FOLKSTON RECALLS THE MARTINS OF MARTIN STREET
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
The middle age couple stood in the cold wind to get a better look at their new home and store, not trying to conceal their excitement. The family was gathered around. This was the moment they had waited for. The final nail had been driven. Soon they would open the store doors to the public and advertise its location “at the south crossing”. Emory Lovett Martin and his wife, Welthia Thomas Martin, in their years together, had taken more than their share of troubles, but the troubles were about to end, life will be simple from here on out, the two told themselves. There would be no more long months of separation as he followed any job he could find.
Emory Martin had been a hard-working, fun-loving carpenter and heavy equipment operator all his life. A native of Hoboken, Ga., his father was Neil Martin. Emory had married Welthia Thomas, a daughter of Bill Thomas of Schlattersville, in 1890 when she was 18 and he was 20.
The intervening years had been rough on the couple. It was Friday, January 19, 1917. They had moved all over south Georgia and north Florida before buying a small farm near Folkston in 1909. Now, eight years later, they will place an ad in the Charlton County Herald to let the town know they are opening their general store. Their children are just as excited. Twenty-four year old Neta is married and 22 year old Otto is working away from home. Naomi, 19 and Violet, 10 and Lang, 4, are still at home. Another daughter, Olga, 6, had died when the family lived at a turpentine camp near Anthony, Fla. Emory was 47 and Welthia, 45.
Welthia was pleased with her husband’s promise to settle into a more tranquil life. His previous jobs had taken him away from his family much of the time, as he followed the robust trail, coming home only occasionally, but always providing well for their welfare.
Now they were to settle down and run their small general store built onto their new six-room house. Emory had built it on a lot bought from Mrs. Annie Wright, only a month earlier, alongside the railroad tracks at the south crossing in Folkston.
This arrangement continued for a few years. Emory was elected one of the town’s Aldermen and while he worked hard at moving homes and building houses, Welthia and the children ran the general store. They owned the town’s first phonograph and played it for a curious public in their store. The merchandise inventory was expanded to include building material, feed and fertilizers.
The store building has been torn down as well as the home. The street, named for Emory and Welthia Martin remains the same except for a coat of asphalt paving.
As the other children grew up and left home, Emory Martin’s wanderlust returned. The problems of the past returned. Emory took jobs where he could find them. One of the jobs, building a county bridge across the St. Marys River near St. George, brought Martin momentary glory when he used a distress signal of his fraternal organization to bring a through freight train to a stop just short of it plunging into the river when a large portion of the railroad trestle was on fire.
Welthia closed the store to make a life of her own. Tragedy dogged at her heels. In April of 1935, Lang, unmarried 22 year old son was killed instantly in an automobile accident near Nahunta when an open roadster in which he was riding, was pushed off a bridge by a mule it was passing. Eleven months later, Violet Martin Newell, a daughter, died at 29, of pneumonia, leaving a husband and two small children. Two weeks after Violet’s death, Emory Lovett Martin died of pneumonia in a Waycross hospital. He was 65.
The feisty widow of Emory Martin visited with her daughters, but was never happy until moving into a home of her own. She moved from one home to another. First into a small home at the northeast corner of Main and Magnolia Streets, then into a small cottage owned by Wilbur Thomas at Thomas Camp. Finally in 1937, at 65, she moved into a small home in Homeland, on Bowery Lane. There she looked after three grandchildren following their father’s death. She lived in tranquility there until 1969.
When the grandchildren grew up and left the home, she nearly always found a young girl to live with her and help with the house work. She became affectionately known as “Granny Martin” to practically everyone who knew her. Her outgoing personality melted down the indifference of strangers stopping by her home. Local political leaders liked to be seen sitting on the front porch swing talking with her just before election time. Most of them carried her fruit, vegetables and syrup for her cupboard.
In 1969, at age 97, her health began to fail. Unable to care for herself, she moved into Folkston to live with her daughter and finally into a nursing home in Brunswick, Ga. She died there on August 18, 1969. She had outlived all but one of her children. She is buried in the Folkston cemetery in the same lot with Emory and her two sons, Otto and Lang.
Welthia Thomas Martin had an independent spirit that gave her comfort in later years and courage in her youth. She had an uncanny ability to see people as they really were and not as they thought themselves to be. It would not be difficult for those who travel along Martin Street in Folkston to close their eyes and envision this courageous woman as she met head-on all of life’s challenges for nearly a hundred years.
The history of Folkston owes a special chapter to the Martins of Martin Street.