FOLKSTON HAS FOND MEMORIES OF O.W. LAYTON
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
A casting director, looking around for someone to play the role of a small-town barber would have chosen him quickly. Oscar Wiley Layton just looked like a small-town barber, with an almost scholarly appearance. His horn-rimmed glasses and ever-present cigarette completed the image.
A faded red and white sign at the entrance to the Main Street barber shop offered “Shave & Bath, 50 cents.” A spiral striped barber pole beckoned for customers. In the back of his barbershop, separated from the front by a lattice-like partition, was a shower enclosure. One has to wonder who his last bath customer was. Born in Troy, Alabama on March 4, 1892, his friends there nicknamed him “Bubba”. The tag followed him to Folkston.
A young boy hesitated before entering Layton’s barber shop. The boy’s father had always taken him to Pete Stroup’s barber shop across the street. The boy was nearly thirteen years old, but Stroup would haul out a portable baby-seat resembling a high chair, and place it across the arms of the barber chair and force the youth to sit on it while he trimmed his hair. Now the father had died and the boy could make his own decision; and too, the front of Layton’s shop looked more like the barber shops he had seen in western movies. Layton seated the boy in the adult chair and pumped it to elevate the boy up to his level. The youth was pleased. He felt almost grown-up. It was nearing Christmas, 1939.
O. W. Layton had been trimming hair and shaving customers on Folkston’s Main Street since 1923, but had bounced around a bit before finally settling down for his thirty-year career in Folkston.
Fresh off the family farm in Troy, Alabama, Layton ran a shop in Jacksonville from 1912 until 1916; leaving Jacksonville only briefly in 1916 to barber in Woodbine, Ga. He returned to Jacksonville in less than a year and stayed there until moving to Folkston in 1923.
Layton first rented space for his Folkston shop in the bustling Arnold Hotel on the west side of the railroad tracks. The Citizens Bank was located there, as was Ben Scott’s general store. It was probably the “best address” in town for a newcomer. He was married to Hattie Payne Layton, a widow with two sons and a daughter, whom he met and wed while in Woodbine. The Laytons had no children of their own.
Two destructive fires in the Arnold Hotel caused the affable barber to temporarily relocate his shop twice. Then the flustered barber decided to move it to a new location; between Mrs. Banks’ Café and the old Bank of Folkston building, also on Main Street. He operated his shop there until his retirement in December 1953.
A familiar sight along the city’s Main Street was O.W. Layton driving to work. Trailing along behind Layton’s vintage model Chevrolet was his pet dog, Tuesday. Mrs. Layton had given the dog that name, because she found him on Tuesday. The barber and his dog were inseparable. While Layton ran his shop, Tuesday slept beneath the car parked out front. At lunch and in the evening when the shop closed, Tuesday would dutifully follow the barber home. Where Layton and the car went, Tuesday followed behind.
Layton petted his car as he petted his dog. Once a year he would walk into Stapleton’s Drug Store and buy a gallon of Castor Oil. The Stapletons knew he wasn’t going to use the castor oil as medicine. O.W. Layton used castor oil in the crankcase of his aging car, instead of motor oil.
Once a year, after nearly 5,000 miles of use, the meticulous Layton would change oil in the car’s crankcase, using the gallon of castor oil. After the car was disposed of, mechanics inspecting the car’s engine marveled at the cleanliness of the engine parts, although nearly 150,000 miles showed on the auto’s odometer.
The usually mild-mannered Layton had been known to lose his temper on occasion. A young man from Winokur once entered his shop with no money. Layton agreed to cut his hair and put the quarter “on the books.”
Some three months later the same young man showed up at the shop again, his hair shaggy once more. He seated himself in Layton’s barber chair and, rather rudely, ordered another hair cut. “Put it on the books,” he demanded. Layton, his face flushed with anger, flew into a rage. He grabbed the youth around his neck and shook him like a wet towel. At the first chance, the terrified youth broke loose and bolted from the barber chair and out the front door, grateful to escape with his life.
In the encounter, though, Layton broke his set of false teeth. The youth never returned to Layton’s Barber Shop again. The barber ordered himself another set by mail and when they arrived, he filed them down to fit.
After barbering on Folkston’s Main Street for thirty years, Layton began to tire. His health was not good, a chronic kidney problem got worse. Other shop keepers along the street noticed Layton often visiting in Donald Prescott’s barber shop directly across the street.
From Prescott’s shop, Layton would watch customers go into his own shop, and often choose to ignore them and continue his visit with Prescott. When the customers left, Layton would return to his own shop. The other merchants realized the ailing barber didn’t feel like working.
In 1953, at 61, a sick O.W. Layton called it quits and closed his barber shop. He loved to garden and tend to his bees at the home he had bought in 1926 from A.L. Barbour. He was an accomplished gardener. The Folkston Baptist Parsonage stands on the lot today.
In December of 1953 Layton drove his car to the barber shop for the last time. His dog Tuesday, as usual, trailed along behind. The dog too, was showing signs of tiring. He fell further and further behind the car.
Fate was not kind to the Alabama-born barber. He enjoyed retirement only briefly. On Tuesday morning, April 27, 1954, just four months after closing his shop for the last time, Oscar Wiley Layton died in a Jacksonville, Fla. hospital of the kidney ailment that had plagued him for so long. Surgery, two weeks earlier, had failed to save his life.
Two days after Layton’s death, Rev. W.R. Cleveland, the pastor of his church, The Folkston Methodist Church, conducted the former barber’s funeral. His widow, Hattie, and two stepchildren survived. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, St. Marys, Ga.
From his barber shop along the town’s main street, for thirty years, O.W. Layton worked and offered his philosophy of life to those who cared to listen. He saw many changes during those years. He had begun his barber career the year the ocean liner Titanic sank, and ended it just as Charlton County was planning to celebrate its hundredth birthday. The people of Folkston cared deeply for the Laytons, and their dog Tuesday.