Joseph Hansell Merrill

Joseph Hansell Merrill (1862-1925)

In 1913, Joseph Hansell Merrill served as one of the founding Trustees of South Georgia State Normal College, at Valdosta, GA. In 1922, the school became Georgia State Woman’s , Valdosta State College in 1950, and Valdosta State University in 1993.  Joseph Hansell Merrill was a law partner of Charles Paine Hansell, son of Judge Augustin H. Hansell who spent 50 years on the bench of the of Southern Circuit of Georgia.

Portrait of Joseph Hansell Merrill

Joseph Hansell Merrill, attorney at Thomasville, GA, was a founding Trustee of South Georgia State Normal College (now Valdosta State University).


National Cyclopedia of American Biography
pg 14

MERRILL, Joseph Hansell, lawyer, was born at Thomasville, Ga., October 12, 1862, son of Joseph Styles and Anne (Hall) Merrill. His earliest paternal American ancestor was Nathaniel Merrill, who came from England in 1633 and settled at Ipswich, Mass. His wife was Joanna Kinney, and from them the line of descent is traced through their son Abel and his wife Priscilla Chase; their son Abel and his wife Abigail M. Stevens; their son Abel and his first wife Ruth Kellog; their son Stevens and his wife Mary Noyes; their son Joseph and his wife Sarah Capp, to their son Lemuel Merrill and his wife Eliza Barker, who were the grandparents of Joseph Hansell Merrill. Joseph Styles Merrill, father of our subject and a graduate of Oglethorpe University, was farmer, merchant, and ordinary of Thomas county, Ga. Joseph Hansell Merrill received his preliminary education at Fletcher Institute, Thomasville, where he won a scholarship to the State University. He was graduated at the University of Georgia with distinction in 1880. He studied law at Thomasville under Arthur Patten; was admitted to the bar of Georgia in 1884, and in that year began the practice of his profession at Thomasville as a partner of his preceptor under the firm style of Patten & Merrill, which relation continued three years. During 1887-99 he was the partner of Chas. P. Hansell, under the firm style of Hansell & Merrill. From 1899 to 1915 he practised alone. Since 1915 he has been of the firm of Merrill & Grantham, with Charles Pinckney Grantham. He represents various corporations including railroad companies, and other business interests, largely by yearly contracts, and is rated an authority on land titles, devoting much of his time to this work as a specialty. He was referee in bankruptcy during 1904-08, and judge of the superior courts of the Southern circuit of Georgia in 1910. Of thirteen cases tried by him taken to the Supreme court, eleven were affirmed; two reversed. He has never sought political office, and only accepted the offices above mentioned at the earnest request of the appointing power. His service on the bench elicited much favorable comment from the press. He was called an ideal presiding officer, whose rulings were characterized by sound legal knowledge and understanding, and excellent judgment. Aside from his professional activities he is president of the Thomasville Real Estate & Improvement Co.; vice-president and attorney Citizens Banking & Trust Co., and a director in various other commercial, industrial or financial institutions. He is one of the three Georgia members of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, 1912-19; member of its executive and legislative committees, and is frequently called on to preside over its deliberations in committee of the whole, and he is Georgia member of the general council American Bar Association; past president (1908-09) Georgia State Bar Association, and president of Thomas County Bar Association, past president Thomasville Public Library Association, and Thomasville Young Men’s Christian Association. Politically he is a Democrat, and he is a communicant of the Episcopal church, and has taught a Bible class for thirty years. He was a speaker in various drives for war work during 1917-18 in Georgia and Florida, and he was alumnus orator at the University of Georgia commencement in 1902. A paper by him for the Georgia Bar Association in 1901, “The Book in the Lawyer’s Library,” was widely published and attracted much favorable comment from members of the bar throughout the country. He finds his chief recreation in golf and horseback riding. He was married (1) at Thomasville, Ga., Dec. 30, 1885, to Mattie C., daughter of John G. Pittman, a real estate operator of Thomasville; She died in 1888, and he was married (2) at Thomasville, Nov. 12, 1890, to Blanche, daughter of Hiram R. Tarwater, a merchant of Louisville, Ky. He has one surviving child of the second marriage; Katherine, now Mrs. John Pasco, Monticello, Fla.

Ray City Girls and Boys at Camp Wilkins

Ray City School students were among the girls and boys who attended 1931 summer courses at Camp Wilkins in Athens, GA. Camp Wilkins was built in 1924 as the first state 4-H camp in the nation.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia,

 “The roots of the Georgia 4-H Club began in 1904 in Newton County as a countywide boys’ corn club. Statewide corn- and cotton-growing contests were held in 1906. Chicken and pig contests were held in 1908. In that same year the program was also extended to black youngsters. Club work for girls began in Hancock County in 1906 and consisted of garden clubs, tomato clubs, and canning clubs. By 1911 more than 1,500 girls were active in the pre-4-H Club activities.  In 1924 the nation’s first state 4-H camp, Camp Wilkins, was built on the University of Georgia campus.”

Cooking breakfast at Camp Wilkins, a part of Georgia State College of Agriculture, after a nature hike. Circa 1925-1932. Image source: Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History, Office of Secretary of State.

 In  the summer of 1931 a number of local Ray City youth and adults attended Camp Wilkins, the first 4-H camp in Georgia.  Camp Wilkins offered  summer course programs June 14 through August 13 through the Georgia State College of Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts in Athens, GA, at the University of Georgia.


A short course of nine weeks is given every summer for the boys and girls who have won scholarships in the different agricultural and home economics clubs of the state. This course is also open to boys and girls who do not win scholarships.

Scholarships in the short courses are given by fair associations, chambers of commerce, women’s clubs, banks, and other public-spirited organizations and individuals who are interested in stimulating education in agriculture and home economics among boys and girls.

Every year more than 2,000 boys and girls take advantage of the elementary instruction which is made very practical indeed and is visualized as far as possible by application and illustration.”

Among the boys attending from Ray City were Bernard Johnson (RCHS 1930), Brown King (RCHS 1930),  Leland Langford  (RCHS, 1939),  J. D. Luke, Billy McDonald,  James Swindle  (RCHS, 1936). The girls were Clyde Carter (RCHS 1936), Margaret Carter  (RCHS 1930), Mabel McDonald (RCHS 1930), Clyde Moore, Doris Swindle  (RCHS 1930), and Grace Swindle, and Beth Terry (RCHS 1930).  Ray City adults Chloe Gardener Johnson   and Carrie McDonald were also at Camp Wilkins, attending a summer course for farm women.   The 4-H activities in Berrien County were coordinated by County Agricultural Agent Donald L. Branyon, and the Home Demonstration Agent was Mary Nell Davis.  In Georgia, there were also Negro Boys’ clubs, Negro Home Demonstration Clubs, Negro Agricultural Agents and Negro Home Demonstration Agents, but none serving Berrien County.  The black division of 4-H was headquartered at Savannah State College (now Savannah State University), and separate events were held for its members in Dublin, GA.
Announcement of the Georgia State College of Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts for the session 1932-1933 with Register of Officers and Students for the Session 1931-1932, Athens, Georgia

Announcement of the Georgia State College of Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts for the session 1932-1933 with Register of Officers and Students for the Session 1931-1932, Athens, Georgia

Camp Wilkins, Athens, GA

Camp Wilkins, Athens, GA, 1925


Camp Wilkins

Club girls at Camp Wilkins studying home foundation plantings and shrubbery, 1925.  The building is Barrow Hall on the UGA campus.

Horticulture class at Camp Wilkins, Athens, GA

Horticulture class at Camp Wilkins, Athens, GA, 1925


Athens, June 17-22, 1929. Farm women's camp, Georgia home demonstration council.

Athens, June 17-22, 1929. Farm women’s camp, Georgia home demonstration council.

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Huff Brothers of Ray City

Omar Alvin Huff  and Gerald Elvin Huff, of Ray City, GA were sons of Paul E. Huff and Mary Lou Lightfoot. Gerald Huff graduated from the Ray City High School with the Class of 1946.   The brothers attended Emory Junior College in Valdosta, Georgia in 1947-1948.  At Emory, they were classmates of Robert J. Starling.

Gerald E. Huff and Omar A. Huff, 1948, Emory Junior College, Valdosta, GA

Gerald E. Huff and Omar A. Huff, 1948, Emory Junior College, Valdosta, GA


Emory Junior College, 1940s, Valdosta, GA

Emory Junior College, 1940s, Valdosta, GA

The Huff brothers both transferred to the University of Georgia.  At UGA, Omar Alvin Huff studied law. He was a member of the Delta Theta Phi, National Law Fraternity and received his law degree with the class of 1950.  He later moved to Melrose, FL.

Gerald Elvin Huff was a member of Alpha Phi Omega, National Service Fraternity, and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from UGA in 1950. After graduation, Gerald E. Huff returned to the Ray City, GA area and in 1952 coached the New Lois boys basketball team. He later moved to Orlando, FL.

Gerald Elvin Huff  of Orlando, FL, died February 25, 1993. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Orlando, FL.

February 26, 1993

GERALD ELVIN HUFF SR., 64, 1401 S. Ferncreek Ave., Orlando, died Thursday, Feb. 25. Mr. Huff was a senior marketing representative for an insurance company. Born in Tift County, Ga., he moved to Central Florida in 1961. He was a Baptist. Survivors: wife, Emma Belle; sons, Jerry, Steve, both of Orlando; daughters, Ann Mims, Orlando, Lynn Roney, Lake Mary; brothers, Omar ”Pete,” Melrose, Mike, Lake Park; sisters, Thelma Waller, Ashburn, Ga., Lois Blair, Deltona, Betty Sirmans, Peggy Exum, both of Hahira, Ga.; six grandchildren. Carey Hand Garden Chapel Home for Funerals, Orlando.


Omar Alvin Huff (JD ’50) of Melrose, FL, died August 3, 2011. He was buried at Eliam Cemetery, Melrose, FL.

Omar Alvin Huff “Pete”
 Mr. Omar Alvin Huff “Pete” , 88, of Melrose, [Florida] passed away Wednesday August 3, 2011 at his son’s home in Hawthorne following an extended illness.

Mr. Huff was born in Chula, Ga. (Tift County) on Jan. 14, 1923 to the late Paul E. and Mary Lou (Lightfoot) Huff.  He had served in the United States Navy, and retired as a Manager in the Insurance Service Offices. He was a member of the Trinity Baptist Church and was active with the Campers on Mission.  His wife Helen, daughter, Betsy Huff Fritsch, daughter-in-law, Elizabeth J. Huff, and six siblings had preceded him in death.

Survivors are his children; Teresa Huff Jones (Ralph) of Green Cove Springs, Paul A. Huff (Barbara) of Interlachen, and Thomas G. Huff (Sally) of Hawthorne. He also leaves behind his sister, Peggy Exum of Valdosta, Ga.; 11 grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren.

A viewing for Mr. Huff will be held on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011 in the Jones-Gallagher Funeral Home from 6-8 p.m.  Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the Trinity Baptist Church with Pastor James Peoples and Pastor Scott Stanland officiating.  Burial will follow at the Eliam Cemetery in Melrose.


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The Good Judge Holt

It is said that the Honorable Thaddeus Goode Holt presided as judge at the first session of the Superior Court of Lowndes County, GA in 1825, convened at the home of Sion Hall.

About the Judge…

As a lawyer and a judge on the Southern Circuit,  Thaddeus G. Holt was well known to Wiregrass pioneers. He was later a prominent citizen of Macon, GA and built a fine home there.  Judge Holt was father of  Captain T. G. Holt, Jr. of the Confederate cavalry, brother-in-law of Confederate general Alfred Holt Iverson who was disgraced at Gettysburg,   and great grandfather of Doris Duke who in the 1930s was known as “the richest girl in the world.”

Thaddeus Goode Holt, born September 20, 1793, was a son of Martha Goode and Thaddeus Holt.  His father, Thaddeus Holt, was a wealthy landowner in Baldwin County, GA and counted more than 4000 acres of land, numerous slaves,  grist mills and sawmills, a ferry and later a toll bridge among his holdings. The senior Holt served as a member in the Georgia Assembly in 1809, as a captain in the Georgia militia, and as a lieutenant colonel in the War of 1812.

Colonel Holt was somewhat of a brawler and participated in several duels during his life. He was bushwhacked by  John “Whiskey” Jones in October, 1813,  while traveling between his properties on the Oconee River in Baldwin County, and died a week later on October 14, 1813.
Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser
October 13, 1813
On Thursday last, Thaddeus Holt was shot through the body, (supposed with a rifle bullet) which entered below the breast bone and came out just under the right shoulder blade. He received the wound in Oconee Swamp on the way to his lower plantation by John Jones, (Whiskey.) It is worthy of remark, that early in Col. Holt’s life, he fought a man, both armed with knives, in which affair both were badly cut to pieces. In Kentucky, in a duel, he wounded through the leg; and directly after in many Indian skirmishes. Afterwards he was shot through the neck; and in the year ’95 had his mouth shot to pieces in a duel – all of which he survived, and lives to agonize his present wound, from which it is probable he will recover, being the 4th day since it was received.
Thaddeus Goode Holt, attended the University of Georgia in 1814. While there, he resided in a cabin his father, Colonel Thaddeus Holt, had built in Athens,GA on Jefferson Road (probably present day Prince Avenue) within a mile of the University of Georgia “in which his five sons kept bachelor’s hall whilst they were students in the University.”
Old College, University of Georgia, constructed in 1806. Today, Old College is the oldest remaining structure on UGA's historic north campus.

Old College, University of Georgia, constructed in 1806. Today, Old College is the oldest remaining structure on UGA’s historic north campus.

After graduating from UGA, Thaddeus Goode Holt, studied law at the Litchfield Law School, Litchfield, Connecticut. The Litchfield Law School, founded by Tapping Reeve is often cited as the first formal school of law in the United States offering a vocational curriculum for future attorneys.
Article on the "First American Law School", published 1921.

Article on the “First American Law School”, published 1921.

In the 1887 work Virginia cousins:a study of the ancestry and posterity of John Goode of Whitby, a Virginia colonist of the seventeenth century, with notes upon related families, a key to southern genealogy and a history of the English surname Gode, Goad, Goode or Good from 1148 to 1887author George Brown Goode gives the following short biography:

Judge THADDEUS GOODE HOLT, of Macon, Ga., son of Thaddeus and Martha Goode Holt,  was born Sept. 20, 1793, and died May 8, 1873. Married, 1828, Nancy, daughter of John and Martha Flemming. Children: —

  1. Hon. Thaddeus Goode Holt, Jr., b. Oct. 16, 1836.  
  2. Allen F., m. E. J. Monghon.
  3. Ellen, m. D. E. Notris.
  4. Leroy, d. aet, 23.

Judge Holt was educated at the University of Georgia, at Athens, and became a prominent lawyer. He was Solicitor-General of the southern circuit of Georgia, 1819-22, and Judge of the southern circuit, 1824-28.

Avery’s History of Georgia mentions “a public meeting held in Macon, 1862, presided over by that noble gentleman, and distinguished ex-Judge Thaddeus G. Holt, to devise means to strengthen the army of the new nation.”

View of the exterior of the Holt - Peeler House, Macon, Bibb County, GA, built by Judge Thaddeus Goode Holt in the 1840s. Judge Holt served on the Southern Circuit of Georgia, and is said to have presided at the first session of Superior Court in Lowndes County, GA in 1825.

View of the exterior of the Holt – Peeler House, Macon, Bibb County, GA, built by Judge Thaddeus Goode Holt in the 1840s. Judge Holt served on the Southern Circuit of Georgia, and is said to have presided at the first session of Superior Court in Lowndes County, GA in 1825.

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Max Maurice Johnson

Max Maurice Johnson. Image courtesy of Julie Hutson.

Max Maurice Johnson. Image courtesy of Julie Hutson.

Maurice “Max” Johnson (1922-2012) grew up in Ray City, GA. As a boy he attended the Ray City School ( see Glee Club Gave 1939 Christmas Cantata and Ray City School 1934) graduating with the Ray City High School Class of 1940. The Johnsons were a prominent family in Ray City and have been the subject of several other posts, linked below. Records of the census enumeration conducted in the spring of 1940 show Maurice Johnson was a student and also working as assistant janitor at the school. His father, JHP Johnson, was a retired merchant, his mother, Chloe Johnson, was Assistant Postmaster of Ray City, and his older brother, Glen, was working as a band instructor.

During WWII, Max Maurice Johnson served in the U. S. Army Air Force as pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber. Another brother, Lawton Walker Johnson, was killed in 1945 while serving in the Navy.  Other Ray City men in the Army Air Force included B-26 Marauder pilot James Swindle, and flying officer Jim Paulk.  Sgt. Mitchell Moore was assigned  to the 854 AAF Bomber Squadron, 491st Bomber Group, flying as a crewman on a B-24 Liberator. Charles Shaw was sent to the 96th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force, stationed at Snetterton Heath, England where he joined the crew of the B-17 Mischief Maker II. William C. Webb served in the Medical Corps of the Army Air Force and Howell Shaw served at Sedalia Army Air Field. Lt. Jamie Connell, of Nashville, served as a  navigator-bombardier. Saunto Sollami served in the Army Air Corp and came to the area after the war.

After the war, Max attended the University of Georgia Law School. He was a  founding member of Phi Alpha Delta legal fraternity at UGA. He took the Georgia Bar Exam in Atlanta, GA in the summer of 1947 and graduated from the law school in December of that year.

Max Maurice Johnson died on September 25, 2012 at  LaGrange, GA. He was buried at Carrollton Memory Gardens, Carrollton, GA.

Obituary of Max Maurice Johnson

Mr. Max Maurice Johnson, 90, of Carrollton passed away on September 25, 2012 at the West Georgia Hospice in LaGrange Georgia, after succumbing to his battle with bladder cancer.

Mr. Johnson was born in Ray City, GA on May 28, 1922, the son of the late Joseph Henry Pascal Johnson and Chloe Ann Gardner Johnson. He was a veteran of the U. S. Army Air Force where he served as a B-24 pilot during WWII from 1942 to 1945. He and his wife of 69 years, Frances A. Johnson, moved to Decatur, Georgia in the summer of 1960 then to Carrollton in 2000. They built a house next to their daughter and settled into a comfortable and productive lifestyle. They became active members of the Carrollton First United Methodist Church and enjoyed good relationships there.

His career and his education were devoted to education. He attended Martha Berry College, Georgia Southwestern College and University of Georgia for his undergraduate degree and University of Georgia for his Masters in Education as well as his law degree. He was a principal both of elementary and secondary schools in Berrien County Georgia. At the age of 38, he changed careers and built a successful educational marketing business, Educational Marketing Services, selling educational products to school systems.

He was a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather and is seceded in death by Timothy Max Poucher, grandson. He is survived by three daughters and two sons in law; Sandra Dianne and Robert Alan Fischer of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Suzanne Johnson of Fort Myers, Florida, and Kathryn Elaine and Carl Emil Poucher of Carrollton. Survivors also include grandchildren and their spouses; Shawn William Fischer, Ashley Ayn and James Edward Remik, Kevin Hamilton Butts and Deanna Lynn Ford, Jessica Robin and Daniel Eric Blanks, Mark Christian and Melissa Caspary- Poucher, John Gabriel and Kendall Poucher, Justin Cauldwell Poucher. great grandchildren, William Jeremy and Caleb James Remik, Noah Lane Butts, Isaiah Samuel, Judah Isaac, Chava Chloe, Aaron Levi, Ari Mordechai, and Tovia Yosef Blanks, Ethan Ry and Samantha Eve Caspary-Poucher.

Memorial Services will be Monday, October 1, 2012 at the Carrollton First United Methodist Church with Rev. Gerry Davis and Dr. Dean Milford officiating.

The family will be receiving friends and family beginning at 10AM followed by Memorial Services at 11AM.

The family requests contributions to Carrollton First United Methodist, 206 Newnan Street, Carrollton, GA 30117, in lieu of flowers and messages of condolence may be sent to the family at

Funeral arrangements are being made by Almon Funeral Home of Carrollton.

Grave of Max Maurice Johnson, Carroll Memory Gardens, Carrollton, GA. Image source: Don Sharp.

Grave of Max Maurice Johnson, Carroll Memory Gardens, Carrollton, GA. Image source: Don Sharp.

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St. Elmo Lee Was a Blessing to FFA

In the summer of 1940, St. Elmo Lee arrived in Ray City, GA.  That fall he began his teaching career as the Vocational Agriculture teacher at Ray City School.

St. Elmo Lee, 1940, Senior Photo, University of Georgia.

St. Elmo Lee, 1940, Senior Photo, University of Georgia.

The Nashville Herald
August 8, 1940,  front page

New Agriculture Teacher For New Lois and Ray City

      S.E. Lee of Cairo arrived in Berrien county this week to assume his duties as agriculture instructor in the Ray City and New Lois schools for this year.
      Mr. Lee is a graduate of the University of Georgia the past June, and comes highly recommended for the work he is to do.  He is making his home in Ray City.
      J.G. Tatum handled the Ray City agriculture classes last year, while E.R. Fowler had the New Lois classes.

Transcription courtesy of Skeeter Parker

In the summer of 1940 St. Elmo Lee was a young man of 22, a fresh graduate of the University of  Georgia. He was a son of John Henry Lee and Willie Myrtice Rehberg, born in the midst of World War I on March 17, 1918. A product of Grady County, Georgia, he had attended Reno Grammar school, and graduated Cairo High School with the class of 1936. Afterward he attended South Georgia College before transfering to the University of Georgia.

At UGA he studied agricultural education, and was Secretary of Gaffau.

The name of Gaffau Club comes from the initials of Georgia Future Farmers of America, University Chapter, a national organization. Its purpose is to promote guidance as a basis of choice for vocational teaching, and to provide recreation and fraternal relationships for students preparing to teach vocational agriculture and to perform duties of advisors of high school F. F. A. chapters. Any student who is regularly enrolled in agricultural courses at the University of Georgia and who has been a member of a local Future Farmers of America chapter or is specializing in teacher training in the Division of Vocational Education is eligible to active membership.

World War II intervened in Mr. Lee’s tenure at the Ray City School.   On October 24, 1942 St. Elmo Lee gave up the classroom for enlistment.  Mr. Lee served his country for three years as a Sergeant in the United States Army, 77th Division.

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