Finding History in Our Stories Workshop 3http://thomascountyhistory.org/event/finding-history-in-our-stories-workshop-3
Join storyteller Saundra Kelley
George W. Meigs, the namesake of the community in the northwest corner of Thomas County, first settled in the area around 1875, setting up a turpentine still near a popular crossing for the Savannah, Florida, and Western Railroad. While he maintained a residence in Pelham, Meigs soon built a residence near his still; by the late 1870s, living in his turpentine camp with his employees, the rudimentary elements of a functional town came in to being. By 1882, a post office was awarded to the location, and the settlement became known as Meigs. In 1889, the settlement of Meigs was awarded a governing charter by the State Assembly, in a bill sponsored by Thomasville-based Assemblyman A.T. MacIntyre.
The first mention of Meigs appears in the July 1, 1882 edition of the Thomasville Times-Enterprise shortly after the settlement was awarded a post office. The inconspicuous statement in the personal section notes “William Boynton, of Meigs, was in town [Thomasville] on Tuesday. He is doing a big milling business.” Lumber milling, turpentine, and agriculture became the economic piers upon which Meigs was built. All three industries expanded greatly after Meigs was chartered, growing from a population of one-hundred fifty in 1889 to seven-hundred fifty residents by 1903. This growth can also be traced through the increase in land prices, increasing from less than a dollar-per-acre in 1885, up to ten dollars-per-acre in 1903.
From 1900-1910, Meigs developed all the accouterments one might expect to find in a young, thriving town. Perhaps the most important development was the creation of a water and light plant, so necessary for public health and business, which was built in 1908. A telephone exchange was built in 1905, a new, large school for white students was built in 1903, and one for black students in 1910. For health needs, two doctors moved to Meigs and opened offices during this time. In 1903, a passenger depot handled four daily railroad stops, and the Bank of Meigs first opened. All around Meigs, mercantile stores, two hotels, and several restaurants catered to the needs of the hundreds of employees of local lumber mills, as well as the turpentine stills and farms.
Meigs also developed social institutions to serve its inhabitants needs. Although the Midway Baptist Church, two-and-a-half miles south of Meigs well-predated the founding of the town, the first church in Meigs proper was a non-denominational one-room building erected in 1886 for both Baptist and Methodist congregations. By 1895, the Methodists had built a building of their own, and the Baptists followed suit with their own new building one year later. Ever segregated, African-American worshippers were “occasionally invited” to sit in the back pews of these respective churches until the community could erect churches of their own. The early social institutions of Meigs extended beyond just religion – a town-sponsored brass band and a Freemason chapter and building added to the civic atmosphere of Meigs.
Through the first sixty years of the twentieth century Meigs experienced slow-but-steady growth, expanding its population to more than one thousand people by 1950. New schools were built, a city hall, a healthcare clinic, a modern jail, a large and active Kiwanis Club, and new churches were but some of the normal improvements to Meigs. In 1958, Meigs and the other county towns consolidated their high schools into Central High School; many consider this the beginning of a period of decline. Other factors have contributed as well: synthetic turpentine replaced natural pine by the 1930s, international manufacturing increased after World War II, and the fall of railroads and the rise of car and truck culture have all contributed to the end of passenger rail service and the closure of factories that used to ship by train but relocated to areas closer to superhighways. But the closure of schools may be the biggest contributor, as the commerce that comes from students, teachers, and parents hauling their children to-and-from school has disappeared.