There is not much left of this old road, one of the oldest most historic in our state; once connecting the Port Town of Sunbury (and its 94 Port Vessels) to the States’ Capital in Milledgville. If this old road could talk, the stories it could tell, back to its origins as an Indian trail, to its most traveled times connecting Coastal settlers to the inland. Even in the modern era there are tall tales involving drug smugglers, adoring lovers, recreational hunters, and moonshine runners. The span and the history of this road are as rich as it gets in the USA; as this passageway connected Island and Coastal Indians with trade opportunities to tribes further north. Even today, non indigenous flint rock arrowheads and other artifacts can be found on or near this road after a hard rain.
The routes we travel today often began with native Americans who searched the high ground, forged the streams, establishing the least difficult river passages. These trails transcended into much traveled roadways for settlers with horses and wagons, and yes, an occasional horseshoe or wagon part can still be found with today’s metal detecting technology. This road, known as ‘The Old Sunbury Road,’ is fronted by one of the nation’s oldest cemeteries, filled with names found in history books. Many are unaware that Sunbury is now known as a “Dead Town,” but once rivaled Savannah as the major seaport in this area. By all geological rights it should have been what Savannah became; after all, it is the deepest natural harbor east of the Mississippi. It has direct access to the ocean with its necessary winds, much shorter to get to from the high seas, while Savannah offered only a winding, often difficult silted river to navigate.
General James B. Vault, a former Ft. Stewart commander and military planner, and also a friend prior to his death, did his war college dissertation on ‘why’ such a natural harbor (Sunbury) was bypassed – his findings, though I never read it, were interesting! As the story goes, in the early days loyalty to the crown played a big role in how decisions were made. Apparently, St. John’s Parrish (later named Liberty County) held a dim view of Crown Rule, which may hold some truth as evidenced by the number of signers of the Declaration of Independence who lived here. Disloyalty to those in power meant a lack of favor from the powerful – in this case, the Crown. My how things have changed!
The historic markers at Sunbury will whet your appetite, as you will soon realize you are sitting on one of the most historic pieces of real estate ‘per square inch’ in this country. While the paved roads will allow you to easily find Sunbury (you must try Sunbury Crab Company if you go), it is that old dirt road you will want to leave by. It will eventually guide you back to Hwy 38; but take it, and take your imagination with you. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
This story was contributed to the Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau by Clay Sikes.