By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County Historian

Charlton County Herald

July 8, 1987

When she came to Folkston, September, 1916, women weren’t even allowed to vote. On the national scene the women’s suffrage movement was just beginning to gnaw its way into the conscience of America.

The family drove into town in a copper head Model T Ford. At the steering wheel was William Henry Robinson, a cousin of the famed Indian fighter and former president, William Henry Harrison, and in the front seat beside him was his wife, Pauline Thaxton Robinson, an independent-minded woman who was to run the town’s weekly newspaper for the next eleven years. Bundled in the back seat of the Ford touring car were the three Robinson’s children, two daughters, Margaret and Irene and a son, Bill.

Robinson had been led to Folkston by a series of unusual events. A native of Illinois, Robinson had made his way to the south. In Jackson, Georgia, where he had settled briefly, he met and courted Pauline Thaxton the daughter of the publisher of the Jackson Progress-Argus, a weekly newspaper. On February 20, 1901 the two were married in that north Georgia town.

In the west, in the Indian Territory, Robinson had been a rancher and had heard of the money to be made growing fruit in Florida for the New York market. He and his bride soon left Jackson for Fort Pierce, Florida to go into the fruit growing business.

Near Fort Pierce the Robinsons teamed up with another fruit grower named Card. Robinson bought his family a stately home and land on which to raise citrus fruit and pineapple. The operation prospered so much the railroad found it necessary to build Robinson and Card their own loading depot. The community was named Cardson, a combination of the two names, Card and Robinson.

On that prosperous Florida fruit grove, when Robinson was 33 and his wife 23, their first child Margaret, was born in 1903. In 1904 Irene was born and Bill was born in 1907.

In 1913, Robinson who was raised in the western Indian Territory, came down with what was then termed crippling rheumatism. When the pain became unbearable, he told his family that he was going to live with some Florida Indian friends until his disease improved. The family didn’t know where Robinson went, and it was several weeks before he returned home .. his rheumatism gone. The family learned later that Robinson’s Indian friends had used ancient tribal medicine on the rheumatism. They had buried Robinson’s entire body except for his head, in the rich mud of their tribal compound for days at a time. Robinson’s rheumatism never returned.

Shortly after returning to his fruit groves, Robinson planned a train trip back to Oklahoma where his relatives lived. But, in a mix up at the Jacksonville railroad depot he was put on a train to Savannah instead of one west bound to Oklahoma.

Just outside Jacksonville, Robinson realized the mistake made by the Jacksonville ticket agent and got off the Savannah-bound train at its first stop, Folkston. He made his way from the depot to the nearly new Arnold Hotel, across the street, where he was to wait for a Jacksonville-bound train for his return.

While sitting in the Arnold’s lobby, he chanced to meet Eli Waughtel, one of the developers of the Homeland Colony. Waughtel, a charismatic salesman, talked Robinson into buying 2,000 acres of Okefenokee Swamp land at 50 cents an acre, as an investment. Robinson also subscribed to the weekly newspaper, The Charlton County Herald.

Robinson returned to his fruit groves where things went well for several years, but in 1914 an unusually early winter wiped out much of Robinson’s fruit groves while the fruit was too young and tender to stand the cold. Again the next year the early freeze repeated itself and most of Robinson’s savings were gone.

Robinson and his wife talked. They knew some changes had to be made. She reminded her husband of her printing background, of serving as a printer’s devil on her father’s Jackson, Georgia newspaper. She showed Robinson a copy of the Charlton County Herald, to which he subscribed when he accidentally landed in Folkston. It had an advertisement offering the newspaper for sale.

From there events moved swiftly. They loaded up their Model T Ford and headed for Folkston, and a bargaining session with its owner, Tom Wrench, who had been running it for just two years. Wrench was in a mood to sell, he had gone through several run-ins with some of the county’s governing body. The Robinsons and Wrench reached an agreement and the paper was sold to Robinson, who knew absolutely nothing about running a newspaper, but who knew that his energetic wife would run the paper like it had never been run before.

The fact that women hadn’t yet been accepted in the business or political world didn’t bother the ambitious Pauline Robinson, she was eager to meet the challenge in Folkston, a little town of 400 people.

Mrs. Robinson’s first edition, September 8, 1916 led off with a salutatory editorial…”We make but one promise…to publish for Folkston and Charlton County a clean and progressive newspaper with the cooperation of the good citizens of this section.” Mrs. Robinson did just that.

The new owner of the Herald determined to cram her first issue with as much news as she could muster up in the little town. She announced that the Sikes had sold their Central Hotel to Mrs. S.A. Walker of Waycross and the Sikes were investing in orange groves in Florida.. Mrs. Walker and her son and two daughters were welcomed to Folkston.

Sheriff W.H. Mizell had an ad selling property of Mrs. Lydia A. Stone to satisfy a levy brought by Georgia Realty Company and the social columns announced that Mr. W. M. Mizell, Jr. and bride of Kings Ferry, passed through Folkston on Wednesday morning enroute to Macon by automobile and would spend several days in middle Georgia.

Mrs. Robinson gave prominent play to Carrie Chapman Catt’s syndicated column advocating universal suffrage for women and demanding that women be allowed to vote.

Robinson bought the home owned by Colonel Wm. M. Olliff from Olliff’s widow after the young attorney died in 1917 and moved his family into it.

Mrs. Robinson traveled about her newly adopted county, writing of her visits to the other communities. Of St. George she wrote…”On Saturday we visited St. George our first visit to the thriving little town of about 300 inhabitants. Was very much pleased to meet the pleasant people. We found electric lights and an up to date ice plant, many nice stores of grocery and general merchandise and a good hotel.” The people of the county raved about the new tone of the weekly newspaper.

Mrs. Robinson ran the paper herself, setting the type by hand, and running the press by hand. Their daughter Margaret lived with relatives and attended school in Camilla, Georgia because that county’s schools were accredited. Irene and Bill attended the Charlton County schools.

Bill soon left to take a job with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Margaret and Irene got their two-year degree from Georgia Normal College at Milledgeville, Ga. Margaret began teaching at age 15 at the Swamp School on the edge of the Okefenokee while boarding with the parents of Ralph Davis. For this she received her board and $25.00 a month. Of her fifteen students, seven were older than she was.

Mrs. Robinson ran her newspaper through the difficult years of World War One, coping with the shortage of machinery and supplies. She covered the influenza epidemic of 1918 as hundreds of Charlton County people died from the dreaded disease and the joy of the ending of World War One was dampened with daily reports of influenza deaths from Folkston, St. George and Moniac. She served as president of her district press association.

For eleven years, the high-spirited Mrs. Robinson ran her county newspaper, sharing the good news and the bad with her neighbors. In 1927, her husband’s health began to decline. He had kept busy in his woodworking and tool shop at their home while she ran the newspaper.

Deciding that she must step down from the newspaper business and stay at home with her husband, Mrs. Robinson printed her final edition on September 16, 1927. She wrote of the many changes in the county since they came. “There have been many changes since we came, and all for the better. Hard-surfaced roads from Waycross to Jacksonville which passes through Charlton County, 23 miles. All county roads greatly improved. Main Street of Folkston paved from curb to curb, cement sidewalks and all lateral streets sand-clay finished. There have been churches and school building erected. Many beautiful homes have gone up and a splendid system of water works installed.” She wrote of a “satisfactory” electric light system.

The Robinsons sold the paper back to the man from whom they had bought it, Tom Wrench, and the couple retired to their home. But retirement came difficult to Mrs. Robinson, she found herself taking on new tasks at every opportunity. She traveled over the county taking the census of 1940 and became very active in the Folkston Baptist Church.

In the late 40s the Robinsons left Folkston for Jacksonville to be near their daughter, Irene. On June 21, 1950, William Henry Robinson died in Jacksonville. On September 26, 1953, Pauline Thaxton Robinson died in Jacksonville. They are buried in Jacksonville’s Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery. He was a member of a Jacksonville Presbyterian Church.

Margaret Robinson Scott today lives in Waycross and her sister, Irene Robinson Caudle lives in Jacksonville. Bill died in Florence, S.C. on September 20, 1977.

The W.H. Robinsons wrote a vital chapter into the history books of Folkston and Charlton County. Mrs. Robinson, for eleven years ran one of the state’s best weekly newspapers as she endeared herself to her friends and neighbors. They are still spoken of fondly by those who remember them.

[Two pictures accompanied this article with the following cut lines: Photograph above shows W.H. Robinson and his wife, Pauline, who ran the Charlton County Herald from 1916 until 1927. The couple moved to Folkston after their fruit grove in Florida was destroyed by an early freeze. Photo at right shows the home near Ft. Pierce on their fruit grove. She was the daughter of a Jackson, Ga. publisher.]

Charlton  County Archives