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S.M. MILLS, OWNER FOLKSTON COCA COLA COMPANY

 

CHARLTON COUNTY HERALD

R. Ward Harrison, Editor

November 25, 1949

A native of Camden County, Samuel M. Mills was born in April of the year 1876. In his jocular manner, Mr. Mills described his birthplace as being “in the woods of Camden County near where the present city of Kingsland now stands.” But, he adds, that was before Kingsland was even thought of. A son of the late Joseph Mills, Jr. he was one of a family of eight. Among his surviving brothers and sisters are Sol P. Mills and Mrs. E.H. Wright [Mrs. Jenny Mills Wright] of this city. Two of his brothers now deceased were James W. and Alex Mills. His father lived most of his adult life in Camden County but moved to Charlton before his death several years ago. He was an ordained Baptist minister and the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church was established largely through his efforts. He was a man of sterling character and was held in high esteem by all who knew him.

The Mills family was one of the early leading pioneer families of this section of the state having been prominent in the affairs of Camden and Charlton Counties for more than a century. Mr. Mills is a grand nephew of the late Honorable Seaborn F. Mills, Sr. who was born at the old Mills homestead about six miles east of Folkston on October 26, 1842, and died there February 7, 1929 at the advanced age of 87. He was a Confederate veteran, served as Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge and represented Charlton County in the Georgia Legislature.

Mr. Mills came to Folkston to make his home in the year 1897 at the age of 21. He arrived here from Camden County “on horseback”, he recalls, and immediately went to work for the late H.A. Renfroe and George Wainwright as cross-tie inspector. Folkston then had less than 500 people, only three or four stores, no brick buildings and the late Dr. James C. Wright was the only doctor and also dispensed the medicine.

As an employee of Mr. Renfroe, Mr. Mills went to Jacksonville in 1898 to work in a general store operated by Renfroe. After a year in that city he came back to Folkston to take over, by purchase from Charlie Rayburn, a mercantile business. The store building, a wooden structure fronting the railroad, stood about where Passieu’s Garage is now located. He carried on this business until 1902 when the building and all its contents were destroyed by fire, with little insurance. Mr. Mills remarks that he would probably be there yet selling groceries if he hadn’t been put out of business by the fire.

Soon after the fire he went into the cross-tie business on the old Wiley Wainwright place, which he carried on for about two years. In 1904 Mr. Mills was married to Miss Mattie Edith Nelson of Hilliard. They settled on Bailey Branch where he established a homestead and continued in the cross-tie business. As an example of the economic conditions then prevailing, Mr. Mills comments that 7 x 9 four-faced heart ties sold from 30 to 35 cents each. After three or four years in the cross-tie business he and his brother-in-law, Hawley Wright, established a sawmill on Bailey Branch. This sawmill, he recalls, produced much of the lumber with which the houses of the 1906 Colony Company at Homeland were built, the lumber being delivered to the purchasers at $10.00 per thousand feet.

Failing to get rich in the sawmill business at $10.00 per thousand, Mr. Mills retired from that business and in 1915 he went to the Bertha Mineral Logging Camp in Camden County as a blacksmith helper, later being promoted to time-keeper. After two or three years there he returned to Folkston when this concern suspended operation.

In May 1919 Mr. Mills purchased from the late J.W. Rodgers the bottling plant and with it the Coca Cola franchise. Being inexperienced in this line he employed Tillman Rodgers, now deceased, a son of the previous owner, to operate the plant for him while he learned the business. The plant was then located in a frame building fronting First Street, just west of the old Rodgers home. For several years he carried on his bottling business there, including the bottling of Coca Cola and a general line of soft drinks.

In 1925 he acquired from the late B.G. McDonald the acre tract of land on which the present bottling plant and his home now stands. Later he built another frame residence from lumber salvaged from his old Bailey Branch home and also a concrete block residence. About twelve years ago he acquired the D.A. Royal home and all these properties together gives him considerable real estate holdings in that section of the city.

Until about fifteen years ago Mr. Mills bottled Coca Cola and other soft drinks in his plant here but this was discontinued when he made arrangements with the Waycross Coca Cola Bottling Co. under which he has since operated, bringing his products from that city..

Commenting on his early days in the bottling business, Mr. Mills says his first delivering was done in an early model Chevrolet truck purchased from Mallard & Wright for $180.00. He recalls that this truck was in use almost daily for a period of ten years, a record that almost equals Mr. Stroup’s oil heater told about last week.

During his active years, Mr. Mills’ chief hobby and pastime was deer-hunting. In this sport he achieved quite an outstanding record, having killed as many as four deer in a day. (This was before the days of game laws and bag limits.) Although he is still spry and in reasonably good health, he has given up deer-hunting since 1945, when he bagged the two allowed.

The long-time member of the Baptist Church, he served for years as a Deacon of Mt. Zion Church organized by his father. He is a charter member of the Royal Arch Chapter organized by the Woodbine Masonic Lodge in 1904.

Mr. and Mrs. Mills have only one living child, Mrs. D.M. Evans of this city. A son died years ago at about the age of twelve. They are both members of the Folkston Baptist Church.

After living through the active exciting years while Folkston was growing up., as loyal citizens they are now spending their declining years in quiet comfort with the love and respect of the community which has been their home for so long.

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