The Ray City – Willacoochee Connection

There were several south Georgia families that shared a Ray City – Willacoochee connection.

After 1908, the route of the Georgia & Florida Railroad was from Jacksonville, GA to Madison, FL  and provided convenient transportation between Willacoochee and Ray City by way of Nashville, GA, a run of about 34 miles.

1922 Ray City Elections

January 10, 1922 was Election Day in Ray City, GA

Lyman Franklin Giddens and Essie Parrish Giddens.  L. F. Giddens was elected Mayor of Ray City, GA in 1922.

Lyman Franklin Giddens and Essie Parrish Giddens. L. F. Giddens was elected Mayor of Ray City, GA in 1922. Image courtesy of

Atlanta Constitution
Jan 11, 1922, pg 6

Ray City Officials

Milltown, Ga.,  January 10. – (Special.) – At the election for the town officers at Ray City.  Tuesday, the following were elected: Mayor, L.F. Giddens: councilmen. J.T. Phillips, A.W. Turner, J.S. Clements, Jr., and J.A. Griffin.  They were installed immediately

Lyman Franklin Giddens, Mayor of Ray City

Mr. Lyman F. Giddens (1876 – 1963) – better known as “Judge” – served the town as mayor, city clerk and justice-of-the-peace. As mayor he was involve in the effort to bring a power plant and electric lights to Ray City, GA. He was also probably Ray City’s longest standing barber.

Lyman Franklin Giddens was born in July 7, 1876 in Berrien County. His father, Hardeman Giddens, was a soldier in the C.S.A. His mother was Martha J. Gaskins. In 1900, Lyman F. Giddens, age 23, was still living in his mother and father’s household on the family farm, along with his brother William Giddens. His father owned the farm, free and clear, and the two sons worked as farm labor. He married Essie Daisy Parrish on Jan 29, 1902 in Berrien County, Georgia. On September 12, 1918 Lyman Franklin Giddens registered for the draft.  He was 42 years old, a self-employed barber working in Ray City, GA. The Registrar’s  report described him as medium height, stout, gray eyes and black hair. In 1920  Lyman F. Giddens owned outright a house on Park Street, where the Giddens family lived.  Lyman was 43 years old, his wife Essie was 34.  Living with the couple were their three children, Inez, age 15, Homer, 10, and Ida Lou, age 7.   At this time Lyman was already working on his own account as a barber.

Also elected that day:

James Thomas Phillips, City Councilman
James Thomas “Jim” Phillips, (1880-1963) was 42 at the time of election.  He was born and grew to manhood in Dodge County, GA., coming to Ray City some time before 1920, where he worked as a salesman.  His wife died prior to the 1920 census, after which he boarded in the home of Ray City merchant J. Fred Hinely.  About 1921 he married Maggie Lou Dugger. Elected councilman, Ray City, GA, 1922.  By 1930, the Phillips had moved to Nashville, GA where Jim continued work in sales in the hardware line, and later worked as a commercial carpenter.

Andrew Washington Turner, City Councilman
Andrew Washington Turner came to the Rays Mill district as a young man with his widowed mother, some time before 1880. In 1892 Turner married Phoebe Isabelle Sirmans and the couple made a home and raised their children in Rays Mill, GA. They were civic minded, helping to found the Methodist church, and constructing some of the first brick buildings in town. The Turners made Ray City, GA their home through the 1920s.  The Census of 1920 gives Andrew’s occupation as “Cotton buyer” working on his own account.  His son, Jesse Turner, was working as a drayman, for public work. The family residence was located on North Street in Ray City, next to the homes of Levi J. Clements and Lucius J. Clements, operators of the Clements Sawmill.  Andrew Turner was also engaged in the in naval stores and the mercantile business. The Turners later moved to Valdosta, GA.  (see Andrew Washington Turner and Phoebe Isabelle Sirmans, More on Andrew Washington Turner and Phoebe Isabelle Sirmans.)

J. S. Clements, Jr., City Councilman
Joseph S. Clements was a native son of Ray City. Born August 14, 1886, his parents were Levi J. Clements and Rowena Patten. His family founded the Clements Lumber Company, the big sawmill which operated on the north side of town.  On June 29, 1916 Joseph S. Clements married Effie Mae O’Quinn.  She was born April 19, 1893 in Wayne County, Georgia. When Joe registered for the draft on June 5th, 1917, Joseph gave as a reason for exemption from the draft, “on account of wife.” His draft card information shows that in 1917 he and Effie were living in Ray City. Joseph described himself as married, and self-employed as a lumber manufacturer and farmer. He was medium build, medium height with blue eyes and light hair.  In the 1920s, J. S. Clements was Treasurer of the company. Elected to the City Council in 1922, he was a neighbor of fellow councilman Andrew W. Turner. Joseph S. Clements later served as Mayor. (see WWI Boom for Clements Lumber Company at Ray City, GA).

John Albert Griffin, City Councilman
John Albert Griffin  was a son of Micajah and Mary Griffin, born October 22, 1889 in Ocilla, GA. As a boy, he helped his father with the family farm in Rays Mill, GA. In 1909, his parents hosted traveling evangelist Rebecca J. Fox in their home when her gospel tent was burned at Rays Mill. About 1911 J. A. Griffin married Beulah Griner and the couple rented a home on Pauline Street where they raised their children. J. A. Griffin became a merchant of Ray City. When he registered for the draft for WWI in 1917, he was described as medium height and build, with blue eyes and light hair. In 1922 he was elected to the City Council.  Beulah Griner Griffin died May 15, 1928; John Albert Griffin followed her in death just six weeks later on July 1, 1928. They were buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery.

Love Story of Rebecca J. Fox

Rebecca J. Henderson ~ Traveling Evangelist
Rebecca J. Fox

Traveling evangelists were a prominent part of the religious life in Ray’s Mill.  In November of 1909 evangelist Rebecca J. Fox came to Ray’s Mill, Georgia to preach to gospel.  It was here that Fox’s gospel tent was burned by vandals (see Arson and Evangelism in Rays Mill, GA.) Here also, she met the widower Manassah Henderson and within a month the two were married.

Mrs. Henderson later published the story of her evangelical work. Excerpts of her experiences in Ray’s Mill are related below. (see the entire text at

Manassah W. Henderson met evangelist Rebecca J. Fox while attending a 1909 revival at Ray City, GA

Manassah W. Henderson met evangelist Rebecca J. Fox while attending a 1909 revival at Ray City, GA

Mrs. Rebecca J. Henderson’s Experience In Twenty-Six Years of Christian Work.

After I received the Baptism the Lord would not allow me to make any solicitation or to take up an offering in meetings for months, that He might lead me by His Spirit and providence. After holding tent meetings about ten weeks in Jacksonville, Fla., Brother R. T. Waldrup came after me on the 29th of September, 1909, and escorted me to his home in Valdosta, Georgia, where I had been invited to rest and work with them in the Pentecostal Mission as long as I would.

After spending some weeks in their delightful home at 913 Patterson street, Brother M. C. Griffin, a cousin of Mr. Henderson’s, came and invited me to come to his home, Ray’s Mill, Georgia, and hold a tent meeting.

During this time I received my letters back from Mr. Fox, and at the same time I received a letter from Mr. Henderson written in a spirit of great tenderness thanking me for the spiritual help I had been to him. He was converted in my meeting at Ray’s Mill.

In this letter he spoke of the desolations of his home, since the death of his dear wife, and two precious children some years ago by typhoid fever. And said, his young lady daughter and his two young sons were all that were at home now, and they were very lonely, and they all desired that I should spend the Christmas holidays with them. He attended the meetings often, and we carried on a correspondence for a few weeks.

One morning the Lord gave me a vision of Mr. Henderson’s and Brother Crosby’s faces. They both came to Ray’s Mill that morning to services. As they approached the house Mr. Henderson said, “Get ready to go back with us we have come after you. We want you to make us a visit and rest a while before your meeting begins at Willacoochee.” I went with them, “doubting nothing, for He had sent them.” Acts 10:20. We left the meeting with Brother Griffin…

The following is extracts from my adopted daughter’s letter written at this time.

Mist, Arkansas,
December 22, 1909.
Dear Mama:I received your letter last night and was pleased and surprised also as I read through its contents; and then took a long breath and read it the second time.I do hope and pray if you and Mr. Henderson marry that you will be happy for you deserve to be. I would not be surprised if you aren’t Mrs. Henderson by now. I do hope he will be better to you than Fox.Now, won’t you look, step-mother of nine children. Ha, Ha, you are about to get ahead of me. My two, though they are so small they nearly get the best of me.******I am not going to write much for I know you won’t have time to read much.

Miss Maggie Henderson is right sweet looking, I do hope they will treat you O. K., and you will be as “snug as a bug in a rug.”

We have had such a cold spell, snow is six inches deep. It certainly has been cold. I have been hugging the fire ever since the snow.

I am sending you a sofa pillow cover for your new home.

Well, dear, wishing you many merry Christmases and many many Happy Years, bye-bye now. With lots of love and congratulations.


When Mr. Henderson told me as soon as there was a guardian appointed for his minor children, and his two youngest placed in school he would be ready and glad to go with me any where the Lord lead in this country or to the islands of the sea and assist me in every way possible in spreading the Gospel if I would be his wife The Lord made me know that he was the one He intended to go with me.

After fasting and praying, I told him if it really was His will that Mr. Henderson and I should marry to let it be known by having it so that Pastor Mahon could come from Jacksonville, Fla., to my dear, sweet friend, Sister Waldup’s house, in Valdosta, Ga., to unite us in marriage. I wrote him and received the following telegram:

Jacksonville, Fla.,
December 18, 1909.

Mrs. R. J. Fox,
913 N. Patterson St.,
Valdosta, Ga.

Expect me on Georgia Southern tonight at 11:30.




We were united in marriage by my beloved pastor, W. L. C. Mahon, pastor of the Main Street Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., at Brother and Sister R. T. Waldrup’s Pentecostal Home, 913 North Patterson street, Valdosta, Ga., Dec. 19, 1909. In the midst of a Pentecostal service, Brother Frank Denny the sweet singer and Pentecostal evangelist, delivered the message much of which was set to music. My husband is a member of the Missionary Baptist Church at Willacoochee, Coffee County, Georgia.

A few days after we were married we closed up the house and we all took a pleasant trip.

Mr. Henderson took me to Jacksonville, Fla., and went in person and thanked those who had shown me kindness. We visited his children who are settled in homes of their own, and his old friends and relatives, who showed us every kindness that affection could suggest, until we were made to say: “The Lord has dealt by us, as He did by His servant Job, rendering us double for all He had taken from us.” We have four sturdy sons, and six beautiful daughters living and five sons-in-law.

The following is extracts from my adopted daughter’s letter written during this time:

Mist, Arkansas,
January 3, 1910.

My Dear Mama:

I will have to begin my letter with an apology, for not answering your letter announcing your marriage sooner, which,of course, calls for congratulations. I have a “iti bitsie” excuse, however, that is I have been almost run to death with company during the Christmas holidays. I had a nice Christmas but with a house full of company one can’t find much time for letter writing. I started this letter New Year’s day or I got as far as the date written down, but Ethel was so fretful I had to give it up and take her. You will have to consider that blot a “big, old” kiss and maybe it will not look so ugly. I wrote you last New Year’s day, for I remember I said in my letter, “I will start the year right by writing to you.” But, mama dear, I feel so much better over your welfare this year than I did last for I think you have a good husband to be with you now, and I truly hope and pray so, and last year you were just a lonely little woman out by yourself away from those you love. I am certainly thankful you are prospering so well. 

Mama, if I have been slow in answering your letter announcing your marriage, you have my sincerest wishes for your happiness; and if my congratulation is late in reaching you be assured it is none the less heartfelt and earnest. As I have not the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with my “new papa” I can not say so many pleasant things about him as I am certain he deserves, but I know you well enough to unhesitatingly say that the man of your choice must be one of honor and courage. Now, mama, you must not get the “big head” you are dressing so fine and having such a trip I am afraid your head will get to swimming.

Well, mama, I would love to see you and talk to you, but Iam glad you are so happy and getting along O. K. Now, as Iwant to write to Mr. Henderson I will close for now, with lots of love from your daughter,


P. S. The presents were beautiful. I was very pleased with my pretty waist, and Norma and Ethel thought their dolls fine.

Mr . Henderson is a member of a prominent family of Irwin county and lived at Willacoochee. He had spent most fifty years in great wickedness. He attended a tent meeting I was holding at Ray’s Mill, before the tent was burned by the enemies of this Gospel. He came to the meeting to investigate this doctrine, and came under its power at once, and the appetite for liquor and tobacco was taken from him. “And God who knoweth the hearts bear him witness, giving him the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us, purifying his heart by faith.” And now he is devoting his means and life to the spread of this Gospel.

Related Posts:

Arson and Evangelism in Rays Mill, GA

Continuing with this weeks theme of fire in the Wiregrass, a  hundred year old tale of arson and evangelism in Rays Mill, GA.

Valdosta Times, Dec 1, 1909, Vol 4, No.41, Pg 8

Miscreant Did Dirty Piece of Work at Rays Mill
    News of the burning of a gospel tent in which a woman evangelist has been preaching at
Ray’s Mill was received here yesterday afternoon.
    Mrs. Rebecca J. Fox, who has traveled extensively over the United States doing rescue  and evangelistic work for a number of years, went to Ray’s Mill about ten days ago and began a series of services. Good crowds attended the meeting, but apparently certain parties in that section who are unknown, were opposed to the meetings and began to harass the woman preacher. First the ropes to the tent were cut to pieces, but repairs were made and the services continued. Between midnight Sunday night and daylight on Monday the tent was set on fire, presumably by the same parties who had cut the ropes before. The tent, seats, and an organ used in the services were all burned.
    The people there are said to be greatly incensed over the affair, and we understand a reward of $200 has been offered for the detection of the guilty parties, with evidence sufficient to convict.
    A letter which The Times has received from the evangelist states that land has been donated on which to build a church or assembly hall. Mrs. Fox is undaunted by the burning of the tent and proposes to continue the  meetings. She writes that a shack of some kind will be built at once and that she will continue to preach.
    It is understood that Mrs. Fox is a member of the Holliness [sic] or “Unknown tongue” faith.

While the gospel tent of Rebecca J. Fox was burned in Ray City, GA, there also was her passion kindled. Before the year was out she married Ray City resident Manassah W. Henderson. (See 1910 Valdosta Train Wreck for more on Henderson)