Historic Whistlestop Served Community in Many Ways

Raines Station and Barry Mercantile | Crisp County, GA | c. 1890-1900

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 Williams

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 of 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.

Isaiah Williams and his wife Nancy Shepperd Williams

After The War

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.

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Albany Northern Railroad locomotive c. 1925

The Railroad Comes To Raines

Plans were laid for an initial rail line and a section of Isaiah Williams’s 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.

Train schedule from 1955 for the Albany & Northern Railway Company, connecting Albany, GA to Macon, Atlanta, and Savannah. The stop just south of Cordele shows Raines Station.
Train schedule from 1917 for the Georgia Southwestern & Gulf R.R. (Albany & Northern Railway). Raines Station is listed 2 stops away from Cordele.

The Albany Northern Railroad was founded in 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.

The Next Generation

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.

Raines Station as it looked c. 1910s-1920s

Upon finishing, he returned to his rural community in South Georgia and would go on to serve the people of this area out of an office on the top floor of this building, along with Dr. Lee who had an office adjacent to Loron’s. Back then, the building sat alongside the tracks for the Albany Northern rail line and in addition to doctor’s offices, had a ticket office, and store downstairs. 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.

Dr. Loron Williams (left) and Dr. Lee at Medical School in Atlanta c. 1913
Dr. Loron Williams, feeding quails c. 1940s

After Dr. Loron Williams passed, the store changed hands, and WWII veteran, John C. Spears took over the store. John ran the store (called Barry Mercantile at this point) along 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.

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Sometime in the 1960s, this branch of the rail line was ripped up although traces of the tracks can still be seen out front. 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.

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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

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15 thoughts on “Historic Whistlestop Served Community in Many Ways”

  1. I absolutely love your stories!!
    Thank you for your hard work and dedication to digging for the history.
    Could you please do research on a huge old house just south of Quitman, GA on the Greenville Hwy. It’s a tremendous old, dilapidated home that I have heard rumors of a storied past but not sure of the truth.
    Thank you for all you give us.
    Terry McClain

    1. Yes, I know that home well and have been photographing it since 2012!

      The only reason I haven’t added it to the website is because of the discrepancies in the history that have arisen. I’m hopeful to make a break in the ‘brick wall’ I’ve come upon in researching it.

      If you’re local, you might have better luck digging up stories on it!

      If you do (or maybe if you meet someone who knows anything about it) please email me at kelly @theforgottensouth.com 🙂

  2. I am so excited that you featured the Raines Station area, the Williams family, and the grocery store that has been part of our family history for years. Dr. Loron Williams’ sister, Lydia Williams Barry, was my grandfather’s mother. “Dr. Loron” was like a father to my grandfather (James Reginald Barry, Sr.) as he helped his sister (Lydia) rear my grandfather after her husband died shortly after my grandfather was born. I assume the grocery store was run by my great-grandfather (Mr. Barry), since it was named “Barry Mercantile”. I never knew that part of the story. My mother, Peggy Barry Jones, told us stories about visiting the grocery store and being able to get penny candy. Our family was blessed to have Dr. Williams in our family. I never knew him, but I know he did so much for others. My mother said he was always available to his family and his patients. Thank you so much for highlighting the history of this area and its people. You are an amazing chronicler of our country’s history, and I am so glad you chose this particular structure to feature. You just made me so happy!!!!

    1. Emmie, thank you so much for reading the post and for taking the time to comment. It means so much to me when descendants of the people I’m researching reach out to me. I have read so many accounts of what a great citizen Dr. Williams was.

  3. Historic Whistlestop building. There is one in Lyndon, Ohio that looks almost exactly like it. In fact, when I first looked at your picture, I thought I was looking at the one I grew up seeing on a regular basis. Through the years it was a grocery store, dance hall, bingo hall, and probably more that I never knew about. Thanks for the memories.

  4. This is my neck of the woods. The store was closed by the time I was born, but I remember the name Loron Williams vividly. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thank you for your efforts to enlighten us on our past. Today is responsible for the preservation of yesterday. Thanks for doing your part. I had friend, Clyde B. Sheppard, who was born and raised in the Cordele- Hawkinsville area, probably in early 1900 s. May be related to Nancy Shepperd Williams. He lived many years in Miami, Fl . Later lived in Lake
    Placid, Fl

  6. I just came across your site. Thanks for doing this! FYI, the headline says Cordele County. It is actually Crisp County. Cordele is the county seat.

  7. Thank you so much for this article. Hiram Williams (1815-1899) was my great, great, great, great grandfather and his son Isaiah Williams (1842-1927) was my great, great, great grandfather and his daughter Lydia Ava Williams Culpepper Barry (1870-1949) was my great, great grandmother and her daughter Johnnie Elizabeth Culpepper Gleaton (1894-1893) was my great grandmother and her son Isaiah Williams Gleaton (1912-2004) who was named for his great grandfather was my grandfather.

    I have never seen this building in person but I remember stories about it.

  8. I just stumbled upon this article while reminiscing about childhood memories. John Spears was my uncle and I remember visiting the store many times in the 50s and early 60s when visiting my father’s family in Vienna Georgia ever summer. I especially remember the big old roll top desk and the small cubicles where uncle John kept mail for local residents to pick up. I also remember the scales on one side of the store where the local farmers would weigh their trucks on the way to the farmers market and the outhouse on the other side of the building.

  9. Dr. Loron is my great-grandfather! I grew up in the house he built on this same road! My whole family lives on this road! Thank you so much for the article! We sure enjoyed it along with the pictures! ❤️

  10. I loved this story. Wish I could go inside this lovely old building. It is too bad people today are so busy and don’t get to know their neighbors like in the past. Thank you so much for all you do. I love reading the stories.

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