Brunswick Comes Into its Own

The smaller squares located in the southernmost part of the Old Town sector include Halifax, Satilla, Frederica, King, Crispen and St. Simons Squares. Throughout the centuries of Brunswick’s existence, the population has waxed and waned, influenced by war and the numerous economic hardships of the nation. Most of the development of neighborhoods within the city began in the 19th century. After Reconstruction, the forest products industry gave rise to other sources of income for Brunswick, such as the port and maritime trades. Exports of railroad ties, turpentine and similar products known collectively as naval stores as well as millions of board feet of lumber brought welcome prosperity to the city.


Architectural Heritage in Neighborhoods

Many homes were built around the squares in the period between 1870 and 1910. There appeared to be a jubilant disregard for zoning or uniformity of style found in modern urban planning. Quaint wooden cottages replete with “gingerbread” trim were tucked between imposing Victorian brick masterpieces. Anything that was possible to construct out of wood was represented in the homes of Brunswick’s Historic District. Typical of a Southern town, the streets were lined with trees– magnolias and giant, ancient oaks. Gardens were filled with color and scent, especially from the ever-popular bounty of roses that were hybridized to thrive in the semi-tropical climate.

Transportation

During this time, the emerging transportation industry made its mark on Brunswick, as it did in cities across America. Electric train lines grew quickly across the landscape, affording quick and convenient access to downtown shopping and business for the average citizen. Unfortunately, persons of color were not allowed to ride on trolley cars. As the concept of municipal transportation caught on, city fathers sold or leased rail access across and through many squares in Brunswick. Although allowing construction through the parks and squares was in direct violation of the Colonial founders intentions and local ordinances, exceptions were granted for every location except Hanover Square.

Education

Glynn Academy, the second-oldest public school in Georgia, was first located in an area in the northern part of the original land designated for the city. The original structure was abandoned in 1823 when the city’s population declined. The school was relocated in the Courthouse in Hanover Square in 1837 while a new Academy building was under construction. In 1840, the second school building was located on Mansfield Street in Hillsborough Square. Later, Glynn Middle School occupied half of nearby Wright Square. As a result of a property trade between the Glynn County Board of Education and the City of Brunswick, a new middle school was built elsewhere. This will allow demolition of the old building and restoration of Wright Square to its full size.

War and Changes

At the onset of World War II, life in Brunswick changed abruptly. Mainstays of local economy, fishing, shrimping and forest product processing for peacetime use, were halted immediately and essential industry surged into 24-hour-a-day operation. The technology for distilling naval stores was already in place, with turpentine camps nearby and rail access to refineries and factories well established. These ingredients were urgently needed for manufacturing paint and coatings for military equipment.

Glynco Naval Air Station, an airship base for lighter-than-air craft was established in the northern part of Glynn County in 1943. Enormous blimp hangars, the largest wooden structures in the world at the time, were built at unheard-of speed. Blimps from Brunswick patrolled the coast and escorted Merchant Marine ships through U-boat infested waters.

Shipyard facilities on the south end of Brunswick were expanded by the J.A. Jones Construction Company and thrown into action to build emergency supply vessels known as Liberty Ships. Military tugs and other smaller vessels were manufactured in an adjacent area known as the Small Yards by the Brunswick Marine Construction Company. The hours were long and the conditions were difficult, but there was a unity of purpose that helped to bring victory to the nation.

As the hub of three defense projects, Brunswick was stunned by a 400-percent increase in population within the first months of the war. Residents of larger homes were surprised by polite visits from government officials who informed them that they were expected to rent out any and all unoccupied rooms. Spacious mansions, including those on squares throughout town, were hurriedly converted into multiple apartments. Boarders rented any rooms they could find; some were forced to resort to renting bed space for eight hours at a time, a practice known as “hot beds.” Rose gardens soon gave way to Victory gardens.

Homes in the South End, in or near the Historic District, were especially in demand by shipyard employees. The city’s trolley system had been dismantled by the early 1920s, as automobile ownership became more commonplace. Since many arriving workers did not bring cars due to shortages of gasoline and tires, they had no choice but to walk to and from their jobs after a long and tiring day. Hitchhiking was safe and commonplace, but even the most compassionate motorists could not spare the fuel to drive passengers out to distant neighborhoods. Anyone fortunate enough to find lodging on or near a square in Old Town was more likely to catch a ride, or at least have a manageable walk home from the shipyards.

Growth in Peacetime

After the war, the population of Brunswick quickly reverted to a much-smaller peacetime level. Shipyard workers who stayed in the area found work at Babcock and Wilcox, a company that manufactured industrial boilers. The plant occupied the metal shop and other parts of the former J. A. Jones Company shipyards. Welding skills acquired on the job at the shipyards paid off in post-war employment, and the city enjoyed a measure of economic stability. Coastal waters were once again open to fishing and shrimping.

Returning veterans brought their young families to the beaches of the Georgia coast. The Aquarama, an indoor pool and recreation complex built on Jekyll Island, was enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of local families and visitors to the Golden Isles.

As the city began to grow northward, the more established neighborhoods in the South End were subject to change. Some of the squares suffered neglect; but today, there is a renewed interest and commitment to preserve and enjoy these treasured oases of tree-lined open space. Signature Squares’ future plans include adding more lighting, seating and landscaping to Brunswick’s residential squares.


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