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Gene Barber

Articles of 2005

  • A Mystery from the Past - The Disappearance of T. R. Henderson
  • Super Bowl.XXXIX
  • Early Settlements in Baker County
  • A Mystery from the Past - The Disappearance of T. R. Henderson 1/7/2005
    Baker County has had its share of tragedies and mysteries. One of those mysteries hit the county in February of 1922. T. R. Henderson, a wealthy local naval stores producer disappeared. Friends of Mr. Henderson suspected the team of Jake Wilkinson and Bill Williams, 18 and 22 years of age, respectively, as having done the deed. They were believed to be in the hire of Henderson’s enemies, not named in newspaper and oral history accounts, nor has this columnist learned why Mr. Henderson had enemies.

    Wilkinson, sometimes listed as Wilkerson, was believed to be a Baker County product, and Williams came here from Milton.

    A band of men thought to be Henderson’s close friends ambushed the two young men on the Raiford Road south of Macclenny. Wilkinson was seriously wounded, and Williams was kidnapped by the group. When interrogated later, Wilkinson and Williams couldn’t name the men but they stated there were six of them.

    Sheriff Arthur Rowe telephoned Duval County Sheriff Merritt for assistance in the situation. Although admitting he had made the call for help to Sheriff Merritt, Sheriff Rowe later denied there was enough trouble to warrant outside help. He declared the town of Macclenny was quiet, that Wilkinson was probably accidentally shot, and that the man reported to have been kidnapped was on the street Saturday night.

    “The sheriff”, according to the BRADFORD COUNTY TELEGRAPH, 18 February, 1922, “denounced what he termed ‘incorrect reports’, said residents of Macclenny probably were a little excited Saturday but reiterated there had been no trouble and that he expected none.”

    Sheriff Rowe might not have been quite correct in his assessment of the situation.

    Also from the Bradford County Telegraph, same date: “STATE TROOPS ASKED FOR BY BAKER COUNTY SHERIFF…One resident of Macclenny telephoned here shortly after noon yesterday that “hell will break loose here tonight” and added that he was preparing to move his wife and children to a place of safety.

    “As a result of the reports members of local units of the Florida National Guard had instructions last night to be where their company commanders could reach them quickly if Governor Hardee ordered the troops mobilized.”

    That night, men on horseback rode into Macclenny and began making them selves heard with revolver and shotgun fire. Oral history gave the surnames of some of the protesters as Dowling and Taylor but neglected to mention which side the men were on.

    Nebulous and contradictory oral history allow that Henderson dropped from sight the night after an unfriendly poker game in Jess Rhoden’s grocery, housed in a building that stood at or near the present 110 S. Fifth Street. The store was later suspected to be a victim of arson.

    It was said Mr. Henderson “made a killing” at the table and decided to leave while he was ahead. Others at the table protested that they should have an opportunity to win back some of their losses. Henderson was reported to have said, “Boys, that’s what gamblin’ is about; somebody winnin’ and somebody losin’.”

    Bitterness and envy that had been shallowly buried among some at the table burst forth.

    Tom Smith, one of the few town Blacks permitted to be privy to the after hours gambling often held in Rhoden’s store, was present at the game in discussion. Outside the law, Henderson’s cronies and employees grilled Mr. Smith at length. He remained firm that he knew nothing of the incident.

    Henderson’s son, Hub, later disappeared also. His son Frederick found him in Texas several years later and never indicated that the father and son disappearances were related.

    The Saint Marys River was searched for several days for Henderson’s body. Some told your columnist that his Model T was found, but there was no body inside.

    When the Jess Rhoden store burned, some swore they saw, under the charred floorboards, the remains of a skeleton, supposedly sniffed out by a dog. Some held the dog was Mr. Henderson’s pet.

    This was another of the Baker County mysteries that engendered many a tale, not all in agreement with one another.

    Super Bowl.XXXIX 1/24/2005

    I have a great fear that our big sister city Jacksonville is all set to embarrass her self in a manner that she will be mighty long in overcoming. From the viewpoint of one looking in from the outside and yet often able to see from the inside too, I say Jacksonville just isn’t ready for an event the magnitude of Super Bowl.XXXIX.

    One: Jacksonville is a constantly littered city. The town is without a doubt a major contender for “Scattered Garbage Metropolis of the Century.” Don’t use up all your rocks on the good ol’ boys chunking beer cans out of their pick-ups; I’ve seen almost as many sweet little ol’ blue haired ladies tossing out tissues and crumpled up other items from their Cadillacs and Lincolns. Powers-that-be, you can send your clean-up crews out every day from now til the big day, but yesterday’s trash will be replaced with more today. The hard shocking fact is that there is a large percentage of Jacksonville’s population that just doesn’t care about their town.

    Two: Jacksonville is a city that never seems to know how to properly plan its roadway systems and bridges or to find a logical conclusion to its streets construction and over-hauling. Roadway systems and bridges are hardly finished than crews are on the job to start re-paving and widening. The costs always run over the estimates due to the many shovel handles being broken by crew members leaning too heavily on them.

    Three: The city fathers might think they can hide Jacksonville’s homeless for the big day, but the homeless, whether they are unfortunate victims of circumstances or are insensitive opportunists, are not going to miss one of the biggest chances of their lives to hit on the huge mass of visitors.

    Four: My theory is that the jock-minded among the city fathers got heady with the success of being home to a pro football team and immediately began fantasizing about a Super Bowl here…and the town just ain’t ready in many ways…especially in housing many thousands of guests at one time. Had the city a long-standing tradition of bringing in floating hotels, I believe we could get by with bringing them in for this event. However, this is going to strike a lot of our visitors as a last minute expedient…which it is.

    Tuning in to the earliest NPR news Monday morning, the lead named the teams that will butt heads in Super Bowl XXXIX followed by a more detailed mention in the headlines. All the pertinent information was given EXCEPT where the game will be held. Bad omen, indeed.

    I still hope and pray that in a couple of weeks somebody can shake this column in my face, say, “Ha”, and crow hop about how wrong I was on the subject.

    Early Settlements in Baker County 4/22/2005

    THE BAKER COUNTY PRESS Thursday, April 14, 2005 Page Three

    Early Settlements in Baker County – Incorporated and unincorporated

    By Gene Barber, Press Columnist

    Glen Saint Mary: Because of its situation at a major crossroads for the area, it can be presumed that the-site of Glen Saint Mary, more commonly referred to by today's residents as Glen and by past years' old timers as "Glen Saint Maru's" and "The Glen," had some semblance of settlement during the pioneering decades of the 1830s-1850s.

    In the 1870s, the site began to attract Northern settlers, doubtless due to the. glowing reports sent to his friends by newcomer Charles Turner of New York and New. Mexico.

    By 1880, residents of and around the present city were almost all former citizens of the upper Midwest and Border States, plus a few from Nebraska and Texas.

    George L. Taber, now,a legend in. the horticulture industry, arrived in 1851for his health. About the same time Miss Teresa Tilton opened a small hotel to cater to Northern visitors.

    Both she and Mr. Taber have been, given credit for naming the town, but most believe the honor belongs. to Mr. Taber. He named what would become his world-famous horticultural nursery Glen Saint Mary in .1881, and the label was then most likely applied to the train stop a few miles north of his home.

    The name Glen Saint Mary can be considered to have become official when the post office was established there in 1883.

    Alverdo A. Geitgey of Ohio was a land speculator who took up residence in Glen in the early years of the 20th century. He platted out the town soon after. His. design for his adopted community was based on the charming arrangements around a town square he was familiar with in the North. The Great Depression ended his dream, and Glen was left to grow like topsy until greater control and imagination were exercised by a forward thinking town council in later years of the 20th century.

    Glen Saint Mary was incorporated in 1957.

    Macclenny: The site of Macclenny-has long been a place of habitation. Evidence of aboriginal have been found in two areas within the present city limits.

    The earliest documented Anglo-American settlement was in 1833 near today's Pineview Golf course and was known for several decades as Barber's or Barber's Station. This settlement, named for primary resident, Moses Edward Barber, remained on :most maps until 1870.

    There was either a fort or Camp in the-northwest of the present city during the Second Seminole War, verified by digs and metal.detector searches, but the names Fort #18 or camp Brown are debated.

    Co-existence with Barber’s in the late 1850s until the end of the War Between the States was Williamsburg on the west side of the city. Named for and by its founder Samuel N. Williams, its situation on the steep slope of the Little St. Marys River proved to be an impossible stop for trains and eventually was abandoned.

    About a half mile east of Williamsburg was a sawmill operates by a Mr. Jackson in the late 1860s and he lent his name to the site for a short period.

    John Darby, a native of Ireland, Confederate veteran, and late of North Carolina, moved his turpentine distillery into what is now east Macclenny in 1868, and thus Darbyville was born. Many Macclenny old-timers continued to refer to their home town as Darbyville into the 194Os.

    Concurrent with Mr. Darby's interests in the area were the naval stores and timber operations of Confederate veteran Carr Bowers McClenny of Virginia. Mr. Mc Clenny and Northern backers, including U. S. Grant, Jr., engaged Coloney and.Talbott of Chicago, .Illinois, to plan the City of Macclenny in the early 1880s.

    Until Macclenny was chartered in 1887, Darbyville continued to exist within the present city limits. Incidentally, Coloney and. Talbott, were the initial planners for the once exclusive Edgewood section of Jacksonville.

    The county seat was moved from Sanderson to Macclenny in 1888:

    Unincorporated Communities:

    Baxter Baxter is in the' northeast corner of the county and can be considered the consolidation of a few earlier nearby settlements. Named for the owner of a naval and timber milling business there, Baxter has a history but under different names. The earliest known appellation was Pine Log Crossing. This name was shown on maps of the early 19th century, and according to oral history this was the name used by Indians and military in the late decades of the 1700s.

    Nearby was Raulerson's Ferry (named for William "Ferry Bill" Raulerson), the Canaday “Fort’ and Fort'Moniac (Moniac, Georgia) is across the St. Mary's River from the fort's site). In 1904, Baxter was the scene of a bloody “rebellion” After that, the community, once relatively busy and-populated, lost its industries and most of its residents.

    Cuyler: Originally a cluster of families and a commissary around a sawmill, this scattered residential was named for Cuyler Hilliard, scion of a prominent Ware County, Georgia, family. Cuyler has been in existence since the beginning of the 20th century. Mr. Hilliard's father Col. Thomas Hilliard and his Ware County Militia saw action in the area during the Second Seminole War.

    It should be noted that the artist for the cover of the 1961 Baker County Centennial Celebration booklet mis-located Cuyler; by several miles from its true site near the intersection of CRs 125 and 127. Incidentally, the artist and your columnist are the same (even brilliant people make mistakes now then).

    Hickstown: Named for the families and relatives of Noah and Wiley Hicks, Hickstown was situated a few miles west of Glen Saint on what was once the main Jacksonville-Lake City Road. Wiley Hicks' general store served a wide area.

    Johnsville. This community abutting Sanderson on the north is what remains of Sanderson's original name - Johnsville Station. The residents are of African descentant, and Johhsville is the county's second largest black community. Some of the older folks call the area "Jonesville.

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