BRANTLEY COUNTY HISTORICAL AND PRESERVATION SOCIETY,
Distraught over non-participatory county government, occasioned by inept means of transportation to county sites, the desire for self-government had become evident among the voting constituency in the area now known as Brantley County. News from Atlanta had already reached the "backwoods" that the Georgia Legislature was handing out new "county designations" freely. Over 150 counties had been authorized already; why not "one more?"
The need for county government is different in each geographical area, perhaps selfishly so, but different. The most apparent differences are geographical, environmental and economics. Leaders in each sector of the "now-Brantley County area" wanted the economic advantage of a county site. Regardless of the reason, there was more than one interest in establishing a new county.
FIRST MOVEMENT TO ESTABLISH A NEW COUNTY. The first action to establish a new county was found in a series of meetings held in the home of C.C. Buie in Nahunta. Some of the earlier actions included, (1) identifying the source of land for the new county (parts of Camden, Charlton, Pierce, and Wayne Counties). These neighboring counties did not agree and brought forth some initial opposition; (2) the name of "WILSON COUNTY," was suggested in honor of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the former Miss Ellen Louise Axson, a native Georgian, and the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister, from Rome, Georgia; (3) J. T. Brown of Nahunta was elected as secretary of the body to form the new county. Other members of the group have not been identified (information provided by Lois Mays, President,Charlton County Historical Society).
Naming the new county "Wilson" seems to originate after the White House death of Mrs. Ellen Louise Axson Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson's wife, on August 6, 1914. She was Georgia born and the state mourned her death. The "Wilson County" proposal never reached the Georgia General Assembly.
COUNTY ACTIVITY WEST OF FIRE TOWER RIDGE. After the Wilson County concept failed a group was established at Hoboken around 1919 to pursue a new county. They identified themselves as the "Citizens' Committee." Membership of this group was later identified in a "Statement of Facts" which was submitted to the Georgia Legislature (outlined below). Success can only be identified by the end result. Perhaps the leadership of J. K. Larkins, a Georgia Senator from Hoboken, played the biggest role in Brantley County being formed. Looking back, Senator Larkins could easily be identified as the quarterback of the west county successes.Not only did he provide leadership, but he took the ball and carried it through the Georgia General Assembly.
STATEMENT OF FACTS-BRANTLEY COUNTY. One of the supporting documents prepared by the Citizens Committee for submission to the Georgia Legislature was a "Statement of Facts on behalf of Brantley County. It identified that the Citizens Committee was headed by Senator J. K. Larkin from Hoboken, who was Chairman. Other members of the committee included, R.R. Kelley, W.M. Geak, R.D. Thomas, W.S. Davis, J.R. Raulerson, Dr. A.C. Dorminey, Dr. J.R. Orr, Walter Thomas, W.L. Dowling, B.M. Thomas, G.J. Dryden, B.B. Moore, A.B. Newton, W.M. Woodward, L.A Druehl, and many others.
After gaining approval from the losing counties, Senator J. K. Larkins submitted the proposal to the General Assembly of Georgia for consideration. A. S. Bussey of Cordele, Ga. was the Attorney for Petitioners.
The Statement of Facts also contained the following information:(1) The proposed Brantley county had an area of 423 square miles (increased to 500 later). Of this area, 215 square miles came from Pierce, 185 square miles from Wayne, and 23 square miles from Charlton County. Brantley County was to have a population of 9,399, of which 3,952 came from Wayne, 5,000 from Pierce, and 447 from Charlton.(2) Its tax value was $2,039,852. It was projected by the Comptroller General that Brantley County would have greater wealth than 34 other counties as shown by their tax returns in 1918. There were 56 miles of railroad paying over $8,000.00 in taxes. (3 ) The only incorporated town in Brantley County at the time of its creation was Hickox. It was chartered on August 20, 1906. The Hoboken township was incorporated on August 12, 1920, at the time Brantley County was created. Both of these townships were thriving communities during these time frames.
CHOICE FOR COUNTY SITE: HOBOKEN: To the Citizens Committee Hoboken was a logical choice for the county seat. Most of its members were from the west end of the new county area, and since they had initiated action for the new county, what other decision would they make?
The land surrounding the Hoboken area contained good farming and forestland, perhaps much more compatible to industry than the low swampland surrounding Nahunta. The Brunswick-Western Railroad provided the necessary transportation for exporting farm goods and naval stores. Rail connections could be made in Waycross or Brunswick to any desired location. In addition, Hoboken had a population of 1,000, a fine graded public school, two naval stores establishments, two sawmill plants, and a number of live business enterprises, two churches, and was recognized as a rapidly growing trade center of the area with rail connections to other towns of the new county.
The designation of Nahunta as county site presented geographical problems for the Hoboken populace, as did Hoboken for the Nahunta populace. Georgia Highway 50 (later U.S. 84; now U.S. 82) was still in its early state of conception in 1920. Situated directly between Hoboken and Nahunta was the Kneeknocker and Tiger Bay swampland which had been penetrated only by "coonhounds, water moccasins, and a railroad." Automotive and horse/mule travel to Nahunta was by-way of Hickox or Raybon. Perhaps the shortest and best road was by way of Hickox; southeastward from Hoboken to old Britt's Still (north of Buffalo Creek), near Hickox, and then to Nahunta. An alternative was the old Waycross-Brunswick road, which ran through the Raybon community. In lieu of the nine miles separation today, the distance in 1920 ranged approximately 12 to 15 miles.
CREATION OF NEW COUNTY IS APPROVED: On July 23, 1920, it was reported that a bill framed by Senator J. K. Larkins of Hoboken to create a new county, named Brantley, had passed the State Senate by a vote of 46 to 1, and was favorably supported by a unanimous vote of the House Constitutional Amendments Committee.The remaining step, passage through the Lower House, occurred on July 28, 1920 by a vote of 148 to 9.The only difference of opinion evidenced in the creation of Brantley County was that of making Hoboken the county site. After some deliberation, a compromise was reached bygranting the new county 66 additional square miles to include the small towns of Needmore and Hortense.
The final enactment creating Brantley County required an amendment to the Georgia Constitution, which was approved on August 14, 1920, as the 154th territorial county of Georgia, and was recorded into the Constitution of the State of Georgia, as amendment to Paragraph 2, Section 1, Article 11. The new county would become operational on January 1, 1921, after election of county officers on the second Wednesday of December 1920. The new county of Brantley was to be made up of territory from Pierce, Wayne, and Charlton counties, with Hoboken designated as the county site. The County was named for the late B. D. Brantley, who was one of the Pioneer settlers of Pierce and also one of the best loved men in the County.
The Amendment to the Georgia Constitution was clear in its directive. (1)Justices of the Peace and Constables cut off into the new county would continue to exercise the duties and powers of their respective office until new militia districts were laid off in said new county, and until their successors are elected and qualified. (2) The voters of the new county shall, on the second Wednesday in December, 1920, elect an Ordinary, Clerk of Superior Court, Sheriff, Coroner, Tax Collector, Tax Receiver, County Treasurer, County Surveyor, County School Superintendent, and Representative in the General Assembly. These elected officials would hold office until the next general election for county officers, and until their successors are elected and qualified, and said officers shall qualify, give bond, and take oath as prescribed by law. (3)The Ordinaries of the losing counties (Pierce, Wayne, and Charlton) would furnish the managers of said election with a list of the legal voters registered in their respective counties, and who reside within the territory included in said new county. (4)The election would be held at the schoolhouse at Hoboken, the county site of said county, by managers appointed by the Ordinary of Pierce County, or by three freeholders in event the managers so appointed fail or refuse to hold said election. (5) The officers elected would begin performing their respective duties on the 1st day of January, 1921.
The Hoboken schoolhouse was designated the official home of residence for county officials, and identified as the courthouse. On August 5, 1922, Act No. 345 was passed to correct certain mistakes and inaccuracies in the description of Brantley County.
FOUR SIGNIFICANT ITEMS IN THE LEGISLATIVE DIRECTIVE: Apparent to the residents of the new county were four key elements of this directive. 1st, the election and the designated date. 2nd, the election would be under the control and direction of the Pierce County Ordinary. 3rd, the losing counties (Pierce, Wayne, and Charlton) would provide a list of qualified registered voters. And 4th, the election would be held at the schoolhouse at Hoboken, the county site.
The Georgia General Assembly had acted in good faith to recommendations by the "Citizen's Committee" and approved Hoboken as the County Seat. Unknowingly, they had placed the progressive, striving community of Hoboken in the untenable situation of defending that decision against a heavier voting east-county population. Could this decision have been based upon a map provided by the Citizen's Committee, which shows the location of Hoboken to be more eastward?
CITIZEN'S COMMITTEE: HONORABLE MEN: The "Citizens' Committee" had performed its job admirably. The Georgia Legislature accepted most of the committee's recommendations and approved the creation of Brantley County. The next step was in the hands of Brantley County citizens. It was their task to elect a slate of officers to act in their behalf effective on January 1, 1921 and administer the business of the new county. If politics was not an issue at the time the Citizens Committee was created, politics were now a big issue.
Special recognition should be given to Senator J.K. Larkin and his Citizens Committee. They were all respected men who recognized a need and worked feverishly to get the job accomplished. No family could have been more respected than the Banner Mixon (B.M.) Thomas family which had three members on the committee. B.M., the progenitor of the Thomas clan in Brantley County and his sons; Robert (Bob) Dillworth, a superintendent of schools in both Pierce and Brantley County; and Walter, a prominent attorney in Brantley County, and later Superior Court Judge in Ware County. All the members on the Citizens Committee were prominent in the community and champions of the people in Brantley County. Also working with Senator Larkin in the Legislature was Simon P. Sweat, a Representative from Blackshear. See comments on John Knox Larkins in Memories of Hoboken.
WOULD YOU HAVE VOTED HOBOKEN OR NAHUNTA?: If you had been on the "Citizens' Committee," would you have recommended "Nahunta for county site?" Why should Nahunta be the County Site? Well, it had a central county location with a train-crossing running north, east, south and west, which was expected to create an economic boom. Implementation of the "Jesup - Folkston Short Line Railroad" through Nahunta in 1902 had brought about some population growth and tourist travel through that area. Migration from the Satilla River basin communities to Nahunta had already occurred; J.W. Brooker, Dr. D.L. Moore, S. B. Lary, William M. Roberson, and others.
Some say that in 1920 Nahunta had the biggest advantage in being the new county site! Where else could "county officials" conduct courthouse business before noon, launch a flat-bottom fishing boat at the railroad depot, catch a "mess of fish," and still be home in time to clean them for supper? Stories have been told that "fishing water" surrounded the Nahunta Train Depot on all four quadrants, and that "war-mouth and bream" were biting better around the Depot than at White Ford, Strickland Landing, Long Lake, Jonas Lake, and the Old Barn near the Satilla.