Sam I. Watson Dies in Explosion

On March 7, 1939 Samuel Irvin Watson was killed in a tragic accident on his farm near Ray City, GA.  Watson served on the State Board of Education (see Sam I. Watson and the State Board of Education )  and route 64 out of Ray City was named in his honor (see The Samuel Irvin Watson Highway)  The March 8, 1939 Atlanta Constitution reported on Watson’s death with front page headline:

STATE SCHOOL OFFICIAL DIES IN EXPLOSION

2 Farm Tenants of Sam I. Watson  Are Also Killed

Another Tenant Escapes But Is Prevented by Flames From Attempting to Make Rescue

Bucket Brigade Conquers Fire

Lakeland Blast Occurs While Chemically Treating Corn for Weevil

Special to The Constitution.
LAKELAND, Ga., March 7.  Trapped by an explosion and flames which spread quickly through a barn on his plantation near here, Sam I. Watson, member of the Georgia Board of Education, perished early this afternoon with two farm tenants.
    The other victims were J. I. Parrish and Edmond Jones.
    Riley Stone, another tenant on the Watson farm, six miles from here, was standing near a door and fled to safety, prevented by roaring flames from attempting to rescue the others.
    Bodies of the three victims huddled in one of the sheds which surrounded the big structure, were found after the flames had been extinguished by a bucket brigade.
 
    Lint Miller’s Brother-in-Law.

    Watson, a brother-in-law of Lint Miller, chairman of the State Highway Board, was directing the treatment of corn for weevil infestation when the explosion occurred, Stone said.  The four men had treated several thousand bushels with a chemical preparation, and were leaving the barn when the blast came, apparently set off by a spark made by a nail as the door was opened.
    Neighbors reported the explosion was heard a few minutes after 2 o’clock, and that the barn was enveloped in flames almost immediately.  Volunteer fire fighters rushed to the scene and formed a bucket brigade to prevent further spread of the flames and to avert threatened cremation of the three trapped men.

    Well-known Farm.
 
    The main section of the barn was 100 feet long and 60 feet wide, with small sheds on all sides. Contents of the structure included several head of livestock and between 4,000 and 5,000 bushels of corn.
    Watson’s farm, which includes more than 2,000 acres, is one of the best known in south Georgia, largely because of the progressive farming methods the owner had inaugurated and followed in its development.
    Mr. Watson was the second member of the present State Board of Education to meet violent death within the last year.
    Several months ago, Lee Branch, of Quitman, vice chairman of the board, was shot and killed by a deranged member of his family.  Mrs.  Branch also was slain.
    In Atlanta, Governor Rivers expressed deep sorrow over the death of Mr. Watson, who was an old and personal friend.
    “The death of Mr. Watson and his two friends is a great shock to me,” the Governor said.  “I have had few friends closer to me than Mr. Watson. In addition he was an excellent public servant and an outstanding member of the board of education.  The school children of the state and the state itself have lost a fine public official, and I have lost a warm friend. I am deeply grieved.”
    Miss Levond Watson, an employee of the State Department of Public Welfare is a daughter of Mr. Watson.  Mrs. Rivers informed her of the tragedy and she left for home immediately accompanied by Mrs. Rivers.
    Chairman Miller, of the highway board, will leave Atlanta tomorrow morning to attend the Watson funeral.

Sam I. Watson and the State Board of Education

Governor Ed Rivers, Sam I. Watson and Mattie Lucille Lashley Rivers.

Governor Ed Rivers, Sam I. Watson and Mattie Lucille Lashley Rivers.

In his first term, Rivers brought a “Little New Deal” to Georgia and presided over a significant expansion of state services…. Probably the most expensive state reforms came in the area of education. In the four years before Rivers became governor, state spending on public education amounted to about $29 million. During his four years in office, the Rivers administration appropriated almost $49 million, including measures to raise teachers’ salaries and provide free textbooks. Rivers’s reforms did not eliminate racial disparities, but these measures benefited black schools as well as white.
-New Georgia Encyclopedia

In 1937, Rivers enacted legislation that created a new, eleven-member state board of education. Named among the members was Sam I. Watson, of Ray City.

The existing state board of education was abolished by an Act of Feb. 10, 1937 which became effective on July 1, 1937, and a new state board of education was created, composed of eleven members, the governor and one member from each of the ten congressional districts to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate for six year terms. The members shall be citizens who have lived in this state continuously for five years, and shall not be in any way connected with any educational institution nor school book concern; they shall elect one of their members as chairman, and shall hold regular quarterly meetings at the State Capitol, and the state superintendent of schools shall serve as executive secretary, with a salary to be fixed by the board members (Acts 1937, p. 864).

BOARD OF EDUCATION
July 20, 1937-date
Governor, Chairman, Ex-Officio
State Superintendent of Schools, Secretary, Ex-Officio
1st district: DR. R. J. KENNEDY, Statesboro
2d district: LEE W. BRANCH, Quitman
3d district: MRS. FRANK DAVID, Columbus
4th district: ALVIN H. FREEMAN, Newnan
5th district: Dr. W. A. SHELTON, Atlanta
6th district: H. C. WILLIAMS, Adrian
7th district: MRS. ELIZABETH McWATERS, Cedartown
8th district: S. I. WATSON, Ray City
9th district: W. W. McCAY, Eastonellee
10th district: W. C. CLARY JR., Harlem

The Clinch County News reported on the appointment:

The Clinch County News
July 23, 1937 Pg 1

Watson Is Named To State Board.

RAY CITY MAN NAMED TO STATE POST ON BOARD OF EDUCATION

S.I.Watson, named by Governor Rivers as a member of the State Board of Education under the 1937 legislative action which abolished the old board and created a new board of ten members is a well-known and prosperous farmer of Lanier county.
Mr. Watson, known to his friends as Sam Watson, was named as one of Georgia’s Master Farmers a few years ago. He is a brother-in-law to W. L. Miller, chairman of the State Highway Board.
Mr. Watson’s post office is Ray City.
Mr. Watson has not been active in politics and his appointment is considered by those who know him to have been an unusually good one. He represents the Eighth Congressional district on the Board.
L.C. Branch, well known Quitman attorney, is another South Georgian named to the State Board of Education. He represents the Second Congressional District.
The Board is meeting this week to consider matters in connection with the new state educational program. Naming of the members was delayed by Governor River’s illness. The old board went out of office on July first.
-Valdosta Times.

Sam Watson’s service on the State Board of Education ended in 1939 when he was killed in a tragic explosion on his farm near Ray City, GA.

1922 Spring Fever Hits Ray City

In these Valdosta Daily Times personal mentions from the spring of 1922, the Ray City news items were mostly about the social activities of the young people of the community.  An interesting note is the  mention of the Ray City Band and the musical troupe’s excursion to Valdosta, GA.

Valdosta Daily Times
April 6, 1922.

RAY CITY ITEMS

    Ray City, Ga., April 5. –Miss Eula Lee Connell and Miss Lilla Gaskins, accompanied by Miss Connell’s parents, spent Sunday with Mr. and Mrs. O. B. Connell, of Valdosta.
    Miss Gola Tom Gaskins was the guest of Miss Gola Flem Gaskins Saturday night and Sunday.  They were accompanied by Mr. Harvey Clements Sunday afternoon for an afternoon ride.
    Mr. Fred Williams was the company of Miss Inez Webb Sunday afternoon.
    Miss Eula Walden spent Sunday with Miss Mae Bowden.
    The Ray City band went to Valdosta Sunday afternoon for a concert with them.
    Mis Beulah Lee spent the weekend with Miss Jennie Watson.
    Miss Gola Tom Gaskins will be the guest of Miss Eula Lee Connell during the week-end of Easter.
    Mr. Grover Combs was a visitor to Miss Minnie Gaskins Saturday afternoon.
    Miss Mary Shaw and Miss Julia McClelland spent Saturday night and Sunday with Miss Mona Strickland.
    Mr. Albert Bradford was a visitor to Miss Rachel Wetherington last Saturday night.
    Mr. Adrian Williams was the visitor of Miss Ethelyn Terry Sunday night.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Additional Notes

Eighteen year-old Lilla Gaskins, was a daughter of Daniel Jackson Gaskins and Sarah Elizabeth “Lizzie” Gray. The Gaskins made their home on Cat Creek Road in the Lois community. Lilla’s friend and neighbor, Eula Lee Connell, age 14, was a daughter of Clinton D Connell and Reedy M Connell.   That week, Lilla travelled with the Connells to visit their relatives, Mamie and Oscar B. Connell, in Valdosta, GA. Later, Lilla Gaskins would serve as the Berrien County Clerk of the Superior Court.

Another neighbor and cousin was sixteen year old Golie Gaskins, daughter of Mary E. and Flemming B. Gaskins. She was was visiting with another cousin of the same name and age who was the daughter of Linie and William Thomas Gaskins. Their companion was Harvey J. Clements, son of Henry Clements of Ray City.

Vida Inez Webb, of Ray City, was a daughter of James Alford Webb and Pearlie Ann Register. In 1922, she was being courted by Fred S. Williams of Cat Creek. They were married the following year.  Later, Vida Inez Webb married Perry Lee Pittman.

Mae Bowden was a daughter of Ressa and Hayne Bowden. The Bowdens had a home on Main Street in Ray City, where her father was a barber.

Beulah Lee was the 18 year old daughter of Wealthy Mathis and John A. Lee. They lived at Ray City on the  Willacoochee Road, on the farm of Beulah’s brother, Robert E. Lee. She spent the last weekend of March, 1922 with her friend Jennie Watson.  This may have been 18-year-old Jentis Watson, daughter of Samuel I. Watson who had a place on the Ray City & Mud Creek Road.

Miss Minnie Gaskins, another daughter of Daniel J. Gaskins and sister to Lilla Gaskins, was called upon by Grover Cleveland Combs, who would later own a restaurant in Valdosta.

Mona Strickland, 16 year-old daughter of John and Onnie Strickland of the Lois community near Ray City, entertained guests Julia McClelland, of Adel, and Mary Vera Shaw, of Ray City.

Rachel Wetherington was the 15-year-old daughter of Bell and Linton A Wetherington, of Cat Creek. Her visitor was Albert Bradford, a 19-year-old Gaskins cousin, son of the widow Maggie Gaskins Bradford, of Lois. His father, Mack Tally Bradford, died in 1919.

Ethelyn Terry was the 16-year-old daughter of Mary V. and Jack Terry. Her father had a farm on the Valdosta Road at Ray City, near the places of John W. Cowart, Mallie Shaw and Lewis W. Register. Ethelyn’s caller was Herman Adrian Williams of Cat Creek.

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