Dasher and Lake Park, Georgia
by
Faye Cook Wisenbaker


It is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss these towns' beginnings separately. Actually, all of Lowndes County, south of Valdosta, down U.S. 41 is tied together through the Dasher and Wisenbaker families.

On August 9, 1814, land that would eventually be Lowndes County was ceded to the government by the native American Indians in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. In 1820, a land lottery was held to divide up the former Indian lands. The current Lowndes County at that time was part of Irwin County. Two barrels were filled; one with the names of would-be settlers and one with the land lot districts. The land in Irwin County was divided into 490 acre lots as opposed to the land making up Early County that was divided into 200 to 250 acre lots. Settlers of land in Irwin County had to have an added incentive since the land was "not attractive enough" to encourage settlers. Future owners had until November 10, 1829, to pay $8.00 to secure a deed.

The first forefathers of the settlers of south Lowndes County appear in the 1840 census as James Wisenbaker and C.H. Dasher. Family history reports the families moved to the "Wiregrass County" of Lowndes sometime after the birth of Georgia Ann Dasher, seventh child of Christian Herman and Elizabeth Waldhauer Dasher, on July 28, 1832. Church records in Oak Grove Church of Christ in Effingham County show Christian Herman Dasher and his son-in-law, James Wisenbaker, left the Lutheran faith in 1819 and started meeting in their homes for worship services.

The Wisenbakers (Weisenbachers) and Dashers (Daeschers) were part of the Salzburger group who left Salzburg, Austria and arrived in Savannah, by way of England, in 1736. They were Lutherans who had been expelled from Austria because their religious beliefs conflicted with the Catholic rulers. Other than their strong religious beliefs, the Salzburgers of Ebenezer were noted as the only group who made silk farming work. According to Miss Ruby Ulmer of Dasher, some of the tree stock brought over in 1736 was planted on the Ulmer farm by Wiley Wisenbaker. Miss Ruby's father did not try to grow silk but used the mulberries for hog feed.

The families continued to prosper and expand numerically up to the time of the War Between the States. At the end of the war, many of the farmers no longer had the means to raise cotton and turned to merchandising. According to the diary of Thannie Smith Wisenbaker, "From 1863 to 1865 no stores were opened for business". In 1875, pine trees became important to the southern pine barrens and naval stores became the first industry developed in the southeast with its own needs and vocabulary.

On February 8, 1889, the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad arrived in Valdosta from Macon. The plan was to lay 285 miles of track from Macon to Palatka, Florida. Farmers along the tracks gained a new source of revenue by furnishing wood for the steam engines. The engineers would choose a rack, load it into the engine, leave a receipt in a small ball and send the other to the railroad headquarters for payment. Enterprising citizens found ways to entice the railroad to use their wood. One woman always put a dozen fresh eggs on her rack as a bonus to the rail-roaders for buying her wood.

Dasher

The land Dasher now occupies was originally conveyed to Benjamin S. Jordan in an original land grant on March 18, 1842. On December 2, 1850, for $450 Richard Herman Wisenbaker purchased:

Lots 163 and 164 in the Eleventh District of Lowndes County, Georgia, each containing 490 acres.

In 1845, land lots in District 11 were selling for $75.00 per lot and in 1855, the price had increased to $1,500 per lot. Richard Herman was apparently already living in the Dasher vicinity since he had established a "congregation of New Testament Christianity" in southern Lowndes County at the time of the War Between the States. Richard's first home was located one half mile east of South 41 on Johnston Road. There is nothing left on this home place but a stand of crepe myrtle trees. Sometime before 1861, Richard built the house still standing on U.S. 41 in Dasher. The house was constructed using slave labor.

The church Richard started in 1842 was apparently held in his home since on September 12, 1884 he donated three acres of land to build a sanctuary and a cemetery. The recipients of the gift were Jasper McLeod, Richard S. Wisenbaker, and Frederick Hineley, Jr. acting as trustees for the Corinth Church of Christ. About forty members of what is now known as the Corinth Baptist Church began to meet with the Richard group as the Corinth Church of Christ in order to follow more closely New Testament teachings. The church is now known as the Dasher Church of Christ. In 1952 the church was moved about one fourth mile to a location facing Georgia Christian School.

In 1913, s small flag station on the Southern and Florida Railroad was located ten miles south of Valdosta. It was named Dasher Station in honor of O.P. (Orin) Dasher who was the owner of the land in the immediate vicinity. On August 4, 1882, the land had passed from James Wisenbaker to Virgil Franklin and Mary Catherine Wisenbaker Dasher who were the parents of Orin. At the time of the establishment of Dasher, seven families are listed as being in the community. They were Virgil Dasher, Richard Wisenbaker, Jim A. Copeland, Touchton, Tomlinson and Dubose. Later a station was built and a post office placed there.

Georgia Christian School was Dasher Bible School when it was organized in 1916. Before the school building was built, classes were taught in the Church of Christ building with the first teachers being Willis Allen and Miss Mollie Powell. The second year a building with four rooms and an auditorium was erected and it became a "five teacher" school. In 1941 the school became accredited with twelve grades and 200 students.

The following was written on December 1, 1992 by Frank Wisenbaker for a Lake Park Historical Society meeting:

"I was born February, 1916. So, you see, I'm not old enough to go too far back! No comment!

"I remember: Dasher Road was paved with dirt and clay, so was Hwy 41. Around 1920, they paved it with light pink gravel and later with asphalt.

"Near the railroad, across from the present courthouse was Dasher's Railroad Station, ticket office, and freight platform in back. It was painted orange and white.

"On the north side of the road (present courthouse), was Wade's Comisary for the sawmill workers and loggers and us school kids if we had a nickle or a dime.

"The first Dasher Bible School was built in front of the Comisary. The school was built before I was born and burned around 1930.

"Now, all that strip of land, by the railroad, all the way down Johnston Road was sawmill operations and a "coperage." Also was John L. Tomlinson's Turpentine Still and where he lived and kept all his mules that pulled the turpentine wagons and also the big horses that his "woods riders" rode. Across the highway the old bricked-up well is still there that was used in the mule lot.

"On down Dasher Road was Jim's Copeland's Grits Mill. Every Saturday we took our sack of shelled corn and he ground our meal for a portion of it for grinding. No money involved. You had to line up and wait your turn like at a cotton gin.

"From then on, things picked up and we bought a 1921 Model T Pickup truck, used, no windshield, no self starter, and it would kick your arm off while pulling the crank if you didn't turn it loose.

"The first Dasher Church of Christ was built (cemetery location) by R.H. Wisenbaker with rough lumber, no paint, and later it was remodeled two or three times before moving to the present location.

"From that time on it was work in the fields and go to school. I'll never forget the morning they passed me from the first to the second grade! I was so nervous I could hardly shave!"

For years Frank Wisenbaker managed and sang with the all-male Catfish Quartet. They performed at many functions throughout south Georgia and north Florida. Frank and one of his "funeral singing friends", Evelyn Finney McLeod, made an agreement years ago that when they died, they were going to get up out of their graves at the Dasher Cemetery and sing all night long. Evelyn and Frank are members of the Church of Christ, have sang a capello all their lives, and have burial lots across from each other.

Lake Park

The idea of the town Lake Park came from Lawrence Authur Wisenbaker, a prominent farmer and landowner in southern Lowndes County. On September 26, 1886, he gave land for a right of way to Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad in order for it to pass through the area that would be Lake Park. His father, William Wisenbaker, had done the same thing in Valdosta on December 26, 1859, when he gave land to the Atlanta and Gulf, now Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, to build a track and later a depot.

A company known as the Lake Park Improvement Company was formed with the Board of Directors consisting of A.T. Moore, J.M. Wilkinson, C.R. Pendleton, T.G. Cranford of Valdosta, W.W. Collins of Macon, John R. Young of Savannah, and L.A. Wisenbaker of Lake Park. The company proposed a town and had the streets laid off and surveyed. The railroad decided to build a station about one and a half miles north of the new city and call it Oceanna because of the number of lakes. Wisenbaker offered to give a lot of land to any new family who would move to Lake Park a build a home. He purchased fifty acres on either side of the railroad track and would not sell or give it to the railroad thereby forcing them to accept his offer of free land to run the track through and build a depot in Lake Park. The merchants and farmers had been hauling their goods from Valdosta by wagons rather than ship supplies to Oceanna and then bring them to Lake Park.

The Board of Directors wanted to name the new town either Wisenbaker or Lawrence but L.A. refused. John Young of Savannah suggested Lake Park and it being accepted. L.A. Wisenbaker served as mayor of Lake Park eight years and his son-in-law, Ewell Brown, followed him and served fifteen years.

Several institutions had been established before the railroad and William "created" Lake Park. In 1875, there was a three-month log cabin school with Miss Florida McRae and Miss Lula Barnett teaching. The teachers were paid a small salary with board and washing and was expected to "board around" a week at a time in the student's homes. At that time, the school had twenty to thirty pupils all in grammar school.

In 1878, the Lake Park Christian Church was organized. The building contained four Sunday School rooms and new pews that cost $800.00 were installed. On July 24, 1892, the Lake Park Baptist Church was constituted.

At the turn of the century, Lake Park was a bustling small town with several stores. Palmer Brothers had built and operated a turpentine still from before the town had been organized. Lake Park Manufacturing Company with Ewell Brown as president, was formed through the acquisition of cotton gins from Hackle and Hineley and L.A. Wisenbaker. The firm ginned long cotton exclusively until the coming of the boll weevil destroyed the cotton production in Lowndes County. The first store in Lake Park was owned and operated by L.A. Wisenbaker. F.M. White purchased part interest and it became Wisenbaker and White until Mr. White opened a second store with his son, F.M. White and Son.

Several other merchants had establishments. Palmer Brothers ran a general merchandise store along with the still. J.G. Saunders operated a general merchandise store, turpentine still, sawmill, and farm. Mrs. E. Howell ran a general merchandise store as did Bob Wheeler. There was a Sauls Grocery Store and Tom Stephens and Jim Howell ran the livery stable. There was also a hotel and several boarding houses. Dr. Taylor and Ewell Brown opened and operated the first drug store.

In 1906, the Lake Park Bank was created under the Whitman System. J.K. White and Ewell Brown later bought it out. The bank still operates in Valdosta as the First State Bank.

Two new and unique businesses were established about this time. Riley Caldwell, a black man, started an operation that gathered Spanish Moss for use in the upholster industry. The moss was heaped into large piles, wet with cold water and caused to go through a "heat". It was then sun dried, baled and shipped to Gainesville, Florida to be milled into filling for upholstered furniture. A peat moss industry was also started. For centuries, the local ponds and wetlands had accumulated a thick layer of peat moss. This was dug from the ground, loaded on flat cars, dried, ground, sacked and baled to be used in flower horticulture.

About this time, a club was formed to create a recreational facility for local businessmen and visitors. It was called the Ocean Pond Fishing Club after the sink hole lake where it was located. It still exists behind Exit 2 of the Interstate and is the scene of many civic functions.

Currently, much of Lake Park is a ghost town. Gone are the bank, drug, and general merchandise stores that used to inhabit the downtown buildings. What has taken its place is the mushrooming of retail centers on Interstate 75. The school is no longer a high school but a flourishing grammar school in a new building.