Why do they call it Stillmore? Was it because turpentine baron and town founder George Brinson thought that his prolific still would run forevermore? Or was it because when you got there, you had still more to go? Or was it the simply a sarcastic response to the office of the Postmaster General when the list of names for a new town were already taken? Whether you believe one or more of these legends, believe that this Emanuel County town with a most unusual name was once one of the most bustling railroad towns in East Central Georgia. This is the story of the early years of Stillmore, Georgia.
In the mid 1880s timber and turpentine man George Brinson and his cousin B.L. Brinson constructed a turpentine mill in the middle of nowhere in a piney forest covering rich and fertile sand. The Brinson kinsmen expanded their operation to include a large saw mill. In order to more economically get his sawed timber to markets in Swainsboro and Savannah, George Brinson knew that he needed a railroad. Without the aid of profit seeking and demanding Northern capitalists, Brinson began construction of a railroad known as the Brunswick, Athens and Northwestern Railroad.
Brinson’s enterprises brought in employees by the droves. With such a large population concentrated in a small place someone thought why not incorporate the new town and allow the residents to govern themselves. On November 13, 1889, the town of Stillmore was officially created by the Georgia legislature.
Following a devastating fire which destroyed his mill, Brinson began construction on a thirty-four-mile railroad from Swainsboro to Collins, a depot town on the Georgia-Alabama Railroad. In 1891, when railroads began to rapidly spread across the state, work was commenced on the Atlantic Shortline, a railroad designed to run from Macon, through Laurens County and eastward to Savannah.
The bold venture died for lack of financial support. The owners of the Brewton and Pineora Railroad laid their tracks along the mostly intact grading and gave Stillmore it second rail line and a fairly direct route to Savannah at the end of the 19th Century making Stillmore a junction town. More fortune seekers moved in search of work and success.
Stillmore remained virtually stagnant until 1892 when the town was laid out into lots. By 1900, Stillmore was home to a college, four churches, two lodges, a newspaper, a public library and a large number of mercantile establishments.
But by far, Stillmore owed it’s entire existence to the railroads and the opportunities they brought. The Rogers and Summit railroad became the Millen and Southwestern, which eventually became part of the Georgia-Florida Railroad. The Brunswick, Athens and Northwestern later became known as the Stillmore Air Line and eventually a branch of the Wadley-Southern Railroad. The Central Railroad of Georgia, the state’s largest rail company, took control of the Brewton and Pineora. These three railroads, all intersecting in the town of Stillmore, provided the spark which catapulted Stillmore into a position as the leading city in Emanuel County. At least that’s what they said outside the county seat of Swainsboro.
Stillmore’s greatest pride outside of its railroads and Mr. Brinson’s mills was the Stillmore Military College. The college was under the leadership of Professor Y.E. Bargeron, who also worked as a city official, editor of the town newspaper (The Budget,) and finally as a lawyer. Mrs. Bargeron taught courses too. Capt. M.W. Bargeron took over the duties of drill master when the military program was added to the curriculum. Florence Moore, a sweet lady and a graduate of an outstanding music conservatory, taught music to both boys and girls. With the wave of patriotism which swept across America during the conflicts with the Spanish, the ranks of the military students swelled to more than seventy young men. George Brinson donated the funds to provide nearly three dozen Springfield rifles to the school. School officials and other townsfolk saw to it that every student soon had a real rifle to train with. Crowds often gathered in the late afternoon to watch the students demonstrate their military skills on the lawn of the college. Adult males also wanted in on the action and patriotism. Joseph Phillips, along with M.W. Bargeron and Dr. R.Y. Yeomans, led the formation of the Stillmore Guards, which trained in case their services were needed across the state or against the nation’s enemies. In addition to military and music courses, students studied bookkeeping, pedagogy, chemistry, literature, oratory.
A fine public library, free to the town residents, was affiliated with the college. Capt. Joseph Phillips, the auditor of the Stillmore Air Line, kept the library filled with the latest new books and periodicals to educate and entertain the students, townspeople and even visitors who walked over from the hotels.
When visitors came to town, they roomed in relative luxury. Mr. and Mrs. Nat Hughes ran the three story Victorian hotel where people from all over gather from as far away as fifty miles to enjoy the food and fellowship. If the Canoochee was full, then you could spend the night and get a good meal in the Brown House or the Edenfield House.
Some of the earliest merchants and businessmen of Stillmore included George Brinson, attorneys Frank R. Durden, Y.E. Bargeron, merchants John R. Hargrove, J.A. Woodward, John H. Edenfield, Sallie Kennedy, E.A. Miller, J.F. Tanner, Wyatt and Frierson, Stillmore Mercantile Co., W.B. Heath, E. H. Heath, Bessie Nichols, J.L. Martin, J.M. Duberry, Canoochee Pharmacy and many others . The professional men included attorneys Frank R. Durden, Dr. L.P. Lane, Dr. J.M. Emmitt and Dr. S.E. Brinson. Dr. J.R. pulled teeth when necessary. There were at least two banks in town, the Bank of Stillmore and the Planter’s Bank.
In 1913, a movement began to create a new county of Candler with Metter as the county seat. The people of southeastern Emanuel County wanted to be a part of it. They wanted their own county with Stillmore as its capital. Stillmorians hoped that portions of Emanuel, Tattnall and Bulloch counties could be joined with Stillmore in the center. They proposed to honor one of the Confederacy’s greatest heroes by naming their county “Stonewall Jackson County.”
The failure to become a county seat, coupled with the loss of the cotton crop during the second decade of the 20th Century, led to the end of Stillmore’s prosperity. But don’t call the coroner yet. Stillmore is still there. The trains don’t come like they used to. The college is now in Swainsboro along with the all of the county’s motels. But the fine folks are still there and will still be there as long as there is a Stillmore.