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Jess Vickery's Southern Charm Led County On High Road

By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian

 

His new home was as southern as magnolia and jasmine, and comfortably seated in one of the large cane-bottom rocking chairs on the sprawling front porch was Jesse William Vickery, obviously well pleased with the work of the Minnesota-born carpenter, J.O. Williamson who had built the home for him from plans drawn by F.A. Armbruster, a renowned architect from the north who had settled in Homeland.

Vickery had often talked of building a home on that particular lot, but the town’s only doctor, J.C. Wright owned the entire block and had his stables located where Vickery wanted to build his home. Dr. Wright died on January 2, 1911, and Jesse Vickery bought the lot from the estate. His home could now be built.

It was early evening, Monday, July 21, 1912. The Democrats had just nominated a former Princeton University professor, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson for president. That day Vickery had been away from his store, and left Lawrence Mallard and Bill Cox working behind the counter. The Vickerys were to spend their first night in the splendor of the magnificent new home after watching its construction each day for four agonizingly-slow months. The smile on 54-year-old Jesse Vickery’s cherub-like face bore mute testimony to the builder’s skill and Vickery’s satisfaction.

Vickery, who possessed all the charm of the deep south, could trace his ancestry to his grandfather, Thomas Vickery, a British subject, who as a cabin boy aboard an English vessel jumped ship at the port of Brunswick in 1800, and made his way here to become one of the first settlers in what was later to become the Vickery home place near Folkston.

Jesse Vickery was proud of his ancestry. His father, John and all three of his father’s brothers, volunteered for service with the Confederate Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. The three brothers lost their lives during the war and of the four, only Jesse Vickery’s father, John, with the 4th Georgia Calvary, was to survive, himself severely wounded, as a 23 year old in the Battle of Chickamauga.

Vickery was born on March 5, 1876 on the Vickery home place near Folkston, a time when the Indians and the White man were still fighting in the western states. Jesse Vickery was a farmer until 1897 when he began teaching school. In 1898 Vickery’s adventurous spirit led him to enlist in the U.S. Army for duty in the Spanish-American War.

Following the war, Vickery returned to Folkston, which had just been chosen as the county site, winning it from Traders Hill. Here he served as Folkston’s town marshal. On October 20, 1901, Vickery married Annie Eliza Gowen, a daughter of another of the county’s pioneer-leaders, Andrew Green Gowen, Sr., and his wife, Jane Vernon Gowen of Traders Hill.

In 1902, as the county was building a new courthouse, Jesse Vickery began a long history of government service to Folkston and Charlton County. He was elected Clerk of Superior Court, a position to which he was successfully re-elected until his retirement from that office in 1911.

That Monday, in 1912, as he sat in the rocker on the front porch of his beautiful new home, Jesse Vickery was beginning a new career… going into the rapidly developing turpentine business. Along with the turpentine operation he ran a mercantile business and raised a few cattle.

Jesse Vickery was in his prime and the little town of Folkston was growing. The town had just opened its second bank in the Arnold Hotel building. The Citizens Bank now joined the Bank of Folkston on the town’s main street, and Colonel William Marshall Olliff in his Charlton County Herald was plugging for the people to work together to continue the progress.

Vickery still found time to serve his county and city; on the county board of education and in 1919 as State Senator, and in 1938 in the Georgia House of Representatives. He and his family were active members of the Folkston Methodist Church and he held membership in the Masonic Lodge, Knights of Pythias and Shriner organizations. Jesse Vickery was one of the town’s busiest men.

Seven children were born to Jesse and Annie Vickery: Waudelle, Andrew, Bernice, Jesse, Jr., Annie Jane, Fermer, who died at age nine in 1931, and an infant daughter who died in 1919.

In the 30s as the county sank deeper into its greatest economic depression, the tireless Vickery ran his turpentine operation in the Mattox community where he also operated a store in the building known as Conner’s Mill or Mattox.

Vickery was enormously popular with his neighbors in the county. He was called upon for favor after favor by people of the county and always he obliged; smiling as though he had nothing else to do. Jesse Vickery thrived on doing things for others.

The stately Vickery house into which the family moved in 1912 became one of the town’s most popular addresses as friends and relatives visited often with the popular family, enjoying southern hospitality at its best. Political leaders of the day gathered around Jess Vickery on the magnolia-shaded front porch laying plans for political contests. Some of the most important decisions of that time were reached after talks on the wide front porch of the Vickery home.

As Jesse Vickery rocked on his porch, Folkston was growing. Railroad workers were installing electric switches and signals along their tracks. Barney Gowen and his family were to move into the home the Vickerys moved out of and Sheriff W.H. Mizell and family had just moved into a home he bought from Lige Johnson.

Jesse Vickery was a pillar of strength for his county and city during their formative years, his energy and wit charted a course always along the high road for his neighbors to follow.

On November 4, 1942, as the nation was fighting for its survival in World War Two, Jesse William Vickery died at age 66. His wife Annie died on June 5, 1958. They are buried in Folkston’s Pineview Cemetery.

Jesse Vickery, a charming leader, gave of himself unselfishly to his family, his friends, his country and to his city and county from the turn of the century until his death in 1942. Those were the early and difficult years as Folkston and Charlton County fought for survival. To a large degree due to his personal magnetism, he wrote a vibrant chapter into the county’s history as he made life’s road a little easier to travel for those who came later.

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