2008-02-20 / Editorial

Other Voices

A CITY BECOMES ALIVE
By F. Leslie Jenkins Jr. Burke Banter Boy

In 1803, a Baptist church was founded in southeastern Burke County. It was called Beech Branch Meeting House and was located somewhere near the village of Frog Wallow. In 1810, a church building was built on a mount near Frog Wallow. The church changed its name to Sardis. Later, Frog Wallow's name became Sardis. Historical records say that at that time the village was almost equal in population to Waynesboro.

About 100 years later, surveyors began surveying a railroad planned to pass near Sardis. Surveyors also began to plan streets and lots for a New Sardis just a mile away from the little village of Old Sardis. And behold, a city began to be built. Lots were bought, homes were built, and store buildings were erected. The railroad built a large brick depot. A gin house was constructed along with warehouses. A fertilizer plant took shape. At least two large sawmills came to town. One of the sawmills even ran a narrow gauge railroad into the Briar Creek swamp. A great deal of timber was cut and hauled out, much of which was virgin timber that had never been reached before. For some time New Sardis was the terminal point for the Savannah and Atlanta Railroad. Trains came from Savannah to Sardis where they turned around and went back to Savannah. The crews usually spent the night in Sardis at the hotel. On their return to Savannah, they had stops at Murray Hill, Millhaven, Hiltonia, Bascomb, Sylvania, Newington, Springfield, Rincon and finally Savannah.

The little city was growing, and continued to grow. On a huge lot between Old Sardis and New Sardis, an imposing twostory brick high school was being built. Soon it rang with the laughter and yells of nearly 200 children. As the city grew, a water system became necessary. A well was drilled, a water tank erected and pipe was laid, all with private capital. Along with this a sewer system was put down the middle of town, running north into a branch and south into another.

An electrical plant became a necessity. A large diesel generator was installed next to the well and water tower. Poles went up, lines were strung and soon Sardis had electric lights. The poles carried telephone lines as well. Again, all this was done with private capital. The telephone lines were extended to Girard and down Stoney Bluff Road as far as the Wade Plantation. It also served the Millhaven Place and other farms and plantations in Screven County. All of the system went through the exchange in Sardis. For the time, the system was modern and up-to-date. Everything was up-to-date in Sardis!

The electrical system was rather unique, and, for the times, was considered a marvel. The generator was cranked up at ten o'clock in the morning and shut down at ten o'clock at night. Of course, if someone died during the night it was started back up. About the only thing the 110 volt lines allowed were lights, radios and refrigerators that came about a little later. No electric stoves could be used, no commercial refrigeration, and of course, no air conditioning or heat. Things were simpler then, but life was slow and sweet.

As time went by, many new businesses were established. A large two-story building on the corner of Railroad and Girard avenues was occupied by Buxton-Haeseler Company. It was a true general mercantile business. In this store could be found groceries, dry goods, shoes, wagons, plow and farm implements, hardware and tools and even caskets. One was covered from the cradle to the grave. Other stores followed. Two banks served the community. The town had a drug store, a medical doctor and a dentist. A couple of barber shops graced the streets. There was an automobile dealership where Chevrolet cars were sold. By 1925, two churches, which were about a mile from town, built buildings and moved to Sardis. Saint Mark's Methodist Church built on Girard Avenue and Burke Street. The Sardis Baptist Church built one block away on Burke and Pine.

The same year, 1925, the Savannah and Atlanta Railroad constructed a coal chute near the depot. It was built at a cost of $100,000 and was of solid concrete. It is a magnificent structure and still stands today even though the railroad is gone. It is a monument to a bygone era and still catches the eye of those who pass through our city.

Over the years, Sardis has changed from a little city of commerce and industry to a bedroom community. But it is still a lovely place to live and, to prove it, the population is higher now than it was in its heyday.

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