Little City, Big History!

Early settlers to the Summit-Graymont District followed paths carved out by the Lower Creek Indians on land along the runs of the Canoochee and Reedy Creeks. These trails developed into central routes as Georgia was settled. As settlers staked claims to the land and established homes, farms, and trading posts, grist and sawmills sprang up along the creeks that could easily be dammed. Settlers were in Emanuel County as early as 1830.

In 1833 a group of Savannah businessmen organized the Central Rail and Canal Company (its name later changed to the Central Rail Road and Banking Company of Georgia) to compete with Charleston’s new railroad to Augusta. The innovation of the locomotive helped the advancement of communities. The line was complete from Savannah to Oliver by 1839 and to Macon in 1843. At Millen, the Central connected with the Augusta and Waynesboro Railroad, a 53-mile line to Augusta. The A&W was chartered in 1838 and completed in 1854; the name changed in 1856 to the Augusta and Savannah Railroad. 

Following the Civil War, there was a huge demand for wood to rebuild homes and buildings destroyed during the war. Before train lines began, lumbermen would cut the trees, haul the logs by wagon to the Altamaha, and float the logs to the final destination of Darien, GA, which was at that time the lumber center of Georgia’s coast. After dropping off their load, the lumbermen would have to walk back home, a distance of over 100 miles to what is now the Summit-Graymont area.

In 1867, because of the wealth of pine in the area, and because there were no major creeks or streams in the general vicinity of the present day Summit-Graymont area, Emanuel County erected a railroad from Swainsboro to some point on the Central Rail Road for the purpose of transporting logs to larger sawmills at Rogers, GA, a town approximately 25 miles almost due north of Summit in Jenkins County, about halfway to Waynesboro.

Between 1866 and 1882, W. M. Wadley, who was president of the Central of Georgia, personally leased sections of the railroad to buyers in need of a hauler. James Rountree (1834 – 1914), who owned 3700 acres of pine in the Eastern portion of Emanuel County and needed a way to cut the trees and haul them, out-leased a portion of line from Mr. Wadley. Thus the line ran onto the Rountree property. A “Y “line was laid, and at the end of the bottom of the “Y” was the turn-around point. That spot was the highest point on the rail line, and according to Mr. Wadley, it was the summit. The name stuck.

James Rountree was the son of Joshua Rountree, of Tar River, North Carolina. Joshua and his brother George were grantees of land in the 1805 Georgia Land Lottery. The land passed from Joshua to his son, James Leonard Rountree, who developed Summit on part of the 3,700 acres he owned. James was a developer and philanthropist. He donated all the land designated for civic use. The high school stadium is named in his honor. Many of his direct descendants still live in town; he is buried in Coleman Cemetery (Twin City Cemetery).

Along this “Y” shape, now named Summit, a railroad depot containing offices and a store were built. The settlement grew and before long included a large naval store, a commissary with offices, a post office, turpentine still, a blacksmith shop, Futches’ store, and Benjamin Lane Rountree’s General Store. The blacksmith shop and turpentine still are gone, but many of these buildings remain. Across the road was the Summit Mercantile Company, a large business established through the alliance of area farmers, a cotton gin, syrup evaporator, a mercantile business, and other stores. A newspaper, The Summit News, was published. Houses were built for residents of the area. The Sam Tilden School also began but was shortly abandoned for a new school – the Summit School. The school had an excellent reputation and drew students from as far as 25 miles away.

Summit was incorporated on April 25, 1898. The city limits were set as a circle one mile in diameter with the railroad depot, originally located just north of the present intersection of U.S. 80 and GA 23, as the center. The town prospered and had two banks – The People’s Bank (est. 1904) and The Bank of Summit (est. 1912). In 1907 Dr. Walter Rountree (1872 – 1951) moved in to practice medicine and built three stores on a lot adjoining The People’s Bank. On this site a large part of the town’s business was conducted by businesses renting from him. Among the first occupants were Marlow Daniels (1882 – 1968), who rented two stores, and Sam Rosenburg, who had a dry goods store. Mr. Daniels sold general merchandise, groceries, millinery, and the motorcar when it came along. After Mr. Rosenburg went out of business, Charlie Bishop entered the grocery business in that space. The Daniels’ motorcar business thrived to the extent that in the 1940s it relocated to Swainsboro as Daniels Chevrolet. It continues as a thriving area business with locations Swainsboro and Metter. 

In 1896, two years before Summit was incorporated, and less than three miles southwest of the Summit depot, three brothers – Matthew, Dennis, and Frank Durden – lived “out in the country” in a settlement called Math on Durden’s Race (now Fannie Brewer Road). The brothers recognized the growth of Summit and decided they wanted to be part of it. Mathew Durden, who had been instrumental in establishing Math – which consisted of a sawmill, two cotton gins, a blacksmith shop, and a general store – along with his brothers, made a proposition to the Rountrees of Summit to purchase land to start business in Summit. According to local story, the request was denied because the Rountrees feared the competition.

Wadley was approached about extending the rail line through Summit to Turner’s Pond where another large mill was in operation. According to one source, the Durden boys didn’t have much money, but had acres and acres of virgin timber and lots of ingenuity. They decided to develop resources along the rail line outside of Summit. Later the Durden brothers constructed a rail line from Turner’s Pond into Stillmore, roughly an 11-mile rail line from the end of Summit. In retaliation to their denied request, the Durden brothers started a business on land belonging to Jerry Coleman outside of Summit.

The business started by the Durden brothers was called the Citizens Trading Company. It was described as one of the largest mercantile business in the region. Everything from “cribs to caskets” was sold there. The building still stands and houses Stitch and Print and looks much as it did in 1904. Thus Graymont formed, the town taking its name from two significant people in its development. Capt. Joseph Gray was a conductor on the first rail line, and “mont” is derived from Monte, the first name of Miss Monte Overstreet, a member of one of the area’s pioneer families.

Other businesses followed: the Graymont Wagon and Manufacturing Company; cottages for rental; Hotel Albert; ET Coleman Sanitarium; the Graymont Drug Company; The Bank of Graymont; a post office; a newspaper – The Graymont Hustler; a livery stable; another hotel; and the Graymont School. Of theses the original livery stable, Graymont Wagon and Manufacturing Company (now Stitch and Print), the Graymont Bank, and the Graymont Drug Company are still standing. According to an article in the August 24, 1904, issue of the Forest-Blade, the town of Graymont, even though in its infancy, had a surprising number of enterprises. The writer posted that where only a short while ago there were only long-leaf pine and wiregrass, now stood numerous nice brick buildings.

Lodging was needed to accommodate the influx of people, so cottages were built and rented as fast as they were finished. About a thousand yards south of the railroad tracks, a hotel was built. The Hotel Albert, constructed in 1900 by two of the Durden brothers and named after their father, Albert Neal Durden, was a two-story, Victorian showpiece. In an interview, Mr. Sam Smith (1937 - 2014), grandson of Matthew Durden, recalled that salesmen would come in one day on the train, do business at the Citizens Trading Company or with one of the other businesses, spend the night at Hotel Albert, then leave in the morning on the next train out. Another anecdote was told by Mr. Robert Overstreet, now deceased. His mother rode the train from Durdenville to Graymont to attend school. She would arrive Monday mornings, attend school during the week staying at Jefferson Davis (Jeff) Durden’s home (Higgenbotham House), then return to Durdenville on Fridays, a one-way trip of five miles.

Although the towns shared some commonalities of family, politics, land boundaries, religious affiliation, business ventures, and social connections, the towns of Graymont and Summit functioned independently. Even though the two towns were connected and the railroad was the backbone of each, Summit to the north, Graymont to the south, a competition remained between the towns for almost 20 years. Both towns were strikingly similar in appearance and size. According to the 1920 census, the population of Summit was 501, Graymont 429. At one point, Graymont was called Summit’s “twin city,” and is likely how the name of present day Twin City was chosen when the towns incorporated.

Graymont and Summit were founded on the local wealth of timber and turpentine. Both thrived, but the county experienced changes between 1910 and 1930, which greatly affected both towns. Until these decades, towns had grown unhampered along rail lines; timber and timber products were abundant, and the probability of local people to dwell and shop within city limits was assured. People rarely traveled elsewhere to do their business. But during these two decades competition increased, and with it came new laws governing the rails as well as townships, and many small train towns were folding. Added to tough competition were the blows of natural disasters and financial struggles. One of the biggest events that contributed to the shakeup of small southern towns was the debut of Henry Ford’s automobile in 1913, followed by the U.S. entry into World War I (1917), mass production (1924), devastation of the boll weevil to cotton crops (1918), the breaking of the cotton market (1920), and the stock market crash of 1929. These national and regional events were major hits in the rural South, reshaping the economics, politics, and social shape of small towns and communities.

Another major hit to small towns was the decision of the Joint Board of State and Federal Highway Officials to establish a roadway connecting Savannah and Columbus, GA. The creation of the Dixie Overland Highway, now known as U.S. 80, ran east to west between Graymont and Summit. An Associated Press release of February 26, 1917, reads “In July 1914, the Automobile Club of Savannah, GA made a path-finding tour across the state of Georgia to Columbus. They found a practical route. . . A meeting was held in Columbus. It was determined to secure the construction of the entire highway . . . an ocean to ocean highway was projected.” The new highway enabled a more mobile society and a new kind of commerce. The new east-west highway opposed the layout of Summit and Graymont, towns whose orientation was along the rails. Quite literally, the new highway cut across the economics of railroads in general and more specifically, the economics of these two towns.

Railroad companies merged for the sake of survival. In 1909 the entire Central of Georgia Rail Line, which ran from Millen to Vidalia, was purchased by the Georgia & Florida Line. In addition to the change in rail lines, the timber industry was also declining, so trains sought other routes and cargo to stay in business. Excursion routes continued; a January 20, 1911, advertisement lists a five-day excursion to Jacksonville, FL, on the Georgia & Florida Railway as $5.00, but service to smaller, (poorer) stops along the lines ceased. 

Closer to home, the trees near the sawmills had all been felled, larger stores in neighboring cities offered goods and supplies at better prices, economic conditions worsened, and new laws mandating and regulating city function (garbage, sanitation, etc. ) increased. Small townships like Canoochee, neighbor to Summit and Graymont, which had been incorporated by legislature, now were experiencing forfeiture by non-use. Not wanting to see their towns similarly abolished, the leaders of Graymont and Summit pursued merger. In 1921 B. Lewis Brinson introduced a legislative act to abolish the cities of Graymont and Summit and incorporate them as one; thus Twin City was formed.

Emanuel County Institute Summit-Graymont, Georgia

Shortly after Twin City was formed a decision was made to replace the towns’ smaller schools with one school to serve both communities. The new school, Emanuel County Institute (1914), was built on land donated by James Rountree in 1900; Rountree specified that the land was to be used for civic purposes only (churches, schools, community buildings). The school was located in the middle of the two towns so that no one could claim that either side was favored. In fact, the borders of Twin City are described by the circumference of a circle whose center was the front door of the original school; the hallway of the current school memorializes the dividing line of the joined cities.

Initially the halves of Twin City operated pretty much as before. In 1937 a water tower, located on the land set aside for civic use, was added. The communities cooperated in many areas, but in an effort to maintain some of their original identities, both towns continued to operate separate post offices, banks, and newspapers. This practice continued into the 1950s. However, uniting the towns enabled them to withstand the economic, political, and social blows the next three decades would deliver.

The decade of the forties was hard on Twin City. At the beginning of the decade, “the town treasury was depleted. Street lights had been cut off, and the police force was in sore need of funds.” (The Augusta (GA) Herald – Thursday, Aug. 17, 1950). The opening of a Piggly Wiggly, the first self- service grocery store, continued the economic slide which began when the railroad-timber connection ended. Local groceries were not able to compete. Daniels General Merchandise, whose success grew with the motorcar, relocated to Swainsboro and became Daniels Chevrolet.

The original wooden structure that was Emanuel County Institute was torn down in the early 1950 and a brick school was built. The new school burned the summer of 1954 by a fire that started as the auditorium was being remodeled. Portions of the original brick school, and ECI continues to stand among the town’s original three churches.

As of August 1950, the streets of Twin City had not been paved and were maintained by a grader. Except for the main highways, streets remained unpaved until the mid-1960s. By the 1970s, most neighborhood streets were paved and naming them was the Eagle Scout project of W.R. Brown III, great-great nephew of James Rountree, the man who donated land for school and civic use.

Today Twin City consists of 3.6 square miles dissected by U.S. 80 and crossed by GA 23. The town has continued to develop along the original railroad path. Built up along the same path the train would have traveled toward Graymont are the town’s only bank, the city hall, police and fire station, a welcome center, hardware store, gas station, drug store, chemical plant, health clinic, restaurant, hair salon, fine art studio, and multiple historic homes. Following the path on the Summit side (now GA 23) are a car wash, an insurance office, a hair salon, and a 1940s gas station, now a popular barbeque restaurant. The Church of God, which used to meet in the gabled front store on the west side of the highway, built its new building across the street in 1960. A used furniture store occupies the triple store front built by Dr. Walter Rountree; the Summit bank has been restored with an upstairs apartment, and a feed and seed store continues the tradition of merchandising in old Benjamin Lane Rountree’s General Store; across the street is where the train initially completed its “Y”. Across from the Summit bank a car detailing shop occupies another former 1940s gas station, and a handi-house business occupies space behind the depot, now located near the commercial center of old Summit. The current population is roughly 1742.