THOMAS LOVETT PICKREN, STATESMAN AND MERCHANT
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
The stranger walked briskly into the county’s four-year-old courthouse. He could still smell the fresh paint on the corridor walls as he found his way into the office of Clerk of the Court, Jesse Vickery.
It was January 23, 1906 and Thomas Lovett Pickren had just bought his family a home in Folkston and wanted to get his deed recorded. Vickery took the document from the 44 year old newcomer. The amiable clerk knew that Pickren hadn’t been in town long. There were only two hundred people in Folkston, and Jesse Vickery knew them all.
Vickery learned from the deed that Pickren had bought the home of Sallie Wilson, only a block from the courthouse. The deed revealed he had paid $800 for the house and a one-acre lot, a great deal of money in those days. Vickery was helpful to Pickren. He recorded the document immediately and handed the papers back to the new home-owner. Vickery felt like he would be recording lots of deeds for this man, and indeed he did.
Thus began a twenty-year string of “good years” for Tom Pickren and his family in their new hometown. Tom was born in Coffee County on June 16, 1862, the second year of the War Between the States; three days before President Lincoln signed a law prohibiting slavery in the United States.
Before moving his family to Folkston from Waycross, Pickren had run a general store and had been a traveling salesman. He had moved around quite a bit; Broxton, McRae, Helena, Jacksonville, Ga., Blakley and Waycross had all been his homes before settling in Folkston. His new neighbors in Folkston and Charlton County will later honor the newly-arrived Pickren with almost every elective office at their disposal.
Pickren was married to Dora Closs Johnson when the family moved to Folkston. She was his second wife and they had married in 1896. His first wife, Kathleen Georgia Wilcox, had died earlier. She had given birth to four children. Five other children were born to Pickren and his second wife, Dora Closs Johnson, before the family moved to Folkston. The tenth child, Woodrow, was born in Folkston in 1910.
T.L. Pickren’s business acumen served him well in his newfound home town. He traded in naval stores, buying and selling pine forests for turpentine production. In his second year in Folkston he opened a general merchandise store and teamed up with partners in several other business ventures.
Tom, and his brother, Charles Clayton Pickren, in September 1911, bought into a thriving area-wide retail business in Hickox -- Dowling-Pickren and Company. He and his wife operated a store in several Folkston locations; one, in the large white building behind the McDonald House Hotel. He later teamed up with J.H. Johnson to run the Folkston Bottling Works in a building where the Southeastern Bank stands today. He was one of the original founders and directors of its predecessor bank, The Citizens Bank when it was formed in 1911.
But perhaps the best remembered Pickren store in Folkston was built by Tom on a lot at the northeast corner of Main Street and U.S. Highway 301. They called it Folkston Grocery Co. He built it on the lot which he bought from Mrs. S.A. Reville on August 21, 1911 for $250. Tom Pickren and his wife ran this store until his retirement in January 1927.
The solemn-faced merchant found time to serve in numerous public service positions, as State Senator in 1925 and 1926, and as State Representative from Charlton County almost continuously from 1915 through 1924. He was elected to the Folkston town council in 1906, his first year in the city, and its mayor in 1907. He served in both these posts for a number of terms; as City Treasurer, and as the county’s first Judge of the County Court. In addition he headed up practically all of the area’s fraternal organizations and was president of the county’s Board of Education. Tom Pickren was a busy man. His neighbors sought his leadership ability and he readily accepted.
Before there were any local telephones in the town, Tom Pickren’s Main Street store had two, long-distance only, telephones. The only such phones in the county. The phone line trailed into the store directly from the telephone pole alongside the building. One of the phones handled called into Waycross and the other was for calls into Jacksonville. All of the townspeople used Pickren’s phones. When incoming calls came for someone in town, Pickren would hail one of the town youngsters and reward him with a short licorice candy stick to find the person being called and advise him of the call.
Tom Pickren, endowed with a desire to work, while continuing to operate his general store, served several years as Warden of the county’s convict camp, an appointment that came from the Governor. At that time the county prison camp was located in an area off the Burnt Fort Road and east of Folkston and the locally-kept state prisoners were the primary source of road building for the county. Following his resignation from the job, Pickren received plaudits from the governor for his “outstanding performance” in that capacity.
The home Pickren bought in 1906 was destroyed by fire in 1919. The Pickren family escaped with only the clothes on their backs. Several neighbors came to the aid of the large family by offering living quarters for family members in neighborhood homes, while Pickren built a new home. A son, Woodrow, bought the home after his parent’s death, and lived in the spacious house at the corner of Third Street and Love Street.
Tom Pickren and his family lived and worked in Folkston during its early days. They came when the town was officially only ten years old. The population was just over two hundred. Pickren and his family worked and played and endeared themselves to their neighbors. All the while, his dedication to hard work and his business insight rewarded him with business successes.
When Thomas Lovett Pickren sold his Main Street store to his son, Verne J. Pickren in August 1927 for an automobile garage and service station location, he retired. He could reflect proudly on his twenty-one years in Folkston. With only a limited formal education he had become one of the area’s most successful businessmen and a pioneer statesman. He was a devoted husband, father and provider.
Tom Pickren, for the first time in his life, in 1927, had time to do what he wanted to do. He tended his garden at home and raised White Leghorn chickens.
Nine years later, on Saturday, June 27, 1936, at two o’clock in the morning, death came to 74-year-old Thomas Lovett Pickren, at his home on Love Street. Although his health had been declining for months, his death came suddenly and unexpectedly. It shocked the townspeople.
Surviving were his widow Dora Closs Johnson Pickren, five daughters, Stella, Kathleen, Nellie, Helen and Margaret and five sons, Alva Henry, Thomas Exum, Taylor Lovett, Verne Johnson and Woodrow Wilson. He is buried in Folkston’s Pineview Cemetery.
Thomas Lovett Pickren had carved his niche in the early history of Folkston and Charlton County. He, and his family, exhibited to the community the desirable traits of their Scotch-Irish ancestry. He will long be remembered by those who knew him and loved him.