Dr. J.C. Wright, Folkston's First Physician

By Lois B. Mays

In the 1890s the fledgling community of Folkston began growing out along both sides of the Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad. During this decade one of Folkston’s first physicians, Dr. J.C. Wright, moved to the community and became, in his short lifetime, one of the most beloved figures in the early history of the settlement. The lives of the Wright family and the growth of Folkston are closely related.

On April 1, 1858, James Carroll Wright was born in St. Marys, Ga., son of Dr. Elijah Hawley Wright and his wife Caroline. He was educated in the ungraded schools of Camden County and showed an early interest in medicine as he accompanied his father on house calls in the community and nearby countryside.

At age 20 he married Lillian Isabella Cason, a frail young woman from Charlton County and J.C. and his wife lived at the Kings Ferry community where he apprenticed under his father who practiced medicine there. Shortly afterwards he and his family followed his father to Satilla Bluff, Brunswick, Waycross and then in 1889 to Folkston where he lived for the remainder of his life. All along the way, his good-natured disposition won him many friends and his tender, dedicated care of the sick, whether in town or on the distant farms, led his patients to love him in a special way.

The doctor and his wife had seven children: Caroline Rebecca (Carrie), Elijah Hawley, Mamie Elizabeth, Charles Maxwell, Pearl Odette, Maude Irene and Lillian Lessie. Two of his daughters, Pearl and Carrie, supplied much of the information here from their recollections on the Wright family and the growth of the village of Folkston.

In 1889 James Carroll’s father died and since the young apprentice doctor had a large family to support and no license to practice medicine, he had to make the decision whether to begin another line of work or go to college for his license. He chose college and that fall he reluctantly left his family behind in Folkston and attended the State Medical College in Augusta.

Four years later, while J.C. was still in school, his wife contracted typhoid fever and died. Carrie, his oldest child was about thirteen years old at the time and she assumed the task of keeping the household for the other six children until her father could finish his final year of medical school.

An older cousin came each evening to spend the night with them but Carrie took charge of the children, tending to the cooking, washing and cleaning. When Dr. Wright returned home with his degree in April 1894, he eagerly resumed his role of head of the house and returned to his medical practice. Charlton County courthouse records show that on the official register of doctors practicing in Charlton County, Dr. J.C. Wright’s name was the first one to be entered on the book.

Shortly after he returned from school he brought Miss Annie Roddenberry, daughter of Henry and Novenia S. Roddenberry, home as his new bride. Two children were born to them, Vera Annie and James C., Jr.

Doctor Wright spent most of his time tending the sick either at his office in town or on house calls out in the country. Whenever he received word of someone who was taken sick he hitched his two horses to the carriage and rode out to tend them. If the call came at night, which was frequently the case, Pearl and Carrie had the responsibility of stoking the fire in the wood stove and preparing a pot of hot coffee for him before he left.

The doctor’s first office was in one side of the Bachlott Building on the eastern side of the railroad between Main ad Martin Streets. The building got its name from its owner, John R. Bachlott, who had it constructed in the 1880s. The other half of the building was used as a commissary and was operated at the time by Wade Cason. Later the doctor’s office was moved directly across the railroad tracks to the approximate area where the Charlton County Herald was located until 1974. A printing office occupied the top floor of this two-story building.

Dr. Wright’s office had a front porch which served as a waiting room. Instead of banisters or railings, benches were placed between the posts outside to seat those waiting to be treated. The first room in the building had a cold drink stand which was operated by Hawley, the doctor’s son. In the back room were shelves where jars and bottles of medicine were stored and it was here that the doctor prepared prescriptions for the patients. His consultation office occupied one room and a room which adjoined it was the operating room. The doctor went to his office early in the morning and his family generally didn’t see him until he came home in the evening. He spent so much of his time at the office treating his patients that he rarely even took the time to have lunch with his family. One of the children brought his noon meal each day so that he wouldn’t have to leave the office.

The only real free time the doctor had were the infrequent occasions when most of his patients were well, but he was not accustomed to this and when it happened he would declare to his family that the people of the town were “distressingly healthy”

Practicing medicine in Charlton County during the construction of the Suwannee Canal south of Folkston, Dr. Wright treated men who were occasionally hurt with the cumbersome machinery used in the digging of the canal and when an amputation of a limb or any other major surgery was necessary, the doctor put his patient in the Grantham Hotel next door and checked on him frequently. The hotel with its long front porch facing Centre [Main] Street, and its many rooms, could technically be called the first “hospital” in the village.

Dr. Wright’s last office was in the Sam’s Building on the corner of Centre Street and First Street, where the Citizens Bank was later located until about 1965. His operating room and apothecary occupied half the building and the other half was rented as a grocery store.

In January 1911, Dr. Wright contracted pneumonia after making a cold buggy ride to tend a patient in nearby Boulogne, Fla. and at the age of 53, Folkston’s first doctor died. On the day of the funeral practically all the people of the village stopped their work and gathered at the church to pay their final respects to a man they all loved.

The editor of the local county weekly paper wrote his heart-felt feelings concerning the loss of this much-loved physician: “No man ever lived in Folkston has done more for suffering humanity than Doctor Wright.”

Charlton  County Archives