CENTER VILLAGE, GHOST OF THE PAST
By Carolyn DeLoach, Staff Writer
Charlton County Herald
As the old King’s Road became more and more important for overland travel, there was established, in 1800, a trading center more inland from the river [St. Marys River] and convenient for both the river travelers and those pioneers who settled deeper in the interior of the area. Center Village served as a way-station for stage coaches, a freight depot for all supplies unloaded at Camp Pinckney, and as a bargaining center for neighboring counties who did have easy access to the river.
Whenever supplies were brought down the river they would be unloaded at Camp Pinckney if their destiny meant over-land travel. If not, they would simply be carried on down to Traders Hill, which was still the leading river trading post. However, Center Village had one advantage over Traders Hill, it was away from the river and yet close enough to use it. Historians believe that many settlers were superstitious of living on the river for fear of malaria. Of course, Traders Hill was a continuous proof that this was not true, least wise, not true with the St. Marys.
Center Village established the reputation as being the meeting place for settling disputes and business deals. It was the place where tinkers would present their wares, braggarts would tell their tales and musclemen would demonstrate their strength – sometimes on some weaker soul. Fights would break out, fists would fly and there are records of some ending in death. It was a place where races were run and bets were laid. Center Village was just that – a village in the center of everything.
Settlers from other counties would travel in groups to the little pioneer town, carry out their business, and then take time out for fun. It was a place where the habit of the day was to prove yourself, but enjoy it.
As taken from the “History of Charlton County” by Alexander McQueen, “…Those merchants bought the produce brought in by the farmers and sold in exchange flour, sugar, shot, powder, coffee, nutmeg, etc. and every store sold whiskey. One could buy New England rum for $1.00 per gallon or foreign whiskey for $1.25 per gallon. In those days no store was complete without several barrels of whiskey.” Thus giving explanation for the number of fights and “deaths due to self-defense” for the little town.
Some of the early families known to have lived in the settlement of Center Village were” Roddenberrys, McCalls, Hilliards, Mumfords, Mizells, Bakers, Lowthers, Johnsons, Vickerys, and Holzendorffs.
Records show that the thriving little town survived the civil War but did not survive the coming of the railroad. When the first railroad was laid from Savannah to Jacksonville, Center Village began to die. As it began to decline, the little railroad terminal some two miles southwest of it began to grow in size. The inhabitants who once helped Center Village become the leading inland trading center because of its perfect location for stagecoaches and river boats, began to move to the little spot that was rapidly growing near the tracks for its perfect location with the railroad. It was called Folkston.
Again a quote from McQueen’s history should be offered. “The change in freight transportation from water to rail and the passenger traffic from the stage coach to trains sealed the doom of Center Village, a town of the pioneer days more important than all others in Southeast Georgia.
What was once a beautifully shaded area, with the famous live oaks dotting the scenery, where houses and stores once sat in a natural rustic manner, now there is nothing but a barren spot. Due to industrial development in the past fifty years, Center Village in completely gone forever. There is absolutely no visible evidence that it was ever really there. But it was …
[A photograph of a small graveyard was included with this article. The cut line read as follows: Lone grave sites received special attention from Humphrey’s Mining Co. as the area that was once Center Village (Centerville) became the location for mining projects. The graves are marked: In memory of R.A. Baker who was born May 8, 1824 and died Nov. 23, 1868. Sarah E. Wife of R.A. Baker, born June 14, 1832, died Feb. 12, 1901. Both stones read “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”]