Scenes from a dead town

Holmesville and Baxley, from the 1874 Augustus Mitchell’s Map of Georgia and Alabama, posted on Georgia Info.

Holmesville is not a town that rolls off the tip of the tongue. Nor it is a town where anyone says they are going.

Holmesville is not a town on any major maps. It has not been in nearly 150 years.

Located in Appling County, Holmesville probably never properly thrived.

Georgia Info says the town was created to be Appling County’s seat of government. Appling was created in 1818, from territory that once belonged to Native Americans.

Holmesville was named in 1828. Fifty years later it was gone. No longer a county seat and no longer much of a location.

Appling was one of a multitude of southern Georgia counties that were transformed by railroads. Railroads brought transportation and industry never before seen in their neck of the woods and eventually led to bitter wars over new county creation.

In Appling’s case, the railroads brought the end of Holmesville. Georgia Info said Appling County citizens were never completely happy with their courthouse’s location. Conveniently, Baxley popped up to provide an easy out.

The railroad came rumbling through in 1870 and with it, the initial boom of Baxley. Now Appling had a town of size and it was located on the railroad. A win-win for the county. In 1873 or 1874, according to Georgia Info, Baxley became the county seat.

Brian Brown’s Vanishing South Georgia has a glimpse into what is extant in the former Holmesville area. What is extinct can be imagined from contemporary newspapers. Alas, the picture is bits and pieces, but this is Holmesville. Dates mostly refer to the newspaper issue, unless noted.

April 24, 1848: The Savannah Daily Republican is “gratified” that the person who broke into Mr. McRae’s store has been caught.

May 5, 1851: Holmesville is set to host the Congressional Convention for selecting the Union Party candidate in June. (Savannah Daily Republican)

June 18, 1851: The convention is in gear and Holmesville aglow. The Savannah Daily Republican correspondent has seen some things – “In session – an exhibition of dwarf sisters – a public political discussion and the Congressional Convention, which has just closed its labors, nominating on fourth ballot Col. Charles H. Hopkins of McIntosh County.”

Other names submitted were Col. John H. Dilworth (Camden County) and Gen. William R. Manning (Telfair County).

The convention apparently was not limited to just Union Party reps. Secession Party members Peter Love and Col. William B. Gaulding engaged in a debate. The Savannah writer insisted the two would be great opponents, if only they were “on the right side.” (June 27, 1851) Conventions are also known to have been held here in 1853 and 1857.

Feb. 28, 1854: The Georgia Telegraph announces that Holmesville has been incorporated by the Georgia legislature.

Sept. 9, 1854: James K. Hilliard advertises his hotel in the Savannah Daily Georgian, the Farmers’ Hotel.

July 27, 1858: Announced in the (Milledgeville) Federal Union are post roads, by law of the United States. Doctor Town [Doctortown] to Holmesville and vice-versa is enacted, as is a route from Doctor Town, via Holmesville and Ocmulgeeville to Foronia.

Oct. 5, 1858: An administrators’ sale is scheduled at the courthouse door. For sale is a young black male slave named Abram. He had been owned by Henry Douglass, now deceased. The money for Abram will go towards Douglass’ heirs and creditors (Sept. 7, 1858 Southern Recorder)

Sept. 23, 1865: The post office at Holmesville has been reopened, with Philip Katterer at postmaster. (Savannah National Republican)

Dec. 27, 1866: Members of the Holmesville Lodge and citizens of the town were to hear an address in honor of the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist. (Daily News and Herald (Savannah), Jan. 17, 1867)

Nov. 17, 1870: Dr. Phillip Ketterer (or Katterer, see 1865 entry) loses his home to a fire, which consumed his cow house, store house and stables as well as a Masonic lodge. (Nov. 29, Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Georgia Journal & Messenger)

April 24, 1871: D.S. Herrington is murdered four miles west of town, with the accused being William Tillis and Thomas Herrington. The surnames are not coincidental, as Thomas Herrington is William’s brother and is said to have aided in committing the killing. Appling’s sheriff and a posse were looking for the suspects. (May 11, Houston Home Journal)

Feb. 17, 1874: The Georgia House of Representatives vote to allow the Ordinary of Appling County to sell public buildings located in Holmesville. (Feb. 24, Weekly Constitution)

June 28, 1879: A Masonic anniversary celebrated, stated to have taken place “Tuesday last” features a band from Brunswick and addresses from Grand Chancellor of the State Lodge, Maj. C.R. Armstrong. Attendance is estimated at nearly 1,200.

Food was in abundance at the ceremonies, the amount of which impressed the writer. “It certainly explains why the people of Appling have such a healthy, hearty appearance, young and old, and indicates prosperity as well.”

The celebration wrapped at Baxley, whose growth was bragged upon. (June 28, Brunswick Advertiser)

Dec. 24, 1879: A letter has arrived at the Savannah Morning News. Dated Dec. 22, it emanated from Baxley. After giving Christmas cheer and hoping for Santa Claus, its writer said a trip had recently been made to Holmesville.

“The approach to this antiquated and deserted village is not dissimilar to the surrounding country, physically. The long leaf yellow pine, however, seems to be in great abundance, not having been utilized as to either naval stores or ship bilding interest. Holmesville is entirely surrounded by water courses and geographically, an elevated island. The site is far more attractive than the present one – it being situate upon a parterre, at the height of a gradual elevation, having been provided with streets at right angles and shade trees promiscuously ranging throughout the place. It presents, at this writing, a picture of desolation and recalls vividly to our mind Goldsmith’s lines of “The Deserted Village” –

“‘Sweet delightful ridge, loveliest of the lawn
Thy pleasures fled and all thy charms withdrawn
Amidst thy bower the tyrant’s hand is seen
And desolate on saddens all they green'”

“Every little village is a little world. It has in itself all the elements which are deemed necessary to completeness, but the traveler who passes through, and even the visitors who sojourns for a brief season can have but as imperfect knowledge of old Holmesville as we have of the man in the moon when we look at it through a telescope. We see the ‘man in the moon,’ we see where once stood the village, but we know but little of either one. The court house, where in days gone by the stalwart rustic and superannuated octogenarian gathered together to listen to the legal oracles, who are now numbered with the gone, and their dust mingling with earth earthy, is a relic of the past, decayed and fallen. They who pass through now must inevitably see dilapidations prevalent – the streets decorated with decayed and worm-eaten cottages and mean structures. But one spot is left inviolate – it is where the numerous headboards indicate the city of the dead. Aside from this, the village of Holmesville is deserted and is recognized among the things of the past as a place of congregated humanity. A field takes the place of the town and where many footsteps pressed the earth, corn, cotton, sugar cane and potatoes are grown. The progress of man in his mechanical ingenuity, in the construction of the Macon and Brunswick Road, depopulated the former and improved the present capital of Appling county.”


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