A Historic Railroad Town

Historic Pembroke

In the late 1800’s lumber and naval stores were the main sources of industry throughout southeast Georgia where it was common practice to locate new communities for the purpose of marketing forest products. Pembroke came into being in 1889 when the Savannah and Western Railroad extended its line from Meldrim to a point 32 miles west of Savannah in north Bryan County where the timber business was thriving.

The first citizen of the city was M. E. Carter who was a member of the construction crew for the railroad. During the construction of the railroad, a boxcar was switched off the line and became not only Carter’s office for directing work, but also his residence. Carter became the first section-master for the railroad in Pembroke and kept that position for three and one-half years. As soon as the trains began arriving, houses and businesses were built around and near the railroad. One of the first land acquisitions on record was the purchase of land for the train depot in Pembroke. With the completion of the railroad and the thriving timber business, Pembroke became the commercial and business center of Bryan County. One of the first business decisions made in Pembroke in 1903 was for the organization of the city’s first bank. The Pembroke National Bank received its charter from the state of Georgia in 1907 and later became the Pembroke State Bank.

Pembroke was named for Judge Pembroke Whitfield Williams who was well-known as a leader in education and as a jurist. He lived in the Mill Creek community near Ellabell and had extensive timberland in the area. Records also indicate in 1883 he served as postmaster of Fido, later named Groveland, located eight miles west of Pembroke.

Legislation was introduced by State Representative John Bacon of Pembroke to the Georgia General Assembly and ratified resulting in the incorporation of the City of Pembroke on August 15, 1905. The first city officials were appointed by the General Assembly and included J. W. Strickland as mayor, and R. S. Burgess, M. A. Gibson, James B. Moyd, Julius Morgan and C. C. Moyd as councilmen. City business meetings were conducted in the R. S. Burgess store which had been constructed prior to 1903.

Within four months of its incorporation, on December 5, 1905, a bond referendum was called to approve the issuance of bonds in the amount of $8000 to build Pembroke’s first school. Bryan Normal Institute was a two-story brick structure and located on property bordered by College and Smith Streets. School records list Clark M. Sims as the first graduate of Bryan Normal Institute. In 1919, the property was sold to the Bryan County Board of Education and has served as the location of both Bryan County Elementary and High School.

Businesses located in the city included Murrow’s Drug Store, Sims Grocery, Burgess Mercantile, Carter’s General Merchandise, Harn’s Grocery, Solomon Smith Hardware, J. B. Moyd’s Grocery, Bryan County Pharmacy, T. H. Edwards Grocery, Family Pharmacy, Lee’s Grocery, J. C. Mikell Grocery, and E.P. Smith Grocery. Julius Morgan owned and operated Morgan’s Dry Goods and Furniture Business as well as the first Chevrolet dealership. His row of businesses in Pembroke was known as Morgan’s Gold Block and had its very own electrical generating system.

Pembroke continued to be the commercial and business center of Bryan County even though Clyde was the county seat. Since the railroad did not pass near the community of Clyde, discussions centered on moving the county courthouse to a new location. After much debate, the citizens of Bryan County voted on December 18, 1935 to move the county seat of government from Clyde to Pembroke. With more than two-thirds vote in favor of locating the county seat to Pembroke, legislation was introduced in 1937 by State Representative D. B. Warnell of Pembroke and was ratified by the Georgia General Assembly. Records were moved from Clyde to the Masonic Lodge building in Pembroke where temporary county offices were set up until the new two story brick courthouse was completed and dedicated on May 18, 1938. The courthouse located on South College Street continues to serve as the center of Bryan County government.

Silent movies first came to the city in the 1920’s. Citizens could enjoy this new entertainment in the movie theater located in the downstairs floor of the Masonic Building. In the 1930’s Mr. S. G. Tos built a modern new theatre with the most up to date sound equipment and movie projectors available at the time. The theatre continued operation until the 1970’s.

On September 28, 1928, a bond referendum was passed to build the city’s first city-owned water system for a total coast of ten thousand dollars. Two years later in 1930, homes and businesses were provided with electricity from Georgia Power. The city continued to grow and as a result more services were needed. In 1970, a federal grant and loan was received to construct the city’s first municipal sewage system and to make improvements in the city’s water system. Also included in the referendum was the purchase of Pembroke’s first fire truck.

Without a City Hall, city business and council meetings were conducted in downtown business locations. However in 1977, Pembroke’s city government moved into its new and modern municipal office building on North Main Street. Today, the city continues to operate from the same City Hall. Pembroke has continued to develop slowly while maintaining its small town charm.

Pembroke’s strategic location in north Bryan County is an easy commute to Savannah, Statesboro and Georgia Southern University, Fort Stewart Army Installation, the beaches along coastal Georgia, and surrounding attractions making it an ideal location to live, work and play.