Reverend Robert H. Howren ~ Methodist Circuit Rider

Reverend Robert H. Howren ~ Methodist Circuit Rider

Reverend Howren brought his family to old Lowndes County in 1836 as conflicts with Native Americans were rising in Florida and Georgia.  The Howrens settled on Coffey’s Road and became neighbors of fellow Methodist Hamilton W. Sharpe.  Sharpe’s Store, on the Coffee Road, was the first commercial establishment  in Lowndes County, and became an early post office for the area.  Sharpe was a captain of local militia in the Indian Wars and was active in politics.  Salem Methodist Church was about five miles south on Coffee road.

Methodist minister Robert Hudson Howren. Reverend Howren was a neighbor of Hamilton W. Sharpe in Old Lowndes County. He was Methodist minister Robert Hudson Howren. Reverend Howren was a neighbor of Hamilton W. Sharpe in Old Lowndes County. He was appointed to ride the Troupville Circuit of south Georgia in 1841.appointed to ride the Troupville Circuit of south Georgia in 1841.Methodist minister Robert Hudson Howren was appointed to ride the Troupville Circuit of south Georgia in 1841

Methodist minister Robert Hudson Howren. Reverend Howren was a neighbor of Hamilton W. Sharpe in Old Lowndes County. He was appointed to ride the Troupville Circuit of south Georgia in 1841.

Robert Hudson Howren was born in Georgetown, SC, August 9, 1811. Born of Christian parents and trained for God, he was converted at the age of fourteen. His father was a sea captain and afterwards a local Methodist preacher – a man of strong character, some peculiarities, but of striking points of excellence as a man an ad a preacher. Young Robert moved with him to Charleston, SC, where for a while he attended school, but afterwards embarked as a a seaman on his father’s vessel. At the age of nineteen he became captain of a vessel, but God needed him for service on other seas, and quitting that boat he embarked on the “Old Ship Zion”… On May 16, 1835, he was married to Miss Martha M. Durant, who was his faithful companion in life’s voyage, and with gentle love ministered to his dying wants. – Minutes of the Florida Annual Conference, 1890

About Reverend Howren, Folks Huxford wrote:

Reverend R. H. Howren, one of the old ante-bellum preachers, moved with his family in 1836 from Madison county, Florida, to that portion of Lowndes, which now is in Brooks county, and for a few years lived near Brother Hamilton W. Sharpe of whom mention has already been made.

His [Reverend Howren’s] reminiscences contained in his article published in the Wesleyan Christian Advocate under date of December 17, 1884 is very valuable in throwing light on the early Methodist activities and the spiritual life of old Lowndes county. His article was written forty-eight years after.  At that time he was a retired minister living at Concord, Florida. From his article we quote at length:

   “We refugeed to that neighborhood (Lowndes county) from Madison Fla., on account of the Indians; rented a farm from Bro. Hamilton W. Sharpe and soon became connected with the Sunday-school and members of the large interesting bible class conducted by Bro. Sharpe that year (1836) at old Bethlehem Church in Lowndes county, Ga. The Sunday-school was flourishing, congregation full and attentive, preaching nearly every Sabbath. The style of it was Wesleyan, or if you please apostolic – in demonstration of the Spirit and power.  Often the preachers would stop and shout while preaching, and sometimes the people would shout and stop the preacher for a little while whether he felt like shouting or not, and in all this there was no confusion or disorder at all, but the very harmony of heaven.  It kept the stones from crying out. It was the lumbering of the train on the track heard at a distance while the freightage on board was born on in quiet safety.’Oh, that men now and then, would praise the Lord in the assembly of His saints’ and ‘talk of His wonderful work to the children of men!’

The Methodists first served old Lowndes county as a part of the Tallahassee District. This vast district swept across south Georgia from the Flint River to the Okefinokee Swamp. In 1832 the Methodists established the Lowndes Mission, and the first Methodist ministers riding on the Lowndes Circuit were George W. Davis, George Bishop, Capel Raiford and Robert Stripling. Tillman Dixon Peurifoy and John Slade later rode the Troupville Circuit

In 1884, Reverend Robert H. Howren  wrote of the early work of the Methodists in Old Lowndes County.

This early work was called the Lowndes Circuit and embraced Lowndes county and portions of other counties around.   Bros. Francis M. Smith and J. J. Taylor were the preachers. Bro. Smith married Miss Clementine Perry, a member of Bro. Sharpe’s family.  He traveled a few years and then studied medicine.  Wonder if he is still living? Bro. Taylor traveled on a few years, married Mrs. Lowe of Columbia county, Florida, located, subsequently was readmitted to the Florida Conference, in a few years located again, then for many long years served the church as a local preacher, and was faithful to death. He died last year (1883) in Wellborn, Fla., finishing his work, as we learned, in great peace. He was my friend. I loved him like a brother; we were young preachers together and we were old preachers together; fought side by side many a battle. He is now crowned and I’m yet “laboring up the hill.”

Continuing in his article Bro. Howren made mention of the local preachers of the Lowndes Circuit in those early days (1830s).

“The local preachers of this circuit were Thomas Clift, John Johnson and Paul Johnson, three as faithful men as I have ever known through limited in their education. They were a power in the pulpit, doing great good through all that country for many years. Bro. Clift was a natural born preacher. The first words he uttered were a flood of light to my mind on the subject; his text was ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God’ (Matthew 5:9). He said ‘No man can be a peacemaker in the sense of my text until he first makes his peace with God’, etc. He had a hard struggle through life for a material support but his brethren helped him more or less every year, and sometimes at camp-meetings he would get as much as fifty dollars in presents from his friends and those who appreciated his godly labors.  Bro. John Johnson was a good and useful preacher, rode the same horse for many years; after he became blind his faithful animal would carry him to and from his appointments in perfect safety, stopping every time under the same limb or at the same tree where it was accustomed to be hitched. Bro. Paul Johnson was a weeping profit. I don’t think I ever heard him that he did not weep most of the time he was preaching, and in this way reached the hearts of many that no doubt would not have been touched by ordinary preaching. He had a son who grew up and became a preacher; held family prayer three times a day – morning, noon and night – the only man I have ever known to do it. He prospered in the world. God’s word was verified: ‘Say ye to the righteous, it shall be will with him'”.

Bro. Howren in discussing the lay members and leading Methodist families, wrote in the same article:

Outside of the ministry there was a noble band of lay members at and around old Bethlehem.  The Blairs, Folsoms, Campbells, and Granthams.  Bro. William Grantham was the class-leader and was not only a soldier of the Cross and fought bravely the battles of the Lord but was a good soldier of his country.

That year in that neighborhood they had a very heated skirmish with the Indians. Brother Sharpe, I believe, commanded the fight. A great, stalwart Indian and Bro. Grantham made for the same tree at the same time; coming from opposite sides, neither discovered the other til they met at the tree.  Then came the ‘tug of war’ – around and around that old cypress tree of a hundred years growth they went, each trying to shoot the other.  At length the Indian fired and missed; he then attempted to retreat but Bro. Grantham captured him.”

Howren’s above recollection of  “a very heated skirmish” refers to the 1836 Battle of Brushy Creek in Lowndes County, GA.  Norman Campbell’s account of the battle also relates the incident of Grantham and the Indian chasing each other around a cypress tree. Lasa Adam’s account of the Battle of Brushy Creek and actions on Warrior Creek highlights the leadership of Captain Grantham. Captain Hamilton Sharpe and Levi J. Knight also led a companies of Lowndes County men in these engagements.

Bro. Hamilton W. Sharpe in his article in the Wesleyan Christian Advocate in 1884 …, said in reference to these early local preachers: “Among the early ministers little and unknown and who were loved and prized by God for their love and patience were Revs. Thomas Cliffs, Paul Johnson, John Johnson, Thomas Carleton with many others I could name, who now mingle the redeemed in Heaven. Only a few days since while walking in the cemetery at Concord Church I remarked to my wife that among the dead there was Bro. Cliffs but nothing is there to mark his grave. Bro. Cliffs was good, poor and afflicted but he is where no sorrow ever comes.”

Bro. Howren in another article in the Advocate (April 23, 1884) tells of the time he was first licensed to preach.  It was at the old Morven Camp-ground then called Lowndes Camp-ground in 1837. He wrote in part:

“In the fall of that year I was licensed to exhort. Bro. Francis M. Smith was circuit preacher; Bro. John L. Jerry, presiding elder.  Bro. Hamilton W. Sharpe was licensed at the same time and place.  It was what was then called Lowndes Camp-ground but for many years since called the Morven-campground  which I believe is still kept up by the brethren there and is over fifty years old, has been in that country  a power for good.

“I remember very distinctly at one of those meetings that the older preachers got up a discussion on sanctification, some contending it to be a separate work from regeneration. I was young and said nothing but thought it would spoil if not break up the meeting.  A young preacher who, like myself, had nothing to say on the subject in dispute, was appointed to preach on Saturday night.  He got up and took his text ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.’ He got about half through his sermon; all at once the Holy Ghost came down upon the preacher and people; he had to stop preaching, and just such a time of shouting and rejoicing I never witnessed before nor since under one sermon. That young man was the Rev. J. J. Taylor, now living at Wellborn, Fla. I never heard him preach before nor since as he did on that night. The discussion ceased, the Devil left the camp-ground and we were all of one mind and heart, rejoicing in the love of Jesus.”

Fifty appointments he received from the Bishops. Once only, did he miss a Conference session, and that from sickness. In all time he stood blameless before his brethren. During this time he never took a vacation. District Circuit and Mission work was alike, faithfully performed by him. Many times he was sent to hard and trying fields; but he made no choice of appointment, going cheerfully to the place Chosen for him, glad to labor anywhere for the Master. Once he was selected to preside over his brethren in annual session in absence of a Bishop. Minutes of the Florida Annual Conference, 1890

Reverend Robert Hudson Howren and his wife are buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Jasper, FL.

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G & F Railroad To Open with Big Excursion

Road opens with big excursion

Georgia and Florida railroad prepared to open. Atlanta Georgian and News, Sep. 26, 1908

Georgia and Florida railroad prepared to open. Atlanta Georgian and News, Sep. 26, 1908

Atlanta Georgian and News
September 26, 1908

To Open Road With Big Excursion

Valdosta, Ga., Sept. 26. – The businessmen of Valdosta held a meeting at the city hall yesterday afternoon for the purpose of perfecting arrangements for the entertainment of the people along the line of the Georgia and Florida railroad who are coming to this city on the big excursion which the road will run next Thursday. This event will mark the opening of a passenger schedule on the new line between Hazlehurst and Madison, Fla., via Valdosta, and it is said that hundreds of persons are coming to this city from the different towns along the line. Many of them will be strangers who have never visited Valdosta, and all will be given a royal welcome.
The track-layers on the gap of the line between Valdosta and Nashville joined the rails near Rays Mill last Saturday and this week has been spent in surfacing the roadbed and getting ready for the passenger schedule to go on October 1. The road is now in operating order from Hazlehurst to Madison, Fla.

First Regular Train on the G & F, The Valdosta Times, September 26, 1908 Pg 5

First Regular Train on the G & F, The Valdosta Times, September 26, 1908 Pg 5

The Valdosta Times
September 26, 1908

Many are Coming Next Week

First Regular Train on G. & F. will Bring Large Crowds

It Will Arrive From Hazlehurst Next Wednesday with Five Hundred Excursionists to Spend the Day in Valdosta – Crowd Will be Entertained Here.

The first regular passenger train over the Georgia and Florida railroad will reach this city next Wednesday at noon from Hazelhurst, Ga.
The train will leave Hazlehurst that morning at seven o’clock and it will come through by Broxton, Douglas, Willacoochee, Nashville and other places, taking up a crowd of people at each station and bring them to Valdosta to spend the day.
The first train will be devoted exclusively to the white people and the officials of the road are working up the crowd to come here. It will consist of the best class of people between here and Hazlehurst, and the citizens of Valdosta have already decided to arrange some line of entertainment for the visitors.
A meeting will be held tonight to take up the matter and discuss what line of entertainment shall be arranged. It has been suggested that open-house be kept for the visitors and that lunches be prepared and served to them. One suggestion was to tag every guest with a badge, which should admit him to the place where refreshments are to be served. Another suggestion was to have the dinner prepared when the guests arrive and serve it to the visitors in a bunch, so that the citizens of Valdosta will have a better opportunity to meet them and talk with them.
The details of the entertainment will be arranged later, it having already been decided to make it all that it should be. Valdosta never lags when a test of hospitality comes and every citizen will do his part toward welcoming to the city the people on the line of road above here.
It is very probable that the meeting tonight will decide all about what kind of entertainment will be given the visitors.

Rays Mill Gets G & F Depot

The railroad played an important role in the development of Ray City.  It spurred the development of businesses like the Mayhaw Lake Resort and Luckie Lumber Mill (later Clements Lumber Company). It provided farmers with access to distant markets, and the people of Ray City with transportation to cities and connecting destinations.

By September 1908, the  G&F Construction Company was nearing completion of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. The section  running from Nashville, GA via Rays Mill (now Ray City, GA) to Valdosta was the last remaining track to be laid. A contract was let out to construct a “neat and commodious” train depot at Rays Mill  at a cost of $1500 dollars.  The contractor was Richard A. Whitehurst, of Valdosta, GA. In addition to the depot, the railroad built a number of section houses at Ray’s Mill. These were homes for railroad employees and their families.   A big wooden water tower was constructed just south of Main Street on the east side of the tracks to provide water for the trains.

1908 announcement of the construction of a train depot in Rays Mill, GA

1908 announcement of the construction of a train depot in Rays Mill, GA

Georgia and Florida Will Begin to Operate Trains Between Nashville, Ga., and Madison, Fla.
Valdosta, Ga., September 5. – (Special.) It is announced that a regular passenger schedule on the Georgia and Florida railroad will be inaugurated on October 1, and that trains will then be run between this city and Hazlehurst, on the Southern railway.  The gap from here to Nashville, Ga.,  26 miles, will be completed within the next three weeks or less, giving a straight line from Hazlehurst to Madison, Fla.  It is understood that two passenger trains a day will be run each way.
      Contractor R. A. Whitehurst, of this city, today signed contracts to build two depots for the road between here and Nashville.  The first will be located at the place of John Mathis, about 8 miles north of this city, and the other at Rays mill, in Berrien county.  The depots are to be neat and commodious structures, and will cost about $1,500 each.  So far as known now these will be the only stations between Valdosta and Nashville, but there is a probability of one more being build.  The new line opens a splendid territory in this and Berrien county.

By November 9, the depot at Rays Mill was ready to open.

Train depot at Rays Mill, GA was ready to open November 9, 1908.

Train depot at Rays Mill, GA was ready to open November 9, 1908.

Valdosta Times
November 6, 1908

The new depots at Mathis and Ray’s Mill on the Georgia and Florida road are nearly completed and will soon be ready for occupancy.  The depot at Mathis was thrown open Monday and an agency established there.  The agency at Ray’s Mill will be established next Monday [Nov 9, 1908]. The company has just received and put on several new passenger cars, which helps general appearances wonderfully.  – Nashville Herald.

Mahlon Parker Bowers was later a Railroad Agent for the G&F Railroad at the Ray City,GA depot.



Bound by a Band of Steel

By 1908, Valdosta already had railroads and so did Nashville. Now The Douglas Enterprise reported the Georgia & Florida Railroad would lay track to close the 26 mile gap between them, “Two of the brightest stars of the group of South Georgia’s cities bound by a band of steel.”

The citizens of Ray’s Mill had secured the routing of the tracks to pass through the small community, over a competing route that would have passed through Cat Creek (see Rays Mill Wins Route for the Georgia & Florida Railroad).

At that time Mr. J.S. Swindle owned much of the land around the present site of the town.  It is said that he bargained with the railroad company to give them the right of way if they would give him a station.  This agreement was made and thus started the town [of Ray City].

It was projected that regular passenger service on the new G & F line would begin on October 1, 1908.     Two trains a day would stop at the station in Rays Mill.   The train depot and local offices of the Georgia & Florida Railroad were to be among the first businesses in the newly incorporated town of Ray City.  In addition to the depot, the railroad would build a number of section houses at Ray’s Mill to house railroad employees and their families. The new line, it was said, “opens up a splendid territory in this [Lowndes] and Berrien County.”  Ultimately the G & F Railroad would connect Augusta, Georgia and Madison, Florida.

By March, 1908 surveying was underway for the final segment of the Georgia and Florida railroad connecting Nashville and Valdosta, GA.

Surveying the route of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. Valdosta Daily Times, March 7, 1908

Surveying the route of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. Valdosta Daily Times, March 7, 1908

Valdosta Daily Times
March 7, 1908


Work on the Line to Nashville to Start in Short While.

The Georgia and Florida Road Secures Additional Offices Here to be Used During the Period of Constructing the Line – The New Outlets at Augusta.

(From Tuesday’s Daily.

     The links that will complete the Georgia and Florida Railroad are to be built at once and the big road for which Valdostans have hoped and wised so long will soon pass from a dream to reality.
     Mr. G. M. Jones, assistant chief engineer of the road, arrived in Valdosta yesterday.  He has located an office in this city from where he will supervise the construction of the road between Valdosta and Nashville. It is learned on good authority that work will begin right away and be pushed to completion as early as possible.  This is the only line of much length between Madison and Hazlehurst, unless a new one from Douglas is built which would straighten the main road considerably between that city and Hazlehurst.
     It is thought that by the end of the year the whole road will be finished and that through trains will be running from Augusta to Madison.
     It is hard to estimate the benefit this road will be to Valdosta, as it will give the city direct passage into a rich and fast developing territory that it has been hard to reach heretofore.
     It will give her another big trunk line which, it is claimed will be the equal of any one of the lines she now has, which is a pretty big claim.
     With the completion of this road new enterprises are bound to spring up which will add greatly to the city’s material prosperity and growth.
     There is now a road being built from  Augusta to Elberton the Southern has a road from Elberton  to Toccoa, and when the Georgia and Florida is completed a direct route into North-east Georgia will be had which will add greatly to the travel and trade from that part of the state.
      It will open up a field in Georgia for the early melons and truck and field products of this section that has hardly been touched heretofore.
    With the Georgia and Florida road in operation Valdosta should become one of the biggest truck and melon centers in the South.
      It will open up a new territory for the foundries and machine shops, buggy and harness factories and for the production of every factory and field of this section.
     It will be a glad day for Valdosta when train begin to move between here and Augusta.

On March 18, 1908, Engineering and Contracting magazine announced that a contract had been let for construction of the railroad line that would pass through Rays Mill, GA:

“Valdosta, Ga.—Georgia & Florida Ry., J. M. Turner, General Manager, Augusta. Ga., is to construct a line from Valdosta to Nashville, Ga., about 30 miles, to link two of the properties of the company.   A. & F. Wright have been awarded the contract. The Georgia & Florida Ry. controls a number of small roads which it is proposed to connect. Much of this work has already been done.” –  Engineering and contracting. (March 18, 1908). New York: The Myron C. Clark Pub. Co. Pg 25



Post Offices of the Old Berrien Pioneers


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.

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.

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, 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.

    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

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:

1845 letter sent from Troupville, GA hand franked by Postmaster William Smith. Image source:

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

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.


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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Rays Mill Wins Route for the Georgia & Florida Railroad

In 1907 when things began to firm up for the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railway line that would connect Nashville, GA and Valdosta, GA, railroad engineer J. W. Webster  came through the area to lay out the route and to secure the right-of-way for the tracks.  Webster was assisted by Dr. W. B. Goodman, who was the husband of Texas Ray Goodman and son-in-law of Ray City founder Thomas M. Ray. (see Thomas M Ray Founded Ray’s Mill in 1863)

September 6, 1907 Engineers Secure Rights-of-Way for Georgia and Florida Railroad

The Atlanta Georgian and News, September 6, 1907 Engineers Secure Rights-of-Way for Georgia and Florida Railroad

The Atlanta Georgian and News
September 6, 1907


Special to The Georgian.

    Valdosta, Ga., Sept. 6. – Assistant Engineer J. W. Webster, of the Georgia and Florida railroad, and Dr. W. B. Goodman, of Nashville, Ga., were in the city yesterday arranging for the right of way for the railroad into this city. They drove through the country, following the proposed line, and closed up options for a considerable portion of the right of way.  The road will likely enter the city on the eastern border, with a sharp curve to the south, where a junction will be effected with the Valdosta Southern to Madison, Fla.
    Engineer Webster states that work on the gap from this city to Nashville will begin in a short while, but owning to the fact that nearly all the railway contractors in the country have about all the work they can handle now with their present equipment, and a disposition not to invest money in increased facilities, it is impossible to state exactly when active work will begin.

The call for proposals to build the Georgia and Florida line drew the attention of some of the largest railroad contractors in the country (see previous post Whangdoodled on Panama Canal Contract, Billy Oliver put in a Bid to Construct G & F Railroad Through Ray City).  With railroad construction underway all over the country in 1907, the original bids had  come in too high for G & F’s liking.  But by late August of 1907 it was settled that Schofield & Sons, of Philadelphia would do the grading as soon as their equipment was available to do the work.

In the final consideration, there were two possible routes for the G & F line from Nashville to Valdosta, one by way of Cat Creek and the other to run past Rays Mill.

The Valdosta Times, January 29, 1908 reported that two routes were surveyed for the Georgia and Florida line from Nashville, GA to Valdosta, GA. One route would pass through Rays Mill, the other by way of Cat Creek.

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, January 25, 1908, page 10

Two Routes Surveyed for Road

The work of making the surveys on the road from here to Nashville will probably be completed this week, or within a very few days. Two routes have been surveyed. One of them comes in by way of Cat Creek and the other by Rays Mill. The route by Cat Creek also comes within a short distance of Mr. W.T. Staten’s place on the east, he having been assisting in securing rights of way through that section.

(missing line(s) of print)

routes will be accepted, as the costs of the road is to be considered and then some consideration will probably be taken of the concessions that are given by people along the route. It has not been announced when the work on the road will be undertaken again, but it will probably be when the present warfare on railroads and corporations generally is stopped.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker.

William Tomlinson Staten (1866-1920), who was assisting the railroad in securing rights-of-way was well known as the  Lowndes County tax collector, president of the Lowndes County Farmers’ Club,  and committee member on the state finance committee of the Southern Cotton Association.  He owned  much property including town lots and plantations.  It was Staten who sold lots to the government for the construction of the federal courthouse and post office in Valdosta, GA.  He owned a big plantation called  “Alue” near Valdosta.   He was a big produce shipper so securing a rail route by his Cat Creek plantation  would have been  in his interest.

But despite the influence of Staten, the support of local citizens of Rays Mill were able to secure the route for the new railroad:

At that time Mr. J.S. Swindle owned much of the land around the present site of the town. It is said that he bargained with the railroad company to give them the right of way if they would give him a station. This agreement was made and thus started the town [of Ray City].

W. T. Staten would later be among those seriously injured in the 1910 wreck of the G & F  train in Valdosta, GA.

The Georgia and Florida Construction Company

If any one man can be credited for the creation of the Georgia and Florida Railroad, it  was John Skelton Williams.  From inception it was intended that the G & F would run from Augusta, GA to Madison, FL, with plans to extend the line all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. But when Williams organized the railroad in 1906 it was far from clear to the citizens of Rays Mill, GA (now Ray City) that they would ever get a connection.

John Skelton Williams, organizer of the Georgia and Florida Railroad, was the first president of the Seaboard Airline Railroad, and later became U. S. Comptroller of the Currency.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

John Skelton Williams, organizer of the Georgia and Florida Railroad, was the first president of the Seaboard Airline Railroad, and later became U. S. Comptroller of the Currency. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1906, John Skelton Williams was already a great power among the railroad men.  He was a leading ‘southern financier’ and the ex-president of the Seaboard Air Line railway.

He became a partner with his father in the banking and brokerage business and later engaged actively in the material development of the South. He organized and consolidated the Seaboard Air Line and was elected the first president of this company in 1900. He also served as president of other railroad companies of less mileage and was president of the Bank of Richmond and of the Southern Investment Company. He was director of several other trust companies, banks and other corporations, and was recognized as one of the leading financiers of the South. – Biography-Of-John-Skelton-Williams

One of the “other railroad companies of less mileage” Williams organized was the Georgia and Florida Railroad.  In the spring of 1906, The Valdosta Times reported with cautious optimism on Williams’ interest in Valdosta for his new line.  At the time,  Williams was occupied with consolidating a precursor to the G & F, referred to in the article as the Augusta & Gulf.

March 10, 1906 The Valdosta Times reports on the organization of the Georgia and Florida Construction Company by John Skelton Williams.

March 10, 1906 The Valdosta Times reports on the organization of the Georgia and Florida Construction Company by John Skelton Williams.


Official Statement in Regard to the Augusta & Gulf Railroad.

Messrs. Williams and Middendorf Give Out a Statement of Their Recent Deals and Also Give Some Intimation of Their Plans – Valdosta’s Name is Frequently Used in the Deal, But That is All.

(From Tuesday’s Daily.)

    The following official announcement from the Manufacturers’ Record relative to the proposed Augusta and Gulf railroad which will be one of the biggest trunk lines in the south, will prove of great interest locally as shown in the scope and certainty of this project.
    The Georgia and Florida Construction Company, incorporated has been organized at Richmond, Va., for the purpose of uniting and forming a trunk line out of the several Georgia railroads purchased by the syndicate organized by John Skelton Williams of Richmond, J. William Middendorff of Baltimore and their associates.  Information from Richmond received by the Manufacturers’ Record says that the Construction Company, with an authorized capital of 50,000 to $90,000, has the following directors Douglas H. Gordon of Baltimore, president, and representing the International Trust Company of Baltimore, which is a member of the syndicate:  E. L. Bemiss, vice president, and F. E. Nolting, treasurer, both of Richmond; A. H. Rutherford, of Baltimore, secretary; Albert H. Carroll, of Baltimore, Lewis C. Williams and L. M. Williams, both of Richmond.

Buys Six Roads.

The syndicate has thus far purchased six railroads in Georgia with a total length of 227 miles.  They are the Augusta and Florida 30 miles long, from Keysville to Midville; the Midville, Swainsboro and Red Bluff railway, 20 miles long from Midville to Swainsboro; the Millen and Southwestern railroad, 53 miles line, from Millen via Stillmore to Vidalia; the Ocilla and Valdosta railroad, 55 miles long, from Hazelhurst via Broxton and Ocilla to Irwinville; the Douglas Augusta and Gulf railway, 57 miles long, from Barrows Bluff via Broxton, Douglas and Pinebloom to Nashville, and the Nashville and Sparks railroad, 12 miles long, from Nashville to Sparks.  The Millen and Southwestern has a small branch of four miles from Durdenville to Monte. It will be necessary to use only part of some of these roads to form the proposed trunk line.

The Connecting Links.

To connect these various properties and make the proposed continuous railroad from Augusta to Valdosta it will be necessary to build links as follows:  Augusta to Keysville, about 20 miles, connection between the Midville, Swainsboro and Red Bluff railway and the Millen and Southwestern railroad, about 10 miles; Vidalia to Hazelhurst about 25 miles: total, 80 or 90 miles of new construction.
The proposed extension from Valdosta southeward is not yet definitely decided upon.  The object is to reach the Gulf of Mexico, and this may be done by building to Tallahassee to connect with the Georgia, Florida, and Alabama railway, which would take it to the port of Carabelle or a direct line south might be chosen.  From 50 to 60 miles of new line might be required.

Come summertime, Williams had his railroad chartered and  funded with a million dollars in capital. By this time it was clear that Nashville, Berrien County and the Wiregrass stood to benefit from the new railroad.

July 13, 1906, The Americus Times-Recorder reports that John Skelton Williams has received a charter for the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

July 13, 1906, The Americus Times-Recorder reports that John Skelton Williams has received a charter for the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

By September, 1906 surveying was underway to determine the route  the Georgia & Florida would follow from Augusta, GA to Madison, FL.  But it appeared that the main trunk line of the G & F might pass east of Berrien County.

The Valdosta Times, September 15, 1906 reports Georgia and Florida Railroad has surveyors in the field.

The Valdosta Times, September 15, 1906 reports Georgia and Florida Railroad has surveyors in the field.

But by the following summer, July 1907 it began to look like the trunk line of the Georgia & Florida would include construction of a connecting line from Nashville to Valdosta.  No doubt the residents of Rays Mill began to contemplate the possibilities. Next up, Rays Mill Wins Route for the Georgia & Florida Railroad.

routes surveyed | Search Results | Ray City History Blog

Whangdoodled on Panama Canal Contract, Billy Oliver put in a Bid to Construct G & F Railroad Through Ray City

The  contract to build the railroad line connecting Nashville, GA by way of Rays Mill (now Ray City) to Valdosta, GA,  might  not seem like a project that would attract one of the largest construction companies in America,  but the 1907 call for bids for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad did just that. To be fair, the total contract concerned not just the 30 mile stretch of railroad from Berrien to Lowndes county, but about 70 additional miles of track to connect the various shortlines that comprised the Georgia and Florida railroad.

Perhaps the most prominent bidder  for constructing the connecting lines of the G & F was William J. Oliver, the Tennessee contractor who earlier that year had submitted the lowest bid for the immensely huge task of constructing the Panama Canal.  Oliver expected that the South Georgia cotton shipped over the Georgia and Florida Railroad would eventually find its way through the Panama Canal to  meet the demand in Asian markets. When completed, the G & F line would certainly open the way for economic development in Berrien County, GA and fuel the growth of firms such as the Luckie Lumber Company at Ray City, GA.

William Jesse Oliver (1867-1925) was a prominent bidder for the contract to construct the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

William Jesse Oliver (1867-1925) was a prominent bidder for the contract to construct the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

In 1907, the early accounts indicated Oliver had a lock on the canal contract.

January 28, 1907, William J. Oliver to build the Panama Canal.

January 28, 1907, William J. Oliver to build the Panama Canal.

The first week of  February, 1907, Harper’s Weekly Magazine gave a short sketch on  William J. Oliver and his bid for the Panama Canal.

William J. Oliver, Harper's Weekly, Feb 2, 1907

William J. Oliver, Harper’s Weekly, Feb 2, 1907

Harpers Weekly
Feb 2, 1907


      William J. Oliver, in association with Anson J. Bangs, has made a proposition to build the Panama Canal for 6.75 percent, of total cost, and this bid, at the time of writing, is under favorable consideration by the government.  In the combination which made this bid, Mr. Oliver has the dominant interest.  Other bids were for 7.19, 12.50, and 28 per cent.
      Mr. Oliver is thirty nine years of age.  He was born in Mishawauka, a suburb of South Bend, Indiana.  When he was sisteen years of age he started out on the Cotton Belt railroad with s fifteen team outfit as a railroad contractor.  He has gradually progressed from one branch of railroad contracting to another, and owns one of the largest manufacturing plants in the United States for the building of contractors’ machinery.
       Mr. Oliver has also made a specialty of what contractors call “concrete work,” and has built a number of concrete buildings, viaducts, and river bridges for railroads.  He has over $30,000,000 of contracts now under way including the tunnelling of Lookout Mountain for the Southern Railway company, concrete buildings in Louisville and Nashville, a concrete dam at Chattanooga, sixty five feet high,in which there will be 50,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete work.  He is also laying double tracks and building extensions for various railroads.
      In view of the announcement that Mr. Oliver purposes to use negroes from the West Indies as laborers on the canal, under the superintendence of white men from the South, it is interesting to recall the report that Governor Swettenham of Jamaica is opposed to the use of negroes from that island as foreign laborers, and has imposed a prohibitive emigration head tax to prevent the natives from leaving the island for America or Panama.
      In the case of an award, Mr.Oliver will go to the isthmus to superintend personally the work of construction; he will take over the entire plant owned by the government, and will at once proceed to ship additional materials to the Zone.

Ultimately, the contract for construction of the Panama Canal went to the Army Corps of Engineers.  Oliver said he had been “whangdoodled” by President Teddy Roosevelt, but his manufacturing company did end up supplying some of the construction equipment.  The completed canal is still regarded as one of the greatest engineering achievements of the modern world.

May of 1907 found Oliver not in the Canal Zone but in Augusta, GA to bid on the G & F construction project. In the May 20, 1907 edition of The Atlanta Georgian and News,  he was still protesting the politicized award of the Panama Canal contract,  but the paper also reported his comments on the global impact of the opening of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. “When this line is completed,”he said, “it will largely solve the problem involved in the big suits now before the interstate commerce commission in the matter of rates from the South to Oriental ports.  All the cotton goods and other freight that must cross the Pacific will go over this line and through the Panama Canal when it is finished,” he said.

The Atlanta Georgian and News reports William J. Oliver will bid on the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

The Atlanta Georgian and News reports William J. Oliver will bid on the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

Within a few weeks, The Atlanta Georgian and News reported that The Georgia and Florida Railroad  was ready to select a contractor.

By June of 1907, the selection of a contractor for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad was imminent.

By June of 1907, the selection of a contractor for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad was imminent.

But the bids came in too high and on June 22,1907 the railroad announced it would hold off on awarding a contract.

June 22, 1907 The Atlanta Georgian and News announcemed that the Georgia and Florida Railroad would not be letting a constrruction contract for some time.

June 22, 1907 The Atlanta Georgian and News announced that the Georgia and Florida Railroad would not be letting a construction contract for some time.

On August 24 the contract was finally awarded, but went to Schofield & Sons of Philadelphia.

August 24, 1907, the Georgia and Florida Railroad contracts for construction of new line.

August 24, 1907, the Georgia and Florida Railroad contracts for construction of new line.

-So in the end, the man who famously did not get the Panama Canal contract, also did not get the Georgia & Florida railroad contract.


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