In the early history of Thomas County (1820-1850) there were only a few public roads available to the settlers. The Coffee road was the first and the most important to the average settler. The next most important road to the early settlers was the Magnolia road.
The main purpose of this work is to provide citizens of Georgia and Florida the opportunity to travel and to visit sites that the “Old Magnolia Road” has to offer. Therefore, the first order of business is to provide detailed directions to the traveler so that these sites will be easily accessible. For those people who live in Georgia we will start this adventure in Thomasville, Georgia. Since the “Farmers Market” is known by most citizens of Thomas County and since those who do not know where it is can easily locate it, we will start there. To get to the Old Magnolia Road go west in front of the Farmers Market. At the street bounding on the west side named South Hansell St. turn left. Follow South Hansell until you reach Magnolia St.
If you turn right on magnolia St. you will very shortly arrive at its beginning on Siexas Street. Turn around now. Follow Magnolia St. You will be heading south. You will pass Magnolia School on your right. Proceed to a "Four Way Stop Street". At this point Magnolia Street becomes Magnolia Road. Proceed south on Magnolia Road just a few miles and you will reach the Metcalf Road merging from your right. You must now get on the Metcalf Road and head south. Within a very short distance look to your right and you will see The Old Magnolia Road as it separates from the Metcalf road. You are no longer on the Old Magnolia Road you are on the Metcalf Road. The Old Magnolia Road has become a part of a plantation. How a road can be legally included in private lands is unknown to this author. It appears that this has been done on the Magnolia Road and on the Coffee Road.
It should be stated here and now: The inclusion of the Old Magnolia Road through private lands has some merit. These sections may be protected from government heavy machinery that, when used, will change the “Old Road Flavor” of the road. Governments are under pressure to pave all roads. When old roads are paved most the “Old Road Flavor" is damaged or lost forever. The detrimental effects of these roads being included in private property include the inability of the public to gain access to these areas. If a program could be developed to permit public access to these old roads, even if rigidly controlled, it would be wonderful. A few well advertised days during the year would help.
Up to this point there are no distinguishing features that would cause you to think that “The Old Magnolia Road” is any different from any other county road. It has been paved and widened. Ditches are on both sides. Its improvement has taken away the “old road flavor.” Progress has changed this road substantially. But don’t give up there are better things ahead.
Follow the Metcalf Road a few miles until you reach the small community of Metcalf. In Metcalf turn right on the Beachton Road. Proceed west on the Beachton Road one mile at which point you will see a road through the woods on your right and a gate that may or may not be locked. There is no posted sign on your right. You will see the same thing on your left except the property on your left is posted by John E. Phipps. This is where the “Old Magnolia Road” crosses the Beachton Road. The Magnolia Road is on Plantations from this point to the Florida line. But don’t get discouraged there are better things to come.
Turn your vehicle around and return to Metcalf. In Metcalf turn right on the Metcalf Road and proceed south. Go about one mile south on the Metcalf Road and you will see a dirt road that crosses the Metcalf Road at a slight angle. This road that crosses at this point is the most famous road in all of South Georgia. Its name is “The Old Coffee Road.” It is a public road on your left. On your right this “Old Coffee Road” enters a plantation. The owner of this plantation is unknown. A short distance after it enters this plantation the road turns south and proceeds to the Florida line. Viewing the entrance of this road causes one to assume that the Old Coffee road has maintained the “Old Road Flavor” at this point. It should be stated here and now that "the public has been led to believe the Coffee Road was terminated in Thomasville. This is a false assumption and will be dealt with later under the name "Old Coffee Road".
This Old Coffee Road was built earlier than was the Magnolia Road. These two roads join together just before they turn and proceed to the Florida Line. The exact date of the construction of the Magnolia Road is not known. The Coffee Road does not extend into Florida. The Old Magnolia Road does. The Coffee Road will be treated in a separate study and is mentioned here simply because they join and become one before reaching the Florida Line.
Proceed down the Metcalf road another .8 of a mile to the Florida Line. At this point, not to confuse the traveler but to bring out another very interesting feature which will be treated in this study under another heading, there is an old famous Indian Trail that cannot be dated that I believe was followed in the construction of the Magnolia Road. It could also have been the reason that General Coffee completed the Coffee Road at the intersection with this trail near the Florida Line. This Trail is now known as the Thigpen Trail. This Trail most likely influenced the location of Thomasville since this trail passed through the center of Thomasville. The Thigpen Trail most likely influenced the route of the Magnolia Road. It began in North Carolina then through Tennessee and Georgia and ended at St. Marks Florida. The Thigpen trail and the Magnolia road from Thomasville to the Florida line are one and the same. (The reader can gather from this reading that the writer does not think the Coffee Road went to Thomasville which is a prevailing theory in the area.)
But don’t let’s confuse our visitor too much. There are more interesting things to come. Much of what happens within the plantations to these roads has not yet been discovered.
But don’t let us delay. Proceed down the Metcalf Road to the Florida Line and further. At the Florida Line the Metcalf road becomes Florida Hwy. 59. We are now headed for Miccosukee. About four and a half miles below the Georgia line the T. S. Green road intersects Hwy. 59 from the left. Turn left on T. S. Green road. Proceed on this road until you intersect the first road from your right. This road is the “Old Magnolia Road” and is so-marked. . There is a missing link from this point to where the Magnolia Road entered Florida. Access to private lands must be permitted before this missing link can be connected. At this point turn right and head south on the Old Magnolia road which has not been paved. It still has the “Old Road Flavor”.
As you proceed south on the Old Magnolia Road some sections of the road are paved and other sections are apparently in the original configuration. The beauty of this old road cannot be imagined nor adequately described. It must be seen. Slowly proceed in the unimproved areas in order to reflect on its history and purpose. Just imagine that mile and half long wagon train from Brooks County that contained 150 wagons and conveyances slowly proceeding to their two week vacation at the Gulf of Mexico. Not just for pleasure at the coast, but also to obtain much needed “Salt” and seafood as well as for improving the health of “sick folk” by bathing in “Sulfur Springs.”
You will eventually pass the Cromartie Road on your right. Just south the road parts to proceed around that beautiful oak tree that is known as the Dueling Oak. “This majestic” live oak, also known as the Ring Oak , has been a longtime landmark on the Magnolia Road since the road was constructed in 1827 to connect Thomasville, Ga. to the port of Magnolia on the St. Marks River. The Reid-Alston Duel was the last duel fought here.
Proceed south from here until you reach Hwy. 90 at Junction 59. Continue across Hwy. 90 to Interstate 10. Just after passing Interstate 10 turn right on the first road to the right in the small community of “Lloyd”. You are still on the “Old Magnolia Road.” Follow this road to Chaires. Proceed left at Chaires at the Chairs Crossroad” and cross Hwy 27. Follow “W. W. Kelley” road to the next cross road. This intersection is the intersection of the “W. W. Kelley Road” and “The Tram Road.” The “W.W. Kelley Road” becomes the “Old Plank Road.”
Follow “The Old Plank Road” (The Old Magnolia Road). It is reworked and paved all the way to “Natural Bridge Road.” Turn left on Natural Bridge Road and proceed a very short distance and visit this Civil War Monument. Then return to the “Old Plank Road.” Turn left and proceed on The Old Plank Road.
Go down “Old Plank Road” until you come to a road that intersects the “Old Plank Road” on your left. The name of this road is “The Old Magnolia Road” Do not enter. This is not “The Old Magnolia Road” Continue on the “Old Plank Road” The “Old Plank Road” is the “Old Magnolia Road” from its beginning to its end. Go on down the “Old Plank Road.”
You will not go very far before you will see a Sulfur Springs on your left This is the Old Magnolia springs (now “New Port Springs”) that folks traveled all the way to Magnolia to bath in and “cure their illness”. You have also just passed Old Magnolia just above New Port Springs. There is a cemetery at the site but it is a wilderness and unavailable to the public. Go on down “Old Plank Road” a distance of .7 of a mile and intersect U.S. Hwy 98. This is the location of New Port. If you like, go across the St. Marks river bridge and turn right on Hwy. 59 and go to the St. Marks lighthouse. Turn around and return to the St. Marks river bridge. You may be able to immediately go south on a road by the river to where Port Leon was located. (Port Leon was destroyed in a hurricane.) Return and cross back over the river and visit the City of St. Marks. Your Journey is complete!!!
While you are traveling, have someone read the “History of the Magnolia Road”:
Farming was the main occupation in those days. Farmers that were producing crops for sale had a great deal of difficulty in purchasing supplies and in selling their produce. Cotton, Peanuts, Rice, peanuts and Livestock, were the most important early farming activities. To get livestock to the market it was necessary to walk the animals to Brunswick or Savannah in order to find a market. This was so difficult that most livestock was consumed by the settlers. When a settler killed a hog he shared it with his neighbors and after salt became available he would “salt cure” and then smoke it. Almost every home had a “Smokehouse”. Cotton and Rice were a little easier to get to market but still very difficult. There was no public transportation available. The first train that came to Thomas County arrived at Thomasville from Savannah on Oct. 4, 1860. The arrival of a railroad in Thomasville was an event of celebration. Before that time the settlers, for forty years, had to depend on other means of transportation. Since almost all rivers and streams flowed north the use of these to get products to the market on the east coast was out of the question.
This is why the St. Marks, Fl. area became so necessary. This area quickly developed and became a thriving community. At one time this area was the fourth most densely populated in all of Florida. In this area there were several communities, Port Leon, St. Marks, and Magnolia. Early on Port Leon was destroyed by a hurricane and a tidal wave. The settlers in the area salvaged the material from the debris of Port Leon to build the community of New Port. Port Leon was on the same side of the river as the Lighthouse. In the same storm St. Marks was badly damaged. It was then moved further from the coast. All of these communities still exist (1998) except Magnolia. In order to locate Magnolia one may go to New Port, Fl. which is located on U.S Hwy 98 at the St. Marks River. On the west side of the river bridge go north on the “Old Plank Road” 1.8 miles.
The main reasons that this area was so important were threefold. 1st. and most important was the availability of salt. This product was necessary to provide for the preservation of meats and in the preparation of food. But, foremost salt is a necessary ingredient in the human diet. Without a source of salt the lives of the early settlers would have been much more difficult. 2nd. Also very important was the availability of shipping that allowed settlers to move their products to the eastern and northern markets. 3rd. was the availability of salt water fish. Settlers would often make the two week trip to bring home barrels of Mullet and Mackerel salted down and ready to eat and the equally important Roe (mullet eggs) that also was preserved by salt.
Salt Production was a major industry. An Iron works was built in the same area to support the construction of evaporation vats used in salt production.
This area supplied visitors with relaxation and entertainment. It was a “Fun” place. The whole area was flourishing and business was booming. Also, the public needed Ice. Ice cream was scarce and Ice was unavailable in Georgia. The Ice was shipped from Massachusetts to this area by boat. Much later “The Ice Man” traveled the roads of South Georgia selling blocks of ice to the settlers. Mercantile Goods were in demand by citizens and businesses. There were three highlights in the lives of the early settlers. 1st. was the mailman, 2nd. was the iceman and 3rd. was the rolling-store. These services were available until the beginning of World War II. At about this time the iceman and rolling store failed to survive. A most important product that was cherished by settlers was the Sears Roebuck catalog. It was read and used in the outhouse (Privy), (Toilet), in most rural homes. When it was used up the substitute “corncob” was not nearly as satisfactory. Certain pages were slick and not satisfactory for outhouse use. The Sears Roebuck catalog also contained the only pornographic material available to the young people. Men and Women were portrayed in their underwear.
Tallahassee wanted to get in on this lucrative business. They built a railroad (horse or oxen drawn) from Tallahassee to St. Marks, chartered in 1834 and completed in 1836. This was the first railroad in Florida and the third in the U. S. The United States Government gave a grant to support this railroad. This railroad by-passed Magnolia and New Port. To counter this New Port and Magnolia built a PLANK ROAD in the direction of the Georgia Line. Thus farmers and travelers could travel the sandy roads more easily. The competition between Tallahassee, Magnolia, St. Marks and New Port became very aggressive. During the peak years 30,000 to 40,000 bales of cotton were shipped from this area.
Also, the area provided recreation, swimming, fishing, sunbathing, etc. Much in demand was the sulfur springs which were thought to cure all illnesses
The demise of this area began during and immediately following the Civil War. A railroad arrived in Thomasville from Savannah on Oct. 4, 1860.
The area around these coastal villages was such an important area that during the Civil War the area became a beehive of activity. The Federal Forces blockaded the area in an attempt to intercept shipping and destroy the salt vats that were in full operation. Much shipping slipped through the blockade and the salt producers rebuilt their vats about as fast as they were destroyed. From this confrontation we are able to read about the Battle of the Natural Bridge. The local militia defeated the “Yankees” with heavy losses to the northern forces which was composed almost completely of Negros.
The St. Marks area was a very old name and an old area in the New World History. The St Marks area was known a very long time before the town of St. Marks developed.
The Thigpen Trail
An article appeared in the Thomasville Times Enterprise, Sept. 1993, that was taken from the “Pine Barrens” Quarterly of the South Georgia Genealogical Society of Feb. 26, 1943 that reports a dedication of a Thigpen Trail Marker on the Thigpen Trail 4 ½ miles from the city on the Thomasville-Albany Highway. The point of this marker may be near where Ga. hwy. 202 now crosses U.S.Hwy 19. U.S. Hwy 19 did not follow this route to Albany in 1943. This author could not locate this marker. Georgia Hwy. 202 is thought to have been the Thigpen Trail.
It’s Route through the city to the point of the beginning of the Magnolia Road is very Difficult to follow. Mr. Phillip Adams of Adams Brake Service led me through the city pointing out landscape areas where he thought the road passed. His help with the history of the Magnolia Road has been invaluable to me.
Information in the study of the Thigpen Trail I found a valuable record in the Colquitt County Ga. Genealogy Library: "The Thigpen Trail is a road cut through the States of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida 219 years ago. The road was built by James Thigpen of North Carolina, hence its name. The North Carolina Colonial record gives James Thigpen as appointed overseer of the highways in 1703-04.
This article states that this road was cut through the area and that the road was built by James Thigpen. This does not reveal the whole story. This Trail was an Indian trail before the white man came to America. It was well traveled. The whole area of America was covered by Indian trails. Some so well used that the white man had no trouble moving about. The difficulty was that they might not have been wide enough for wagons to pass and crossing waterways was a hazard. Apparently the Indians would avoid obstacles in the development of their trails.
Jim Cone on the Computer Net sent me the following information:
“James Thigpen II, b. 09 Oct 1664 in Albermarle N.C. and d. 30 May 1731 in Perquinans Co., N.C. He owned and operated the first ferry crossing the Perquinans River and sold it to his brother-in-law, Isaac Wilson in 1714.
Upon petition of James Thigpen presented at court at the house of James McLendon, praying that a road be cleared to the ferry out of the High Road. Ordered that as Thigpen’s petition be rejected; as he owned land in both Chowan and Perquinans Precinct he served on the juries in both. He was a planter, lawyer, ship owner and tobacco trader.
He was a Captain in the Militia ca 1695 to January 1702 when he was commissioned to Major by Deputy Gov. Robert Daniel. Legend claims that he and his Indian friends cut the road for Col. James Moore to transport troops and supplies. Old time Georgia settlers said that this road for many years was called the Thigpen Trail. In 1755 Mitchell referred to it as Indian Trail and in 1811the U.S. Govt. officially named it the Federal Road.
There is a marker in Worth Co., Ga. which reads:
“Thigpen Trail, oldest Military Road in Ga. was cut by James Thigpen to transport military supplies to Col. James Moore, former Carolina Governor. It followed a well beaten trail of the Indians from the mountains to the sea, in use before the era of the Whiteman. Coming from South Carolina above the Broad River, along the Chattahoochee water divide to the Gulf of Mexico, it avoided all swamps and great rivers. The English claimed the territory as Carolina, while the Spanish claimed it as Florida. Col Moore led in an attack down the Thigpen Trail and made Carolina as safe as a conquest of the Spanish and Appalachee Indians can make it.
From the American Bureau of Ethnology in Bulletin 73, pages 121, 122, 123, of "Early Creek Indians and Their Neighbors" we find an account of the struggle between the Spaniards, who claimed this territory as Florida, and the English, who claimed the territory as Carolina. (The Carolinas had not been divided at this time)
There were English traders and Spanish traders along this old Trail. The friendly Creeks notified the English of a plot of the Spanish and their allies, the Appalachees, to come upon the English and kill them out. The English traders with the friendly Creeks had the first encounter in 1702, on the east bank of the Flint River, The English traders with five hundred Creeks fell upon the Spanish and their allies the Appalachees, and entirely routed then.
From the history of South Carolina the following is learned:-
"Col, James Moore, who had been Governor of Carolina from 1700 to 1702, being appraised of this trouble the English traders were having, persuaded Gov. Nathaniel Johnson, then Governor of the Carolinas, to let him attack the Spanish and their allies, who lived in what is now the State of Georgia. In 1703 and 1704 Moore raised some troops, and with 1000 Creek Warriors marched into the heart of the wild country of the Appalachians. With fire and sword he struck terror into the souls of the Indians, and drove the Spanish forever from this part of Georgia," This is known as the Appalachee disaster.
The Appalachee Indians were located in north Florida. At an Indian community named “Ayubale” which is very near the “Old Magnolia Road.” This may be the same town that is referred to in the information from the Colquitt County Library as “Ayaville.” It was here that Moore routed the Indians. This location is very near the Magnolia Road in Leon County, Florida. It is quite possible that the above action by Col. James Moore was not in Georgia but was in Florida.
I am firmly convinced that early Indian Trails were used to the advantage of the early settlers. And many of our public roads probably followed these trails. Since South Georgia was their hunting area I am sure they had trails all over the area.
Before leaving the subject of “Old Roads” I would like to suggest Thomas County and Leon County citizens travel another road from Tallahassee to the Georgia line. In the early records of Post Offices in South Georgia “the Centerville post was listed along with Duncanville (now located in Grady County and Sharpe’s Store which is now in Brooks County. Tallahassee was not shown. I knew that the Mail Route had to go from Duncanville to Centerville and then to Sharpe’s Store in Brooks County (then in Lowndes County) I also realized that the road in Thomas County (on the 1908 Road Map”) that turned at Five Forks and was the “Old Coffee Road” and was referred to as the Old Tallahassee Road. Later in the minutes of The Thomas County Inferior Courts the road to Centerville was referred to as the “New Tallahassee Road.
The road that I would like to recommend to “Sunday Afternoon Drivers” is the Old Centerville Road which is a fork off of the present Centerville Road (also known as the Moccasin Gap Road) from Tallahassee. From Thomasville follow the Springhill.
This road is almost as old as the Magnolia Road and is a “Beauty to Behold.”