Jamie Denty

The peaceful natural beauty of George L. Smith State Park and the serene, cypress filled water of the mill pond offer you a tranquil escape where a small town, down home atmosphere provides both recreational and historical experiences. Georgia State Parks.

In our quest to visit every state park in Georgia, we recently stayed at George L. Smith State Park, between Twin City and Metter. This stop narrows our list of the yet-to-visit state parks to five, which means we have visited 42 parks. Situated on the edge of a cypress pond, this park’s well maintained grounds is wedding picture perfect. In the winter, it is beautiful. Certainly, wedding ceremonies have been performed on these grounds. However, I wonder about mosquitoes in the summer. And yes, posted signs acknowledge the presence of alligators, even in the campground. 

The park is advertised as an ideal place to kayak, canoe or hike. Promotional pictures show vacationers paddling around the cypress trees in the pond. 

However, the park’s history caught my attention. Situated at the dam, creating Parrish Pond, is a combination mill and covered bridge built in 1879. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Alexander Hendricks and James M. Parrish joined forces to purchase land. At this site, they built both the dam on 15-Mile Creek, part of the Satilla River Basin, and the base of the mill within a few months. The dam, completely built by hand at the greatest depth of water in the creek, was considered an engineering feat of its day. The road to the mill passed through the mill, over the dam and out the other side. 

By the start of the new year in 1880, the lumber mill was up and running. Timber for the mill house had been felled near the dam, cleared of bark by hand, sawed into lumber and assembled with handmade pegs. Thereafter, cedar, pine and oak were the most popular trees cut in the area and milled into lumber for nearby homes, barns and furniture.

Next, the partners added a cotton gin, which became the mill’s featured operation.  Area farmers brought both long-staple, Sea Island, or short-staple, upland cotton, to have seeds removed and the lint baled. Farmers carried their cotton in cartloads, each load yielding a half bale. Thus, this site became known as a half-bale gin.

In 1885, the last piece of machinery was installed in the mill - a set of millstones and the machinery to power them; the gristmill was up and running. DNR says, “The turbine used wooden bearings made from a South American wood, Lignum vitae, considered the hardest and dense wood in the world. Because of the concentration of the oils in the wood, the bearing were self lubricating even underwater.”

This grist mill, used only for corn, served the citizens of Emanuel, Bulloch and Candler Counties for almost a century. For years, it ran 24-hours a day and the meal was sold across country. Two more sets of millstones were added; and by 1944, the gristmill was the only functioning machinery in the mill. The business continued to operated until 1973. It was then dormant until 1998 when the park system restored the mill. Today, the mill is occasionally run and can grind as much as 200 pounds of corn an hour. 

A walk along the original road and through the covered bridge allows the visitor to step into history. While all of today’s modern machinery allows us to purchase cotton clothing, lumber, cornmeal and grits at stores, the idled machines in this park stand in mute testimony to the ingenuity and mettle of our forefathers.

George L. Smith State Park, which opened in 1980, a hundred years after the commercial industry had been situated on this site, was named for an Emanuel County native. A graduate of Swainsboro High School and the University of Georgia, Smith practiced law in his hometown until 1944, when he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. Smith was a proponent of eleven-year schools and the addition of kindergarten to the public school system. He argued that schools should be funded by the state rather than local government. In 1959, he was named Speaker of the House, a position he held for years. He married Francis McWhorter Mobley and they had one daughter, Sally.

Jamie Denty can be reached at jamiedenty@darientel.net. Please visit:  “From My Back Porch” at jldenty.wixsite.com/jamiedentycolumns. A “new” old column is published most Mondays