Celebrating 100 Years of Service to Kingsland Citizens
In 1788, the King family bought large amounts of land west of St. Marys. The Kings named the plantation Woodlawn. The great-grandson of John King, William King, later built a home on "King's Land." On Christmas day in 1893 the first passenger train (the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad, today's CSX Railroad) rolled into Camden County right across King’s property. As Mr. William King's house was the only one in site, the railroad company named the area “Kings Land.” With the coming of the railroad, people from all areas began to build in and around Kings Land setting a new era in motion. After the railroad was developed, William Henry King mapped out William Henry King the town to be located on his property and named it in his honor. Stores and businesses were open and he became the first mayor when the City of Kingsland was incorporated in 1908. Presumably, this was when the town’s two-word title became only one word. The first Kingsland newspaper was published on April 5, 1895 by the Southeast Georgian.
Laying Tracks in Kingsland 1890
Kingsland was expanding and streets were graded, kerosene streetlights were installed in the business sections, and a jail was built. That same year, the first bank (State Bank of Kingsland) was established and was located on Railroad Ave. It is told that the first bank robbery was in 1928 and the bank’s original cashier, Mr. Perry was killed in that robbery. Citizen’s Bank was built after WWII and was located on Lee St. which is also known as Hwy 17. It is now located on King St. or Hwy 40.
1920's Downtown Kingsland
That same year, the nation's first Maine to Miami road, known in Georgia as the Dixie Highway, was being planned, although it wouldn’t open and pass through Kingsland until 1927. Until that time most people used the St Marys River ferry to cross back and forth between St Marys and Kingsland. Before the wide spread use of automobiles, water traffic was an essential means of transportation for the residents and businesses of Kingsland. Besides the ferry, there were other large vessels available for passengers to use from Kingsland that was approx four miles south of town.
First Train in Kingsland
The rails also played an important part of travel between St Marys and Kingsland. On July 11, 1908 passenger service was begun on the St Marys-Kingsland Railroad and passenger cars were normally used to transport people, but sometimes they had to share room with cargo. In 1911 a motor car that looked like a delivery wagon was designed and put into operation. In the late 1920’s, “The Trolley” was built that was a box shape contraption with a wooden body on a Model T chassis.
The first depot was located just off of King St. The water tank was located just south of the depot. In December 1914, the original depot burned and was replaced with the current structure. That building was donated to the City in 2005 and was moved to its present location on King St. It will be renovated in 2008 and will be used as a welcome center and museum dedicated to the early train system.
In 1915, the Kingsland Coca-Cola Works was opened. In 1927 the sub-franchise was not renewed and the plant became known as the Claxton Bottling Works. The plant created many jobs for Kingsland residents until it closed in 1953. Even before the Highway was paved, Kingsland was flourishing and in the early 1920’s, already on “main street” were homes, Ford Motor Company Garage, a bakery, a drugstore, a market, grocery
1912 Coca-Cola Bottleing Plant
store and at least one hotel. These were in addition to other businesses. This was Kingsland on Railroad Avenue.
Another early business established in Kingsland was the first Black retail business which was the grocery store of Orange Edwards. The business was an outgrowth of a peddling business he had started as a young man. O.F. Edwards School would later be named after him as well as a street in the City.
In 1922 a new school house was built on the block that was bordered by William, Chester and Satilla Streets. It was used as a school until 1950’s. Kingsland Women’s Club rented it until 1969 and City Hall was located there in the 1960’s. In the “name of progress” it was torn down in 1969 to make room for a new grocery store.
The Dixie Highway was rerouted to the east of the railroad in 1927 and renamed the Atlantic Coastal Highway (U.S. 17). The ferry was replaced by a modern cement and steel bridge at the Georgia Florida line and all highway maps recognized Kingsland as the last stop in Georgia. The ribbon cutting for the bridge was a big event for Kingsland. Homes along U.S. 17 were decorated for the event and it brought dignitaries from all parts of Florida and Georgia. Around the 1970’s the bridge was painted blue and is known locally as the “Blue Bridge.”
Major businesses shifted from the railroad to the new highway and the business district flourished in the late 1920s. The drug store was one of the businesses that moved and the Camden Hotel was built. It was said to be the most modern hotel between Brunswick and Jacksonville. In 1993, the Camden Hotel was remodeled to become City Hall and Welcome Center and in 2007 the City purchased and remodeled Hill’s Drug Store for the Planning and Zoning Department.
With the automobile age and the major highway going through Kingsland, gas became an important commodity. By 1938, there were at least three service stations and three car dealerships to cater to the traffic. In addition, around this time, the first Greyhound Bus Station was opened and in 1939 a restaurant and tourist court with a wild-life attraction was also opened. There is documentation in the form of a plaque that The City of Kingsland Public Works Department exists back to the 1930’s.
1935 Camden Hotel
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, horse races were an important annual event. The race track was located just east of Kingsland on highway 40 near what is now the I-95 interchange. The Southeast Georgian (December 1, 1937 issue) reported about the 5th Annual Race which took place at the Camden Park Track. The admission was $.40 for adults and .20 for children and if you wanted to sit in the grand stand, it was an additional $.25. It was reported that 3,500 people attended. The 9th annual race was run on April 26, 1941 and the beginning of WWII brought an end to the horse races.
The City’s Police and Volunteer Fire Departments have been traced back to 1942 and 1943, respectively. The first fire truck in the 1940’s consisted of an army wagon with a pump on it that would be pulled by the first pickup truck to get there. In the 1950’s the first fire truck was built by putting the old tank and pump on a 1953 Chevrolet chassis. The first factory built truck
1940's Fire Department
was purchased in 1968. In 1973, the first ambulance license was issued to Kingsland Fire Rescue and they served the whole county. Until that time, the funeral homes would transport people to the hospital. The current year’s budget allows for 47 full time police employees and 27 paid fire positions as well as approx 40 volunteer fire fighters. Including the one in this year’s budget, the fire department owns nine trucks, three ambulances, and three stations. In April 2007, the largest wild fire in Georgia history started in the nearby Okefenokee Swamp. The fire was not contained until June 22 and heavy smoke was blown as far away as south Florida. Kingsland was blanketed in smoke many of these days. Kingsland Fire and Rescue assisted around the clock and was instrumental in finally containing the fire.
The 1950’s and 1960’s saw a steady growth for the City. The City has always grown and the population has never declined. According to the US census figures, the City had a population of 190 in 1910 and 1500 in 1970. The largest growth was yet to come at that time.
Both Kingsland and Camden County experienced immense growth during the 1970s, due to the buildup of the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. In July 1978 the base was commissioned and its original mission was to be a support base to submarines. The Navy funded a four year, $125 million construction program that was the largest peacetime project ever undertaken by the Navy. In 1980, the base’s
1950's Lee Street at King Street
mission changed and it was announced that it would be home port to the Atlantic Fleet and eventually be home port to 10 Ohio class submarines that would carry the Trident II nuclear missile. The total program took 9 years to complete at a cost of $1.3 billion. The first submarine arrived in 1989 and the last in 1997. Not all people embraced the growth or the nuclear subs, but the growth continued. It was around 1985 that the City formed an official planning and zoning department to prepare for the influx of people and homes.
Around that same time, the Kings Bay Impact Coordinating Committee (KBICC) was formed to assist the Cities and the County with impact money from the Federal government. The base was going to change the small sleepy town and the government recognized that. Some of the buildings Kingsland constructed with this money were a new fire station, police station, and city hall. The growth was such that in 1993 city hall was moved to the present location in the old Camden Hotel and the former city hall was renamed Municipal Services Building and housed several support departments such as finance.
With the growth, the City’s infrastructure had to grow as evidenced by the growth of the water and sewer system and the public works department. The first water tower was constructed in 1939 where the Municipal Services Building’s parking lot is in 2007. It was 100 feet tall with a 60 gallon tank that had to be pumped by hand at night. There was a monthly charge of $1.00 for the use of the water.
In the 1940’s Public Works consisted of 4 people. One person took care of most of the water and another would drive the trash wagon most of the day. The others would keep the paved streets clean and try to keep the dirt ones graded. The only paved streets until the 1960’s were Highways 40 and 17. Beginning in 1957 the City installed approx 300 meters over the next several years. In 1959, sewer was added. Most people at that time had wells and septic tanks. In the early 1950’s the city was exactly one mile in circumference with the center being at the railroad.
The City’s first well was originally constructed in 1976 and was improved in 1987. The second well was originally constructed in 1987 and the third was constructed on 1995. The City owns two water treatment plants. The first was constructed in 1986 and the second in 1995. The City started metering and charging for the water and sewer in 1976 after the first well was put in. Three elevated storage tanks are currently in use. These were constructed in the late 1970’s, in 1986, and in 1995. In 2007 a 12 million dollar wastewater expansion project was awarded that would give the City the additional capacity needed to keep up with the growth.
In 1976 when the water meters were installed, City Hall consisted of the City Clerk, a water billing clerk that read the meters and did the billing, an office assistant, and one cashier. In the 2008 budget there are approx 50 positions that are not in public works, water, or public safety departments.
In 1969 the City bought its first garbage truck, a Ford Packard and began charging for pickup. Before that time, a flat bed truck was
1978 Lee Street
used and there was not a fee charged. The City operated its own landfill until 1992. In 1992 Special Local Option Sales Tax was used to build a county wide landfill. The Sanitation department now requires five garbage trucks, including the one in this year’s budget as well as four other collection trucks to keep up with the City’s debris.
In the early 1970’s, Interstate 95 was completed and ran about two miles east of the Atlantic Hwy. This was now the major thoroughfare from Maine to Florida. As the years went by, more businesses began to build around the Interstate due to the heavy traffic. In the 1980’s with the new people coming in and the traffic passing through, Kingsland began to grow rapidly. It was the next to last exit before entering Florida. The shift had begun away from what was once a thriving downtown area and the Interstate area began to grow. At the end of 2007, there are 16 chain hotels around Exit 3. Three more major ones are under construction and there are plans for at least three more. The revenues from the hotel/motel tax are being used to totally pay for a new Welcome Center at Exit 3.
An extensive streetscaping project was undertaken by the City in 1994 to return the downtown area to the grandeur of its historic past. The entire brick paving project was funded with ISTEA grant funds. The project also included a nostalgic street clock and street lighting.
In 1994 the City was looking at ways to grow in an orderly fashion and decided to build a municipal golf course to allow for a more upscale community. Laurel Island Links opened in November 1996 and was sold in May 2006. The City did what it intended to do. The land surrounding the golf course was worth approx $1.8 million in taxable property in 1995 and in 2006 it is worth almost $126 million. The golf course itself is on the tax roll at a value of over $4.2 million in 2007. The increased values benefit all of Camden County as it is taxed by the County and School Board.
As Kingsland entered the 21st century, it was still feeling growing pains. It was a challenge keeping up with the infrastructure but with good planning, the City managed and the 2008 budget reflects that.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, the City of Kingsland’s population was 2,008 in 1980; 4,699 in 1990; and 10,506 in 2000. That represents an increase in growth of 134% and 124%, respectively. In the 2005 estimate by the Census, Kingsland’s population count increased approximately 20% to 12,700 people.
The City's rich history has led to Kingsland being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kingsland has also been named a Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Better Community. In 2005, with the reactivation of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board, the downtown area was renamed the Royal District. The Royal District houses many types of businesses, including antiques and fine arts, and historic homes and buildings dating back to the 1920s. Kingsland prides itself on having a small town atmosphere with enhanced city amenities. Due to the City's prime location, many government offices, the County library, Camden County High School, County Industrial Park, the County's consolidated recreational services, and the Coastal Georgia Community College are all located in Kingsland.
Perhaps the biggest news in the history of Kingsland will be announced in November 2007. The City by the end of October is expected to be approximately 12,900 acres. The City has been asked to annex in 15,900 acres. This more than doubles the current size of the City and will make it the eighth largest city in Georgia as far as land mass. One developer has a master plan that will include industrial, commercial, and residential spaces. The plan includes over 40,000 homes of various sizes. Management of the City have been discussing various issues with the developer and feel like the plan will be able to be implemented as planned over the next 20-30 years.
With the City doubling its size in one year, it has a great opportunity and challenge facing its leaders. Because Kingsland is not as old in history as the other cities in Camden County, it has been referred to as the “modern” city. It has shown that it can live up to that name. Kingsland has been proactive instead of reactive in providing the quality of life its citizens deserve in the face of continuing growth. It is hoped that the future decision makers live up to this reputation over the next 100 years.