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Okefenokee Smoke House of Homeland

Homeland was still welcoming northern families into the new colony town in the early 1920s, when an unusual moneymaking enterprise was born. Mr. Eli Waughtel and his brother, Mr. C.W. Waughtel, two of the town’s leading citizens, realized that their neighbors needed more jobs in the new community and decided to establish a cigar factory, right there on Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the second floor of the small wooden building which was later the Homeland Post Office, the Okefenokee Smoke House of Homeland was born. The date was January 1921. And by the end of that year the factory was in full production with twenty people, mostly women, employed as bunch breakers, rollers and packers. Even this was not adequate for they had one November order for 16,500 cigars!

The name of this locally produced tobacco product was “The Dixie Flyer.”

Needing more experienced and faster producing employees, the two brothers soon brought in three expert cigar makers from Manheim, Pennsylvania.

Cigars were also produced in several rooms of the Palmetto Hotel, across the street, when the little business needed more space.

Advertising their tobacco products through the mail brought orders from many other states. By 1923, the Waughtels were mailing 4,000 letters at a time and orders for tobacco, cigars and pecans rolled in. The mail advertising increased the revenue at the Homeland post office so much that they soon enjoyed the same class post office as Folkston.

Mrs. Geraldine Norwood, daughter of Mr. C.W. Waughtel, recalled that her father was a good sales representative for the Okefenokee Smokehouse of Homeland. On trips to Jacksonville or other area cities, Mr. Waughtel stopped at many stores along the way, and with boxes of cigars tucked under his arm, he went inside, selling most of them.

Like numerous other small businesses, the cigar factory in Homeland went into a decline at the beginning of the great economic depression of the 1930s and soon closed down. But a large tobacco company in Jacksonville still offered work for women of this area with the following ad: “Women wanted. Learn to be a cigar operator. Women and girls 16-30 years old. Earn at least 22 cents per hour while learning. Experienced operators make from $20.00 to $30.00 a week. John H. Swisher and Son, Jacksonville.” Several Charlton County women began long careers of working for the Swisher Company in Jacksonville and Waycross at that time.

The cigar company with the unique name has almost been forgotten, but it was at one time a vital part of the colorful history of the growing town of Homeland, Georgia.

--Lois Barefoot Mays

January 2006

Sources:

Interview with Mrs. Geraldine W. Norwood, May 2, 1990

Charlton County Herald, various articles, 1921-1930

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Charlton  County Archives