The city was recognized with an historic preservation award for the careful rehabilitation of its 1903 Atlantic Coast Line depot.
176 Northwest Broad Street Jesup, GA 31545
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||City of Jesup|
|Parking Lot Ownership||City of Jesup|
|15 Short Term Parking Spaces||5 Long Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms||Accessible Waiting Room|
|Accessible Water Fountain||Enclosed Waiting Area||Pay Phones|
- Silver Meteor
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The Jesup depot, erected in 1903 by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL), was severely damaged in February 2003 after an early morning electrical fire destroyed much of the interior and the roof. Stiff winds fed the blaze, which was only extinguished by the concerted efforts of firefighters from the town and neighboring counties. Following the accident, the depot was boarded up while the city sought funding for a full rehabilitation. Luckily, in 2005, Jesup received $836,000 in federal funds to restore the building after it was designated a High Priority Project by the Federal Highway Administration. The city also purchased the building and land from CSX Transportation, owner of the adjacent railroad line.
Years of planning culminated in a ground-breaking ceremony held at the depot on December 13, 2011 to celebrate the start of the restoration. In attendance were city and county officials as well as representatives of the local tourism board and Amtrak. Working with the Spriggs Group, a Savannah-based architectural firm with wide experience in historic preservation projects, the city decided to return the depot to its early 20th century appearance. Bron Cleveland Associates, Inc. of Atlanta oversaw project management.
When first completed, the one story building had a distinct steep, double-hipped roof with eyebrow dormers to vent the attic. Generous and deep eaves supported by brackets sheltered passengers from inclement weather and the hot summer sun as they waited outside for the arrival of the train. Trackside, the station master could survey traffic on the line from a five-sided canted bay that had tall windows on three elevations.
A combination depot, the building housed passenger and freight services under one roof. This dual functionality is evident on the exterior by the placement of the windows and doors. The southern half of the building was used as the waiting room, and natural light entered through large windows. A telegrapher’s office in the center of the building separated the waiting room from the freight area on the northern end. Large doors allowed carts laden with crates and luggage to be easily wheeled between the train and the depot, while small windows placed high on the wall permitted light to enter but deterred would-be thieves. According to early maps, there were other railroad structures nearby, such as a small square building adjacent to the depot serving as a restaurant; a large water tower used to fill the steam locomotive tenders; and a freight house along Broad Street.
On October 27, 2012, the people of Jesup celebrated the completion of the rehabilitation project during the city’s annual Arch Festival, an event started in 2003 to highlight the renewed downtown. In addition to a passenger waiting room, the depot now also includes a community meeting space and new offices and a welcome center for the Wayne County Board of Tourism. The interior is decorated with historic photographs and memorabilia that demonstrate the strong ties between Jesup and the railroads. City officials believe that these new uses will make the depot more active and therefore contribute to the revitalization of the surrounding area. After touring the new facility, festival-goers enjoyed a popular BBQ Cook Off, Cake Bake Competition, live music and market area with arts and crafts vendors.
A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on March 8, 2013 and included speeches by the mayor and an Amtrak representative. Afterwards, townspeople and visitors were welcome to tour the building and enjoy refreshments. In May, 2014, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the city's efforts to restore the depot with an award for “Excellence in Rehabilitation.”
Jesup is the seat of Wayne County and is located 40 miles from the Atlantic coast in the heart of the “wiregrass” region. The area takes its name from a grass that thrives in southeastern Georgia’s sandy soils and numerous rivers, creeks and swamps. When European settlers arrived in the early 17th century, they found a pine forest landscape whose floor was covered in the foot-tall wiregrass. The sandy soils and wetlands would serve to discourage extensive settlement for centuries to come, although deer, gophers and wild hogs populated the area.
The Spanish were the first to attempt settlement, moving north from their base at St. Augustine, Florida, which was founded in 1565. As part of their efforts to colonize the New World and convert the American Indians to Catholicism, the Spanish established a series of missions extending into present-day Georgia. By the end of the century, Franciscan friars had made contact with the Guale and Timucua tribes among others. Missions, which included a church as well as living quarters for one or more friars, were generally constructed in the villages where local chiefs lived and governed with their counsels. Unfortunately, the Spanish colonists also brought foreign diseases to which the American Indians lacked resistance; subsequently, the American Indian population plummeted during the 17th century and many of the interior missions were later abandoned. In some cases, tribes combined together to ensure their general welfare. Warfare with English-backed tribes to the north also hastened the retreat of the mission system in Georgia with the last settlement destroyed in 1684.
European settlement on a large scale did not occur again in the area until 1732 with the founding of the Georgia Colony by English General James Oglethorpe. Named after King George II, Georgia was the last of the original thirteen English colonies and was also the most southern. Throughout the colonial era, it acted as a buffer zone between the English sphere to the north and Spanish Florida to the south. English settlers would call the remaining American Indians “Creeks,” a general term that encompassed many smaller groups. During the colonial era, much of the wiregrass region was sparsely inhabited as settlers gravitated towards better soils further north.
Wayne County was not formed until 1803, following the Treaty of Fort Wilkinson in which the Creeks ceded the land to the federal government. It was named for General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, a Revolutionary War hero from Pennsylvania who gained great fame during campaigns in Georgia. Again, due to the wiregrass landscape, Wayne County was not heavily settled until the arrival of the railroad in the mid-19th century. The census of 1820 records that only 1,659 persons lived in the county; twenty years later, that number had fallen to 1,290.
In 1847, Savannah financiers backed the construction of the Savannah and Albany Railroad, which was to operate a line running from the Atlantic port to inland Albany. By 1854, the company had expanded its vision by changing its name to the Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad (SA&G), indicating its intention to reach the Gulf of Mexico. The SA&G soon found itself in competition with another line—the Brunswick and Florida Railroad—chartered to build out from the port of Brunswick. Rather than construct redundant lines, the two companies decided to build westward and meet at a new line, the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad (A&G), which would then proceed further west.
As the SA&G built westward through the wiregrass region in 1857, it established numerous stops to supply the steam engines with water and wood. For ease of recognition, they were numbered sequentially, but many later developed into full fledged towns—Station #6 became Jesup. In 1863, the A&G took over the SA&G, which had reached as far as Screven (Station #7), about 12 miles southwest of Jesup.
During the Civil War, attention shifted from railroad construction to maintenance, especially as the war came to a close and the Union Army destroyed vital infrastructure. To the northeast of Station #6, the Defense of the Altamaha Bridge occurred in December 1864 during William Tecumsah Sherman’s destructive March to the Sea. The A&G bridge over the Altamaha River was a prime target since it was one of the few water crossings of any type in the area and would have cut off supplies to Savannah, Sherman’s ultimate destination. Confederate troops constructed earthworks on the north bank of the river and mounted two 32-pounder guns at Doctor Town on the south side. Unable to seize the bridge or the Confederate battery on December 19, the Union troops withdrew to the Ogeechee River.
A decade after its quiet founding, Station #6 consisted of no more than a wood storage shed for the railroad, saw mill, one store, bars and a few houses. 1870 became a watershed year for the village when the Macon and Brunswick Railroad (M&B) was finally completed between its named endpoints and went into full operation. On its journey from the interior to the coast, the line crossed the A&G at Station #6, therefore making the settlement an important rail crossing that then attracted residents. Willis Clary, Jesup’s first mayor, is credited with convincing the M&B to locate the crossing at Jesup.
A government was also organized that year and the town gained its current name, although historians are not positive for whom it was chosen. Some believe that it honors Brigadier General Thomas S. Jesup, who had gained fame in wars against the Creek and Seminoles. Another possibility points in the direction of Morris K. Jessup, a prominent railroad financier. As the town was laid out, the importance of the rail line was reinforced by the fact that all of the streets align with it. By 1873, the new town became the county seat and boasted a courthouse.
The A&G experienced financial difficulties and was purchased in 1879 by Henry B. Plant, an entrepreneur who became rich through the parcel express business. Following the Civil War and an economic depression in the early 1870s, many southern railroads were in poor financial condition. Plant took advantage of the opportunity to buy lines in the Southeast and quickly came to control railroad and steamship lines throughout central and northern Florida and southern Georgia. In addition to railroads, Plant constructed tourism infrastructure including hotels. He would reorganize the A&G as the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway. Following Plant’s death in 1899, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL) purchased the Plant System in 1902. The old Macon and Brunswick Railroad became part of the Southern Railway in 1894. Jesup gained another valuable rail connection in 1902 with the completion of the Jacksonville, St. Marys and Jesup Railroad offering a direct route to Jacksonville, Fla.
While part of the Plant System, Jesup gained a new depot in the mid-1880s. Photos show that it was a one story wood structure; a generous wrap-around porch exhibited elaborate, delicate woodwork typical of the Eastlake Style. Protecting passengers from the rain and sun, the porch still allowed them to take advantage of cooling breezes that also ventilated the waiting room and ticket office. A fire destroyed this depot around 1900, and it was replaced by the current structure.
Although the area is known for its rivers and creeks, not many of them were navigable deep into the interior, and thus the growth of the rail network made it easier for farmers to ship out their products. In the 19th century, the economic base came to include cotton, tobacco, corn, pecans and livestock. Most farmers owned less than 100 acres and worked to grow crops for home consumption with a small portion set aside for sale. In areas along the Altamaha River, industrialists took advantage of the extensive pine forests to produce turpentine and lumber for export. At the dawn of the 21st century, primary products still include cotton and timber used in paper production.
Today, the area around Jesup is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy exploring recreational opportunities on the Altamaha—including boating and water sports. Due to the continued remoteness of the area, there are few river crossings or other incursions. Plants and animals found in local waters and forests include alligators, wood ducks, bald eagles, gopher tortoises and species of pearly mussels found nowhere else on earth. The river also offers excellent fishing, especially for catfish; state records for blue and flathead catfish have been broken with catches from the Altamaha. For those more interested in Jesup’s railroad past, a covered platform near the depot makes for excellent train watching and is often filled with enthusiasts tallying the types of cars rolling by. An old, red ACL caboose stands in a park on the far side of the tracks.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this facility, which is served by two daily trains.
Image courtesy of Bron Cleveland Associates, Inc.