Pioneer Historical Society

Subtitle

 

Old South Georgia College:

A Shining Beacon on the Hill

 

Old South Georgia College was chartered in 1892 and opened to students in 1893.[1] The college was located on the highest point in the cities of McRae and Helena. It was originally opened by the South Georgia Conference of the Methodist Church as a church school.[2] The Telfair Enterprise, in 1907,[3] described it as “. . . a splendid institution of learning, [and] furnishes superior educational advantage to McRae and Helena as well as a large section of South Georgia.” South Georgia College was opened due largely to two men: Rev. C. C. Hines and Rev. W. A. Huckabee.[4]

 

Rev. Hines was the principal of the Eastman District high school in Spring Hill in Montgomery County, Georgia. Rev. Huckabee was the pastor of the McRae Methodist Church. It was largely through their efforts that the concept was presented to the Committee on Education of the 1896 Annual Conference of the Methodist Church. It was believed that another educational institution was needed in addition to the one in Spring Hill. The minutes of the Committee of Education in the conference in 1891 states that “The public school system is an acknowledged failure in the rural regions. Something must take the place of them or else our people will not be educated. The way is open for church work in this line . . . for the education of young men for the ministry.[5]

 

In 1891 session of the conference, it was proposal was made by “. . . to establish a school of high grade, to be known as South Georgia College”[6] The conference resolved that “we commend the enterprise as worthy of encouragement and assistance.”[7] McRae was chosen because “. . . the town offered the best proposition and was reputed to be of high moral tone.”[8] 



[1] The Pioneer:  The History of he Pioneer Area in the Heart of Georgia.  Commissioned by the Heart of Georgia Area Planning and Development Commission for The Pioneer Historical Society, McRae, Georgia, p. 102

[2] Waite, Marynell S., Editor. History of the South Georgia Conference: The United Methodist Church 1866-1984. Dallas: South Georgia Conference Commission on Archives and History for the Bicentennial of American Methodism 1784-1984, p. 35.

[3] The Telfair Enterprise, 1907.

[4] Cotter, Necia.  A Brief History of South Georgia College 1892-1928. A typed Manuscript Presented to the Historical Preservation Section of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The manuscript is in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Information for consideration of the acceptance of South Georgia College on the National Register of Historic Places. February, 1980, pp. 1-2.

[5] Cook, J. C. A., Chairman.  Report of Committee of Education Minutes. South Georgia Conference, 1891. p. 2.

[6] “Early History Related to the Present South Georgia College”, Annual Catalog of South Georgia College, 1921-22, p. 3-4.

[7] Ibid., p. 4.

[8] Brief History, p. 4.

 

The site of the future South Georgia College was on a fifteen acre tract and was located midway between the towns of McRae and Helena. The site chosen was on the highest elevation between Macon and Brunswick, and was easily accessible to students and parents living along the Southern and Seaboard Railroad.[9]  Rev. Huckabee reported to the South Georgia Annual Conference, in 1892, that a two story brick building was being built at a value of $20,000.00. It consisted of four classrooms and an auditorium that would seat 800 people. The cornerstone for this building was laid in 1892.[10]

 

Rev. Huckabee was appointed the first president, and he remained in that capacity until Professor Reubin J. Strozier was appointed. Professor Strozier remained president for the next twenty years. It was during this time, referred to as “the Golden Years”, that South Georgia College flourished. By 1907, enrollment had increased to 550 students.[11]

 

In addition to the administration building, South Georgia College added a science building, valued at $20,000.00 and consisting of twelve classrooms and the President’s office. The college also built a steam-heated thirty-six bedroom girls dormitory with dining room, kitchen; a two story boys dormitory; a president’s house; a teacher’s cottage; a business building and a domestic science building.[12] The dining hall, located in the girl’s dormitory, was for boys and girls. They were allowed no further association on campus.[13] The boys and girls dormitories were located on opposite sides of the campus with a high wooden fence dividing the campus. Neither sex was permitted to encroach upon the other.[14]

 

In an era of gentility, the college strove to shape and mold each student into a refined, educated lady or gentleman. The rules of the college prohibited intoxicating drinks, gambling, and dancing. It was the mission of the college to trim, polish, and preserve the “gems” that parents had sent to the school.[15] It was an impressive site when the teachers escorted long lines of girls several blocks from their dormitory to Sunday School and church at the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches, all located on College Street.[16]

 

It was under the leadership of Professor F. C. Branch, the institution’s third President that many academic improvements were made. It was during his six years that the school was approved to come under the public school system of Georgia. This included the first seven grades, four high school grades and two college grades.[17] The South Georgia College High School attained

 


[9]   Ibid., p 4

[10] Ibid, pp 4-5

[11] Ibid, pp 5-6

[12] Ibid, pp 9-10

[13] Annual Catalog of the South Georgia College, 1911-1912, p. 26

[14] Brief History, p 7

[15] Ibid, p 5

[16] Ibid, pp 6-7

 [17] Ibid, p 8

 

accredited status and approved by the State High School Supervisors as a teacher training school during the 1915-1916 term.[18]

 

The original agreement between the South Georgia Annual Conference of the Methodist Church provided that the conference would accept the college as part of the church education program  but would not be liable for any indebtedness.[19] By 1924, however, the school had accumulated so much debt that a businessman was appointed President. Mr. Braswell Deen, a businessman from Alma, Georgia, was employed as the seventh president of the college.  He had been appointed by the conference in hopes that his business experience would help solve the financial difficulties not being encountered by the school. During his term as president, an infirmary was built using lumber harvested from some of the large pine trees located on campus. In the end, however, the financial situation was too great for him to overcome.[20]

 

By 1928, the finances had become so acute that the South Georgia Annual Conference decided to close the school at the end of the 1928 term. In looking back, there were many reasons why the school was unable to continue providing educational opportunities for area students. Among the more prominent are:

1.      Lack of financial support for the school by the South Georgia Conference

2.      Low tuition so that it would be in reach of all

3.      Special financial consideration to minister’s children, ministerial students, and children of the Macon orphanage

4.      Lack of Baptist support after a Baptist-affiliated school was organized at Mount Vernon, Georgia –Brewton Parker Institute, located only 25 miles from McRae

5.      Outside influences brought on by World War I undermined the concept of moral and religious education

6.      Ease of travel brought on by the widespread use of the automobile brought other institutions in the area within reach of more students

7.      State tax support for public institutions

8.      Support in the way of pledges from the public decreased

9.      Debt created by the school to finance long needed structural needs drained the school of much needed money to operate. Two security deeds to the Merchants and Citizens Bank were recorded during this time.[21]

 

On July 31, 1928, a resolution was drawn up by the South Georgia College Board of Trustees, the Executive Committee of The South Georgia College, and the South Georgia Conference of the Methodist Church and approved by both entities formally discontinuing

 


[18] Annual Catalog of South Georgia College, 1922-1923, p 10

[19] “Minutes, South Georgia Conference, 1892”, p 40

[20] Brief History, p 9

 [21] Deed Book 3A. Office of the Clerk of Telfair County Superior Court, p 577

 

South Georgia College.[22]  This same resolution provided for the sale of the assets of the college to the Board of Education of Telfair County, Georgia “ . . . for the use and benefit of said school district. . . “[23]

 

Over the years, since its dissolution in 1928, most of the buildings have been demolished. All that remains is the administration building with four classrooms and an auditorium. The Telfair County Board of Education used the building and classrooms as part of McRae-Helena High School and later the McRae-Helena Elementary School.  On December 18, 1979, a Warranty Deed was executed between the Telfair County Board of Education and the Pioneer Historical Society, Inc. and The Telfair Art Association, Inc. For a sum of ten dollars and the right to continue to use the building for classes and assemblies, the ownership was transferred from the Telfair County Board of Education to the Pioneer Historical Society, Inc, and The Telfair Art Association, Inc.[24]

 

On April 17, 2002, another Warranty Deed was processed whereby the Pioneer Historical Society, Inc. and the Telfair Art Association, Inc. transferred ownership of the remaining building of the Old South Georgia College to the Board of Directors of the Telfair County Library.[25] The primary purpose of this transfer of ownership was the possibility of obtaining grants and other public monies for the purpose of renovation, repair and management of the facility.[26]

 

In 1983-1984, a grant was received by the owners for major renovation of the administration building. This grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Parks and Historic Sites Division, Historic Preservation Section provided funds for the rehabilitation of the administration building. According to the agreement, the owners were to restore the building as nearly as possible to its original condition. Almost $100,000.00 was allocated to restore various aspects of the building in conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation Projects.[27] This work was completed by July 1, 1984. At this time, the building was able to be used for various community activities.

 

On July 10, 2000, the Telfair County Board of Education executed a Quit Claim Deed to the Pioneer Historical Society, Inc. and The Telfair Art Association, Inc relinquishing all claims to the property and to the Old South Georgia College Administration Building.[28] On

 


[22] Resolution by the South Georgia College Board of Trustees and the South Georgia Annual Conference, July 31, 1928. Document housed in The History Room, McRae United Methodist Church, p 1

[23]Ibid, p 5 

[24] Warranty Deed, Book 6, Georgia Telfair County, Office Clerk of Superior Court, pp 147-148

[25] Warranty Deed, Book 12-W, Georgia Telfair County, Office Clerk of Superior Court, pp 189-194

[26] Joint Resolution of Pioneer Historical Society, Inc. and Telfair Art Association, Inc., November 26, 2001, p 1. This document is housed in the legal papers of the Pioneer Historical Society, McRae, Georgia 31055.

[27] Letter from The Department of Natural Resources to Mrs. Ruth Mizell, December 28, 1983, p 1.

[28] Quit Claim Deed, Georgia, Telfair County Office of Superior Court, Book 11-T,  July 18, 2000, pp 142-143. 

 

November 26, 2001, the Pioneer Historical Society, Inc. and the Telfair Art Association, Inc. formally conveyed ownership of the Old South Georgia College Administration Building and grounds to the Board of Trustees of the Telfair County Library. The purpose of this transfer of ownership was to facilitate the obtaining of public money for use in the continued renovation of the building.[29] An "Old South Georgia College Plan for Use" was submitted to the Telfair Library Board by the PHS at a meeting of the Board on March 4, 2010.[30] At a subsequent meeting, the Board of Directors agreed that the Pioneer Historical Society would be responsible for its operation and maintenance.[31]  Since that time, gradual rehabilitation and restoration of the administration building has been undertaken by a small group of dedicated Pioneer Historical Society members.  It was during this time that the Old South Georgia College Administration Building was renamed the Telfair Center for the Arts.

 

The change in name was made to more nearly reflect the plans the historical society had for the building. Since 2010, the Telfair Center for the Arts has presented many cultural and entertainment events. From variety shows featuring local talent and local community programs to professional acts featuring singing and instrumental programs, the Telfair Center for the Arts is fast becoming a feature in the local arts culture. All the while, continued efforts to renovate the building to attract different audiences are continuing.  The auditorium renovation is complete and provides a comfortable and eye-pleasing venue for the arts. Bathrooms have been renovated and are usable for patrons of events being held there. Both ground floor rooms have been renovated and are used as reception rooms when activities are going on in the auditorium.

 

 ______________________________________________

[29] Acceptance Resolution of the Board of Trustees of the Telfair County Library, Joint Resolution of Pioneer Historical Society,  Inc. and Telfair Art Association, Inc, December 26, 2001, p 2.

[30] Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Telfair County Library, March 4, 2010.

[31] Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Telfair County Library, March 9, 2010.

 

 

 The above photo shows the Old South Georgia College Administration Building as it now stands.

 

 The above photo shows the stage in the auditorium of the Old South Georgia College. It has been renamed the Telfair Center for the Arts.

 

 View from the stage. Note the gorgeous punched tin on the balcony.

 

Chandelier near front restroom area. 

 

Antique piano within the right sitting room. 

 

Bibliography

 

Acceptance Resolution of the Board of Trustees of the Telfair County Library, Joint Resolution

        of Pioneer Historical Society, Inc. and Telfair Art Association, Inc, December 26, 2001.

 

Annual Catalog of the South Georgia College: An Institution for Boys and Girls Session of

        1911-1912. Savannah, Georgia: The Morning News, ND.

 

Cook, J. C. A. (Chairman). “Report of Committee on Education” minutes, South Georgia

       Conference, 1891.

 

Cotter, Necia Powell. A Brief History of South Georgia College 1892 Through 1928. Typed 

       manuscript presented to the Historical Preservation Section of the Georgia Department of

       Natural Resources. In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of Information for

       Consideration of the Acceptance of South Georgia College on the National Register of

       Historic Places. 1980.

 

Deed Book 3A. Office of the Clerk of Telfair County Superior Court

 

Hines, Rev. C. C. “Early History Related to the Present South Georgia College”. Annual Catalog

        of South Georgia College, 1921-22.

 

Joint Resolution of Pioneer Historical Society, Inc. and Telfair Art Association, Inc., November

        26, 2001. This document is housed in the legal papers of the Pioneer Historical Society,

        McRae, Georgia  31055.

 

Letter from the Department of Natural Resources to Mrs. Ruth Mizell, December 28, 1983.

 

“Minutes of the Board of Directors, Telfair County Library”, March 4, 2010.

 

“Minutes of the Board of Directors, Telfair County Library”, March 9, 2010.

 

The Pioneer:  The History of the Pioneer Area in the Heart of Georgia. Georgia Area Planning

        and Development Commission for the Pioneer Historical Society. McRae Georgia: Self-

        Published Manuscript, 1978.

 

The Telfair Enterprise, 1907.

 

 Resolution by the South Georgia College Board of Trustees and the South Georgia Annual

        Conference, July 31, 1928. Document housed in The History Room, McRae United

        Methodist Church.

 

Waite, Marynell S., Editor. History of the South Georgia Conference: The United Methodist

        Church 1866-1984. Dallas: South Georgia Conference Commission on Archives and

        History for the Bicentennial of American Methodism 1784-1984, 1984.

 

Warranty Deed, Book 6, Georgia Telfair County, Office Clerk of Superior Court.

 

Warranty Deed, Book 12-W, Georgia Telfair County, Office Clerk of Superior Court.

 

Quit Claim Deed, Georgia, Telfair County, Office of Superior Court, Book 11-T, July 18, 2000.