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HAWLEY WRIGHT’S AUTO SERVICE GARAGE, A FIRST FOR TOWN

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

Folkston’s population then was less than a hundred…but the S.F. & W. Railroad had laid its tracks through the tiny village eight years earlier, in 1881, completing its lines from Savannah to Jacksonville, and causing the locals to talk of better days ahead.

Better days came indeed…in 1889 the town was to get its first physician, Dr. James C. Wright who moved from Kings Ferry where he had practiced medicine among the people of that river-front town and its massive saw mill operations. With Dr. Wright and his wife Lillian Cason Wright, was their eight year old son, Elija Hawley Wright who lived to become one of Folkston’s pioneer spirits as he grew in concert with Folkston and Charlton County during the adventurous years of the county’s history.

Hawley Wright enrolled in the public school at Folkston, then located in a two story wooden building built in 1885 just north of the present county courthouse. The building was owned by the Folkston Masonic Lodge with school rooms on the first floor and the lodge meeting room on the second floor. The building was also used for church services.

Upon his graduation from school, young Hawley Wright opened a grocery store in Folkston and ran it for nearly four years, and on September 4, 1902, at age 21 he married Virginia (Jennie) Nevada Mills, the daughter of a Baptist minister. Tired of the confinement of his grocery store, Wright sold the business and learned the carpentry trade which he followed for the next ten years, gradually getting into the sawmill business in partnership with his wife’s brother, Sam Mills.

It was during this period that Hawley Wright became infatuated with the newly-developed automobile, an infatuation that was to lead him into a series of businesses catering to the horseless carriages.

Wright opened Folkston’s first automobile service garage in a tin building on the town’s sandy main street, and in the years that followed he moved his service garage business into several other locations in the town. On Tuesday morning, November 8, 1920, the Wright home place was completely destroyed by fire. The family lost everything. But, Hawley Wright would not let adversity lick him.

By 1924 Wright’s Garage was one of the town’s busiest places, as Hawley Wright’s business thrived. In 1926, with Folkston in the midst of its greatest building boom, Hawley Wright opened up the town’s first Chevrolet dealership…and Wright Motor Company began selling Chevrolet automobiles. To house the business he built a large metal building at the west end of Main Street, later to be occupied by Paxton Stokes for his Chrysler-Plymouth agency. The building stands on the same corner today.

Wright’s business flourished as more and more automobiles came on the scene. The garage building buzzed like a beehive with Wright and his men working on the automobiles. A son-in-law, Willis Askew, two sons, Carroll and Wilbur and a brother, Charlie (Peck) Wright helped Hawley Wright build an enviable reputation in his Chevrolet agency. On another occasion, Wright owned and operated the Ford dealership in Folkston.

But in 1929 as Wright operated his Chevrolet dealership the nation was on the verge of an economic collapse…the stock market crash came on October 24, 1929, beginning the Great Depression. Wright’s mechanic and son-in-law, Willis Askew, took a job in Miami Beach as one of that city’s thirty firemen. Wright’s customers, like others throughout the nation, couldn’t pay their bills. Wright’s business staggered, and on January 16, 1931 the business changed owners…O.C. Mizell began operating the Chevrolet dealership as Reliance Chevrolet Company, with R.A. Boyd as his bookkeeper. In June of 1931 Reliance sold the Chevrolet dealership to Verne J. Pickren.

Wright had been named local agent for Standard Oil Company in 1928. After selling his automobile dealership he devoted his time to promoting the sale of Standard Oil products while operating a Standard Oil service station just across from the county courthouse in Folkston. He retained the Standard Oil distributorship until 1942, assisted in that business by his two sons, Carroll and Wilbur.

Hawley Wright introduced many new projects into Folkston. He owned the first electric light plant in the town, later selling it to the City of Folkston for its municipal customers.

Interested in politics, Hawley Wright served several terms on the Folkston City Council. In the mid 40s he served several years as City Clerk operating from a desk in the County Commissioners office of the courthouse before the town constructed its own city hall building.

An active Baptist, Wright was also a member of the Folkston Masonic Lodge. Hawley and Virginia (Jennie) Wright had three children: two sons, Carroll born in 1904, Wilbur, born in 1913, and a daughter, Doris, born in 1908, who married Willis Askew in 1923.

The Wright family home, located on the corner of Love Street and Second Street, was sold to the Waycross Amoco Oil dealer in the 50s so that a service station could be built on the site.

Wright’s wife, Jennie, died August 9, 1955 and Wright died in a St. Marys, Ga. hospital nine years later, on June 26, 1964.

Elija Hawley Wright came to Folkston in its infancy and became a vital part of its early history. The Wright family traces its ancestry back to Wales, England in the year 1779 when two brothers, John Kingsley Wright and Samuel Wright crossed the Atlantic and settled in East Hampton, Massachusetts. Samuel’s descendants migrated to Camden County and then into Charlton County.

The intervening years have seen the Wright family name written prominently into the history of Folkston and Charlton County. None more prominently or proudly than Elija Hawley Wright who moved into the county from Kings Ferry to call Folkston home.

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Charlton  County Archives