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R. JOHNSONS OPENED TOURIST INDUSTRY HERE IN 1936 WITH KOZY KABIN KAMP AND KAFE

By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian

In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt was just beginning his second term as the nation’s president; and the country was beginning to pull itself out of the deepest recession in its history.

In Folkston, a 33-year-old man, Ralph Johnson, and his wife, Julia, saw the need here for overnight sleeping accommodations for travelers – a new industry for the county – tourism.

Mr. Johnson had grown up working in the large family sawmill, but had recently taken over the Sinclair Service Station, located within a few hundred feet of his present home. He said the station was opened by Tommy Wildes, but when Wildes decided to return to his work with the Railroad Company, he took over operating the service station.

In 1936, with no “first class” tourist facilities in Folkston, and with traffic beginning to increase along the “Dixie Highway”, U.S. Highway No. One through Folkston, Mr. Johnson built the first four units of Kozy Kabin Kamp, two doubles and two singles. The single room would rent for $1.50 a night and the doubles $2.00 a couple.

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His eyes glistening, 83-year-old Ralph Johnson recounted those days. He recalled that within three years of opening the tourist camp he and his wife saw the need for an adjoining restaurant, and built the tourist court’s companion business, Kozy Kamp Kafe.

Johnson said that the tab for breakfast then was 35 cents, including two eggs, grits, bacon, toast and coffee. Dinner was 65 cents, he remembered, and coffee was a nickel a cup.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and their young daughter, Jewell, worked hard at the business, and soon Kozy Kabin Kamp, and Kozy Kabin Kafe was known throughout the southeast for its excellent accommodations and down-home friendly atmosphere. Its good reputation spread.

A Sinclair (H.C.) Service Station was built in conjunction with the tourist camp and restaurant. Alton M. (Shorty) Mizell, ran this part of the business until leaving to enter the armed services in World War Two.

Mr. Johnson said that his business was called a “tourist court” alluding to the separate buildings of the guest accommodations, and “back then we had never heard of the word motel,” he added.

Mr. Johnson noted that his wife, Julia, ran the restaurant, with the exception of a few years when she was ill. During that absence, he said, Mrs. W.E. Banks and Mrs. J.W. Vickery ran the restaurant, as did Mrs. Leon (Mary) Askew.

Expanding the tourist cabins to all the one-acre tract of land would accommodate, eleven tourist units, along with the service station and restaurant; the business thrived for almost twenty years.

Prominent guests made this place their home while in the area. Mr. Johnson said that Georgia’s Secretary of State, Ben T. Fortson, came often, picking his particular unit in the tourist camp while spending several days fishing in the Okefenokee.” He was crippled, and always had his chauffeur with him,” Johnson said.

“Our guests included N.G. Wade, Sr. while he was building the big saw mill here, and John C. Allen of Atlanta, always stayed with us while here buying up land,” Johnson commented.

Mr. Johnson fondly remembered when his units were filled, they were rented to work-crews of young men installing underground telephone cables through the county, for ten dollars a week.

It was in the Kozy Kabin Kafe, that the Folkston Lions Club was first chartered. The restaurant is still remembered for its cleanliness and fine food. The wooden dining room floors were always scrubbed “potash clean”.

With the exception of a couple of “tourist homes” in the city, the Kozy Kabin Kamp and Kozy Kabin Kafe was, for a long time the only such place available in Folkston offering overnight accommodation for highway travelers. The warm glowing neon signs, and majestic palm trees stood out like an oasis in the desert, welcoming the tourist.

In 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson donated some of their land off the west side of their property to the Georgia Highway Department. This was the beginning of the end for the tourist camp, service station and restaurant. U.S. Highway No. One was diverted from its former location in front of the Johnson’s business, to the back side of the business, in part on the land donated by the Johnsons. The diverted highway was combined with U.S. Highway 301 leaving Kozy Kabin Kamp and Kafe with its back turned to the busy highways.

Rather than turning their units, to face the rerouted highway and rebuilding the service station and restaurant, the Johnson’s chose to close out the business. This was in 1954, eighteen years after its beginning, in 1936.

Other tourist accommodations, now known as motels, began to spring up along the combined and rerouted highway. Among them, the Suwannee Motel, the Georgian Motel and Restaurant, Chastain’s Motel and Restaurant, Greenland’s Motel, Howard Johnson Motel and Restaurant, Holiday Inn Motel and Restaurant, Quality Court, Tahiti Motel and Restaurant, Okefenokee Motel and others. The tourist boom for Folkston which was to last fifteen years, had begun.

Folkston and Charlton County was to become known for its thousand-plus restaurant seats, and nearly that many motel rooms – but Mr. and Mrs. A.R. Johnson had been the pioneers of the tourist industry in Folkston – and had kept their business atop the preferred list of tourist for nearly two decades.

The Johnsons did not retire from work – their tourist business closed, they expanded on a nursery business which they had begun as a hobby – and also began a prosperous flower shop business.

Mr. Johnson said that those early years of building a tourist court, a restaurant, a service station and running and expanding the businesses are were among his fondest memories.

The couple moved one of the original tourist cabins, expanded it, making it attractive and comfortable, as well as filled with memories of years gone by.

The signs and the buildings are gone, but the names, Kozy Kabin Kamp and Kozy Kabin Kafe will be fondly remembered, as it, with the impetus of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Johnson, ushered in the tourist business in Folkston, in 1936.

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ARNOLD RALPH JOHNSON -- KOZY KABIN KAFE TOURIST COURT

CHARLTON COUNTY HERALD

By R. Ward Harrison, Editor

July 21, 1950

A native of Charlton County and a lifelong resident of this community, Arnold Ralph Johnson was born in 1901 at the old Johnson family homestead about five miles west of Folkston where he grew up to manhood on his father’s farm near Bethel Church.

He is a son of the late Judge J.H. Johnson and Mrs. Annie Gay Johnson, the latter now being a resident of this city and is a member of a large family of brothers and sisters, most of whom reside in this community.

 

MR. RALPH, A MAN WITH A VISION

CHARLTON COUNTY HERALD

by Lois Barefoot Mays

May 11, 1994

Mr. Ralph Johnson died last week – the man who almost single-handedly made Folkston a Jewel of South Georgia each spring.

The camellias and azaleas around most of the homes here can be traced back to plants Mr. Ralph lovingly rooted and grew to a setting-out size in his nursery on South Third Street.

But then, what could you expect of a farm boy who moved to town to make his living? He had been raised on the old Johnson Homeplace west of Folkston in a family known for its close ties and outstandingly responsible citizens. And when the new highway came through, wiping out his restaurant and motel business, he did what his real calling was; he established a plant business so he could again be outside planting and growing crops. This time it was not the corn and sweet potatoes of the Johnson farm but it was every imaginable color of azaleas and many varieties of camellias. And instead of the calls of the crows and hawks of the farm in the background, he heard neighbors visiting and the busy sounds of small town traffic.

Clipping sprigs of camellias and azaleas by the thousands each late spring, he rooted them, and then transplanted them into large cans which eventually were planted around hundreds of Folkston homes. This wasn’t for him! I believe he would have done this if he had known he would never get paid for it.

Any daylight hour would find him watering, fertilizing, and just plain enjoying watching the new growth coming on his babies. One of his greatest fulfillments had to be when all these little sprigs had grown into small plants and exploded with spring-time blossoms underneath the screen canopy of his nursery.

A soft-spoken, gentle man, he would watch as customers picked out their favorites and he would smile as they reacted with astonishment at the low price he charged. Many times he added extra plants without cost. In his heart he knew this was what he was meant to be – the granddaddy of the flowers of spring for Folkston.

When selling one or one hundred plants, he made the customers promise they would dig a big hole and put in plenty of peat moss before they put their new plant in the ground. If he thought the plants would be mistreated, he wouldn’t sell them.

A new business owner in town came to buy some azaleas to set out next to his new concrete building. The plants would be in a very small space between the building and concrete parking lot. When the owner said he was going to put the azaleas in place without bothering with the peat moss, Mr. Ralph refused to sell him anything. He knew they would die in a short time and he couldn’t stand for that to happen.

There couldn’t have been a more beautiful place than Folkston, Ga. this spring – it was like a fairy land. But Mr. Ralph couldn’t enjoy it because he was ill.

The beauty of the camellias and azaleas this spring was like a benediction on the life of this wonderful human being was was loved by his family and cherished by his many friends.

At the cemetery Tuesday afternoon as we were saying farewell to him, there was no singing, only the hush of the quietness of sorrow. But the resident mocking bird began his flawless melody and sang through the sad service, a fitting tribute to this farm boy with a vision for Folkston.

Goodbye, Mr. Ralph, you are still in the hearts of your family and friends and we will see you and love you all over again every spring from now on.

--Lois B. Mays

Charlton  County Archives