By Barbara Augsdorfer
Editor for the Effingham Herald
Stories exist that just want to be told if people will just stop to listen.
For two families in Guyton, those stories center around their local church, the railroad, and living life in general. For these families, life was lived in segregation in the early 20th century. They talked about their local church congregations, the one local store, the post office, and getting to school in ways that tells today’s kids, “You just don’t know how good you got it.”
Although the US post office today tells these families their mail comes to them with a Guyton address, they live in communities known as Marlow and Egypt.
How Egypt got its name is somewhat steeped in local legend.
Lifelong resident Alex Jenkins tells this story: “One night a man got off the train and said, ‘It’s as dark as Egypt here!” (This tidbit of information is also found in a July 2008 story in the Effingham Herald.) The same story also suggests the town has more Biblical roots, citing Gen. 42:2 when Jacob tells his sons, “I have heard there is corn in Egypt.”
Jenkins is 92 years old and a lifelong resident of Egypt. He remembers the trains that went from Egypt to Brooklet hauling everything from fertilizer to cotton; then from Brooklet to Augusta or Savannah; the one grocery store at the corner of Central (Hwy. 17), and going to school in a two-room schoolhouse.
He worked on farms when he was young, and after finishing high school he worked for 40 years with Georgia Pacific as a mechanic. Now Jenkins is active as a deacon at Egypt Baptist Church.
Alex and Elise Jenkins have been married for 55 years and raised six children in Egypt. They fostered six additional children. Elise worked for the school district as a bus driver and custodian.
All around the Jenkins property are signs of Effingham County’s growth – new neighborhoods are springing up nearby, even though the Jenkins’ house is on a quiet dirt road. They hope the road gets paved someday, but in the meantime they don’t experience too much mud during rainy weather. “But the poor mail carrier has to drive down this road all by herself all the time, even in the rain,” Alex said.
About 12 miles away in Marlow, life was similar for Black residents in the early 20th century.
Lucille Samuel Jones lives in a house next to the Marlow Baptist Church where she is a minister.
As a minister, Jones, now 85, teaches Sunday school and assists with the church’s local mission work, such as the food pantry. “Members come from Rincon, Springfield, Savannah. The food pantry is for anyone in need,” she explained. “If a member knows of a neighbor that needs food, they can take from our pantry and take to their neighbor.” She added that she would like to see the congregation start a clothes closet for people in need.
Jones was born in 1938 and lived in Marlow until she was 17, moved to New York and then South Carolina. She returned to Marlow three years ago. She remembers going to school in a two-room schoolhouse, attending the Effingham County Training School -- that is what the high school was called at that time. This, of course, was during segregation. “There were no (school) buses back then,” Jones said. “There was a pick-up truck with chairs in the back with a canvas cover on the top that took us to school.” She added that her older siblings would walk about a mile to catch the train to take them to high school in Guyton.
Jones also remembers there was no running water, no electricity, and there was one grocery store in Marlow. The grocery store stocked flour, cornmeal, rice, lard, and salt pork. At the school in the 1940s, the lunch room served oatmeal with powdered milk, and “occasionally bean soup with corn bread,” she recalls. “This was during World War II and everything was rationed.”
Marlow Baptist Church was organized in 1857. Worshippers met under a tree until land could be bought and a sanctuary could be built. The congregation has been at its current location since 1937. Jones recalls that the congregation was quite large back in the early 20th century, but now people have moved to surrounding communities. There are still around 100 members who attend worship every week.
In addition to the church building, the property contains the remnants of a wood frame schoolhouse that was used by Black children when their original school burned down. (A June 2013 article in the Effingham Herald details some of Marlow’s history. Jones is hoping the church will restore the school building and use it as a food pantry and also refurbish part of it as the old school house.