St. George, Memories are Foundation for Small Georgia Town
By LaViece Smallwood
The Florida Times-Union
December 30, 1981
Some describe it as the most peaceful spot in Georgia while others say it is the most desolate spot in the state. Some insist it is the perfect spot to spend a leisurely day fishing from the cool sloping banks of the winding St Marys River while many argue there is too much else to see to waste time basking in all that quiet. Then there are those who remember it chiefly as home and the source of some of the best memories in anybody’s world.
They are talking about St. George. It is a sparsely populated, secluded community, southeast of the Okefenokee Swamp.
The people who live there know its history. They point with pride to newspaper clippings, yellowed and brittle with age, penned by curious reporters awed by scenes from a past that was scarcely touched by modern times.
Few residents, if any, remember the old St. George. They consider “what we’ve heard” almost unbelievable compared to the populated community of 400 today. But official records show that once, back in 1904, 9,000 acres of land were purchased as a colonization project by Indiana newspaper publisher P.H. Fitzgerald. He was trying to promote emigration to the South.
By 1906 almost every train entering the newly incorporated City of St. George brought in settlers. They came from as many as 26 states. Buildings were erected at the rate of one a day and the resident population soon reached 1,000 with 54 businesses being established. There was a bank, school, hotels, newspaper and churches. St. George soon became the leading town of Charlton County.
During this prosperous growth period, Fitzgerald was indicted by a federal grand jury for violation of postal laws and the Colony Company failed to meet obligations to the people. Most settlers from other states returned to their former homes. Despite an effort by the remaining people to undertake the project, lack of industry to support the town caused the economy to fail. The political in-fighting that followed prompted the Georgia General Assembly in 1924 to abolish and repeal the city’s charter.
Today the city consists of an elementary school (high school students commute by bus to Folkston), an IGA grocery, a café, two general stores and a post office. Other evidence of a once-thriving city can only be found in history books.
For whatever reason a few of the settlers who came stayed. The local people, most of them descendants of the original settlers, are glad they did.
“I wouldn’t leave here unless I was carried out in a pine box,” said 80-year-old John Arthur Barker, the area’s first rural mail carrier. Barker said he was 16 years old in 1917 when he drove a pair of mules down from Wilcox County.”My daddy was a cattleman running ahead of the stock laws but he ended up a farmer here,” said Barker.
Sara, Barker’s wife of more than 50 years, came to St. George from Pennsylvania. “My granddaddy had advertised for a wife and found one, so I came down to visit him and met Arthur,” she said. During their courtship, Mrs. Barker said, she once left a message at the local boarding house where Barker lived. Later Barker was told, “that foreign girl came by here and left a message for you but we couldn’t understand her.”
The Barkers live three miles south of St. George. They raised nine children on the 1,000-acre farm purchased by his father for $4 an acre. Other than the price tag, little else has changed. The Barkers, until a few years ago, shared a telephone line with 18 of their neighbors.
Most of those who remained in St George grubbed a living out of the earth and nearby rivers and streams. Area employment, mostly pulpwood mills and turpentine industries, netted the wage earners from 25 to 50 cents a day.