EXCELSIOR — In the days when Statesboro was a small town that people from surrounding areas in Bulloch County came to twice a year for court, Excelsior was a flourishing cultural center.
This was in the late 1800s, when at one point, the population of Statesboro was 25 and Bulloch County was much larger in area than it is now. Excelsior, about 20 miles south of Statesboro, was founded in 1875 and quickly became the place to be in the county.
These days, Excelsior is a quiet community highlighted by Excelsior Baptist Church and the intersection of Excelsior Church and Dutch Ford roads, with a four-way stop, in Candler County about two miles south of Interstate 16.
Future generations will know about Excelsior’s heyday thanks to a historical marker dedicated by the Bulloch County Historical Society on Sunday afternoon at the four-way stop intersection.
Brent Tharp, the vice president of the historical society, said the gathering of about 30 people was “the largest crowd we’ve had at a dedication, which says a lot about what Excelsior was — and is.”
Excelsior was, according to the marker, “the cultural center of Bulloch County in the late 1800s before it became part of Candler County.”
Jimerson Kennedy, Remer Franklin, W.W. Olliff, Dr. Jeff Williams and John G. Jones donated the land on which the community was founded, in 1875. Desiring a “good and permanent school” for their children, the founders paid for the construction of Excelsior Academy.
“It was built in a place thought of as the town square, surrounded by oak and pine trees,” the marker says. “It attracted students from nearby areas who boarded with community members during the school term.”
The academy, whose teachers “were often affiliated with” Excelsior Baptist Church, attracted new residents. Bulloch County’s first newspaper was the Excelsior News, established in 1877, which served the town and surrounding areas. Olliff’s General Store was built on the outskirts.
“After nearby areas grew due to railway construction in the early 1900s, they siphoned off the population of Excelsior,” the marker says. “The academy became a primary school in a sparsely populated town.”
The marker is the historical society’s 13th in the past three years, and the marker project is supported by the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation.
Many of those at the dedication had gathered for a reunion of the Franklin family — one of Excelsior’s founding families — at the church.
Virginia Anne Waters, the historical society’s project coordinator, is a Franklin descendant. Her maiden name is Franklin. Her husband, Bill Waters, who is on the historical society’s board of directors, grew up on a farm in Excelsior.
“It couldn’t have been a better childhood,” Bill Waters said. “I know one thing. I knew exactly where I was going to be on Sunday — at least twice, morning and evening — and I sure I would be here, right down that road there in that same little white church, on Wednesday nights. And we would play in the moonlight. Families would always be out in front of the church talking and getting together and talking about the crops and when it’s going to rain and what’s going to happen.
“What a wonderful life, what wonderful people,” he continued. “It’s a real pleasure for me to come back to my roots. It means a lot, folks, it really does.”
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.