The weather was too cool early in the morning to do yard work at our cabin in Tattnall County, so Gene and I drove the short distance to Reidsville as there were many cancer relay for life yard sales being held. We stopped in front of a majestic old home with the wrap around porch, tin roof and fancy woodwork trimming the edge of the porch. Several tables were set up and filled with varied objects.
Among odd coffee cups, ashtrays, bowls and other whatnots was a blue and white plate which I spied immediately. I edged closer for a better look and to my astonishment it was a decorative plate of Liberty County. Quickly, I picked it up and examined it. Depicted on the plate were pictures of the Midway Church, Midway Cemetery showing the Stewart Screven Monument, Liberty Independent Troop, courthouse and Confederate monument, an old home in Hinesville, post headquarters of Camp Stewart, Flemington Church and Springfield Plantation. Garlands of pine cones were around the edge of the ten and one half inch plate.
I turned it over and read these words: Historical Liberty County, Georgia, designed exclusively for Mary Eliza Shop Hinesville, Ga., by Vernon Kilns, U.S.A. On the front was a yard sale sticker with the price $4.50. I had never seen a plate like this or did not know anything about the shop but I would find more about it. The owner of the plate lived in her grandmother’s home that we had been admiring.
I introduced myself to her and told her why I was interested in the plate. It was the Midway Church’s 250thanniversary.
Vernon Kilns was founded in Vernon, Calif., in 1931. The company produced dinnerware, art pottery, figurines, ashtrays and commemorative items. All items were of earthenware with clay from Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and England. Glazes were developed from minerals mined in California and many patterns including all the plaids were hand painted. Foreign imports hit the American markets in 1958 and forced the company to sell its holdings. Today, Vernon Kilns products are collectibles.
The shop was owned by two friends, Mary Fisher Waite and Eliza Sumner Martin. Eliza (1900-1983) was one of seven children of Charles Jones Martin and Mary Jane Fraser Martin. Charles’ father was an overseer for one of Charles Colcock Jones’ plantations. He admired his boss so much that he named his son after him. Eliza was described as being a very dainty, refined lady who took and active part in her community and church. She was very busy with the historical society and volunteered at the Midway Museum. She loved flowers and delighted in growing and arranging them. At Easter time, one would find many children at her home enjoying an egg hunt and she rode them on a small cart around the premises.
Eliza lived in Flemington on “Jack’s Hill” in the home built by her father in 1883. The original home had been built in 1803 and burned in 1872. He used the bricks from the original chimneys for the foundation. The bricks had been made on the kiln on the place.
In the Flemington Presbyterian Church is a bronze plaque on the door of the Heritage Room which she began and was in charge of for many years. It has been dedicated to her and is called the Eliza Martin Heritage Room.
The Mary Eliza Shop was located on Commerce in a little white house with gingerbread trim that had been Judge S. B. Brewton’s Law office and later a doctor’s office. The shop was opened in the early 1940s. This was “the place” to buy nice gifts. Roseville pottery, McCoy ware, vases, crystal, china, stationery and cards, and fancy lace handkerchiefs could be found. Corsages were made for special occasions. They kept a bridal registry for brides-to-be to select their china or crystal and other ladies would stop by and place their order. Sarah Brown was one of the ladies who registered.
Eliza or Mary brought pieces for Levy Jewelers in Savannah from which to choose. After all the orders were placed, they went to Levy’s and picked it up for their customers. Vanity Fair lingerie was first introduced to Liberty County through this shop. We guess this Liberty County plate was made around 1944 and sold for $1.50. There were two colors: blue and white, and maroon and white. Many of the older families in Liberty County have one on display in their home or hidden away in the cabinet or in the attic.
Located inside the shop was a very important little office — the telegraph office. Eliza told someone about the day she had two messages to deliver, one good and one bad. The good one went to the parents of Fred Mingledorff stating that he had arrived safely back on American soil in California and would be home soon. The other one was delivered to Ira Chance’s home stating that their son Billy Chance had been killed in action on Negros Island in the Pacific on Nov. 3, 1944 (World War II).
The little shop was sold to Margaret Darsey around 1947. A few years later she moved her business to Main Street. The Korean war broke out and Camp Stewart was deactivated. The business was forced to close.
Gene Browning Jelks opened a tea room and small restaurant in the old Brewton office and operated it for a while. The house was sold and moved over to Gause Street where it remains today and is used as a residence.