HENRY JACKSON DAVIS, PIONEER BUILDER OF FOLKSTON
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
The tall man stood between two confederates in the dust along Folkston’s First Street surveying the many vacant lots along the city’s Courthouse [Main] Street. There were no automobiles in the city then. His general merchandise store was operating out of the “house with the round roof” at the corner of Love and First Streets, and business was good. It was June 15, 1911 and Henry Jackson Davis talked of erecting a two-story building for his business. His friends called him “Jack”
His decision was not long in coming. W.W. Tyler, who ran the town’s ice house and published the weekly newspaper, spoke to Davis of his plans. ‘I’m going to build my store right there” Davis said, pointing to the lot where the Roddenberry Hotel had stood before being destroyed by fire. It was near the busy railroad depot where ten passenger trains stopped every day, and on the city’s main thoroughfare.
Davis had been born in Charlton County; largely because of unusual circumstances. Just before he was born, his mother, Belle Motte Davis, was moved by her husband, Henry, from near Hilliard to Centreville, near Folkston. It was March 1863 and the War Between the States was raging – word had spread that the Union troops were near Olustee, Fla., and moving toward the coast at Nassau County. The father moved the expectant mother to safer ground at Centreville. It was here that Henry Jackson Davis was born. It was March 20, 1863.
Following the surrender of the Confederate troops by General Robert E. Lee, the elder Henry Davis moved his family, along with young “Jack” back to Hilliard, where the family had extensive land holdings.
Jack Davis began his business career there. As a young man, he opened a general merchandise store which thrived to the point of expansion. The expansion took place in Folkston as the young businessman opened a new store in the “house with the round roof” at the corner of Love and First Street.
On that hot June morning in 1911, Jack Davis showed his confidence in Folkston with his decision to build the two-story edifice near the depot. The city was growing and Jack Davis knew it. He wanted to grow right along with it – and he did.
Only three years earlier, in 1908, the city’s first artesian well had been drilled. The city and county governments agreed to split the cost as the people demanded better water than that which they could individually pump from only 12 to 15 feet deep. The two governments decided on the location – in the middle of Main Street, near the Denmark Hotel, and the work began. The work took three months, when all kinds of difficulty were encountered by Mr. Russell, who had the contract for the drilling.
Jack Davis had watched as the work progressed. He had rejoiced, along with the rest of the people of the city, when water began to be pumped from the pipe which had been sunk 605 feet into the ground. The water flowed only to within 12 feet of the surface, and required the installation of a gasoline-driven pump.
Jack Davis opened his new store in 1911, using the ground story, near the depot, for his showroom and the upstairs for storage. The city’s Main Street was beginning to take shape, and Henry Jackson Davis was to play an important part in the growth. He had hardly completed the store building when he announced he would construct a new home. It was described in the local newspaper as “the finest home between Waycross and Jacksonville.” It would cost $4,000 and have its own electric generating plant. Davis paid the costs to have the water run to his home from the city’s new well.
Jack Davis, while becoming one of the area’s most prosperous businessmen, found time to take his place in the city and county’s governments. He assumed leadership positions as Chairman of the County Commission in 1913. The city’s first telephone system was a result of his vision and drive. He would hold that position through 1921, where he played a major role in the location of the Central Dixie Highway through Folkston. He served also as an Alderman of the City of Folkston, and was active in the Folkston Methodist Church, South.
The year 1911 turned out to be a momentous one for Jack Davis and for Folkston. Public debates were held in the school building on the question of whether or not women should be allowed to vote. Those favoring the question won the debate. The city’s Teacher Institute fielded a full class of teachers listening to the instructions of Professor Jennings, as they qualified to teach the county’s young people.
Jack Davis continued to make giant contributions toward the area’s growth from his store on Main Street. He built two other single-story buildings adjoining his two-story store on Main Street. One would be a store for his son, Herman, and the other would become the city’s post office. His first wife, Sallie Scott Davis, died in 1908, leaving three children, Violet, Nellie and Herman. His second wife, Pearl Wright Davis, whom he married in 1909, would bear him a daughter, Ruby. Pearl Wright Davis died on September 22, 1980.
The hustling businessman, Jack Davis, left his mark of progress on all that he touched. He claimed hosts of close friends and associates throughout the area, and when he died at age 77, after being confined to his home for four months, the hundreds of mourners attested to the esteem in which he was held. His forty years as one of the county’s prominent leaders and merchants had earned him a multitude of friends. Folkston and Charlton County had prospered from the wisdom and generosity of Henry Jackson Davis. He and his family had played a major part in the growth and development of the area. The man, who was born in Centreville, in Georgia because of Union troops near Olustee, Florida, in 1863, left an indelible mark of progress on Folkston and Charlton County.