History of St. George
By Lois Barefoot Mays
Established as a “colony city” by a northern newspaper man, the town of St. George has had a most unusual history. P.H. Fitzgerald, an Indianapolis, Indiana editor, had been successful in colonizing the town of Fitzgerald, Georgia so in December 1904 when his son John P. Fitzgerald found 9,000 acres of land for sale in the southern part of Charlton County, they purchased it to begin another colony town. The property was near the village of Cutler and was also on the Georgia, Southern and Florida Railroad.
Ed Mahan, a surveyor, laid out the city of St. George with over 1900 small lots for businesses and almost 2,000 residential lots. This was surrounded by 265 five-acre lots and these were enclosed by 128 forty-acre tracts. Fitzgerald’s newspaper published large ads which were distributed over most of the northern states and many, including a number of Union veterans of the Civil War, purchased lots in the sunny south. The deeds were allotted at a public drawing held in St. George in February 1905.
Many lots were sold during the next two years and settlers began arriving from 26 states on the GS&F trains almost daily. A thousand residents soon called St. George home and they established 54 different businesses. A subdivision adjoining St. George, named for Captain Parker, an old Union veteran, attracted a number of federal pensioners and most of these old soldiers are buried in a special section in the St. George cemetery.
For two years, 1906 and 1907, St. George was the largest town in Charlton County.
But a most important ingredient for a prosperous village was missing, and that was some type of industry to give employment to many of the citizens. When the colony company refused to make any of the promised improvements the newcomers tried to form a new county with St. George as the county seat, but this failed. Two new railroads with plans to pass through St. George could not get the needed financial backing and attempts to promote truck farms so produce could be sold at Jacksonville also failed. Many became discouraged and returned to their original homes, but some remained, determined to develop a successful community.
Fitzgerald had advertised that his 1904 Colony Co. was to be incorporated but he failed to do this. No public improvements were made and no streets were opened, as was promised. Angry landowners filed a suit in December 1906 which led to a federal indictment of P.H. Fitzgerald for violation of the postal laws. He pled guilty and was fined $1,600.00.
A receiver, Mr. Jesse W. Vickery, was appointed and under court order he sold the rest of the colony lands. The money received from this was used to pay for the brick school for St. George.
The remaining citizens incorporated the city of St. George in August 1906 and its first city officials were elected. They were John Harris as Mayor; T.W. Wrench, Clerk; James A. Sage, Treasurer; H.C. Myers, Tax Assessor; A.F. Carmichael, Marshal; and E.T. Torode, Amos Bennett, D.C. Welch, J.W. Strickland and A. H. McConahie as Aldermen. The leaders of St. George then had the streets graded, had drainage ditches dug, built bridges and planted trees.
The most important structure in the village was Union Hall, a building erected by the people for church and school purposes. A three-teacher school operated upstairs and downstairs until 1910 when the brick school was erected. John Harris, editor of the St. George Gazette, began his illustrious career in education when he was selected principal. In 1924 the second half of the brick building and a school auditorium was constructed and the small “field schools” of Toledo, Wilkerson and Stokesville were consolidated with St. George, bringing the student enrollment to its highest point. A fire destroyed this building in 1937 and the following year the present school was erected.
St. George had its own bank for several years, had two newspapers, the St. George Gazette and the St. George Outlook, a hotel, a Northern Methodist Episcopal Church and its own post office. The first post office was known as Battenville, then McNeil, then Cutler and finally St. George.
For the next eighteen years the City of St. George prospered, until the population began to decline and the charter was repealed by the state legislature in 1924.
In 1967 a much-needed telephone exchange was built in St. George, giving the residents, for the first time, complete telephone service of local and long distance connections.
The popular trend of building homes near the St. Marys River has brought new growth to the area in recent years, with many new families and an increase of students in the school.
Fiercely independent and loyal to their community, the people of St. George have carved
out a set of customs and family traditions all their own, bound tightly to their school and churches.
The trend toward consolidation of government and educational institutions still threatens small towns like St. George but the citizens of lower Charlton County are more than a match for them. Other small towns could learn a lot from St. George and the way its people work together to accomplish their goals.