taught the fourth grade class. According to later census records, she herself had only attended school through the 4th grade.  It was the talk of the town when her beau, Calvin Simmons, came and got her out of class  and took her to get married on February 13, 1923. Maria Antoniette Poblete Knight worked as an art teacher at the Ray City School in the 1920s.

The Brick School

That [multi-room wood school house] was used until 1920 when work on the present building was started. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

Ray City School, 1948-49, C. W. Schmoe, Principal.

In 1924, the Georgia Library Commission added the Ray City School as the only station in Berrien County for the Georgia Traveling Library.   the Georgia Library Commission had been created in 1919 by the General Assembly with and annual appropriation of $6,000, which included funds for the maintenance of traveling libraries.  These traveling libraries typically provided 50 or 100 books, which were available for a few months before being passed on to the next station.

Wilma Harper began her 60 year teaching career at the Ray City School in 1928 at the age of 18.  There she met and fell in love with Prentice M. Shultz, who taught and was principal at Ray City School. A year later they were married.

In 1928, the Georgia Library Commission reported  library service offered in Berrien only at Ray City, through the Ray City School and at the Kings Chapel School.

The Great Depression took a great toll on Berrien County, and Ray City struggled with funding to keep the school open. Only through the generous contributions of local citizens and by charging students a tuition, was the school able to continue for the full term. In 1930, the school could not even afford to hold graduation exercises.

In the 1930s many schools in smaller communities were consolidated. In 1936, Pleasant Vale and Sapling Grove schools were closed and the students sent to Ray City.

The Ray City School held a junior high school rating until 1936, when it became an accredited senior high school. Another classroom building was added that year to the school plant. -History of Ray City School (from the 1948-49 Yearbook)

By the 1940-41 school term, New Lois High School was also consolidated with Ray City High School.

In the early days students at Ray City School brought their own lunches to school and ate outside on the school grounds, as there was no lunchroom or kitchen to prepare food.  David Miley recalled a sow that used to come into the playground, and snatch the lunch bags of unsuspecting kids. The school grounds were fenced and had a cattle gap to keep free ranging livestock from entering the schoolyard.  Even so, livestock could and did occasionally get into the school yard.  By 1941, the school had a lunch room serving 150 students a day.

William E. “Bill” Griner (1902-1984) was the janitor at the Ray City School. He came to school very early every day and built a fire in the potbellied stove in every room. There were four classrooms and the soup kitchen in the old wooden building. In the brick building there were six classrooms, the principal’s office and the laboratory, each with their own stove.  At Christmas, every student brought Bill a gift. Bill had a nephew nicknamed Peanut, and although Bill himself had only two years of formal schooling, he worked hard to make sure that Peanut made it through high school. Peanut later became a policeman at Remerton, GA.

 

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

Fence and cattle gap in front of the Ray City School kept livestock out of the schoolyard, 1949.

During WWII, Ray City School did its part.   Vocational agriculture teacher St. Elmo Lee gave up his classrooms at Ray City  and New Lois, GA for the U.S. Army. Graduates and former students left Ray City to go to war. Some never came back.  Hubert Comer (RCHS 1940) joined the Navy and was killed in the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach. Harry Elmore Devane (RCHS 1938) also joined the Navy.  On D-Day Devane was a boat officer on a tank landing craft at Omaha Beach. He was killed in an accident aboard the aircraft carrier USS FDR after the war. James A. Swindle (RCHS 1936) captained a B-26 Marauder and flew 75 bombing missions; he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Maurice “Max” Johnson (RCHS 1940) served as a B-24 pilot during WWII from 1942 to 1945. Leland E Langford (RCHS 1939) enlisted on June 12, 1941, serving as an Army pilot until he was killed in a plane crash in 1949.   J.I. Clements (RCHS 1938) joined the Army and fought in Germany. Many other alumni of Ray City School served as well.

William R. “Mac” McClure was principal of the school in the mid 1940s. Charles Woodrow “Woody” Schmoe served as principal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His wife, Nancy Young Schmoe, taught 5th Grade.

 

In 1947 a fifteen thousand dollar gymnasium was constructed by the patrons, a building in which the whole community justly takes pride (1948-49 Yearbook).  The town dedicated the building with a big dance celebration and the crowning of the Queen of the Harvest.

In 1948, a vocational building was erected by the veterans of World War II, at the end of five years this … [became] a part of Ray City School.

It was in 1949 that veterans of World War II built  a “very modern and up-to-date lunchroom” for the school.

In 1954, Ray City High School and all other white high schools in the county were combined into Nashville High School.  The brick school building at Ray City continued to serve as an elementary and middle school until 1994, when all county schools were consolidated into facilities in Nashville.