Raines Station and Barry Mercantile | Crisp County, GA | c. late 1890s
Although this part of Georgia was little more than vast pine fields in the early 1800s, a handful of families would move from the Carolinas and Northern Georgia, beginning in the middle 1800s. One of these early settlers was Capt. Hiram Williams who would eventually grow a large and prosperous family here. And still, to this day, he is connected to most of the county’s citizens through some distant (or not-so-distant connection).
Hiram fought briefly in the Civil War, but it was his eldest son, Isaiah Williams, who came home with quite the story to tell.
Isaiah’s unit, Georgia’s 60th Infantry, was captured and after many battles throughout the war, found themselves with General Robert E. Lee at the surrender at Appomattox on April 12, 1865. Isaiah and at least one other member from his regiment, John Jones, were issued pardons that allowed them safe travel home. So, the two of them, perhaps with others from their unit, walked all the way back from Virginia to Cordele, GA.
Upon returning, Isaiah introduced his friend John Jones to his sister Lydia, who he married. And less than a year after his return, Isaiah, who eventually became a Senator for Georgia, married Nancy Sheppard Williams.
The two of them would continue the Williams Family tradition, growing the family by another four children. They would become important farmers and business people in the Reconstruction Era South. And times must have been tough directly following the Civil War but by 1890, new plans for the Old South were beginning to emerge. Railroads backed by Northern money expanded into the region, bringing new business opportunities for the Williams Family.
Plans were laid for an initial rail line and a section of Isaiah Williams land was set aside to establish a small whistlestop along this line that would come to be known as Raines Station. A handful of shops and homes popped up here where trains would carry agricultural goods like cotton, and peanuts, as well as passengers.
The Albany Northern Railroad was founded c. 1895 and the old mercantile store at Raines Station was likely built shortly after that, between 1895-1910.
It would come to be an important landmark to the rural community it served, eventually operating as a doctor’s office as well.
One of Isaiah and Nancy’s sons, Loron Williams, was born near here in Crisp County, GA in 1889, and thanks to his hard work and family’s affluence, was able to attend Medical School in Atlanta in the 1910s.
Upon finishing, he returned to his rural community in South Georgia and would go on to doctor to the people of this area out of an office on the top floor of this building, along with a Dr. Lee who had another office adjacent his. At that time, this building sat alongside the tracks for the Albany Northern rail line.
As I reached out to locals for their recollections of this place, many had vivid memories of the doctor’s offices’ upstairs which were separated by an oval-shaped stained glass window.
One previous patient also recalls the paintings of dogs on Dr. Williams’s walls that would bring her a smile as a young girl.
Their nurse, Ms. Leona Stephens, was well-loved by the community who knew her as well.
After Dr. Loron Williams passed, the store changed hands, and WWII veteran, John C. Spears took over the store, then called Barry Mercantile, running it with his wife Ethel who also taught at the elementary school. Locals shared that you could come to this store for just about anything from penny candy, to food, to gas, to clothing, to hats.
But one of the most famously remembered goods to come here for was the legendary bologna that they carried.
Sometime in the 1960s, this branch of rail line was ripped up and by the 1970s, the old mercantile shuttered its doors for good, donating the interior goods to a local agricultural college. Ethel Spears passed away in 1976 and her husband John Spears in 1985.
Memories from Locals
I had the chance to talk to and read the historic accounts of a handful of locals from this area who had vivid memories of this place that was so special and important to their community.
One common memory that was shared with me was about the incredible height of the ceilings and the old-timey ceiling fans that operated on long metal poles.
One man remarked that as a kid, he never did understand how those slow-moving belt fans could help at all in the face of the sweltering Georgia summers, but he remembers it being cool nonetheless.
Back in those days, it wasn’t uncommon for farmers to trade with store owners for goods:
“I remember going with my grandmother to shop at the old Spears store. She would always bring eggs and other goods from the farm to trade for things like flour and sugar from John’s shop.” ~Spencer Howard
Locals would also come here every Saturday to have their grains milled as recalled by one local:
“I remember this store from the 1950s when it was operated as Barry Mercantile Company, by John C Spears. I would work there on Saturdays and after school. Back then, there was a Grist Mill to the left side of the store and I would grind meal for customers on Saturday. I worked there for 3 years.” ~ Clyde Watson