Allen Daniel Candler
1834 – 1910
After leaving the Governor’s office, Candler served as the State’s first compiler of records until his death in 1910. Candler County, Georgia, was named in 1914 for Candler in appreciation for his passion and diligence in compiling and editing nearly thirty volumes of the State’s historical records from the Colonial, Revolutionary and Confederate periods.
THE ORIGINS OF CANDLER COUNTY
© Stephen C. Taylor
Senior Seminar Paper for Dr. Anderson
University of Georgia
May 24, 1989
Candler County, created by an act of the Georgia Legislature in 1914, being the state’s 148th county out of 159 existing counties, is a relatively new county. This would lead one to think that it does not possess a wealth of history, but this is not the case. The area that is now Candler County has a long and expansive history dating well before the movement to create the county was ever conceived. Many early families, schools, churches, and roads were there long before, in what was at that time part of Bulloch, Emanuel, and Tattnall counties. Today, these are known as Candler’s ‘Mother Counties’.
It was against overwhelming odds that Candler was created. The opposition of the surrounding counties from which it was to be cut was great, and almost kept it from becoming a reality. The spirit of the people coupled with the growth of the town of Metter, vying for county seat, gave the movement the edge it needed.
The story of the Old Town of Excelsior, which was pulled into Candler upon its creation, is in its own right a unique part of the history of the area. It provides an interesting look into the lives and character of a people and place that shaped this area that was to become Candler County.
This area of Georgia is part of the flatlands, which were under the sea a million years ago. Geologists find evidence of it in the earth layers of riverbanks and in excavations, and the large sand oak ridges that once marked was not cut directly from Effingham. In 1793, Screven County was formed from a part of Burke County and a part of Effingham. Three years later, on February 8, 1796, Bulloch was formed from a part of Screven (which had been in Effingham) and a part of Bryan (which had been cut from Chatham in 1793).
The western portion of Candler had come from Emanuel County. Emanuel was created on December 10, 1812 as 686 square miles were subtracted from Bulloch and Montgomery Counties. Montgomery had been cut from Old Washington County, which had been an original county. Tattnall County was cut from Montgomery County on December 5, 1801.
An early known landowner in this “pine barren” section of the state was George Sibbald. Sibbald was a businessman and entrepreneur who migrated to Georgia from Maryland in 1798 or 1799. He claimed that he was attracted to Georgia by the promise of the pine barren land. He was familiar with the descriptions of the area as desolate and forbidding, but also felt that the lands could be made productive with the right approach.
Sibbald published his Notes and Observations on the Pine Lands of Georgia in 1801 as a publicity tract to encourage emigration to the area. By 1801, he had acquired over 500,000 acres of land in Bulloch, Montgomery, Effingham, and Washington Counties. Sibbald described his holdings as bordering on Skulls Creek, Fifteen Mile Creek, Canoochee Creek, and Ohoopee Creek. The descriptions and plat records are scanty, but he seems to have held title to land in various portions of present day Candler County.
Most of the early settlers in this part of the state were from the Carolinas and Virginia, with a few from more northerly states along the Eastern seaboard. A few came directly from countries of Northern Europe and almost all were of Scotch, English, or Irish descent. Because of colonial restraints and Indian troubles, very few settlers came into this interior from Georgia’s coastal settlements.
Although the Indians had finally agreed in 1768 to vacate the area west of the Ogeechee and southward, frontier settlements were plagued by Indian violations for years afterward. Colonial Records gives account of forces sent out in 1773:
“Three companies of Rangers each consisting of 75 men…to each County on the Frontier,” which included Candler’s area of Bulloch County.
First hand descriptions of life in the early days of this area are rare. Having few good roads, large numbers of outsiders were not attracted here. During the early spring of 1822, Jeremiah Evarts passed through this area on his way from Savannah to Augusta. He described this region as “everything looks as though the place might be healthy, but is is very sickly.” Six years later, in 1828, another visitor recorded his observations. Basil Hall, an English soldier, made a tour of the United States in 1827-1828. In March 1828, he left the Savannah area and rode Inland toward Macon. He traveled by open coach and found roads almost non-existent. Most were poorly marked and often impassable. Yet, he found the area to be one of quiet beauty.
“For five hundred miles, at the least, we traveled in different parts of the South, over a country of this description, almost everywhere consisting of sand, feeble held together by a short wiregrass, shaded by endless forest. I don’t know exactly what was the cause, but it was a long time before I got quite tired of the senery of these barens. There was something, I thought, very graceful in the millions upon millions of tall and slender columns, growing up in solitude, not crowded upon one another, but gradually appearing to come closer and closer till they formed a compact mass, beyond which nothing was to be seen. Not even a ray of the sun could pierce this gloom; and the imagination was at liberty to follow its own devices into the wilderness, as far as it pleased. These regions will probably be left for ages in neglect. The poverty of the soil, and the difficulty of procuring water, will, in all likelihood, condemn the greater part of them to perpetual sterility.”
Hall’s experience in passing through this section points out the generally deplorable conditions of roads in this period. This region, as well as the rest of the state, had no unified policy for maintaining public roads. Most road work was left to the discretion of individual counties. The Justices of the Inferior Court were required to supervise road building and maintenance. In 1811, the legislature required the Inferior Courts to lay out separate road districts and to appoint supervisors who would direct road labor. A fine of 20 dollars was provided for obstructing public roads. All male residents, including mulattoes, free blacks, and slaves between the ages of sixteen and forty-five years, were required to serve on road crews. In 1815, the legislature required counties to construct public roads “the nearest and best way to the place which they are intended.” They also said that post mileage signs would be placed at the forks of all public roads.
One cannot be sure of the exact location of the very old roads in this section, but their general courses and stops along the way can be located fairly accurately. In general, the first roads followed the trails and paths of Indians along the streams which connected with settlements in the interior. Some well-known roads in this area were the Sunbury Road, the old Savannah Dublin Road, Old Rebel Road, Burkhalter Road, and possibly more.
The Old Sunbury Road, which dated back to the early 1790’s extended from the port city of that name inland through this section to Greensboro. Wagoneers traveled this way to coastal markets and to bring supplies to backcountry settlements. Great numbers of the coast aristocracy built homes “up the country” and traveled to them this way by stage coach, particularly in the summer to escape the heat, sandgnats, and fever epidemics. In the whole length of its meandering course along the western side of the Canoochee, it kept pretty well to high ground and crossed no large streams. There is a disagreement on its location in some parts, and it seems that it might have had alternate routes along the way. The disputed route is located in present day Candler County. In a southeasterly direction it ran from the Swainsboro section, and it ran through or near Stillmore to the Emanuel-Candler line. Some say from here to the Candler-Tattnall line the route ran a mile or so west of Aline and through old Cobbtown (about a mile north of today’s Cobbtown) and on to the county line. Others say that the alternate route, or the original one, was located nearer the west side of the Canoochee.
The Old Savannah-Dublin Road through here, which is thought to have been a branch of a free road built from private subscriptions about 1825, followed more than one course in this immediate area. Whether these different roads were only connectors of the main road and all in use at the same time, or at different times, is not known.
One Dublin road extended from Jencks Bridge in Evans County in a northwesterly direction along the Eastern side of the Canoochee into Candler, then crossed the Canoochee and went along with the Sunbury Road, headed northward and westward. Adiel Sherwood’s Gazateer of 1837 listed the stage schedule over one of the Dublin Roads from Savannah to Macon as three trips weekly, the fare – 18 dollars, and the time six hours.
The Old Burkhalter Road was a Revolutionary War road that was cut by the colonial General Burkhalter for military purposes. He is said to have been an officer of German ancestry who fought in defense of the colonies. From a northeasterly direction, it crossed the Ogeechee River at Burkhalter Ferry, passed through the Statesboro area in a southwesterly direction to Kennedy’s Bridge (once Tillman’s) on the Canoochee River, where the old Tillman home and stage stop was located, then on in its southwesterly course. Thus, this route only skirted Candler County.
In 1946, when Bulloch County was celebrating its 150th anniversary, the Bulloch Times carried this mention of the Burkhalter Road:
“One pre-historic highway ran through Bulloch County, an old Indian Trail that did not penetrate a single modern Bulloch County community. Locally this was known as the Camio Reel by the early Spanish explorers and the King’s Highway by the English. This trail began at the junction of Drier Creek and the Savannah River, ran through Screven County to the old Indian town of Tuchaho and Ogeechee at the old Hagan land below Hallyondale by way of the Old Williams Home (now owned by Gen. W.A. Hagan), just above the late Horal Hagan’s home by way of Lower Mill Creek Church. This Indian trail was a main source of transportation for the Indian Natives who used it to reach points as far as the Gulf Coast.”
From the very early days of settlement up until the Civil War, population in the area grew and the quality of life increased with a moderate level of economic growth and social improvement. The quantity of agricultural production continued to grow and professional people, including doctors and lawyers, gradually moved into the region. Merchants moved in and soon stocked their stores with goods from places as far away as Philadelphia and New York. The average farm size was around 100 acres, showing that most of the farms were still of small size (100-500 acres), but some large planters did exist in the area. Rowan Johnson’s estate was valued at over $39,000, which included livestock, land, and 34 slaves. John C. Lane’s estate totaled over $39,000, which included 10,015 acres and 10 slaves. Littleberry Johnson’s estate was valued at over $46,000. He owned 40 slaves and 40,008 acres of land.
With the coming of the War, most young men joined the several different volunteer companies organized in their counties, whether it was in Bulloch, Emanuel, or Tatnall. During the War, this area experienced the same hardships that were experienced most everywhere else. Then the Reconstruction Era brought to the region more hard times. It wasn’t until the mid-1870’s that things began to pick up for this area.
Metter, in the section of Candler County that was at this time in Bulloch, was no more than an unnamed crossroads with a few old substantial farmers and only about two small log-cabin storehouses to supply their needs, until about the mid-1870’s. About 1878, it was deemed necessary by area residents to erect a school for the education of their young, with three months school annually.
It was also about this time that the farmers in this area grew tired of having to ride a distance of ten miles to Excelsior, then the nearest post office and largest town in Bulloch County. Owing to this inconvenience the farmers petitioned their representative in Congress, the Honorable George R. Black to have established through the Post Office Department a Star-Route mail service to extend from Excelsior to Swainsboro, the county seat of EmanuelCounty, with a number of small post offices established along the route An the most populous settlements. The department required those seeking an office to submit two names. The two names were submitted by Dr. Dan Kennedy, since his doctor’s office at his home was going to be used for the post office. His son Dr. W.D. Kennedy tells the story of the naming of the town:
“The names Metter and Leonard were submitted by my father, Dr. Dan Kennedy. Evidently the official who decided this matter must have thought that the name Metter was some good looking young lady’s name, so he decided in favor of Metter, a word original with my father and unknown to the English language up to that time. So much for the name. As a post office it has been moved from place to place until the coming of the railroad when it was moved to this point. It has stood the test of time, having grown from a small star-route post office to the enchanted city of Metter of which we feel so proud and I might say justly so.”
Most of the land in and around Metter at that time was owned by James Terrel Trapnell, who is credited with planning and laying out the city itself (1899), with divided streets lined with gracious oaks, naming streets for members of his family. Those representing some of the pioneer settlers were The Warren’s, Ellis’s, Bowen’s, Daughtry’s, Trapnell’s, Jones’s, Collins’s, Mercer’s, Lee’s, Lanier’s, Parrish’s, Rountree’s, Mixon’s, Kirkland’s, McLean’s, Kennedy’s, and more.
Around 1898 the Brewton-Pinora railroad was built from Brewton on the west to Pinora on the east, and it crossed the Candler County area at Metter. This railroad was later bought by the Central of Georgia Railroad Co. Later the Wadley-Southern Railroad from Wadley by Stillmore and on to Aline (in present day Candler County) to Tatnall was built. These two railroads helped the area greatly until the advent of automobiles and trucks.
About this time other aspects of life associated with the growth of a town, such as churches, banks, and businesses, became necessary. The First Baptist Church began at a mission station in the spring of 1899 under direction of the older Salem Baptist Church. The church was organized on July 15, 1900. On July 21, one week later, the Primitive Baptist Church was organized. The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1902 and the Methodist Church in 1903. Metter also had her fraternal organizations, such as the Masonic Order organized the year 1901. This along with the churches had small memberships to begin with, but have likewise grown in strength and kept pace with the progress of the town.
With the aid of Mr. W.S. Witham, a capitalist and banker of Atlanta, the Bank of Metter was organized January of 1904 with a capital stock of $15,000. In 1910 the Citizen’s Bank was organized with a capital stock of $25,000.
The ‘better class’ citizens of Metter called for an election in the spring of 1900 to determine whether or not they should incorporate the town and at the same time specify its boundaries. Needless to say, the majority was in favor of said incorporation, and the result of the election was submitted to the Honorable Beverly D. Evans who was Judge of the Middle Judicial Court at the time and he granted a certificate allowing the same authority as would be vested in an incorporated town. This action was taken at the spring term of the Superior Court in Bulloch County 1900. An Election of officers followed and the following were sworn in to serve for one year: A. Trapnell, Mayor; Dan L. Kennedy, J.T. Trapnell, L.D. Rountree, Mack Mercer, and Charlie Mikell, Councilmen. The citizens of Metter lived under this certificate of incorporation until August 1904 when a bill was passed by the General Assembly giving them a real charter.
In 1905, under the leadership of the newly elected W D. Kennedy, the little town on the southwest border of Bulloch made a bid for a new county. The people of Statesboro strongly objected. These headlines tell the story: From the Bulloch Times of April 30th, “Hustling town that is Growing, wants to be a County seat. In a quitet Way, her People Are Working for a new County with Metter as the Capital.” And from the Statesboro News of May 12th, “New County Scheme Was Sat Down On Rousing Meeting of the Citizens of Statesboro Resolute on County Scheme.”
In 1908 Metter tried again to create a new county, to be named either Georgia or Dixie, and the people of Statesboro again fought against the loss of territory. Metter sent a crowd of supporters to fight for the creation of the new county and Statesboro sent a delegation to oppose tar lost by a vote in the Georgia senate of 19 to 20. It would have taken a two-thirds majority for the bill
In an article, “The Creation of Candler County, Georgia,” Marilyn McBride Cochran shows why the people of Metter wanted a new county and why Bulloch County strongly opposed it. Here are excerpts:
Established political units did not encourage the creation of new counties because they would lose territory, people and tax revenue. If the area in which people desired separation was prosperous, the original county discouraged the process. If the location in question was a liability rather than an asset, the older county usually assented with little debate. For the formation of Candler county, Metter requested 133 square miles from Bulloch, 120 square miles from Emanuel and 108 square miles from Tattnall. These three older counties had a combined population of 73,825 at this time and would lose about 12,725 people to the proposed county. Metter was the only town of significant size within this area. The tax value of Metter was $2,729,000. Tax value of Bulloch, Emanuel, and Tattnall combined was $17,559,785. This represents an important loss of revenue for Bulloch since that was the county in which Matter was located. Emanuel and Tattnall would suffer only a small loss of revenue. As one would expect, Bulloch was the only county to put up much resistance to the formation of Candler.”
The citizens of Matter did not give up. In 1912 they established a newspaper, The Metter Advertiser, to fight for the new county, to be named in honor of former Governor Allen D. Candler. Dr. W.D. Kennedy in a speech to the Matter Woman’s Club many years later had this to say about the establishment of the newspaper.
“Elder F.H. Sills, who had moved to Metter, from Savannah, in 1911, succeeded in reviving the interest in the creation of a new county, with Metter as the county seat. As a former and experienced newspaper man, he realized that a good weekly newspaper was essential in the fight for the creation of a new county. He succeeded in selling the majority of the leading citizens of Matter on the idea of starting a weekly newspaper. He sold the mayor and councilmen on the idea of the paper being owned and published by the City of Metter. In October 1912 the City of Metter began the publication of the Metter Advertiser, and employed Elder F.M. Sills to edit and manage the paper The paper was mailed to all of the members of the Georgia House and Senate and weekly newspapers in the state. During the two years it was hard to find any one who did not know about Metter and about the new county fight … The new fight for the creation of the county was organized in October 1912, and the mayor and council were sworn in as the “Confidential Committee.” The purpose of having this confidential committee was to stop the leaks being slipped over to those opposing the move. And it proved to be an air tight committee. The mayor and council, who as the city fathers, financed the publishing of the Metter Advertiser, with a number of other interested citizens, selected Elder F.M. Sills to manage and lead in the fight for the creation of the new county When the new county was created the City of Metter gracefully bowed out of the newspaper business, after a very successful career as the only municipality in the United States to have ever been the owner and publisher of a weekly newspaper.”
According to Dr. Kennedy, these citizens of Metter helped to win the fight for the county: A.J. Bird was treasurer of the Candler County Committee and L.H. Sewell was secretary. Others mentioned were P.L. Rountree, Sr., J.T. Trapnell, Sr., Dr. W.D. Kennedy, L.P. Trapnell, and Dr. B.B. Jones.
Early in 1913 Metter again began her campaign for the new county. In April this ad appeared in the Statesboro News: “Nine years ago the people in and around Metter began their earnest fight for the creation of a new county. At the starting quite a number of people in the proposed territory opposed them, but now, according to the Metter Advertiser, only about one per cent of the people refuse to come out openly and fight for their rights. They are fighting hard and hope to win out this year.”’
In May Metter hosted a New County Barbecue, and the people adopted the slogan, “I Favor Candler County.” In April and May the readers of The Statesboro News learned that Brooklet also wanted a new county, and so did Pulaski.
In June Statesboro decided to oppose all new counties and delegates were chosen to represent Bulloch’s interests before the legislature. A.M. Deal, J.J.E. Anderson, Dr.I.S.L. Miller and Honorable J.A. Brannen were chosen. They had all represented the county in the legislature in times past and presumably knew many of the representatives.
This excerpt taken from Mrs. Cochran’s paper told about the arguments made by the Candler County advocates: “Ninety-five boosters from Metter went to Atlanta on a special railway car. These two opposing delegations gave heated debate before the legislative committee on county recommendations…The promoters of Candler pointed out that Metter was centrally located in the proposed county and that Metter merchants furnished the farmers of the area with supplies. The two banks in Metter loaned money to local agricultural interests which involved business transactions in three different county seats. The distance between Metter and Statesboro is 21 miles by rail and 21.5 miles by dirt road. It is 23 miles between Metter and Swainsboro, the county seat of Emanuel. Metter is separated from Reidsville, the county seat of Tattnall, by 26 miles. This clearly demonstrates the inconvenience experienced daily by the people of the Metter area.”
The Statesboro committee returned from Atlanta about the first of July and reported that conditions appeared to be against the creation of any new counties, but the Candler and Barrow (Winder) counties seemed to have the best chance of success. The representatives of Brooklet early in the campaign announced their withdrawal for the time being.
On July 10th the Bulloch Times reported that chances favored Metter (The Times supported the creation of the new county). In the July 17th issue the Times reported that the Candler bill had been defeated in the House and that the Senate would defeat all new counties. The Bulloch representatives split on the vote in the House, A.A. Turner voting for and S.F. Nevils against.
In 1914 Metter tried again and this time the bill passed, and Candler County was created by an act of the legislature. This time both of Bulloch’s representatives, A.A. Turner and C.H. Parrish, voted for the bill. Governor John M. Slaton signed the Constitutional Amendment and the voters ratified it in November. The territory lost in Bulloch was the bustling city of Metter, declining Old Excelsior, and the Laston (Clubhouse) district, where there were many prosperous farmers.
The officers elected for the new county were: Joshua Everett, clerk; George R. Trapnell, ordinary; Charles N. Harper, Sheriff; O.L. Patterson, Tax Receiver; G.E. Hendricks, Tax Collector; J.D. McLean, Surveyor; T.D. Joiner, Coroner; and Morgan Holloway, Treasurer.
Mayors of Metter from 1903 through 1914 were: 1903-1904, Dr. W.D. Kennedy; 1905-1906, Dr. B.B Jones; 1907-1908, J.R. Dixon; 1909 -1910, J.D. Kirkland; 1911-1912, E.J. Register;1913-1914,Jasper Brown.
The act creating the new county gives its boundaries as this:
“Beginning at the bridge on Canoochee River below Excelsior and running up Ten Mile Creek to the Excelsior Bridge; then a straight line to Lotts Creek at a point ¼ mile above the new bridge (now known as the Langford Bridge);then up the run of Lotts Creek to Deloach’s place; then in a southwesterly direction to Union School House (this Union School House was at the cross-roads south of Twin City at the Lafayett Watson Place, later torn down when Rosemary School house was built); then southwestward to Cowart’s mill pond; thence a straight line to the Lev Collins crossing on the Central of Georgia Railroad (This point is now where the straight road to Stillmore bends to the right at point east of Stillmore where the railroad was taken up); thence southwestward to Griffins Ferry Bridge on the Ohoopee river; thence down river to a point where Emanuel County and Tattnall Counties met; thence in a straight line to the Kennedy Bridge on Canoochee River. This is the point of beginning where Ten Mile Creek empties into Canoochee.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters on the history of Candler County is the story of Old Excelsior. Located on Ten Mile Creek a few miles from the Canoochee River, it was the first real village in Bulloch County. It had a church, an academy and a newspaper and became the cultural center of the southwestern part of the county. It flourished during the 1880’s and 1890’s.
This village did not just grow by accident but was purposely created as a center for an academy to educate the childten of the surrounding rural community. The men who supplied the impetus that created the village and the school were Jimerson Kennedy and his two sons-in-law, Remer Franklin and W.W. Olliff, and Dr. Jeff G. Williams and his son-in-law, John G. Jones.
In 1864, when Jimerson (Jimps) Kennedy moved to Bulloch from Tattnall County, he had bought land in Bulloch from the Tillman family and had also bought the old Tillman Bridge, a toll bridge on the Burkhalter Road that crossed the Canoochee River and connected Bulloch and Tattnall Counties. The bridge then became Kennedy Bridge.
This same year the first Missionary Baptist Church in this area was built a few miles from the river on land donated by Jimerson Kennedy. This area of Bulloch (now Candler) was strongly Primitive Baptist.
Jimps Kennedy was forty-seven years old and newly married to his second wife when he moved to Bulloch. Four of his sons by his first wife, Nicy Collins, were in the Confederate Army and two of them, William and Stephen, lost their lives in the war. Sherman’s line of march from Atlanta to Savannah did not extend to this part of Bulloch County, but it is possible that small groups of foragers or scouts could have been in this area. Tradition in the Kennedy family has two stories about the Yankees.
One is that Jimps Kennedy’s house was spared because the Yankee officer saw the Masonic emblem on the chimney. The other is about a young Yankee soldier who was taken into the Kennedy home for a short while and was kindly treated by Elizabeth Collins, Jimps Kennedy’s second wife.
In 1864 the Civil War was ending in the defeat of the South, and during the summer months of 1865 the surviving Confederate soldiers were returning to their homes. Among those returning was Remer Franklin, who walked home from the surrender at Appomattox. These soldiers had little to eat on the way. Remer ate green apples from the orchards and put the seeds in his pockets. Later some of the trees in his apple orchard came from these seeds.
In 1865 Remer Franklin married Ann Jane Kennedy, and in 1868 Bill Olliff, who had been too young for the Confederate army, married America Kennedy. Jimps Kennedy’s son, Mike,married Mattie Williams, Dr. Jeff Williams’ daughter, and another daughter of Dr. Williams, Henrietta, married J.G. Jones. All of these young couples settled in the neighborhood included Everettes, Dekles, Tillmans, and Carruthers.
The following document recorded in the Bulloch County Courthouse shows how the village and the academy were created.
“We the undersigned, Jimerson Kennedy, John G. Jones, G. Jeff Williams, W.W. Olliff, and R. Franklin, citizens of the above named County and State, for the purpose of establishing and building up a good and permanent School in the our Neighborhood, met together, and did raise the necessary means to purchase the tract of land upon which the Town of Excelsior now stands, and had the same laid off into Streets, leading to and from the Academy, for the benefit of all interested in the said School, at our own expense. And in addition thereto, we lent the School the use of our names to raise Money on, that a magic lantern might be purchased for the School, and now, find this borrowed money, at this late day, still due, and unpaid, we have deemed it best, (as our streets are full large) to sell off to the owners of the land on the South side of the street running East and West, Twenty feet, at the rate of Ten ($10.00) per acre, and sell it off also, twenty feet, of the East side of the two streets running say North and South, to the owners of land thereon, at the same rate per acre, and the money so raised, shall be receipted for by either one, or all of us, and paid over at once, to the magic lantern debt, thereby relieving the School of so much of the embarrassment. Done this day in Excelsior, December 15th, 1879.”
The land chosen for the new school and village was located near the Baptist church established in 1864. This church was probably not named Excelsior until after the establishment of the school and village. The founder of the village also gave the land for a public cemetery.
Kenneth Makow in Georgia Place Names says that the village was first known as Little Creek, then as Red Branch. A post office of that name was established in 1874 with Jimerson Kennedy as postmaster. The office was probably in his house as that was the custom of the day. When the academy was established, Miss Ida Middleton suggested that It be named Excelsior. No doubt she was influenced by Longfellow’s poem of that name. The name was appropriate for a school as the theme is the aspirations and persistence of youth in devotion to a high purpose.
The Reverend Washington L. Geiger a Missionary Baptist minister and a graduate of Mercer College, was the first principal of the school. Students from other sections of Bulloch as well as from neighboring counties came to attend the Excelsior Academy. People came and built houses where students were boarded as there was no dormitory. In 1879 W.L. Geiger became postmaster and the name of the village was changed from Red Branch to Excelsior.
The school was located in a pine grove in what was known as the town square. A well under a shelter was on the square and served no doubt to water the horses which some of the students drove to school as well as for thirsty students. Ouida Williams Purvis lived in a house her father Henry built across from the school. She said that people hitched their horses to the pine and oak trees on the streets. Crouquet games were played on the square and the baseball diamond was near the school. Over the years many picnics or “dinners on the grounds” were held there. Wooden tables were set up on trestles where the ladies spread out the delicious food. A big barrel of lemonade was a special treat. The barrell was probably close to the covered well, and the lemonade was stirred by a short-handled boat paddle.
The schoolhouse was a two-story white frame building with a bell tower. The classrooms were downstairs and an auditorium was upstairs. It was here that concerts and speech recitals were given, and no doubt pictures were projected by the magic lantern onto a screen while a teacher gave a talk about them.
In 1877 W.L. Geiger started the first newspaper in Bulloch County, The Excelsior News. Sholes’ Georgia Gazateer for 1879 listed Jennersen, Kennedy & Co. as the printers. This is no doubt an error for Jimerson Kennedy. He of course was no printer, but he probably supplied the money for the Reverend Geiger to buy a printing press to get his paper out. In 1879 G.L. Seckinger was a printer. Raymond Kennedy, Mike Kennedy’s son, as a teenage boy, set type for the paper in order to earn money to attend the dental college in Atlanta. Only.a few copies of the paper have survived.
Under the masthead of the Excelsior News of May 16, 1879 the purpose of the paper is stated as being “devoted to religion, education and general interests of the country.” The rate for the weekly paper was $1.00 a year. W.L. Geiger, editor and proprietor, lists the following gentlemen as special agents, “and we trust all who are indebted to us will pay over the amount to the first agent: T.H. Potter, atty., Rev. L. Price, Rev. J.A.J. Smith, Rev. A.A. Andrews, Rev. John Gardner, F.H. Tarver, Esq., Rev. W.M. Cowart, Rev. G.W. Smith, Rev. J.G. Norris, Peter Johnson, Esq., J.C. Geiger, Rev. W.D. Atkinson, and Hon. H.M. Burch.” It is evident that these gentlemen lived in different sections of Bulloch and in nearby counties and that this new paper in the backwoods covered a fairly large territory. Notice that eight of these thirteen gentlemen were ministers, probably all of them of the Missionary Baptist faith, as the Primitive Baptist preachers would have been listed as elders.
The front page of this same issue is almost entirely devoted to a moral tale about a young man who had been expelled from school because of misconduct brought about by his indulgence in strong drink. This paper played a prominent part in the crusade against the sale of whiskey in Bulloch County. Reverend B.W. Darsey, a methodist minister in the Eureka community, said that he wrote eight or ten articles on the evils of whiskey that were published in this paper, and other leaders in the crusade also had articles on the subject published. This crusade was conducted mainly by Methodist and Missionary Baptist preachers and ladies. The movement to outlaw the sale of whiskey in the county had started in 1873 when M.J. Cofer, a young Methodist preacher from north Georgia, came to Bulloch and lectured on temperance and organized lodges of the United Friends of Temperance. A petition was drawn up to outlaw the sale of whiskey and secured many signatures. In the May 30, 1879 issue of the Excelsior News Thomas H. Potter had a notice to the effect that a bill would be introduced into the Georgia legislature which would set the fee for license to sell intoxicating liquors in the county of Bulloch at five thousand dollars. W.H. DeLoach, Bulloch’s representative, introduced the bill and it passed. Whiskey could no longer be legally sold in Bulloch.
Sholes Georgia Gazateer for 1880 gives the following description of Excelsior:
“Excelsior, Bulloch County. Is a small place, built up during the last four years, containing 100 inhabitants…16 miles from Statesborough courthouse and 30 miles from Ogeechee No. 6, Central R.R. – the nearest telegraph and shipping station, via which the distance is 261 miles to Atlanta. It has one steam mill, one high school and a Baptist church.”
The 1881 edition listed Excelsior as being on Ten-Mile Creek, 56 miles from its banking town of Savannah.
The 1879 and 1880 editions list residents as follows:
Rev. W.L. Geiger, superintendent of Excelsior High School F.H. Ingraham, teacher; Rev. R.J. Williams, hotel; L. Ingraham and Michael Eason, physicians; W.F. ALderman and John F. Alderman, blacksmiths; W.H. DeLoach, millwright; Hershel & Morgan, B. Morgan & Co. and Rev. T.W. Lanier, sawmills; A.H. Smith, architect; Benj. H. Padgett, J.H. Smith and
L.S.M. Williams, carpenters; James Cafferty, painter. The following are named as having general stores: Andrew Bird, Elbert Bird, Easton&Co., Everett, Jones & Co., Jefferson Parrish, and W.W. Olliff. The two planters and farmers listed were J. Everett and J.G. Jones. W.L. Geiger, postmaster in 1879, was succeeded by J.G. Jones in 1880.
In the 1881 edition F.J. Ingraham is listed as superintendent of Excelsior High School and proprietor of the Bulloch Banner (The Excelsior News had evidently become the Bulloch Banner). The mail came five times weekly from Statesboro and Ways Station.
These general stores were not always located in the village. W.W. Olliff’s store was located a couple of miles from Excelsior across from his house on the Burkhalter Road. It was a good location because it was close to Kennedy Bridge and that brought him many customers from across the river. Bill’s brother, Jimmy Olliff, was in business with him and 4ived on the same road, about half a mile distant. The store grew to be the largest in the area and served the people from Tattnall and Emanuel as well as Bulloch County. Rebecca Franklin Morehouse, in writing of Excelsior in an article called “Follow the Road that Leads Home,” published in the Atlanta Journal in the 1930’s has this to say of the village .of Excelsior and of Bill Olliff’s store nearby:
“The road to the left would take you to the old Bill Olliff place. Fifty or sixty years ago he was the nearest thing to a merchant prince that Bulloch County has seen. People from miles around came to his great country store, and he sold everything from mules and wagons to furniture and dress goods. His wagon teams made the 70-mile trip to Savannah twice a week to bring back merchandise. It took about four days to go and come. Soon you are in Excelsior and if you don’t know this country, you will think you have reached nothing more important than a cross roads. But Excelsior was once the reigning queen of Bulloch and Candler counties, with her own newspaper, a high school that educated youngsters from Emanuel to Chatham and beyond, and rows of houses. The old school house is gone, and the croquet field and the baseball lot, where boys in ‘schoolboy jeans’ once romped so gaily.”
After a railroad was built through Tattnall County (circa 1885) Bill Olliff was able to have his goods shipped to Claxton, a new town on the railroad tracks. His daughter Maxie said that she could remember her father’s sending a train of twenty or thirty wagons to Claxton to pick up goods for his store. This country store was somewhat like a modern department store, because it sold “everything.” The Excelsior Baptist Church was a large two-story wooden building with a bell tower. As the academy also had a bell tower, for six days a week there was the sound of bells ringing in the little village. The second floor was used as a meeting hall for the Excelsior Masonic Lodge. The church was located on the present-day site, and the land’ was sold to the church by Frank J. Ingraham and Remer Franklin in 1884. According to the deed recorded in the Bulloch County courthouse, Remer Franklin sold three-fourths of one acre for $17.50 and Ingraham sold one acre and one-fourths of one acre for $35.50. The purchase was made with deacons Jonathan B. Brewton and Remer Franklin acting for the church. The deed stipulated that no intoxicating liquors be sold on the premises and that the members of Excelsior Lodge Number Ninety-two of Free and Accepted Masons be granted access to the part of the building set apart and appropriated for the use of the Lodge. Access to the meeting hall on the second floor was by an outside staircase. According to a Resolution passed by the Lodge on the death of Brother William Olliff printed in a Statesboro newspaper in 1893, he became a charter member of the Excelsior Lodge No. 92 F. and A.M. on November 11, 1883. If he was a charter member on that date, the Lodge had to be newly organized. Since the Lodge came into existence shortly before the church was built, it probably helped to finance the building. This combination of a Masonic Lodge and a church sharing the same building was possible only in a Missionary Baptist Church as the Primitive Baptists would not permit their members to join a secret order. The Masonic Hall part of the building was not used during the early 1900’s as the Excelsior Lodge no longer existed and its members joined the Ogeechee Lodge in Statesboro.
The Excelsior Baptist Church had a big impact on the school and the community. There is not any record of the early pastors since the early minutes were lost, but we do know the names of some of the Baptist preachers living in the community. Many of them were connected with the school.
The Excelsior Academy was the magnet that drew people to the community, and the people were proud of their school. In an article in the Statesboro paper in 1892 the Excelsior correspondent writes:
“If there is anything of which the citizens of Bulloch County can be justly proud it is the Excelsior High School. We see on every hand evidence of the great good it is accomplishing. It is preparing young men and ladies in a thorough and efficient manner for the stern realiti s of life. What work is nobler? What mission higher?”
Reverend Geiger, the first principal of the school, was largely responsible for its success. A native of Effingham County, he had come to the Excelsior area after his wife’s death in Tattnall County and was able to carry out the desires of the five men who had created the town in order to give their community the much needed “good and permanent school.” He had a great influence on the community, not only as a minister of the gospel, but as one who brought learning and culture to the backwoods.
It can be seen that it was an ungraded school, a custom of the day. The student could go as far as the teacher could take him. The boarders were probably teenagers and the primary class was probably made up of neighborhood children.
Reverend R.J. Williams’ hotel was quite close to the school, and Mrs. McClesky, whose daughter Nan taught in the school in 1893 and 1894, boarded students in her house across the street. Maggie Bland Chance said that her grandfather, Remer Franklin, had a house with ten chimneys so he must have been able to have a number of students boarding with him at his farm within walking distance of the school. Remer Franklin was postmaster and had his post office right across the road from the school.
Because very few of the Excelsior papers of the eighties survived, we know very little about the school except that it flourished. We know from Sholes’ Georgia Gazateer that F.J. Ingraham was superintendent in 1881. He probably continued in that office for a number of years for in the minutes of the Miller Baptist Association we find the following entry in 1886:
“The high standard pupils prepared in the Excelsior School have taken in college classes, where they have competed with pupils gathered from the schools of all sections of Georgia, as well as the certificate they have secured from examiners, testify to the thoroughness and efficiency of the work of the school. The expenses for board and tuition are lighter than of any school of like rank in the State. For further information write to F.J. Ingraham, Excelsior, GA.”
Students who came by train to board were met at the Ogeechee Station. It was about thirty miles from Excelsior and the road ran through Statesboro. They spent the night at a hotel in Statesboro as thirty miles by horse and buggy in one day would have been an ordeal.
Professor Perdue, a Yale graduate with an A.M. degree, was probably the most highly educated of the principals of the school. He was not a native of the area.
In the December 18, 1890 issue of the Statesboro Eagle Joshua Everett, president of the Board of Trustees, announced that Reverend Jason Scarboro was principal of the school. Reverend Scarboro was a well known Baptist preacher and later wrote for Baptist publications. He had lived in Excelsior since 1885 and was the editor of the local paper, the Pioneer and Eagle. In 1889 he sold his paper to J.A. Brannen of Statesboro, who published it as the Statesboro Eagle.
In the March 2, 1893 issue of the Bulloch County Banner, published in Statesboro, the Excelsior correspondent says that the Excelsior High School opened with 42 pupils, but now had fifty. Professor A.B. Hersey was principal and Miss Bessie Brinson was assistant teacher.
In 1894 Reverend W.J. Durham was principal. He had been pastor at the Statesboro Baptist Church before coming to Excelsior. Miss M.C. Charles was assistant, and Miss Nan McClesky was the music teacher.
A picture of life in Excelsior can be seen from several items taken from the Statesboro papers. In 1889 Excelsior had a drug store run by Dr. J.C. Hiers. In 1893 the Excelsior correspondent said that they had a good supply of M.D.’s in the town.
The high point in the life of the little community was the visit of William McKinley. No printed source has been found to verify the visit; there is only oral tradition.
Jim Kennedy said that the first time he saw ice was at President McKinley’s picnic in Excelsior. Jim said that 5O0 pounds of ice had been shipped from Savannah for the lemonade. He also said that he heard McKinley stayed at Uncle Bill Olliff’s house.
The main reason for decline of the town was the lack of a railroad. In 1889 Statesboro was connected to the Central of Georgia across the Ogeechee River by the Dover ‘and Statesboro Railway and took a giant step forward. Many people in the Excelsior area moved to Statesboro. Then around 1900 several little towns sprang up on the Brewton and Pineora line, and Metter, on the same line, began to grow rapidly. Adabelle, just a few miles from Excelsior, was on the Register and Glenville line. About the same time Brooklet and Stilson were created on the Savannah & Statesboro Railway. All of these towns gradually siphoned away the population of Excelsior.
In 1889 the Statesboro Eagle announced “The Excelsior Academy is on a boom, so is the Statesboro Academy.” Statesboro was becoming an educational center too. In 1901 the Statesboro Normal Institute opened its doors in a fine new brick building and many students from the rural areas came to Statesboro and boarded in private homes in order to attend the new school. the Excelsior Academy could no longer compete and in the early 1900’s became an elementary school only. When the new county of Candler was created in 1914 the Excelsior school became a part of the public school system of that county.
The town gradually withered away and in 1905 lost its post office. The mail could come by train to Adabelle, a short distance away. Today Excelsior is just a crossroads with three houses, a small store, and Excelsior Missionary Baptist Church. The Baptists had a tremendous influence on the village of the 1880’s and 1890’s as many of the principals of the academy were Baptist preachers. This influence spread as the residents of Excelsior were dispersed to other areas in Bulloch and surrounding counties. Their dispersal and influence greatly aided the new county fight.
All of these factors combined with the growth of the city of Metter helped boost the new county into existence. The movement prevaled for an area in desperate need of a county seat that was not a great distance away or did not require extreme hardships to reach. Candler prospered and in the end even its opponents had to agree that its creation was just.
Arail, Bonds, Good, Linsay, Mabry, Saunders. Pioneers and Pathways. Bulloch County Historical Society, 1984.
Arail, Bonds, Good, Lovejoy, Mabry, Sheley, Wall, Williams. Reading in Bulloch County History: A Dulloch Tapestry. Bulloch County Historical Society, 1987.
Brannen, Dorothy. Life in Old Bulloch, The Story of a Wire-grass County in Georgia. Gainsville, Georgia: Magnolia Press, 1987.
Bulloch County Historical Society. The Story of Bulloch County. Statesboro, Georgia, 1973.
Collections of the Candler County Historical Society. Metter, Georgia, 1989.
Dorsey, James E. Collections of the Emanuel County Historical Society. Swainsboro, Georgia, 1981.
Dorsey, James E. Emanuel County Georgia 1814-1900: A Collection of Newspaper Sources. Emanuel County Historical Society,1982.
Dorsey, James E. Footprints Along the Hoopee: A History of Emanuel County 1812-1900. Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Reprint Company Publishers, 1978.
Georgia County Court Magazine. July, 1966.
Grice, Joseph T. Sketches of Bygone Days. Readings on Tattnall County History.
Kelly, Aulda K. I See by the Paper: Bulloch County Georgia
1899-1946. Bulloch County Historical Society, 1984. The Metter Advertiser. Metter Georgia.
The Southern Historical News. State of Georgia: Bulloch, Burke, Candler, Emanuel, Jenkins, and Screven Counties, Vol. 8, No. 48, March 1988.
Many Thanks to Stephen C. Taylor for graciously allowing the Candler County Historical Society to present his paper on this website.
Many Thanks to Jay Clifton for assisting in transcription of this paper.
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