A Settlement Called Midriver
(unincorporated county)
Eloise Bailey Thompson
(Reprinted here with the permission of the author.)

#15
8/31/90
BACKGROUND

Midriver MapMidriver sits on a sandy ridge near State Road 252.  Midriver is east of Burnt Fort and west of Jerusalem -near the "Old" Post Road.  If this confuses you, look at your county map for all three places are shown.  Its name is a natural for it is the midway point between Owen's Ferry and Raines's Landing (3R Fish Camp) on the Satilla, among the "Sand Hills" of Camden County.  The topographical map shows ridges 60 feet above sea level there.

Even though a dot marks Midriver, it has no city signs, nor city limits.  You will see no town hall nor church nor school nor any distinguishing feature.  You will have to ask.  At the time Midriver was an active community, no paved road came nearer than U.S. 17 - and that not until 1912.  The White Oak-Burnt Fort Road was not paved until 1956.

THE TRAVELS OF WILLIAM BARTRAM, Ed. by Mark Van Doren p. 42

The first recorded information about this section came in the 1700s when naturalist William Bartram passed right through these sand hills to cross the Satilla River at Brown's Ferry (later Owen's Ferry).  He described his journey leading from the Altamaha to the Satilla. "I mounted my horse and followed the high road to the ferry on the St. Ille, about sixty miles south of the Altamaha, passing through an uninhabited wilderness.  The sudden transition from rich cultivated settlements, to high pine forests (sic), dark and grassy savannas, forms in my opinion no disagreeable contrasts; and the new objects of observation in the works of nature soon reconcile the surprised imagination to the change.  The great land-tortoise, called here Gopher, present a very singular appearance; these vast caves are their castles and diurnal retreats, from whence they issue forth in the night, in searach (sic) of prey.  The little mounds, or hillocks of fresh earth, thrown up in great numbers in the night, have also a curious appearance.Goodbread House

(Photo to right courtesy of Marguerite M. Mathews © 1985, 1995, 1996, 2012.)

"In the evening I arrived at a cow-pen, where there was a habitation, and the people received me very civilly.  I staid here all night, and had for supper plenty of milk, butter, and very good cheese of their own make, which is a novelty in the maritime parts of Carolina and Georgia; the inhabitants being chiefly supplied with it from European and the northern states.  The next day's progress, in general, presented scenes similar to the preceding, though the land is lower, more level and humid, and the produce more varied; high open forests of stately pines, flowery plains, and extensive green savannas, checquered with incarnate Chironia pulcherrima, and Asclepias fragrans, perfumed the air whilst they pleased the eye.  I met with some troublesome cane swamps, saw herds of horned cattled (sic), horses and deer, and took notice of a procumbent species of Hibiscus,...  I also saw a beautiful species of Lupin, ... celestial blue. ..some milk white... on dry sandy heights, in open pine forests, which are naturally thin in undergrowth...  The vegetative mould is composed of fine white sand, mixed and coloured, with dissolved and calcined vegetable substances, but this stratum is not very deep and covers one of a tenacious cinereous coloured clay, as we may observe by the earth adhering to the roots of trees, torn up by storms, etc, and by the little chimnies, or air holes of crayfish, which perforate the savannahs.  Turkeys, quails and small birds are here to be seen; but birds are not numerous in desert forests; they draw near to the habitations of men, as I have constantly observed in all my travels.

"I arrived at St. Ille's in the evening, where I lodged, and next morning, having crossed over in a ferry boat, sat forward for St. Mary 's . ..."

EARLY HISTORY

Goodbread House

(Photo to left by Tara D. Fields (© 1999-2012.)

Early history of Midriver is sketchy, but closely allied with that of nearby Burnt Fort.  It may well be that the families of those early timbermen who populated Burnt Fort, spilled over into the area later became known as Midriver.  According to CAMDEN'S CHALLENGE, the earliest information about Burnt Fort began with Gray's Gang settling in land disputed by British and Spanish governments.  Edmond Gray led his followers there and established New Hanover in 1755.  After the Spanish Government protested a settlement in so-called neutral territory, he moved to Cumberland Island.

Twenty years later, a fort was either built or rebuilt on or near the Gray site to protect settlers then moving into the area, mainly as cattlemen from Indians still claiming this territory and Spanish moving up from East Florida.  The site of the fort on the west side of the Satilla appears on maps of this period.  It later burned, hence Burnt Fort.

More settlers appeared as the threat of Indian attack lessened with the ceding of what was then the western portion of Camden County to the U. S. Government in 1802.

1800's

The vast yellow pine forests had already been recognized as a great resource with timber cutting and naval stores operation profitable throughout the lower coastal region as early as the Colonial Period.  Now New England shipbuilders and timber men began moving in to utilize these woodlands.

Alex McQueen's HISTORY OF CHARLTON COUNTY tells that a sawmill was established at Burnt Fort in 1839 by a group from Maine.  This was the first steam mill to be operated in the area.  "This mill operated for a period of several years, and the families that came out with this colony quickly identified themselves with the country and the people then living in this section".  McQueen names the families that moved in then and remarked that many had descendants in the area:  Marrs, Libbys, Kennisons, Lloyds, Purses.

Another group would come in later in the fifties to establish other mills:  John, Jim, and Frank Bailey, Watson, Merrow.  Workers from these mills and their families spilled over into the entire region, increasing the population of the area now recognized as Midriver.

Planting was also an important enterprise in these antebellum days.  The 1860 Camden County census shows in the Owen's Ferry District, which included Midriver territory, twenty-nine white families living there (black families were not shown in population records until 1970).  Males over 15 numbered 49 and 32 of those were farmers.  Two female farmers were shown.

Goodbread HouseFamiliar names associated with this section are found in the census records (shown as Owen's Ferry, but includes Burnt Fort, Bailey's Mill and Midriver, plus outlying areas):  Littlefield, Harrell, Readdick, Parish, Merrow, Patterson, Brown, Gelzer, Bates, Copeland, Southwell, Godley, Hazelhurst, York, Somerall, Ennis, Beasley, Ryals, Hopkins, Patterson, Holder, Finley, Gelzer, Watson, Bailey, Wolf, Robins, Palmer, Harvey, Keeper, Guyton, Guerrard, Owens, Tucker, Thomas.

One of the few antebellum houses still standing in Camden County is the two story house about 1/4 mile off paved road at Midriver.  This was built in the 1840's by Jacob Tapley Goodbread; he was sheriff from 1839-1842.  It is said he resigned because he refused to hang a man he was convinced was innocent.  Mr. Goodbread moved from the county in the early 1840's to Columbia County, Florida.  He had married Jane Dean Brown in 1832.

After Sheriff Goodbread left, a retired doctor from Savannah lived in the house and was killed in some dispute with a slave.  The house is said to be haunted.  Annie Belle Buie recounted that the Jim Buie family (her husband was Duncan) lived in there for a time when children were small (after 1912) and Mrs. Jim Buie always insisted ghosts were there.

A 1917 map shows that this house was located near a crossroads leading from Jerusalem and Owen's Ferry to Burnt Fort and one that joined the Old Post Road.

It is now in poor condition.  The brick chimney still stands.  Unpainted weatherboarding is lichen covered and falling off in some places.  The sturdy square heart timbers used for supports can be seen.  Several deteriorated outbuildings still stand.  Catalpa trees, ligustrum, crepe myrtle are near the house.  Maddie Brown sold the house to J.A. Moore, who owned it and approximately 1700 acres.

Note:  in 1999 the owners began to tear the house down.  Apparently they are selling off parts of the house - such as the valuable bricks. - Tara.  (Photo courtesy of Marguerite M. Mathews © 1985, 1995, 1996.)

The first documentation for the Midriver name came in November 1898 when George Gowen was appointed Midriver's first postmaster.  According to his son Barney Gowen of Woodbine, George was then working for turpentine still owner L.T. McKinnon as bookkeeper and clerk in his commissary near his Midriver still.

He was followed Carl M. McKinnon in 1899 and Lee McGoogan in 1902.  Clyde McCarthy was appointed postmaster in 1908 while employed by Mr. McKinnon in the commissary.  He and McKinnon soon became partners in a widespread naval stores operation according to his son Lawrence McCarthy.  When Mr. McKinnon moved his operations out of the county, Mr. McCarthy continued in the naval stores and timber business until his retirement.

Midriver Commissary

(Photo to left by Tara D. Fields (© 1999-2012.)

Walter C. Hopkins, another timber man as named postmaster in 1910.  J. Brown Godley was next in 1911.  Allie Readdick Brown was the last postmaster at Midriver, appointed in 1914.  Postal service moved to White Oak May 31, 1917.

Allie Brown Carmichael described her life in the Midriver area in PEN PORTRAITS, a collection of reminiscences compiled by the Woodbine Woman's Club in 1969.  Her grandparents were James David and Pope Godley Brown and Dr. Thomas L. and Anne Reid Gelzer.  All lived nearby.

Her parents Hugh and Alice Gelzer Brown married in 1884.  Mr. Brown was an overseer at Owen's Ferry rice plantation.

Allie Brown married Jim Carmichael, who carried the mail from White Oak to Midriver and Hazlehurst Plantation.  They later moved to south Camden, then Miami.

She told that during her childhood the nearest store and post office to them was at Owen's Ferry, four miles away.  Here they worshipped in the Episcopal Church or at the one at Burnt Fort.  She went to school at Burnt Fort.

The nearby countryside was "beautiful" with "great oaks covered with Spanish moss", "stately cypress" and "huge pines marred by being boxed to hold rosin".

The store or commissary at Midriver was possibly built by L.T. McKinnon.  (Note writings of Allie Carmichael's stated they shopped at Owen's Ferry.)  Brown Godley bought the store and ran it around 1911.  According to this son Edwin Godley, "It was a typical country store like those at Tarboro or Burnt Fort".

"Midriver was a community where people lived all around in the woods before timber companies began buying up small tracts and consolidating them."  People from Jerusalem and Rough and Ready and all around came in on Fridays and Saturdays to buy their week's groceries".

Margaret Godley Reddick, niece of Brown Godley, remembered the old store and believed that B. built the new larger one.  Jack Godley, her younger brother, remembered when the older store to the right of house as you faced road was tumbling down.  The newer store was to the left of the house.  It was still operating in the 1920's but was eventually torn down.

The father of Marguerite and Jack, Andrew Godley, was tax collector.  By the time Cato Brown was operating store, Jack was old enough to go with him, where his father would set up tax books in the store.  Property owners would have been notified through notices in the county paper, and would come in when tax collector was "making his rounds."  Jack recalled that they always ate dinner with "Uncle Cato" and that he always "gave us kids candy."

They lived in old Goodbread House.  Mr. Godley sold to Cato BrownMaddie Brown Clark's writings in PEN PORTRAITS show that she was the daughter of Cato BrownMr. Brown married Allie Readdick in 1894 and moved into the Goodbread house.  He operated a store there, farmed and raised cattle.  Her grandparents lived in the area; William and Hattie Holland Brown and John and Amanda Gowen Readdick.

Old buildings still related to Midriver settlement are Goodbread House and a short distance to west is David and Annie Fouraker Littlefield's house.  Their son Carnie and his wife Kitty Godley were the last to live there.  It was built around 1917, or thereabouts.

The Midriver/Burnt Fort one-room school still stands.  This was built in the 1890s on a sandy ridge between Gelzer Branch and Schoolhouse Branch in the Midriver community, according to an article written by Marguerite Reddick in 1973.

Burnt Fort and Midriver schools were consolidated in 1918 and this was the larger, so it was moved three miles which placed it near the Burnt Fort Church.  J.A. Wells was in charge.  Nine yoke of oxen were used to pull the building through the sandy roads.  Others involved in the move were J.F. Russell, A.B. Godley, T.G. Godley, P.C. Brown, M.A. Godley, Y. Haywood, L.F. Godley, J.O. Dyal, M.P. Phillips.

It took three days to move it.  It was in use until 1921 when all schools were consolidated and white students were bused to White Oak.  (Black students went to Tarboro, Rough & Ready, Oak Hill.)  The little wooden building still stands near the rebuilt Burnt Fort Church.  Allie Brown Carmichael recalled the double desks with two children at each desk, spelling bees and copy books.  The big globe in the classroom made a particular impression on her.

SOURCES:  BARTRAM'S TRAVELS; CAMDEN'S CHALLENGE; HISTORY OF CHARLTON COUNTY, McQueen; 1860 Census:  P.O. Records; PEN PORTRAITS; County maps, current and 1917; Article, Southeast Georgian, M. Reddick, 1973; Interviews:  Lawrence McCarthy, Marguerite Reddick, Shirley Thompson, Anna Belle Buie, Jack Godley, Edwin Godley, Barney Gowen.  Personal Observations.

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