Lon Fender Loses Milltown Stills

Unknown turpentine still, early 1900s, Lowndes County, GA

Unknown turpentine still, early 1900s, Lowndes County, GA

Lon Fender was involved in some biggest business deals in the Wiregrass and in the history of Ray City.  Born William Alonzo Fender, he was a son of William Alfred Fender (1836-1920) and Susannah Allen (1841-1920), who became residents of Ray City in their senior years.  Lon Fender himself owned farmland near Ray City in the 1920s.

Lon Fender and his brothers were big-time Wiregrass timber men, and for decades the South Georgia newspapers were full of stories about land deals, sawmills, and turpentine stills operated by the Fenders.  In 1906, November  the Thomasville Weekly Times Enterprise and South Georgia Progress, noted that Lon Fender had purchased “the turpentine and timber interests of Clements, Lee & Co., at Milltown.  The property consists of 7,000 acres, 4,000 acres of which is “round” or unboxed timber, and 3,000 back-boxed, also stills, fixtures, mules, wagons, etc.  There are few finer bodies of timber lands now in Georgia lying as it does in one body, and its value is increasing every day.     Buyer and seller both decline to state the price paid for the property but it is believed that it was not much under $100,000.”

Two years later, the Tifton Gazette reported that Fender’s still at Milltown burned on October 21, 1908:

Tifton Gazette, Oct. 30, 1908 -- page 6

Tifton Gazette, Oct. 30, 1908 — page 6

Another account published in the Waycross Journal described the losses as “the turpentine still of W. L. Fender, with 35 barrels of spirits, and 100 barrels of rosin…destroyed by fire.” The Journal further  indicated that the robbery referred to occurred west of Milltown on the Georgia & Florida Railroad, making it likely that the actual scene of the robbery was Jim Swindle’s store at Ray’s Mill, GA.

Another fire struck the Milltown still in 1909:

Tifton Gazette, Mar. 19, 1909 -- page 9

Tifton Gazette, Mar. 19, 1909 — page 9

W.L. “Lon” Fender later purchased a large tract of timber near Ray City, GA,  known as the “Sirmans Timber.”

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Lon Fender ~ Turpentine Operator

William Alonzo “Lon” Fender was a son of William Alfred Fender (1836-1920) and Susannah Allen (1841-1920).  His father was a Civil War  veteran and a farmer of the Naylor district, Lowndes County, GA before moving to Ray City, GA in his final years.

Lon Fender was involved in some biggest business deals in the Wiregrass and in the history of Ray City.  He owned farmland near here in the 1920s and a  turpentine still at Milltown (now Lakeland), GA.

William Lon Fender, photographed circa 1924, lived near Ray City, Berrien County, GA where he was engaged in the naval stores industry.

William Lon Fender, photographed circa 1924, lived near Ray City, Berrien County, GA where he was engaged in the naval stores industry.

Lon Fender was born December 14, 1868, the 5th among 12 Fender children.  He grew up on his father’s farm in the area of Naylor in Lowndes County, Georgia.  In 1898, he married Texas Irene Hagan, a daughter of John William Hagan (1836 – 1918) and  Mary Susan “Pollie” Smith (1834 – 1908).  The couple made their home in Tifton, GA for a time, and afterward at Valdosta, GA.

The 1910 census shows “Alonzo” Fender and his brother John Franklin Fender in Valdosta, GA with their families residing in neighboring households on Patterson Street; both were occupied as turpentine operators.

His parents were still in the Naylor area at that time, renting a farm. The farm was on a road parallel to the new railroad, and was just off the “Milltown Road.”   Their neighbors were Thomas A. Ray, and  the widow Mary C. Stone.  Sometime before 1920 his parents moved to Ray City where they purchased a house on Main Street.   Lon’s older brother, Wilson W. Fender, had come there to Ray City prior to 1910 and operated a hotel there.

Lon’s father,  William Alfred Fender, died prior to the enumeration of the 1920 census. His mother remained in their Ray City, GA home until her own death (said to be later that year), living  with her widowed daughter Nita Knight, and her grand daughters Reba A. Knight, Dorothy Knight, and grandson Ezekiel Knight.  William Alfred Knight and Susannah Allen Fender are buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA, with an undated grave marker.

Lon Fender and his brothers grew to be big-time Wiregrass timber men, and for decades the South Georgia newspapers were full of stories about land deals, sawmills, and turpentine stills operated by the Fenders.  The Thomasville Weekly Times Enterprise and South Georgia Progress, Nov. 30, 1906 edition reported one of Lon  (W. L) Fender’s big deals:

1906-lon-fender-timber-deal

Thomasville Weekly Times Enterprise and South Georgia Progress
Nov. 30, 1906 — page 8

TURPENTINE AND TIMBER

Big Deals Completed at Valdosta and Milltown

Valdosta, Nov. 27. – (Special)  The largest and most important turpentine and timber deal which has occurred in Georgia in many a day was consummated here Saturday.  W. L. Fender, of this city, bought the entire turpentine and timber interests of Clements, Lee & Co., at Milltown.  The property consists of 7,000 acres, 4,000 acres of which is “round” or unboxed timber, and 3,000 back-boxed, also stills, fixtures, mules, wagons, etc.  There are few finer bodies of timber lands now in Georgia lying as it does in one body, and its value is increasing every day.     Buyer and seller both decline to state the price paid for the property but it is believed that it was not much under $100,000.

Among the most  significant of Lon Fender’s Ray City dealings was his 1921 acquisition of the Sirmans Tract – 2,400 acres of virgin pine forest which was situated just north of town.

November 5, 1921 -  William Lon Fender purchases the 'Sirmans Tract' near Ray City, GA.

November 5, 1921 – William Lon Fender purchases the ‘Sirmans Tract’ near Ray City, GA.

 

Valdosta Times
November 5, 1921

2,400 ACRES OF TIMBER LAND BRING $100,000

VALDOSTA, Nov. 4. – W. L. Fender, of Valdosta, has bought 2,400 acres of timber land in Berrien county for $100,100, this being the largest and most important transaction of this kind recently in south Georgia. The land belonged to the J. C. Sirmans estate and was sold by the administrators. This is virgin long leaf yellow pine, and Mr. Fender will turpentine it and afterward saw the timber.

 

This valuable tract of timber figured prominently as a part of the transaction in which the Jackson Brothers acquired the big sawmill at Ray City – simultaneously purchasing the Clements Lumber Company from the Clements Family, and the Sirmans Tract from Lon Fender.  Local and state newspapers reported the transaction:

The Nashville Herald
February 16, 1923

The new owners [Jackson Brothers] have bought the Lon Fender timber tract, which Mr. Fender bought more than a year ago from the Sirmans estate. It is one of the finest timber tracts in this section of the state. This with the other timber insight affords at least five years running yet, and there is more to be had, it is said, that will run them ten years.

The Atlanta Constitution
March 4, 1923

The [Jackson Brothers] company purchased the Sirmans Timber, the largest body of original pine in south Georgia.  Several hundred acres of this timber had not been turpentined until last year.  This body of timber sold some two years abo for over $100,000 and let at once for turpentine purposes. It lies between Milltown and Nashville. As soon as the turpentine lease is off the Jackson brothers will begin sawing.

In the fall of 1925, Lon Fender leased farmland near Ray City from John Levi Allen.  This land was most of the former Jehu Patten farm, which consisted of a home and 260 acres in section 454 of the 10th district, located just southwest of Ray City, near the farms of  Francis Marion Shaw,  Lacy Shaw, and Jesse Shelby Shaw. (John Allen had purchased the farm from Jehu Patten in 1902 – see http://www.audubon4tet.com/FMS/21_John_Levi_Allen.pdf)

William Lon Fender continued to make his home on Patterson Street, Valdosta, GA for the rest of his life.  He died March 10, 1949 while in Baldwin County, GA, and was buried  at Sunset Cemetery in Valdosta, GA.

Grave of William Lon Fender, Sunset Cemetery,  Valdosta, GA

Grave of William Lon Fender, Sunset Cemetery, Valdosta, GA

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November 6, 1923 ~ Big Fire Loss at the Ray City Sawmill

sawmill bladeIt was on this date, November 6, 1923 that fire struck the big sawmill at Ray City, GA.

News of the fire was reported on the front page of the Lanier County News, of Milltown (now Lakeland), GA. The sawmill owners were nationally prominent businessmen and the story was picked by the Atlanta Constitution.

The Lanier County News
Thursday, November 8, 1923, front page

Ray City Mill Had Big Fire Loss Tuesday

The Jackson Lumber Company suffered a heavy loss when their planning mill, dry kiln, a large amount of lumber and a number of tenant houses in the mill quarters at Ray City burned down Tuesday. By dint of hard work just in the knick of time the main mill was saved from destruction.
The fire started at 10:30 in the morning and spread rapidly. The hose available at Ray City reached only half way from the town to the mill, and was not till afternoon, when the Milltown hose was sent over and the fire department from Valdosta arrived on the scene with additional hose that effective work could be done. Had it not been for this timely aid the whole plant would have been wiped out.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker.

Jackson Lumber Company

The Jackson Brothers, owners of the Jackson Lumber Company, had purchased the entire mill operation from Clements Lumber Company for $75,000 in cash in what was described as “one of the biggest business deals pulled of in this section in some time.”  The Jackson Brothers were no strangers to big business deals, and were among the wealthiest businessmen in the south. Among their other Georgia investments were ownership of Tallapoosa Mills in Tallapoosa, GA and they were major stockholders in Couch Cotton Mill of Atlanta.

The Jackson Brothers’ purchase included two weeks run of the mill and all of the lumber inventory. The Jackson Brothers also purchased the ‘Sirman’s Timber’, the largest body of original growth pine that was still standing in south Georgia. Several hundred acres of this timber stand had not been turpentined until 1922. The same timber stand had sold around 1920 for over $100,000 and had been leased for turpentining at that time. The Sirman’s Timber stood between Milltown (nka Lakeland), GA and Nashville, GA.

The purchase was reported by the Nashville Herald on the front page of the February 6, 1923 edition.

CLEMENTS LBR. COMPANY SOLD OUT AT RAY CITY

Nashville Herald, February 16, 1923

The Clements Lumber Company one largest and oldest lumber concerns in this section of the state, was sold at Ray City last week by the Clements Brothers to Jackson Brothers, formerly of Tallapoosa, Georgia.

The Clements Lumber Company has been doing business in Ray City for twelve years, it was stated by the present owners. The Jackson Brothers are mill men of considerable experience. They were formerly in the cotton mill business.

They are said to have paid $100,000 and will assume charge of the plant at once.

The new owners have bought the Lon Fender timber tract, which Mr. Fender bought more than a year ago from the Sirmans estate. It is one of the finest timber tracts in this section of the state. This with the other timber insight affords at least five years running yet, and there is more to be had, it is said, that will run them ten years.

The Clements Brothers have not decided yet what they will do in the future.

The Jackson brothers took charge of the mill in the first week of March, 1923. They had been operating a cotton mill in San Antonio, Texas which they sold to return to their former home in Georgia.  Justin C. Jackson became the president of the Jackson Lumber Company making his home in Valdosta, GA.  Jackson Lumber Company made no immediate changes in the crew operating the sawmill at Ray City. They planned to begin sawing the Sirman’s timber just as soon as the turpentine lease was up.

Unfortunately, just eight months later on the afternoon of November 6, 1923 disaster struck. A fire broke out at the Jackson Lumber Company that threatened to consume the entire operation. According to the Atlanta Constitution, the Ray City Fire department responded – running a fire hose from the town to the sawmill, a distance of one mile. But there was only enough hose on hand to reach half the distance to the mill. The Valdosta Fire Department sent a unit with additional hose to fight the blaze. By the time the firefighters from Valdosta arrived , the dry kiln, planing mill, several employees’ cottages, and 150,000 feet of lumber had already burned and the flames had reached the sawmill. They quickly coupled their hoses to the line that had already been laid by the Ray City firemen and carried the line on to the mill. The firefighters were able to save practically all of the sawmill itself, but the damages were estimated to be $50,000 dollars. The plant was insured and it was expected that the mill would be rebuilt.

The Atlanta Constitution reported the $50,000 loss in a page 21 story in the November 8, 1923 edition.

The Nov 8, 1923 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported the sawmill fire at Ray City, GA.

The Nov 8, 1923 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported the sawmill fire at Ray City, GA.

 

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Ray City Soda Jerk

When Ray City, GA became incorporated in 1909, among the earliest businesses to be established was the drug store. In those days,  the soda fountain was an essential element of the drugstore trade.  The  National Druggist trade magazine, in 1911, published The Practical Soda Fountain Guide  in which they advised drug store owners, “you have a soda fountain, because every druggist is supposed to have a soda fountain.”

In their heyday, soda fountains flourished in pharmacies, ice cream parlors, candy stores, dime stores, department stores, milk bars and train stations. They served an important function as a public space where neighbors could socialize and exchange community news. In the early 20th century, many fountains expanded their menus and became lunch counters, serving light meals as well as ice cream sodas, egg creams, sundaes, and such. Soda fountains reached their height in the 1940s and 1950s. With the coming of the Car Culture and the rise of suburbia, they began to decline. Drive-in restaurants and roadside ice cream outlets, such as Dairy Queen, competed for customers. North American retail stores switched to self-service soda vending machines selling pre-packaged soft drinks in cans, and the labor-intensive soda fountain didn’t fit into the new sales scheme. Today only a sprinkling of vintage soda fountains survive.

The  1910 census of Ray City  shows seventeen year-old Lutie Fender working as a “soda fountain salesman” – a soda jerk. Lutie was the son of Ray City hotelier, Wilson W. Fender, and nephew of Lon Fender, turpentine operator and builder of the Patterson Hotel in Valdosta, GA.

The Fender Hotel was was one of the historic businesses of Ray City. It was located in a wooden building on the northeast corner of Main and Paralleled Street in Ray City, just across the track from the train depot of the Georgia & Florida Railroad.  The hotel was operated by Mrs. Lena Fender. This building was destroyed by fire in 1913 or 1914.

City Drug Co., Ray City, Georgia circa 1912. Image courtesy of Berrien County Historical Society, http://berriencounty.smugmug.com

The soda fountain became a long-time fixture in Ray City,  as in small towns everywhere.   By 1916,  C.O. Terry was in business as a retail druggist in Rays Mill, GA (nka Ray City).  It may be that he had assumed operation of the City Drug Co. at Ray’s Mill by that time.  He later operated Terry’s Drug Store in Quitman, Ga., which became known locally for its soda fountain, among other things.  In his  book, My Whole Life and 48 Years of Small Town Family Medical Practice, Paul Tanner Jr., MD describes the work of a typical soda jerk, working in Terry’s Drug Store around 1940:

 “I went to work at… Terry’s Drug Store, down the street. I was a full fledged Soda Jerk, working in afternoons after school, and Saturdays. They had sandwiches made from ham boiled in the back of the store, boiled peanuts, boiled in the back, pimento cheese mixed in the back, with lettuce and tomato. I went to work after school each day and left after closing at 9 PM. All the soda fountain was my specialty, too. On Saturday I worked from 10 am until closing at 11 PM. I was paid $2.50 a week.  I continued working at Terry’s Drug Store off and on until I graduated from high school.”  – Paul J. Tanner, M.D.

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