The two-room Gaskins School is located in the Weber community. Bryan Shaw of the Berrien County Historical Society notes that it was built prior to 1908. After consolidation, a larger building was constructed adjacent to this schoolhouse and it was used as the lunchroom.
Shaw also states that the consolidated school was moved off the property when it closed, and was remodeled by Sheriff Walter Gaskins for use as his home.
I can’t find any history of the Weber community, but considering that it was the home of Walt’s Bar-B-Q (Walt Gaskins) and the old Gaskins Consolidated School, it seems it should have been called Gaskins. I imagine Walt’s was a landmark but looks like it’s been closed for many years. Rhonda Garrett writes that Walt Gaskins was a long time Sheriff of Berrien County (who) also served in WWII and was on The Arizona when it was bombed at Pear Harbor.
I’ve preliminarily identified this as Purple-headed Sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum). Sneezeweed doesn’t get its name because of allergens but because certain species were used in early medicinal elixirs to induce sneezing. Medicinal use is strongly discouraged today because the live plants are known to be toxic to humans and cattle.
Near the forgotten community of Bannockburn, the Alapaha River marks the boundary between Berrien and Atkinson counties. The Georgia Highway 135 bridge that crosses here normally spans a smallish stream, but if you wonder why it’s so big, check out a Google Earth view of the river at high water. It fills up quickly. [Note the pilings of an old bridge or trestle in the sandbar]. At present (early autumn 2019) the river is low enough to ford and not even get your knees wet. The Alapaha is special to me because Lucy Lake (an Alapaha oxbow in northern Berrien County) was the first place my father took my brother and me river fishing. It had been a popular spot with locals for many years and he had fished there with his father and uncles many times as a young man himself. The river seemed so much bigger to me then.
The Alapaha is one of Georgia’s most beautiful black water rivers. Little known to people not near its banks, it rises in southern Dooly County and meanders southeastward toward its confluence with the Suwannee River near Jasper, Florida. During this course it collects the Wilacoochee, Alapahoochee, and Little Alapaha rivers. An intermittent river, it goes underground through parts of its course, especially in Hamilton County, Florida. A famous locale there, near Jennings, is the Dead River Sink.
The earliest known reference to the Alapaha was made by Hernando de Soto’s expedition. It noted a village near the Suwannee known as Yupaha, in the 16th century.
We pass by these places all the time. An abandoned farmhouse long forgotten may not seem worthy of documentation to some, but this is where the real people of Georgia worked the farms that anchored our economy for much of the 20th century, long before “Big Ag” began squeezing out small farmers. Many will never be identified, but I’m grateful to all of you for the ones that have been through the years. I see a beauty in these places comparable to our finest homes.
Nathan Bridges was born into slavery in 1857 and even recalled working inside the home of his owner as a small boy. Also against convention, he learned to read and write. He settled in Alapaha around 1880. He was a subcontractor who hauled sawdust from the area mills. He bought town lots during this time and eventually had significant real estate holdings for an African-American of his time. Around 1900 he opened an ice house near the Ocilla Southern depot in Alapaha. He first made deliveries with a wheelbarrow and eventually a mule and wagon. He expanded to groceries as his business grew. A niece recalled that they always went to Nathan’s store because the candy was cheaper than anywhere else in town. Bridges was a respected citizen of Alapaha and served on the Board of Trustees that created the Alapaha Colored School, along with his step-grandson, Brute Shipman. Nathan Bridges died in 1940 and his business was continued by Brute Shipman.
Thanks to Mark Dixon for sharing the photograph and the history. He notes: In the 1980’s, I would visit an older black man named Neil Shipman. Neil’s grandfather was Neil Graham Shipman, who came to Alapaha in 1884 from North Carolina to work in the gum production industry. He married the stepdaughter of Nathan Bridges. Most of my info on this family came from Neil. He died around 1989.
The downstairs portion of Ray City Lodge No. 553, Free & Accepted Masons, has served as the Ray City Drugstore and the Victory Soda Shop. It’s the only remaining commercial brick structure in Ray City.