Footsteps of early Alapaha Catholic settlers

Image for post
Image for post
What originated as a chronicle tracing the Catholic ancestry of Alapaha, Georgia, flourished into a colossal manuscript consisting of innumerable interviews conducted with citizens of all faiths and 80 vintage photos illustrating many previously unknown aspects of the little town with a big heart’s colorful, often checkered history as co-written by Becky Davis. In the accompanying still a scenic portrait depicts the Alapaha River near flood level in modern times, taken from the Highway U.S. 82 bridge at Sheboggy on March 3, 2013. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

Some of the first settlers in the Alapaha, Georgia area were Irish immigrants and among those were James (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane Murray (née McDonald; 1823–9/18/1896). They courageously sailed to the United States from Ireland around 1840, arriving in the Charleston, South Carolina area. They lived for two years on one of the surrounding islands until James decided to venture south. His brother, Edward (Ed) Murray, went north [Author’s Note: Evidence presented during our research process by Joanne Connell (née Akins) indicates that Bernard Murray may have been a close relative of James Murray. Bernard’s obituary, stored safely in a frame by James’ son John Murray, listed his parents as being natives of County Derry, Ireland and residing in South Carolina at the time of his death on March 9, 1875].

James eventually came to South Georgia and lived in Worth County. James and other Irish people worked for General Abbott H. Brisbane on the Brisbane Railroad, clearing the right of way from Albany to Mobley’s Bluff on the Ocmulgee River. James was an educated man and avid reader who always tried to help his neighbors. He taught school in Worth County for the Irish families and others who wanted to learn. James expected much from himself and wanted others to reach their potential.

James and Jane appear in the 1850 U.S. census for Irwin County (now part of Berrien County). All of their 10 children, including two sets of twins, were born in Georgia. Their names were Mary Ann, Eliza, John, Ellen, Jane, Sarah, twins Robert and Edward, and twins Jacob and Isaac.

James, his family, and other Irish Catholics moved from Worth County to Alapaha after the Brisbane Railroad went broke. With money divided from a railroad settlement and/or land lottery, the Irish settlers planted roots east of Alapaha in fertile and densely wooded land populated with many animals along the Alapaha River, Rowetown area, St. Luke Church area, and past Willacoochee to Mora. Holy Family Catholic Church was built and is still active in Mora today. Jane’s brother, Edward McDonald, settled in the Mora area.

Both the Alapaha and Willacoochee Rivers were rich with fish. James dug out an area near his home along the Moore Sawmill Road — coined Murray Pond today — and diverted part of the Alapaha River to flood his fields so that he could successfully grow rice on his property. He floated rice and other products down the Altamaha and Ocmulgee Rivers to market.

James’ outgoing personality and pioneer spirit further manifested itself when he opened a commissary store, possibly in the Old Glory community, located across the Alapaha River from his home about halfway between Alapaha and Willacoochee. Close to the store he also built an old sawmill-type building consisting of sturdy boards going up and down that was used for church services. James and his family tore down the building and relocated a one room log church near the Murray home place. This relocation could have happened because James’ nine-year-old twin Edward died of typhoid fever. The log cabin was commonly referred to as Murray Church or St. Patrick, located west of the Murray home place and east to the front corner of Murray Cemetery. James, Jane, and some of their family members are buried there, including Edward. Certain graves had ornate lattice wooden structures built over their graves as a marker. Over the years they rotted and were torn down. There are 16 unmarked graves in Murray Cemetery.

This Catholic community is mentioned in the journal of Father James Carroll, SM, dated November 4, 1898, and documented at St. Francis Xavier Church in Brunswick. Father Carroll and other priests traveled from Savannah and Brunswick to visit these Catholic people by the Old Coffee Road which ran through James Murray’s land. According to the May 28, 2015 edition of Southern Cross, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah, in 1898 Bishop Thomas A. Becker entrusted what was then the Albany mission to the care of the Jesuit Order. Later Marist priests were to serve Johnston Station/ Willacoochee and Alapaha. Willacoochee (Mora) had a frame building for services while Alapaha possessed a small log cabin surrounded by a little cemetery belonging to the Murray family. This is the first time we know for certain that a priest celebrated church services in James’ log cabin.

St. Bridget was the third Catholic Church in the Alapaha community and was located on a corner lot of Moore Sawmill Road which leads to the Murray home place, Murray Church, and Murray Cemetery about two miles east of Alapaha.

The land for St. Bridget was graciously donated for only $25 on July 22, 1901 by John J. Paulk, a prominent and wealthy citizen during Alapaha’s population boom. John gave the land in appreciation for splendid nursing care he received at St. Joseph Hospital in Atlanta. He was one of the first in Georgia to undergo an appendectomy. It was rare to recover from this surgery at the dawn of the 20th century. How John got to Atlanta, we don’t know. It was thought he may have traveled by train. John had a brother that was a doctor — Dr. George Paulk.

John J. Paulk is the maternal grandfather of Joe Dixon, Mark Dixon, and Mary Ellen Crisp (née Dixon). He planted Mary Ellen’s pecan orchard on the Alapaha-Lenox Road just east of Tim and Winnie Moore’s home and was elected President of the Bank of Alapaha on January 13, 1927. According to Mary Ellen, “Every morning Granddaddy would regularly pass by the little house where his future son-in-law farmed. When he finished his business in town and arrived home [great-grandson John Dixon and family live there today], he’d brag to Grandmother [also named Mary Ellen], ‘I mean that Carl Dixon is gonna make some woman a good husband, he is smart.’ But when Mama started dating Daddy, Granddaddy never said another nice thing about Daddy. Mama would tell us that story. I don’t guess she would have ever married Daddy if Granddaddy had not died. He passed away in the late summer of 1934, and Mother and Daddy got married that November.”

John Rowe (1885–1974), grandson of James Murray, drove a mule and wagon nearly 35 miles away to a sawmill in Worth County to get lumber for St. Bridget in 1901. After much work, the hopes and dreams to build a church in the Alapaha community became a reality. St. Bridget was completed — with parishioners’ assistance — on November 11, 1902. Unfortunately, the
Archives of the Diocese of Savannah have little history on record about St. Bridget or the activity that occurred there.

Image for post
Image for post
John Rowe, grandson of James Murray, relaxes on the steps of Clayton and Christie Moore’s home. John was nearly 90 years old when he passed away in 1974. Image Credit: The Nell Rowan Collection

Another Irish-Scottish immigrant, Capt. Dougal McLellan [12/25/1818–3/22/1902, the surname was originally spelled “McLellan” and can be evidenced on the veteran’s gravestone at Glory United Methodist Church] lived in Worth County on Mercer Mill Plantation close to the Nashville-Isabella Road. He was married to Pernelia A. Lawin, who died during child birth and was laid to rest at the plantation. They operated a grist mill and sawmill on this 6,600 acre plantation. Capt. Dougal was a member of the 10th State Troops, H.K. McCoy’s Brigade, Phillips Division, in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Times were hard, and he lost his plantation due to high taxation after the war.

Capt. Dougal and second wife Anna Eliza (8/31/1835–2/19/1895) moved to Alapaha on the northeast side of the Alapaha River close to the Ronnie Brogdon, Donald Stodghill, and Glory Church area. Capt. Dougal bought this land from W.S. Walker on July 7, 1880. They operated a grist mill, sawmill, and grew grapes. Two acres of land were given from the McClellan estate in 1905 for cemetery and church purposes by Ella McClellan, the daughter of Capt. Dougal and Anna Eliza, which was stipulated when the land was purchased from W.S. Walker. Ella and her parents are buried in Glory Cemetery, which locals called Gopher Hill in those days.

Capt. Dougal’s son, Dougal W., married Sarah Ann Richardson and moved to what is known today as the McClellan Home Place, found on the Herman McClellan Road between Alapaha and Nashville. Dougal W.’s family built caskets, farmed, and worked in turpentine and lumber. Dougal W. and Sarah Ann are buried in Mt. Paron Cemetery in the northern part of Berrien County off Highway 129. The McClellan family resides in Berrien County to the present day.

Image for post
Image for post
Grace Rowe McClellan, the widow of Donnie McClellan [son of Dougal W. and Sarah Ann], celebrated her 100th birthday on May 7, 2015. She is seen getting her hair arranged at Becky’s Beauty Salon in this heartwarming October 9, 2015, candid. Photography by Donna Kay McClellan Barfield

On July 4, 1936, John William “Lewis” Jernigan and Sara Williams, whose ancestors go back to James and Jane Murray, established Jernigan’s store along Highway 82 in Alapaha. Lewis sold the family milk cow for five silver dollars and went east of Alapaha to Sheboggy and bought the original Sheboggy building. Somehow they loaded it onto a one ton pickup truck and moved it to the present day business location.

With its humble beginnings, Jernigan’s Farm Service and Supply has turned into a thriving, lucrative enterprise. This was made possible by much hard work, dedication, and ingenuity. Sara operated the store and a hamburger stand with a popular jukebox. Jernigan’s was an extremely popular gathering place in those days. Many young people from Alapaha and other towns enjoyed coming on Friday and Saturday nights to play the jukebox, dance, and sing. Lewis operated an automotive shop close to the store and was in charge of school bus maintenance for the Alapaha School district. Lewis shrewdly carried bananas and candy across the road to sell to the school kids. Another intriguing tale occurred in 1948 when it rained so hard and fast that it flooded much of Alapaha. The floor of Jernigan’s Store was actually covered in water. A neighbor named Arlie Alexander rowed a boat across Highway 82 into Jernigan’s and continued on his merry way to Gaskins Store, where he tied his boat up at a light pole and went inside to converse with the astonished onlookers.

Edwin Gaskins remembers a hitching post behind the original Bank of Alapaha building [constructed in 1905, adjacent to Becky’s Becky Shop] and one behind the old Gaskins Store in front of a two story building that the Gaskins used for storage. Edwin vividly recalls the horses and mules making tracks around the hitching post. The storage building was destroyed by a devastating tornado in 1952.

  • James Murray (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane McDonald (1823–9/18/1896)
  • Mary Ann Murray (1841–5/13/1923) and John H. Williams (1829–1913)
  • Steven W. “Sonny” Williams (9/28/1858–3/12/1925) and Sara Ann Luke (6/30/1862–7/28/1918)
  • Sara Missouri Williams (4/15/1888–11/27/1969) and John William “Lewis” Jernigan (7/2/1891–7/17/1952)…married in Enigma by J.F. Stewart and buried at St. Luke
  • Willaford Jernigan (11/22/1926 — ) and Doris Wilma Roberts (9/22/1928 — )
  • Son: Darrell Jernigan (1/13/1949 — ) and Clema Faye Mikell (6/2/1950 — )
  • Daughter: Darlene Jernigan (2/23/1956 — ) and Don Turner (1/6/1956 — )
Image for post
Image for post
Circa 1936, the early days of Jernigan’s Store: Left to right are Jernigan’s employee Clarence “Shorty” Luke, Sarah Jernigan (Willaford’s mother), Mae Jernigan Lewis (Willaford’s sister), Elzie Jernigan (Willaford’s double first cousin), and Willaford Jernigan as a 10-year-old young boy. Image Credit: The Darlene Jernigan Turner Collection

Alapaha was a thriving community in the late 1800s and early 1900s. General stores such as J.B. Dorminy & Co. and D.P. Myerson, stately houses, a hotel, and railroad depot dotted the rural landscape. Astonishingly, five reputable doctors hung their shingles around town. G.O. Wheless had a dentist’s office situated upstairs in the McMillan building — destroyed in a devastating 1952 tornado — where the post office currently stands. Henry Moore operated a pharmacy in an edifice that also housed a beauty shop. Both gentlemen packed their suitcases for apparently greener pastures in Tifton, Georgia. W.A. Moore practiced medicine at his residence east of Railroad Street. George Paulk, first cousin to Ed Gaskins, followed a similar path until a tantalizing job offer in Miami presented itself. Other Alapaha physicians included dentist P.W. Alexander, dentist H.A. Williams, medical doctor W.A. Fort, a Dr. Ashley, and a medical doctor-druggist named J.A. Fogle. His primary claim to fame was constructing the Fogle Hotel in 1895 in addition to a café that Bridget Moore remodeled into a cabin and moved to Trussel Lake on the Alapaha River over a century later. Alapaha also laid claim to an attorney (W.H. Lastiger), turpentine distiller [J.W. Ball], and the Alapaha Star newspaper.

Isaac Murray, twin son of James and Jane Murray, lived in Alapaha on Northeast Railroad Street in the third house past the Fogle Hotel. Today residents commonly refer to it as the Millard Luke house. Isaac’s mother was an invalid for about the last five years of her life. Isaac and his family took care of her in their home until her death in 1896.

Image for post
Image for post
Nestled on the property of Autrey and Elizabeth Moore is the historic café built by Dr. J.A. Fogle as seen on October 25, 2015. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
Image for post
Image for post
Debonair sixteen-year-old Edwin Gaskins appears in a yearbook class photo during his 1938–1939 tenure at Georgia Tech. Image Credit: The Dona Gaskins Fields Collection

A Ford dealership and repair shop incorporated in 1916 by Eston Gaskins [uncle of Edwin Gaskins] was originally located in a tin building across from Gaskins Co. Store. Over time the dealership relocated into the Dorminy building across from the Bank of Alapaha which was purchased in the early 1960s by Carl Dixon and converted into a fertilizer, chemical, and propane gas business. It is presently owned by his son Steve Dixon. Model T Ford Chassis were shipped in boxcars all the way from Dearborn, Michigan, and were so efficiently packaged that the cars could be assembled outside the dealership on South Henry Street. We understand that Eston’s brother Wilbur assisted in this assembly process. James Murray’s grandson John Rowe is believed to have bought his Model T from Eston’s dealership.

Wycliff and John Orr, grandsons of Eston, wrote to the Ford Foundation in Michigan requesting copies of their records. After an intense vetting process conducted by the foundation, Wycliff and John learned that their grandfather was a highly respected individual possessing inherent moxy and innovative business acumen. Barely 20 years old, Eston was significantly the youngest Ford dealer in the nation at that time. Encouraged by Eston, fellow enterprising businessman Jake Stewart of Enigma would buy cars, drive them to Tifton, and place them strategically around the city for prospective buyers. When a Ford representative from Jacksonville, Florida visited Alapaha, he quickly noticed that Eston had surreptitiously added a Buick to his sale lot — a common practice nowadays but obviously frowned upon 100 years ago. After the Ford Company discovered that Eston had established dealerships in other locations with other competitors’ products, they mandated that he move the original Alapaha Ford dealership to Nashville for greater customer exposure. Edwin Gaskins’ daughter Dona Fields humorously remarked that the Gaskins men preferred Buick automobiles anyway.

While attending Alapaha Academy, Lillian McMillan earned an Award of Excellence in English grammar. Rebecca Murray, Lula McPherson, and Mattie Griffin received an Award of Excellence in Latin (taken from the Berrien County Pioneer, July 5, 1889, first printing). Within the Berrien County Pioneer it states: “Our school is decidedly a grand success. We are proud of all our students. Professor W.E. Christie deserves the lasting gratitude of Alapaha for his energy and labor in developing the best school our town has ever had.” A Warranty Deed from L.D. Harper was given on November 8, 1924 to establish the Alapaha Colored School. N.O. Bridges, T.H. Smith, and B.I. Shipman were said to be the trustees.

Image for post
Image for post
Added in 2002 to the National Register of Historic Places, the Alapaha Colored School was the only school for African American children in the northern part of Berrien County between 1924 and 1954. Photography by Mike McCranie / Bank of Alapaha Collection

Alapaha was a hub of pioneers seeking to make a life for themselves and their families in the late 1800s and early 1900s. People from all walks of life came by railroad, etc. The Millenary shop, perhaps located at the old Kenneth and Sally Shearer (née Beatty) house on George Street, was run by Gussie Slater and offered hats, ribbons, pens, etc. for sale. Gussie also taught piano lessons from her house. She married William P. Keiffer (11/12/1862–7/9/1905). Gussie’s family came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and William’s family owned a rice plantation in Hardeville, South Carolina. William was an accomplished artist and painted signs on horse buggies and other items. Gussie and William had one daughter named Ethel. After William died in 1905 and was buried at McMillan-Fletcher Cemetery, Gussie and Ethel moved to Enigma. Gussie married then-Enigma mayor Edgar Harris. Ethel married Jake Stewart, and they had five boys and one girl. Priss Stovall, granddaughter of Gussie and William, has one of her grandfather’s oil paintings.

Living in the Alapaha community in the early part of the 19th century was a great experience, especially on Saturdays. One of the traveling missionary priests from St. Theresa Catholic Church in Albany would arrive by train. Many who had come to town to do shopping on Saturday would then gather at St. Bridget Church for noon Mass. They traveled by mule and wagon, horse and buggy, horseback, or by foot. After Mass, they gathered behind St. Bridget for dinner on the ground under the stately pines and oak trees. These Catholic Christians completed the afternoon with a one hour Catechism class (Sunday school). The priest would stay overnight in the home of Tom (5/2/1873–3/28/1944) and Sarah Gray (née Williams, 5/8/1874–12/25/1958), leaving the next day by train back to Albany.

Some visiting priests would arrive in Alapaha by horse and buggy during the early to mid-1900s and stay at the home of Obie and Frances Griffin (née Rowe, granddaughter of James Murray and sister of John Rowe who hauled lumber for St. Bridget). They had a special room set aside for the priest to celebrate Mass for the family and anybody else that wanted to come.

The Griffin grandchildren fondly recall the great times everyone had at what they call the “House in the Pasture,” situated across from the Moore Sawmill Road and south of the Murray home place surrounded by bushes and stately pines.

Frances had two brothers named John and Isaac. Isaac married Myrtle Hammond and had six children, with Joe Rowe the only living child as of this writing. Isaac’s entire family moved to Tampa, Florida, possibly to seek work due to the Great Depression. John fell in love with Lucilla McDonald — the union sadly did not last — and decided to spend part of the year in Tampa and part in Alapaha.

  • James Murray (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane McDonald (1823–9/18/1896)
  • Eliza Murray (12/3/1842–3/18/1926) and Matthew Rowe, Sr. (8/4/1842–3/23/1916)
  • Isaac Rowe (1883–1970) and Myrtle Hammond (1899–1982)
  • Joe Rowe (1938 — ) and Rosalie Capitano (1939 — )

Bernice Rowe (1/22/1920–12/18/2013), daughter of Isaac and Myrtle, married Steve Cox. She remembered going to St. Bridget in a mule and wagon and dragging her feet in the sand. They lived around the Murray home place. Bernice’s younger sister, Mary Audrey “Sugie” Rowe (5/30/1929–3/11/1996), dedicated her life to God by becoming a Catholic nun. She chose “Mary Audrey” as her new name in Christ.

The Murray descendants were industrious and exhibited musical talent, especially John and Isaac’s family. When they visited Frances and Obie’s “House in the Pasture,” much food, fun and enjoyment occurred. John and Isaac played the guitar and fiddle, while Annie Griffin (Obie and Frances’ daughter) played the organ. Everyone could play multiple instruments and relished any opportunity to sing. They even danced on the porch and in the yard. Obie and Frances’ children were Claudie, Annie, Maxie, and Mathie.

In a recent discussion with Joe Rowe, one of the first questions he wanted answered was where did the Rowe family get their strong Catholic faith in a mostly non-Catholic community. The influence of James Murray and his descendants most likely played a significant role. It began with a few conversions and continued to flourish in the mid-nineteenth century. When the renovations are completed at St. Bridget (i.e. the outside is complete, the inside is still in need of repairs, and pews will be installed last), Joe wants to have a Mass celebration to honor those descendants who established the Catholic faith in the Alapaha area. Non-Catholic descendants of James Murray are also invited and welcome to attend.

Matthew Rowe, Jr., son of Matthew and Eliza Rowe (née Murray), was a farmer who lived in the Rowetown area in a log cabin located on the Moore Sawmill Road. Matthew’s log cabin is still standing south of the residency of Barbara Rowe (née Griffin) and her late husband Ronald, a Rowe descendant.

The August 20, 2015 edition of Southern Cross revealed that William “Sug” Rowe, brother of Matthew, married Jane Murray, one of the daughters of James and Jane Murray. To simplify matters, brothers married sisters. Jane and all of their five children preceded William in death. He lived in the Alapaha neighborhood all of his life until he moved to Lakeland to be with his granddaughter, Versie Rowe O’Brien. He passed away in 1944 at the age of 93 with funeral services conducted at St. Ann.

Image for post
Image for post
John Murray and Sallie Hendley. Image Credit: The James Thomas Griffin Collection

Sarah Jane Murray, daughter of John (1844–1924) and Sallie Murray (née Hendley, 1851–1929), married Bob Homer Akins. He became upset over an undisclosed incident and refused to let Sarah Jane go to St. Bridget. Her family thought that her children were baptized in the Catholic Church. After Bob Homer died and was buried in 1941, Sarah Jane’s family said she was back at Mass the following Sunday as if she had been attending all the time.

In August 2014 Joanne Connell (née Akins), Becky Davis (née Harper), and Jeremy Roberts visited Murray Cemetery and St. Bridget Church. Joanne is a descendant of John (son of James and Jane Murray) and Sallie. They also visited McMillan-Fletcher Cemetery where Joanne’s ancestors are buried. John and Sallie are buried in the rear portion (i.e. Fletcher). Joanne was extremely pleased and grateful to learn more about her family heritage.

  • James Murray (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane McDonald (1823–9/18/1896)
  • John Murray (1/25/1844–2/27/1924) and Sallie Hendley (3/6/1851–4/17/1929)
  • Sarah Jane Murray (12/9/1871–6/25/1948) and Bob Homer Akins (7/27/1876–10/12/1941)
  • George Akins (6/16/1907–3/6/1973) and Alice Swilley (8/25/1910–4/16/1990)
  • Horace Akins (6/25/1928–12/31–1929)
  • Robert J. Akins (11/26/1931–6/8/1996) and Betty Nobles (9/26/1931 — …divorced…Robert then married Caroline Smith (12/10/1948 — )
  • Joanne Akins (2/4/1939 — ) and Buford Connell (4/15/1940 — )
Image for post
Image for post
Jeremy Roberts and Joanne Akins Connell kindle a friendship on a sweltering late summer day at Murray Cemetery on August 25, 2014. Photography by Becky Davis

Records tell in 1936 that the Diocese of Savannah’s new bishop, Gerald P. O’Hara, began a month-long summer camp of religion as an opportunity for young Catholics that did not have access to a Catholic school. Any child from St. Bridget could go to Camp Villa Marie for two weeks for free if they elected to do so. Religious brothers drove around Alapaha and picked up any child that lived too far away to walk to the lessons. They also prepared the children for the sacraments and played games. Among the families were Nolan, Griffin, Akins, McMillan, Moore, Gray, Williams, Merchant, Rowe, and Vickers.

Irish travelers, also known as horse traders, would travel the roads of Georgia dealing in horse flesh/mules, repair work, and painted homes and barns. Possibly named Sherwood or Sherlock, the traders were from around Augusta and did not want to be called “gypsies” or “tinkers.” They would camp and corral their horses at the spot where Kenneth and Ella Mae Nugent’s (née Flanders) home is now located. In those days the area was wooded with brush and virgin pine trees.

These Irish travelers celebrated a double wedding at St. Bridget between 1934 and 1936 with an impressive reception with a big barbecue and all the other things to make it a special occasion. The double wedding was one of the largest events to take place at St. Bridget and Alapaha. People and Irish travelers came for miles in mule or horse-drawn wagons. We cannot prove this but some could have come by train (the railroad depot was built in 1881).

Edwin Gaskins remembers the double wedding quite well. Edwin also said that his grandfather, Ed Gaskins, often traded horses with these early Irish travelers and had great respect for them. The late Delores Lyon (née Brogdon) also knew some of these Irish travelers as they visited her farm several times. When St. Ann Catholic Church was built in 1942, these travelers presented a statue for the new church.

Image for post
Image for post
Enclosed in a wooden frame is a vintage photo recalling the official dedication of St. Ann in November 1942. The church was dedicated by Most Reverend William D. O’Brien, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, who headed the Catholic Extension Society which contributed significantly to St. Ann’s building. Gerald P. O’Hara, Bishop of Savannah, presided at the ceremony. Image Credit: The St. Ann Catholic Church Archive

There are many other interesting facts and happenings related to St. Bridget and the Murray heritage. In 1932 St. Bridget had a priest for Mass regularly. In 1939 the Oblates (OMI) priest in Douglas replaced the Diocesan priest from St. Theresa in Albany.

The last people to marry at St. Bridget were John (8/9/1919–3/12/2007) and Geneva Griffin (née McMillan, 12/13/1922–8/8/2010) on December 20, 1939 by Father Raymond Burke. The last funeral at St. Bridget was Melissa Jacobs (née Murray, 11/14/1878–4/14/1940, wife of Owen Jacobs, daughter of John Murray, and grandmother of Geneva Griffin). Father Raymond celebrated the funeral Mass and was eventually appointed to Monsignor.

  • James Murray (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane McDonald (1823–9/18/1896)
  • John Murray (1/25/1844–2/27/1924) and Sarah “Sallie” Hendley (3/6/1851–4/17/1929)
  • Melissa Murray (11/14/1878–4/14/1940) and Owen Jacobs (5/16/1881–4/18/1964)
  • Lillian Jacobs (4/1/1903 — May 26, 1972) and John Henry McMillan (10/17/1900–6/8/1953)
  • Geneva McMillan (12/13/1922–8/8/2010) and John Griffin (8/9/1919–3/12/2007)
  • James Thomas Griffin (5/2/1958) and Kathy Vickers (7/10/1960)
  • Alicia Griffin [4/18/1985 — ] and Ben Bergeron [9/12/1987 — ]
Image for post
Image for post
James Thomas Griffin visits the graves of great-great-great grandparents James and Jane Murray on a sunny afternoon inside Murray Cemetery on March 7, 2015. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

St. Teresa Catholic Church of Albany gave an organ to St. Bridget which was located to the left as you entered St. Bridget (the confessional was also located on the left while the stove for heating was found on the right). The altar rail is still in place.

In those days it was unusual for an African American to worship with a white congregation. However, a Northern visitor attended Mass at St. Bridget when she visited Alapaha relatives and was always welcomed and treated with respect.

Before Vatican II in the 1960s, boys always assisted as altar servers with the Mass and by answering the priest in Latin for the people. The congregation now answers the priest in English. At St. Bridget when an altar boy was unavailable, Annabel Murray (6/4/1878–4/18/1960, granddaughter of James Murray and daughter of John Murray) would serve as altar person, answering prayers in Latin for the congregation. This was unheard of in those days because women or girls were not allowed to engage in this special custom. Annabel is buried at Fletcher Cemetery in Alapaha.

According to Geneva Griffin (the great-granddaughter of John and Sallie Murray), Obie and Frances Griffin lived on Clayton and Christie Moore’s (née Rowe) farm and were entrusted with a table that was possibly used for communion at St. Bridget. Over time it was stored in a barn and nearly forgotten until Autrey (8/17/1937 — ) and Elizabeth Moore (née Tucker, 1/28/1939 — ) requested the table when Christie (daughter of Matthew Rowe, niece of Frances) passed away, not knowing it once belonged to St. Bridget. The table is currently housed at the Hahira, Georgia residence of Dr. Bridgett Moore, daughter of Autrey and Elizabeth.

  • James Murray (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane McDonald (1823–9/18/1896)
  • Eliza Murray (12/3/1842–3/18/1926) and Matthew Rowe, Sr. (8/4/1842–3/23/1916)
  • Matthew Rowe, Jr. (1/7/1875–4/21/1948) and Rachel Gray (2/21/1881–8/10/1917)
  • Christie Rowe (12/12/1911–1/6/1983) and Cleo Clayton Moore (1/27/1908–4/22/1968)
  • Daughter: Nell Moore (1/31/1930–11/25/2016) and Alton Rowan (3/31/1927–3/25/2016)
  • Son: Autrey Moore (8/17/1937 — ) and Elizabeth Tucker (1/28/1939 — )
  • Bridgett Moore (12/29/1964 — ) and Richard Barnes (9/11/1962 — )
  • Son: Tucker Barnes (3/12/1999 — )
Image for post
Image for post
The table possibly used for communion services at St. Bridget Church. According to Bridgett, the Christmas nativity scene remains on display year-round. Photography by Bridgett Moore
Image for post
Image for post
Richard, Tucker, and Bridgett rough it at Lee’s Ferry crossing just below the Lake Powell reservoir along the Colorado River. The adventurous family was fly fishing for rainbow trout during their May 2013 sojourn. Image Credit: The Bridgett Moore Collection

Leo Moore, son of George (12/24/1894–12/13/1957) and Allie Moore (née Brogdon, 12/3/1907–3/28/1995), was the first altar server at St. Bridget. He was stationed in Lynchburg, Virginia during World War II and received a furlough from the Navy to come home to serve as altar server for his great-uncle Tom Gray. Leo would eventually teach his brothers, Smitty and Curtis, Latin so they could serve as altar boys.

Before Leo bought St. Bridget from Father Moran OMI and the Diocese of Savannah in 1947 for $500 and sold it to the African American community to use as their church, relics from the altar and foundation stone were removed and taken to Douglas by Father Moran for safekeeping. The church parishioners paid Leo $200, gave him a certain amount of cement blocks, and renamed St. Bridget Greater Macedonia. The cement blocks were sold by Leo to Toby and Mildred Powell [née Brogdon] who used them to construct a home. Lamar and June Harris currently reside in this house located on Fletcher Street.

Cozetta Harper [née Moore, (2/1/1907–11/13/1996), daughter of Benjamin (1864–1936) and Nancy Moore (née Gray, 1871–1934), wife of Purley Harper (2/5/1905–8/7/1987), mother of Becky Davis, descendant of church pioneer Henry Marshall], stayed in Alapaha with her aunt and uncle, Tom and Sara Gray, so she could attend church regularly at St. Bridget and go to school. Cozetta graduated from Alapaha High School and became a teacher at Glory School.

Geneva McMillan Griffin stayed with Ola Mae Moore, daughter of George and Allie Moore, to go to school and church. Jerry McMillan (née Metts, 1929–2006), stayed with her grandparents, Tom and Sara Gray, to go to school and church. They faithfully attended Mass at St. Bridget.

Image for post
Image for post
Cozetta Moore and Purley Harper were married on September 15, 1932 and ultimately had six children — Donald, Nancy, Becky, Jimmy, Carrol, and George. Image Credit: The Becky Davis Collection

When St. Ann Catholic Church was built in 1942 on land purchased for a token amount from C.E. McMillan on Highway 82 West due to additional space being needed, the artifacts in St. Bridget were entrusted to some of the parishioners. The 14th Station of the Cross [via Delarosa, when Jesus was laid in the tomb] was given to St. Ann by the family of Owen (2/4/1904–4/3/1969) and Wilma Nugent (née Daniel, 12/7/1908–12/31/1995) shortly after the latter’s death. The 14th Station hung over the head of their bed unknown to their children that it had once belonged to St. Bridget. The 14 pictures tell the story of Jesus’ trial, conviction, and ultimate death at Golgotha. All Catholic churches have these 14 pictures. Most people could not read or write in the early centuries, and these pictures depicted Jesus and his resurrection without words.

A strange incident happened in early April 2014. The story begins when Tim and Winnie Moore (née Keefe) lived behind the residence of George and Allie Moore in the late ’70s and shared a storage shed. A brass censer and boat used in Jewish and Catholic worship services (mentioned in the Old Testament and Revelations 8, incense is burned, and the smoke rises up to represent our prayers going up to God) was inadvertently moved when Tim and Winnie relocated to a new house. They stumbled upon these forgotten items while cleaning one day and had no idea what they were. But they knew the Moore’s were relatives of Becky Davis, so Winnie decided to bring the items to her. During discussions with Leo Moore, Becky recognized that they once belonged to St. Bridget. After much cleaning, this brass is now beautiful and looks like gold. Father Justin Ferguson, pastor of St. Ann, used the censer and boat at Easter Mass 2015. Both are on display near the altar of St. Ann Catholic Church in Alapaha.

Ironically, Bridgett Moore bought, moved, and began partial restoration of St. Bridget Church without knowing its original name in 2011. She moved the church to original James Murray land located on Trussel Lake, part of the Alapaha River about four miles east of Alapaha off Highway 82. Bridgett was surprised and appreciative to learn of her family heritage regarding St. Bridget.

Image for post
Image for post
Cows graze peacefully on a sunny afternoon as visitors first glimpse St. Bridget in the distance on August 4, 2014. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
Image for post
Image for post
Three exquisite stained glass windows frame Elizabeth and Autrey Moore as they sit on vintage pews at St. Bridget on Sunday afternoon, October 25, 2015. The church also retains its original bell. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

Father Daniel Firmin of Savannah celebrated Mass on July 27, 2014, at St. Ann. Becky Davis and her son, Mark Davis, accompanied Father Firmin to view St. Bridget. He was very impressed by its structure, the beautiful locale, the Alapaha River flowing mere feet behind the church, and the early history of the Catholic Church and its people in the Alapaha area.

Many are a part of the history of St. Bridget and the Murray lineage. Some of these families include Akins, Boykin, Franklin, Graves, Gray, Griffin, Harper, Jowers, King, Marshall, McDonald, McMillan, Merchant, Moore, Murray, Nolan, Nugent, Roe, Rowe, Vickers, and Williams.

The family of John Murray gave a statue of Joseph and baby Jesus to St. Ann Catholic Church in 1942 that is present to this day and still looks brand new. It represents Jesus’ ancestors coming from the lineage of Jesse, King David’s father. Joseph is holding a branch known as a Jesse Tree (Isaiah 11:1).

Image for post
Image for post
Alton Rowan, sporting his favorite Georgia Bulldogs cap and trusty walking cane, sits beside wife Nell Moore in the den of their Alapaha residence on October 25, 2015. Alton succumbed to heart disease only five months after this photo was taken, six days shy of his 89th birthday. Nell collapsed the day after Thanksgiving 2016 at age 86, perhaps sticking around long enough to ensure that her family would continue the Rowan Thanksgiving tradition of making sausage, barbecue, and syrup. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

Nell Rowan (née Moore, daughter of Clayton and Christie Moore née Rowe) remembered going to St. Bridget to Sunday school with her Aunt Frances and Uncle Obie during 1936 and 1937. Nell’s teacher was Cozetta Harper.

In 1996 St. Ann celebrated its annual homecoming. After the traditional covered dish dinner, the church members traveled to the isolated wooded area housing Murray Cemetery. Father Jim Kirchner blessed the cemetery, a new chain link fence, and gate installed during the final phase of a massive clean-up effort conducted by parishioners and other Murray ancestors, including Bud Vickers and son Darward Vickers. Bud played a significant role in the cemetery’s upkeep until his passing in 1971. About a year before Murray Gaskins’ death in 2009, the property owner deeded the Murray Cemetery land in addition to a 10-foot easement and a right to go to the cemetery to St. Ann Catholic Church and the Diocese of Savannah. Murray’s widow,

Heather Brasell, constructed a straight road leading to the cemetery significantly enhancing accessibility to the site.

  • James Murray (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane McDonald (1823–9/18/1896)
  • Eliza Murray (12/3/1842–3/18/1926) and Matthew Rowe, Sr. (8/4/1842–3/23/1916)
  • James Jackson Vickers (1868–1944) and Mary Jane Rowe (1878–1941)
  • Bud Vickers (1/13/1897–2/17/1971) and Mattie McClellan (3/6/1897–1/24/1979)
  • Darward Vickers (10/15/1930 — ) and Delores Swilley (6/4/1935–1/12/2015)
  • Son: Iraman Vickers (10/28/1967 — )
  • Son: Chad Vickers (1/15/1970 — )
  • Daughter: Iris Heath (12/7/1970 — )

Father Alfonso Gutierrez invited Bishop Emeritus J. Kevin Boland of the Diocese of Savannah to visit St. Ann to celebrate Mass and baptize Charlie Nugent, son of Joe and Tracy Nugent, on Sunday, October 23, 2011. Community members, including Heather Brasell, attended this very special occasion. Bishop Emeritus Boland also wanted to see St. Bridget [renamed Greater Macedonia C.M.E.] and Murray Cemetery before he departed for Savannah. The late Will Ivery, a dedicated servant of Greater Macedonia and one of the names found on the original church purchase deed from Leo Moore, graciously allowed us to venture inside and observe its beauty. The stained glass windows were especially impressive. Bishop Emeritus Boland led us in prayer of a decade of the Rosary at Murray Cemetery. Don’t you know these Irish souls were happy for an Irish bishop to visit and pray! They struggled to keep the faith because a priest did not come very often. There was a period of nearly 10 years in the mid to late 1800s when a priest did not visit since Catholics were so scattered in isolated areas of South Georgia. Bishop Emeritus Boland enjoyed the history, especially the Irish part since he is of Irish heritage.

In 2000 artist Linda Butler (née Akins) and other Akins family members attended Mass at St. Ann. Related to the family of John Murray, she presented a painting of St. Bridget to St. Ann which hangs prominently in the social hall.

Katelyn Davis (granddaughter of Lamar and Becky Davis, daughter of Michael Davis and Rachel Davis née Nugent) and Jason Allen (son of Mike and Rhonda Allen née Gaskins) had their engagement pictures taken in August 2014 at St. Bridget’s new home place on the Alapaha River and at Bridget Moore’s cabin close to the church. This impressive cabin was once a café nestled by the historic Fogle Hotel — the modern home of Gaye Elder and her late husband, artist Marshall Smith — in Alapaha. The café was moved across the railroad tracks to George Street behind where the Barfield Gas Company is now located. It had a hitching post for horses and mules. Frank Sizemore and Pate Luke later ran a grist mill there until Wilbur Gaskins occupied the building for storage. Bridget moved and restored the building to the original James Murray land on the Alapaha River.

Image for post
Image for post
Love is in the air as Katelyn Davis and Jason Allen celebrate their engagement inside the historic St. Bridget, August 2014. Photography by Anna Mills / Courtesy of Katelyn Davis Allen

On Saturday, March 7, 2015, descendants of James Murray gathered for the official dedication of a historical sign given by Jimmy Harper [son of Purley and Cozetta Harper] recognizing Murray Cemetery along with Karla Gaskins and Heather Brasell.

Image for post
Image for post
Kneeling are George Harper, property owner Heather Brasell, Jeremy Roberts, Becky Davis, and Weston Clamp. Standing are Courtney Harper, Ansley Harper, Gene Griffin, Jimmy Harper, Sandy Harper, Dona Fields, Mark Davis, James Thomas Griffin, Autrey Moore, and Mary Ann Woody, March 7, 2015. Photography by Karla Gaskins
Image for post
Image for post
James Thomas Griffin and sister Mary Ann Woody spend a few contemplative moments at the official dedication of the Murray Cemetery sign on March 7, 2015. James Thomas does an admirable job of cemetery maintenance. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
Image for post
Image for post
Sandy Harper, granddaughter Courtney Harper, husband George Harper, granddaughter Ansley Harper, and sister-in-law Becky Davis pose near the final resting place of ancestors Nancy and Ben Moore at Murray Cemetery on March 7, 2015. Nancy [1871–1934] and Ben [1864–1936] were the last two individuals to be buried at the cemetery. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
Image for post
Image for post
Gene Griffin kneels at the grave of ancestor Jane McDonald Murray on a sunny afternoon at Murray Cemetery on March 7, 2015. The notable occasion marked Gene’s first visit to the cemetery. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
  • James Murray (1809–11/23/1891) and Jane McDonald (1823–9/18/1896)
  • Eliza Murray (12/3/1842–3/18/1926) and Matthew Rowe, Sr. (8/4/1842–3/23/1916)
  • James “Jim” Rowe (1868–1938) and Nellie Tucker (3/22/1868 — ??)…..married on 1/16/1910
  • Minnie Rowe [3/6/1891–11/20/1985] and John Griffin [4/1/1889–11/21/1942]
  • Eugene “Gene” Griffin (5/5/1935 — ) and Idell Bennett (10/25/40 — )
  • Daughter: Shelia Griffin (5/3/1959 — ) and John E. Hall (8/25/1959 — )
  • Daughter: Sherrie Griffin (1/26/1965 — ) and Richard Dell Futch (5/20/65 — )

In the mid-1980s Julian Fields, husband of Dona Fields [née Gaskins], was plowing in the Puddleville-James Murray settlement near the Alapaha River and glimpsed a mysterious object sparkling in the dirt. Curiosity got the best of him, so he decided to unearth the round, sterling silver object which appeared to be part of a necklace. Marguerite Gaskins [née Johnson], wife of Edwin Gaskins, took the medallion to a jewelry store to have it cleaned and set on a chain before presenting it to a flabbergasted Becky Davis. The religious medallion depicted Mary and baby Jesus [i.e. Madonna] on the front side with stars over Mary’s head proclaiming her to be Jesus’ Mother along with an image of Jesus on the reverse side depicting his Sacred Heart (meaning that he loved us so much that he gave his life for us). Decades later we still ponder the medallion’s original owner. Was it indigenous to the Irish Catholic faithful in the early Murray settlement? Without question it was precious to whomever owned it and cherished forever by the faithful one who received it.

Image for post
Image for post
Discovered by Julian Fields in the mid-1980s is the religious medallion featuring Mary and baby Jesus [i.e. Madonna] with stars over Mary’s head proclaiming her to be Jesus’ Mother. Photography by Billy Stewart
Image for post
Image for post
On November 3, 2015 — author Jeremy Roberts’ birthday — Julian Fields returned to the exact spot in the Puddleville area where he discovered the Catholic medallion. He can be seen cradling another well-preserved artifact obtained while harrowing — a 17th century British ink well. The late artist Marshall Smith, a collector of bottles and many other rare antiques, helped identify the ink well’s origins. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
Image for post
Image for post
Marguerite and Edwin Gaskins were married for 66 years until the former’s passing on April 11, 2006, at age 84. Image Credit: The Dona Gaskins Fields Collection

Historical Alapaha Anecdotes

Freida Schaffner (née Moore) recently unearthed copies of both The Free-Trader and Alapaha Dots newspapers published between 1885 and 1886 stuck inside a book at her Penny Pinchers thrift shop and kindly brought them to our attention. Some of the following anecdotes were uncovered from these remarkable documents.

In 1885 it was reported in The Free-Trader that Walker and Dorminy had ordered a new engine and cotton gin which would be ready by cotton season. Also, Mr. Silas O’Quin had watermelon vines six feet long. At the same time it was reported that the Methodist Church now had a new belfry, and that town folks were planning to bore an artesian well. In November of 1885 it was reported that the Methodist Church now had a splendid organ and Miss Kate Wiggins was an excellent performer. On July 20, 1885, farmers of this section were generally jubilant over the prospect of a bountiful harvest next autumn.

Lucy Lake, a popular spot on the Alapaha River for folks from all over South Georgia, had sulfur water and an indoor swimming pool. The water was thought to have healing properties. The Ocilla Southern Railroad traveled close to the lake and ferried passengers to and fro. Some people visited the popular spot in search of healing of sickness, while others came for the swimming, skating, and dancing at the popular pavilion.

A dam consisting of logs and boards was built on the Alapaha River (Leo Moore remembers it being down from Lucy Lake) in an area referred to as Sally Mack Lake. Mules and oxen were kept at Ox Lot Lake, and they would pull the logs that had been cut to the river where they would be floated down to the “wash hole” where a sawmill was situated. If those draft animals were unavailable, a rail path commonly referred to as a tram transported the cut logs. Leo was also eyewitness to a ramshackle, rusted boiler close to the Alapaha River Bridge at Sheboggy.

The editor of The Free-Trader states that on July 3, 1886, “Horse mails have been stopped on the Irwinville and Ocilla routes for several days on account of high water.” There was also no way to get to Alapaha from Willacoochee during times of flooding. Residents were reported as having to travel to Lucy Lake to get to Alapaha.

Leo confirms that during times of heavy rain the Alapaha River flooded. Dobbin Futch (father of Luther, Lace, and Glenda Yawn [née Futch]) was hired by the U.S. Post Office in 1928. He carried the U.S. mail to the old wash hole, but there was no way to get the mail across the river. Dobbin normally carried the U.S. mail to that point where he was met by another carrier for local mail distribution. He also delivered the mail to the residents on the east side of the Alapaha River, the northern portion of Coffee County, and in his hometown of rural Willacoochee.

An article from the October 12, 1885 edition of the Alapaha Dots newspaper reported, “Another great flood of rain was accompanied by much east wind with the town literally inundated in water, which is certainly very injurious to the health of the people. Would it not lend greatly to the promotion of the health and comfort of our town to have the streets raised and the ditches made larger, so the water could make a more rapid escape?”

Decades later drainage ditches were finally dug around town with picks and shovels funded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s WPA Program which was designed to put people to work to circulate money. Benjamin Moore, grandfather of Leo Moore and Becky Davis, helped dig these ditches and was one of the many who benefitted from these much needed WPA earnings during the height of the Great Depression. When he was between eight and ten years old, Leo remembers strolling to town with his grandfather who would buy him two or three suckers for a penny. Situated in a wet area, a drainage ditch was dug behind the Jernigan’s Store and one in front of the original Lewis Jernigan red brick house which is currently the residence of Darrell and Faye Jernigan (located adjacent to Highway 82 and the abandoned Alapaha Elementary School). Another drainage ditch was dug behind the Arlie and Nadine Purvis residence (today the home of Kenneth Griner). The area where the Alapaha Baptist Parsonage now stands was then called the “Mayhaw Pond.”

Strangely, our community still suffers a drainage problem. Recently during the renovation of the convenience store on Highway 129 across from Joe Dixon Seed & Chemical in the building now occupied as Becky’s Beauty Salon (formerly a drug store which was destroyed by a tornado, later a Suwannee Swifty store, and the temporary location of the Alapaha Baptist Church before a new brick building on Highway 129 was erected), the beauty salon flooded during a big rain.

The original Bank of Alapaha building which was constructed in 1905 is presently being restored by Owen Nugent with an anticipated completion date of September 2016. One of the biggest challenges in restoring this building is drainage issues. The editor of The Free-Trader addressed this concern in their October 27, 1885 issue regarding the expenditure of approximately $150 or $200 to fix this problem.

Alapaha had many interesting people living in and around the community at the dawn of the 20th century. One of these people was Columbus Wesley (C.W.) Fulwood. A reference in a 1920s Bank of Alapaha minute book revealed that the Fulwood Firm in Tifton was retained to update the bank’s charter. The Fulwoods moved to Tifton and became leading pillars of the city. Fulwood Park and Murray Street are notable examples of Mr. Fulwood’s vast Tifton legacy. C.W’s son Daniel married Caroline Elizabeth Murray, daughter of Ezekiel and Matilda Murray (née Hand).

Before Highway 82 was paved [Cheryl Norton provided a “1931 Standard Road Map of Georgia and Adjacent Territory” published by Standard Oil Company which confirms that the highway was then known as GA 50], it started near Brunswick, ran through Willacoochee, turned north and went by St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church and the present-day location of Glory United Methodist Church, and then across the Alapaha River near the old wash hole where there was a wooden bridge. It traveled on up the hill and went by a two-story house originally built by W.S. Walker and owned by the Murray Gaskins family (across the road from where Atlas Manufacturing currently stands). Murray and wife Heather Brasell later moved this house northeast of the original location. The road ran behind Jernigan’s store down Center Street in front of Arthur Moore’s house. This was a wooded, wet area branch, and in some areas water stood almost like a pond. It was almost impassible during a rainy season. GA 50 traveled through Center Street and connected with Highway 129 at the present day location of Alapaha Baptist Church. The road turned toward Tifton and went past Wilbur Gaskins’ house. U.S. 129 traveled toward Ocilla, and GA 50 [i.e. U.S. 82] headed toward Tifton.

Highway 129 went at a different angle than it does today, originally running parallel directly to the McMillan-Fletcher house among pine trees and turning at a curve in front of the dwelling. It then went west to McMillan-Fletcher Cemetery turning in front of the cemetery following the path on to Ocilla. Using picks and shovels, convicts were responsible for preparing the road bed for paving. Leo, his Uncle Charlie Brogdon, and family walked three miles to see Highway 129 when it was paved.

Image for post
Image for post
A spry Leo Moore captured recently at his home in Jacksonville, Florida. Image Credit: The Leo Moore Collection

A wooden two-story school referred to as the Alapaha Academy was located across Highway 82 from Aaron Griner’s present home in front of the old Mose Giddens house. Wilbur Gaskins, his sister Ouida Paulk [née Gaskins], Walter Norton, and Atwell McGee [née Moore] went to this school. Atwell’s mother would not let her go to school barefoot, so the wily young girl would remove her shoes after leaving home and hide them under bushes. After school was out, she retrieved her shoes and wore them home as if nothing was amiss.

The Alapaha Dots referred to “53 students attending the Alapaha Academy” on May 15, 1885 and May 16, 1885 with them stating that they “rejoiced that our people are waking up upon the subject of education” and that the large school is owing to the cheap board, low rates of tuition, unity of the people, and indomitable energy and perseverance of the teacher [Authors’ Note: Amazingly, the Alapaha community still possesses this unity, energy, and perseverance]. In October of 1885, it was reported that Willie Lastinger, Otis Baker, and Hawkins Goodman, three of the community’s promising young men, had left that afternoon for Oxford, Georgia for the purpose of entering Emory College.

After a new two-story red brick school building was constructed in 1909 and named the Alapaha Public School, the old school building was used as a hay barn. According to Edwin Gaskins, years later someone ventured upstairs into the vacant building and discovered that his Aunt Ouida’s name had been etched into a blackboard, evidently from her time in school there. This barn is currently nestled on the property of Breman and Ouida Griner [née Ingram] close to the “Y” intersection of Highways 82 and 129.

The Alapaha Public School is fondly remembered even today by students who attended there. Edwin recalled this school being built in a very secluded area, as you could only get there by a dirt path road. He remembers also that bonds were floated to build the school. It consisted of four rooms and a large staircase on the first floor with two classrooms and an auditorium on the top floor until the auditorium area was converted into classrooms. Edwin said the floors were never level after that time. A devastating tornado destroyed the upper floor in 1952.

One can only imagine the school plays and other community events that were most likely presented in this auditorium. An interesting incident occurred when Principal Prentice Munson Shultz planned a Christmas play for the students in 1926. They asked five-year-old Edwin, son of Wilbur and Dona Gaskins [née Hendricks], to play a character in the play. Edwin said he did not want to be in the play, refusing to bow to a girl. His mother prevailed and started making a black suit for him to wear. Edwin knew then that he would have to be in the play. The girl he bowed to was Floried Hogan [née Harper]. Recently Edwin was delighted to learn that Floried was still among the living. She is two years older and lives in Nashville. Floried remembers that each student was to take two gifts to the play. She forgot hers but a friend let her have one of theirs.

In approximately 1929 six students graduated from Alapaha Public School. Among them were Annie Chambless [née Gray], Aline Dixon [née Paulk, mother of Mary Ellen, Joe, and Mark Dixon], Aline Shearer, and Cozetta Harper.

Many socials are remembered from this time period originating from the school. Among them was Edwin’s story of the girls baking “boxes” of pies, cakes, etc. and them being sold to potential friends and suitors. Edwin recalls his father telling the story about buying one of Cozetta’s boxes.

Mary Ellen Crisp [née Dixon] remembers her mother Aline speaking of her siblings traveling in the 1920s from the Paulk Place on the Alapaha-Lenox Road to school in the morning. They would travel by the Roy Pete Holland house located on Highway 129 next to the Alapaha Baptist Church. The school principal who lived in the Holland house would sometimes be drawing water before school and he often remarked in chapel about the sight of these 12 children as they traveled to school in a mule and wagon.

Image for post
Image for post
In a partially unbuttoned white shirt and wide-brimmed felt hat, 72-year-old Carl Dixon greets bearded son Steve Dixon on horseback. Carl’s only natural child with second wife Jean Barrentine, Steve was a dead ringer for his future son Quentin in this September 1981 candid from Alapaha’s centennial festivities. The Alapaha farmer would suffer a massive heart attack just two years later on October 12, 1983. Image Credit: The Mary Ellen Dixon Crisp Collection
Image for post
Image for post
Siblings Mark, Mary Ellen, and Joe Dixon are captured in formal attire on June 11, 2013, inside the Alapaha Baptist Church Ministry Center following the funeral of Jean Barrentine, Carl’s second wife and the mother of Joyce Tully, Wayne Jones, and Steve Dixon. Photography by Rose Nugent Spurlock / The Mary Ellen Dixon Crisp Collection

Mr. Shultz resigned as principal of Alapaha Public School in 1934 for greener educational pastures in Ray City, Georgia. After being hired to oversee Ray City School, Mr. Shultz boarded in the home of Elias and Gladys Knight (née Daniel), parents of Jack Knight. Whitlow Powell was appointed as Mr. Shultz’s replacement and remained at the Alapaha Public School through 1936. Mr. Powell’s wife Couturier also served as a schoolteacher. They lived in the old Edwin and Marguerite Gaskins home place on Highway 82 West. Edwin and Marguerite’s grandson Derring Johnson and wife Christie now own this beautiful remodeled house.

During Alapaha’s Centennial Celebration in 1981, one of the town’s oldest residents, Mrs. Leola Lippett, was interviewed by The Tifton Gazette concerning the community. She was quoted as saying, “I remember when Alapaha was spelled with two LL’s. It was spelled that way on the old Alapaha Station. It was that way when my father brought our family here from Dougherty County in 1903. The town is very peaceful, the people here are very friendly, and they are willing to do whatever they can to help someone that is having trouble.” She also stated that she recalled when their house was originally surrounded by woods. There used to be Indians that would come into town and set up their tents across the road in the woods. “Those Indians used to scare my brother and me to death. One day they left town and from that time on we never saw any more of them,” declared Leola.

The community is still very peaceful, the people are very friendly, and are willing to help someone in need. Although the railroad tracks were removed some years ago, the Alapaha Station [i.e. depot] is still standing, the Alapaha River is still running, and the faith of the people remains as strong as ever.

Without knowledge of the past and the help of countless people, this history tracing Alapaha’s colorful roots could not have been compiled. Special thanks to Billy Stewart, Todd Wilkerson, and Mark Davis of Atlas Manufacturing for their diligent fine-tuning and publishing expertise. We gratefully acknowledge the following:

  • Archives of Diocese of Savannah
  • Donna Kay McClellan Barfield
  • Elaine McMillan Calloway
  • Joanne Akins Connell
  • Mary Ellen Dixon Crisp
  • Becki Vaughn Davis
  • Mark Dixon
  • Julian and Dona Fields
  • Edwin Gaskins
  • Lincoln Gaskins
  • Geneva McMillan Griffin
  • James Thomas Griffin
  • Cozetta Moore Harper
  • Floried Harper Hogan
  • Kenneth “Slim” Lee
  • Delores Brogdon Lyon
  • Atwell Moore McGee
  • Autrey and Elizabeth Moore
  • Christie Rowe Moore
  • Leo Moore
  • Kenneth and Ella Mae Nugent
  • Cheryl Norton
  • Billy and Clarice Roberts
  • Sylvia Roberts
  • Alton and Nell Rowan
  • Joe Rowe
  • Rose Nugent Spurlock
  • Anita Stewart Stovall
  • Father Brendan Timmons
  • Darlene Jernigan Turner
  • Melba Rowe Weldon
Image for post
Image for post
After seven decades and counting, the faithful ancestors of James and Jane Murray can still be found worshiping at St. Ann Catholic Church beside Highway 82 in Alapaha. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

About the Authors

Image for post
Image for post
“We must leave this world better than we found it.” This admirable creed perfectly encapsulates Becky Davis, who was born and raised near the Alapaha River in rural South Georgia and continues to reside not far from where she originally grew up. Her mother and father were avid storytellers who sang and recited enchanting nursery rhymes to their six captivated children. Ms. Estella Brooks, Becky’s fifth grade teacher at Alapaha Elementary School, and her mother Cozetta instilled in her an extensive endearment for history. Becky and her late husband Lamar (1941–1999) had three boys: Marlin (1961–1980), Michael (1963 — ), and Mark (1969 — ). Nearly a decade in the making, the arduous process of assembling “Footsteps of Early Alapaha Settlers” has nevertheless provided Becky with much satisfaction. Image Credit: The Becky Davis Collection
Image for post
Image for post
A lifelong Alapaha native and the only child of Jimmy and Sylvia Roberts, Jeremy is a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Master of Agricultural Leadership program. His passions include contributing in-depth interviews to the wide world of pop culture and beyond, photography, exploring biographies, classic cinema and music trivia, yard renovation, blueberry production, community volunteering, actively taking part at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, and always being a good listener. He is grateful to call Becky a trusted confidant and can’t wait to tackle another exciting, historical project together. After a non-stop Elvis Week in Memphis, Jeremy is seen on August 18, 2015, relishing a milkshake in the Johnnie’s Drive In booth where Elvis Presley once sat in Tupelo, Mississippi. Photography by Sylvia Roberts

© Becky Davis and Jeremy Roberts, 2015, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

Written by

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store