History of Jesup

Founder
From the beginning, Jesup has had its history connected by crossties and spikes to the railroads that crossed within the city limits. Following the Civil War, Willis Clary of Appling County made his way to Jesup – then known as Station Number 6 on the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad. Clary used his own money to have the town surveyed and eventually became its first mayor. Clary’s home – now the offices of Bryant, Drury and Griffis, sits on City Lot #1.

Clary married Lucinda Hall Lee, widow of Osgood Andrew Lee, and the family became the leaders in the new town that had become known as Jesup.
Origin of the Name
Formally established in 1870, the origin on the name of the town has long been debated.

Some theories include: 
  • Morris K. Jesup, a banker and railroad scion who bought the Savannah, Florida and Western out of bankruptcy following the Civil War
  • General Thomas Sidney Jesup, a hero of the Indian Wars who captured the Seminole chief Osceola under a flag of truce
  • James R. Jesup, long affiliated with the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad that was the parent company for the Macon and Brunswick line (At Willis Clary’s urging, the Macon and Brunswick intersected the Savannah, Florida and Western at Jesup because of the friendship between Clary and James R. Jesup)
Street Names
Being a planner from the beginning, Clary had the streets of Jesup named for trees as well as being numbered. Cherry, Walnut, Elm, Pine and Hickory, to name a few, are the streets you find in the vicinity of the downtown area. The numbered streets begin with 1st Street and move out towards what was then considered to be country – numbered back then through 11th Street. The exception in this rule is Macon and Brunswick Streets which were named for James R. Jesup’s Macon and Brunswick Railroad.

Whaley Family
Jesup remained a tiny hamlet through the end of the 19th century and on into the 1900s. Town leaders took up business along the Broad Streets that ran parallel to the railroad tracks that made the town what it had become. Willis Clary’s stepdaughter and Lucinda Clary’s daughter, Georgia Buena Vista Lee, married an Englishman by the name of Harry Whaley and thus began one of the most influential families in the downtown area. 

Mr. Whaley was a good bit older than Georgia and died leaving Georgia quite wealthy. The Whaleys had a general store on Southwest Broad Street. You can see the name on the entry way to the store even today. 

The Whaleys also owned the Merchants and Farmers Bank which Mrs. Whaley ran very successfully following her husband’s death. This bank was bought by the Bank of Brunswick and later became American National Bank. American National Bank later became a part of C&S and now is Bank of America. The Whaleys owned several buildings in the downtown area and an extensive amount of land in the county.

Other important leaders in the business community included the Wilkins, O’Quinn, Fender, Harper, Kicklighter, Ritch, Sullivan and McCann families.

Mayor Solomon Cohen
Being remarkably progressive considering the times and the history of our country, Jesup elected a Jewish mayor in the 1930s. Solomon Cohen was the owner of a department store that was housed in the Tuten Block building. Mayor Cohen recognized the need for jobs for those in the town that were not affiliated with the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. He persuaded the Sea Island Cotton Company to locate a shirt factory in Jesup and Robert Pascal came to Jesup to run the operation. The factory later moved out to the industrial park area and became known as Manhattan Shirt Factory. Sea Island cotton shirts were made.

Great Depression and WWII
The Depression for the residents of Jesup was no more difficult for them than other times. Being from a rural area, these families learned to provide for themselves through home gardens and chickens in the yard. When the call for troops to fight in WWII came, the town rallied their forces and the men marched off to war. Left behind, the women joined in the fight by conserving ration tickets, saving rubber from tires. And working at the shipyard in Brunswick building Liberty ships.

During the war, Jesup was the site of an Italian prisoner of war camp. Many residents of the town during this time remember fondly the smells from the cooking at the camp. Because of a shortage of manpower, men from the camp were used as laborers at the McCann Lumber Mill at Doctortown.

Claim to Fame
Jesup has had some very famous citizens, including: 
  • Walter Dowling He was the US Ambassador to South Korea from 1955-1959 and to West Germany from 1959-1963.
  • Florence Reville Gibbs The first woman to represent Georgia in the US House of Representatives, Mrs. Gibbs was elected to serve in this post following the death of her husband, Representative Ben Gibbs.
  • Novelist Carson McCullers Her husband, Reeves McCullers, was a native of Jesup.
  • Lindsay Scott This University of Georgia football player was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass thrown by Buck Belue during a Georgia- Florida football game.
  • Randall Bramblett He was a well-known in the music industry for his talents as a performer and songwriter.
  • Dr. Howard Wasdin He is survivor of Black Hawk Down and the author of the bestseller “Seal Team Six,” a book that tells the story of the elite seal team force that was successful in the search for Osama Bin Laden.
Though trains still run through Jesup at a pretty fast clip these days, their importance in our history has been diminished. Jesup remains close to its roots and enjoys celebrating its history in a city where it all comes together downtown. 

Credit

This page was written by Historian, Janet Royal.