Category Archives: –LIBERTY COUNTY GA–

Todd’s Grocery, Gum Branch

Gum Branch GA Liberty County Todds Grocery Store Photograph Copyright Brian brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

The Gum Branch (sometimes written as one word, Gumbranch) community dates to at least 1833, when records show that members of Beard’s Creek Primitive Baptist Church organized Gum Branch Primitive Baptist Church in western Liberty County.

Kyle Corrigan writes: According to my grandma, the store was opened by Charles and Vera Todd, my great-grandparents, sometime in the 1940s. My grandma has memories of working in the store as a teenager in the 1960s, and they actually lived in the house behind the store. In the 50s the store also had gas pumps outside the building, which are currently in my grandma’s possession. The store closed in the late 1980s after Charles passed away and Shuman’s Gas Station (now called E-Z Quick Stop) opened across the street.

My great-grandparents originally lived in Willie, Georgia, but left during World War 2 because of the creation of Fort Stewart on that land. To this day many Todds still live in Gum Branch. In fact, my grandpa actually served as the first mayor after the city was incorporated in 1979. According to my grandpa, they incorporated in order to stop nearby Hinesville from expanding their area, as they feared there would be an increase in tax rates. Also, almost everyone who lives here calls it Gum Branch, but legally it is Gumbranch, apparently the result of a clerical error.

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Craftsman Bungalow, Walthourville

Walthourville GA Liberty County Eclectic Colonial Revial House Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2015

This house was recently razed. Though it didn’t have eave brackets, it’s decidely Craftsman, perhaps a local contractor’s interpretation of the style.

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Gable Front House, Liberty County

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Sheppard’s Grocery, Allenhurst

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Darrell Sheppard writes: The old building in Allenhurst was Sheppard’s Grocery. It was built by Troy Allen Sheppard, Sr., after leaving Willie, Georgia, in the 1940s. It had the living quarters in the rear. After his death in 1967 Troy Sheppard, Jr., opened an auto electric repair and operated it until his death in 1991. It now belongs to Darrell Sheppard.

allenhurst-ga-sheppards-photograph-copyright-brian-brown-vanishing-south-georgia-usa-2013

 

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Midway Congregational Church, 1792

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In any survey of the early history of Georgia, the name of one church comes up far more often than any other as a seat of power in the colony. Midway Congregational Church, about thirty miles south of Savannah, was founded by families quite unlike other Georgia colonists, who were usually recent immigrants from the British Isles. The settlers who came to St. John’s Parish in 1752 descended from English Puritans from the counties of Dorset, Devon, and Somersetshire, who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, naming their settlement Dorchester, after a beloved town in England. They were the first commercial fishermen in New England and had as much a commercial motive for being in the New World as they did a religious one. It should be noted that the town charter of Dorchester in 1633 was the first in Massachusetts and, indeed, in all of the English colonies. By 1636, though, weary of Governor John Winthrop’s dominance and an increasingly authoritarian clergy, many of the families resettled to the Farmington River in Connecticut, establishing the town of Windsor.

In part because of their success and the need for more land, and because they felt a calling to “settle the gospel” elsewhere in the colonies, they left New England for good in 1695 and spent the next half-century in South Carolina. Their colony along the Ashley River, which also bore the name Dorchester, soon thrived to the point that land holdings were becoming inadequate to perpetuate their industry. Though a necessity for the cultivation of rice and other labor-intensive crops, their embrace of slavery seemed out of synch with Calvinist ideology, and many of their New England brethren openly expressed disdain with this unusual alliance. However, the Puritan principles of  thrift, the dignity of hard work, social and racial superiority, and profit made this alliance inevitable. When large land grants in Georgia were made available in December 1752, Benjamin Baker and Samuel Bacon brought their families to a sparsely populated district between Georgia’s two most important ports, Savannah and Darien. This foray into the southernmost colony was soon met with interest by their South Carolina compatriots.

By 1754 the Reverend John Osgood and sixteen families in his charge came to Georgia and officially transferred the Dorchester church and its mission to this new location. In late August of that year, they drew up articles of incorporation of the “Society Settled Upon Medway and Newport in Georgia.” [Medway refers to the nearby Medway River, which ran through historic Sunbury. Some have surmised this to be the origin of the name Midway, though most historians agree that the name is solely geographical.] One of the objectives of the society was to establish peace and harmony among themselves and inoffensiveness to their neighbors, and to this goal they succeeded. The first school of any importance in Georgia was established by Midway members at nearby Sunbury, and one of the first notable libraries in the state was maintained by the Newport and Midway Library Society, which evolved from the plantation-based Beech Hill Alphabet Society.

Some of the best-known names in early Georgia were associated with Midway Church. Two of the state’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence were counted among the membership. Dr. Lyman Hall, whose plantation Hall’s Knoll was located just northwest of the church, was a regular congregant. Hall, who also served as governor, was instrumental in convincing the fledgling, loyalist-leaning colony to vote for independence. Button Gwinnett, infamous for his duel with Lachlan McIntosh, was also a member of the Midway congregation, as he maintained a home and small farm on nearby St. Catherine’s Island. Two important generals of the Revolutionary War, James Screven and Daniel Stewart, were also members. General Screven lost his life in a battle near Midway Church. So esteemed was the patriotism of Midway members that in 1777 the legislature combined the historic parishes of St. John, St. James, and St. Andrew and named them Liberty County.

Other prominent members of the congregation included Governors Nathan Brownson, Richard Howley, and John Martin; United States Senators John Elliot, Alfred Iverson, and Augustus O. Bacon; Continental Congressman Benjamin Andrew; U. S. Representatives John A. Cuthbert and William B. Fleming; and the first U. S. Minister to China, John E. Ward. Another member, Dr. Louis LeConte, who owned Woodmanston Plantation and its well-known botanical gardens, was the father of two of 19th century America’s most important scientists, John and Joseph LeConte. John was the second president of the University of California. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., telegraph inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson, and President Theodore Roosevelt were all descended from Midway families. Five Georgia counties were named for citizens of this era: Hall, Gwinnett, Screven, Stewart, and Baker, created in 1825 in memory of Colonel John Baker.

In the interim between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, change gripped the Midway community. Much of the population of Liberty County was pushing westward to the interior, and in this time, the so-called “retreat” communities of Walthourville, Flemington, and Dorchester developed. These retreats were no more than a summer safeguard against the malarial mosquito invasions which plagued settlements near the coast, but their emergence hinted at great changes for the future of Midway Church. The shift in agriculture to a more stable inland base and the destruction wrought by the Civil War hastened the end of the congregation. By 1867 the last regular minister was dismissed. Soon thereafter, the trustees leased the building to a group of African-Americans for use as a church and school.

 National Register of Historic Places

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Dorchester Presbyterian Church, 1854, Liberty County

historic dorchester presbyterian church liberty county ga photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2009

Midway Congregational Church, founded in 1754 and a seat of power in the Colonial period, was associated with three satellite congregations known as retreats, because their locations, slightly more inland than Midway, offered a respite from the malarial swamps of the coast. The last of the retreat churches to be established was located at Dorchester. Its origins can be traced to nearby Sunbury, a short-lived boom town founded in 1758 whose trustees were members of Midway Church. Sunbury thrived nearly from its inception, rivaling Savannah in commercial importance, but its proximity to Fort Morris lead to its capture and subsequent burning by British troops during the American Revolution. While many such casualties of the war recuperated, Sunbury never seemed to regain its prominence after the devastating four-year occupation that followed. The hurricane of 1824 and a yellow fever epidemic sent many of its residents scattering into the nearby countryside. Huge plantations with names like Laurel Grove, Arcadia, Melon Bluff, Cedar Point, and Palmyra were emerging in the countryside around old Sunbury. In 1843 upon the suggestion of Reverend Thomas Sumner Winn, a tutor for prominent Presbyterian minister Charles Colcock Jones, a site was chosen for a retreat between Sunbury and Midway. It was originally known simply as “the Village,” but was soon christened Dorchester, in tribute to the heritage of its citizens. Some families built summer homes at Dorchester, though many tore down their dwellings near Sunbury and rebuilt them on the higher and drier ground the retreat afforded. As this new location was only six miles from Midway, the idea of building a church was not initially entertained, though an academy was built in which Sunday school was regularly taught. By 1854, with the continuing decline in membership at Midway, the families of the village built a permanent church, which still stands today. The old town bell from Sunbury, dated 1799, was placed in the steeple. The land was donated by Bartholomew Busby, who owned the nearby Melon Bluff Plantation. At first it was used only in summer, but by the onset of the Civil War was in regular use. The church was officially recognized by the Savannah Presbytery in 1871 and named Dorchester Presbyterian Church. Descendants of the original members continue to gather once each year and on special occasions.

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