Dr. Adrian Dalls Williams, Country Doctor for 38 Years
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County. Ga. Historian
It was Monday February 1, 1908 when Dr. Adrian Dallas Williams, Jr. stepped off north bound train number 82, The Royal Palm, at Folkston’s tiny railroad depot. It had arrived on time from Jacksonville, 10:37 a.m.
Williams, then only 29 years old after graduating from the Medical College of South Carolina in 1904, had visited Folkston once before, searching for a place to set up his medical practice.
His Father, Dr. A.D. Williams, Sr., a Jacksonville, Fla. physician at the time read an advertisement in a Jacksonville newspaper that Folkston, Ga. was looking for a doctor, to replace a Dr. Burch who had decided to practice elsewhere. Dr. Williams, Sr. told his son of this, suggesting that he go to Folkston and check the town out.
The elder Dr. Williams, a Confederate Army veteran and a veteran of the Spanish-American War, practiced medicine in the military in his younger years. His son, Adrian Dallas, Jr., after graduating from old Duval County High School in Jacksonville, graduated from The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. before attending medical school at the Medical College of South Carolina.
Young Doctor Williams had first practiced medicine in Illinois for a short time after finishing medical college, and at the time he came to Folkston, he held an Illinois license to practice medicine which he transferred into a Georgia license.
Folkston at the time was a town of just over 300 people. W.W. Tyler, editor of The Charlton County Herald, was calling for the town council to drill its first artesian well and to clay its important streets. At the time, no one could guess just how much Doctor Williams would later contribute to the growth and stability of his newly adopted home town.
In the years that lay ahead, Adrian Dallas Williams would take the lead in every worthwhile venture of Folkston and Charlton County as he sought to improve the quality of life for the people of the deep South Georgia county.
Williams was born on a farm in Hampton County, at Brunson, South Carolina on July 16, 1879, just fourteen years after the end of the Civil War, the grandson of a Baptist minister, Colonel Gilbert Martin Williams, who lost his life while commanding the 47th Georgia Infantry during that tragic war.
The military background of Adrian Dallas Williams’ father and grandfather was to make a profound impression on the younger Doctor Williams. While still a teenager he enlisted in the Army during the Spanish-American War of 1898, and in 1900 at age 22 he went to China as one of 2,500 American soldiers to help put down the Boxer Rebellion. The Williams family left South Carolina for a brief stay in Macon, Ga. and then on to Jacksonville, Fla. at the turn of the century, locating there just after a disastrous fire nearly leveled that city.
Williams, after his arrival in Folkston, immediately served notice that he had come to Folkston to practice medicine. He rented an office in the Paxton Building which had formerly been occupied by Dr. Burch and placed an ad in the weekly newspaper announcing that his practice was medicine, surgery and obstetrics.
Within two months, Dr. Williams had opened a drug store in the Paxton Building in the town, naming it Folkston Pharmacy, the only place in town serving ice cream. The store was destroyed by fire in October of 1908 but Williams immediately reopened at another location, this time installing all new equipment. In the summer the drug store advertised with its motto, “The coolest place in town.”
But, Dr. Williams had that burning inside him that made him want to improve the lot of the people of his home town. In March, 1909 at a mass meeting in the courthouse, Williams was named to head a committee to organize a stock company to bring the first electric light plant to Folkston. Serving with him on the committee was Col. W.M. Olliff and L.E. Mallard.
On November 9, 1910, Dr. Williams and Myra Mizell, daughter of Joseph Paxton Mizell, were married in the Folkston Methodist Church by Rev. W. Langston of Waycross. The newly married couple then left on a train for St. Augustine and other points in Florida on their honeymoon. To the couple would be born two children, a daughter, Carrie Belle on February 20, 1914, and a son Eugene on August 21, 1915.
Dr. Williams’ medical practice in Folkston, and his drug store, not to mention his interest in public affairs kept him very busy. A man small of statue, Williams nevertheless was a human dynamo, and was not completely happy until he had a half-dozen projects going at one time. Never one for small talk, he had a way of getting right to the point…an abrasive mannerism which often caused others to think him rude. In 1911 when Folkston’s other physician, Dr. J.C. Wright died, Williams became busier than ever, but he still found time to organize Folkston’s first Chamber of Commerce in 1916.
On April 2, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Immediately the local weekly newspaper announced a mass meeting at the courthouse to organize for the emergency. In August 1917 Dr. Williams, who had held a Major’s commission in the Medical Reserves since the Spanish-American War, entered the Army Medical Corp and served there until World War One ended in November of 1918. During that conflict he was wounded on a battlefield in France. At the war’s end Williams held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Medical Corp. By December 1919 Dr. Williams was back home seeing patients in his Folkston office in the Arnold Hotel building.
In March 1921 Dr. Williams chartered Folkston’s American Legion Post No. 132, serving as Post Commander, a post he held for twenty-five years.
In 1930, Williams unsuccessfully sought election to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 11th Congressional District, which included Charlton County at that time, against incumbent Congressman W.C. Lankford. Williams, as a result of non-stop campaigning throughout the district, came within 7,000 votes of upsetting the veteran Congressman, and gave rise to talk of Williams trying again in 1932. That race was scrapped however, when Mrs. Williams talked her husband out of entering the contest.
Dr. Williams had a reputation for not liking to be told what to do. Legend has it on one occasion in the late 30s he got a message that Hamp Chesser’s wife was ill at the Chesser home on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. It was dark and Chesser arranged to meet him at a crossroad with a burning lantern to show Dr. Williams the way to the Chesser home.
The two met at the crossroads as arranged, and Chesser crawled into the auto with Dr. Williams. But, to get to the Chesser home place it was necessary to drive across a water filled slough. Chesser cautioned Dr. Williams that he could drive through, but he must take the right side of the ruts. Williams, apparently as a move of defiance, elected to drive through the ruts on the left side. It didn’t work…the Williams auto bogged down.
Williams and Chesser struggled with the bogged-down auto until Chesser noticed that Williams was losing his temper. Chesser offered to carry the doctor piggy back across the slough to the Chesser home and Williams took him up on the offer, holding onto his small black doctor’s bag as he rode Chesser’s back deeper into the slough.
As luck would have it, in the middle of the slough Chesser lost his footing and he and Dr. Williams fell into the waist deep water, soaking both to the skin. Undaunted the two sloshed their way on across and into the sick room of Mrs. Chesser.
Dr. Williams examined her and gave her some medicine for her ailment. She then started a fire in the big fireplace and the two men dried their clothes while standing in front of the fire. Chesser asked Williams what he owed him for the house call and was told fifteen dollars. Chesser pulled the money from his pocket and paid Williams.
Chesser then got his oxen from the barn and accompanied Williams to the slough to free the auto from the mud, which he did. Williams got into the car and, in an effort to be polite, asked Chesser if he owed him anything for using his oxen. Chesser said, “I reckon about fifteen dollars will be all right.” Muttering words that couldn’t be easily understood, the flush-faced Williams handed back to Chesser the same fifteen dollars he had extracted from Hamp Chesser in the Chesser home.
Williams’ outer fašade gave the appearance of a gruff, stiff person, but to his close friends and family he was warm and gentle. At Christmas time he insisted on personally decorating the Christmas tree, and in the family kitchen he baked the Christmas fruit cake. His daughter, Carrie Bell didn’t care for raisins, so Dr. Williams left the raisins out of his fruit cake.
For nearly forty years. Adrian Dallas Williams was a fixture in Folkston and Charlton, County, treating the sick and sewing up the thousands of cuts and bruises that were so commonplace in the sawmills and turpentine quarters of the county at that time. Through it all he kept plugging away for better roads, better schools and better everything for the little town he loved so dearly.
In the early 1940s there were no public health organizations, not even a county nurse, in over a third of the counties of Georgia. Dr. Williams was appointed the State Chairman of the American Legion’s Committee for Child Welfare and he immediately organized a mobile health clinic, went into those counties that had no health programs and, immunized the children in cooperation with the State Board of Health. His work was done in such a quiet way, that very few even realized the necessity for such protection for children. He was presented the national trophy for the Most Outstanding Child Welfare Work in the entire nation.
The trophy, an unusually handsome cup standing four feet high, was brought to Folkston where it was on display at the American Legion Hall and at the Citizens Bank.
As a member of the Methodist Church, the American Legion, the Forty and Eight and the Masons, Dr. Williams also served on the Folkston City Council and as president of the 11th District Medical Association, also as president of the 11th District Chamber of Commerce.
Unable to serve in World War Two because of his age, Dr. Williams nevertheless supported the nation’s fighting men with every resource at his command.
He never retired from his medical practice, continuing to treat patients from an office near his home. In 1946 his health began to decline because of diabetes and cancer and on Friday August 2, 1946 he died in a Jacksonville, Fla. hospital, leaving as survivors, his wife Myra Mizell Williams, his daughter Carrie Belle and his son Eugene. He was buried in Folkston’s Pineview Cemetery.
Dr. Adrian Dallas Williams was perhaps the county’s greatest patriot and salesman. His mission here in Folkston and Charlton County brightened a forty-year-long chapter in the county’s history dedicated to the doctor who stepped from the train here on February 1, 1908. He will not soon be forgotten.