On January 5, 1938, Mayor Hunter Hopkins started the year’s first City of Brunswick General Commission meetings with a grim account of the city’s financial standing. Municipal employees were still struggling along with wages that had been cut as much as 50% since 1933. There had been no systematic collection of personal property taxes in years, and Brunswick’s cash position was “very embarrassing.”
Commissioners wrestled with decisions on taxes and fees to refill the city’s coffers. Anyone who rode a bicycle on Brunswick’s streets was required to buy a license for a quarter. Business licenses for fortune-tellers and clairvoyants, intended to discourage that particular enterprise, cost a whopping $100. Other employment, however, was on the rise when hope emerged in the form of the ever-present Georgia pine.
In the late 1800s, the idea of making paper from trees instead of using cotton rags was introduced. The nation’s need for paper grew in the 20th century with the demand for schoolbooks, novels, and, most of all, newspapers. A vigorous market is the mother of invention, and soon the use of wood fiber in paper mills grew into a major industry in upstate New York and Wisconsin. Although this in itself was not great news for Brunswick, the next innovation was.
Further research into the complex pulping process required to make paper revealed the soft woods of South Georgia’s pine trees yielded a longer, broader fiber than the hardwoods of the northeast. However, the export of forest products from the Port of Brunswick, once a proud leader in the export of railroad ties, turpentine and lumber, declined sharply after a national financial crisis in 1893. So, decades later, the realization that pine trees were once again a cash crop was welcome news. The paper industry came to town in the form of Brunswick Pulp and Paper Company, and the city could not have been happier.
In October 1937, the city gladly paved roads to the new plant in preparation for its opening in 1938. Over the next eight decades, thousands of Brunswick’s citizens, as well as workers from nearby towns and counties, prospered from employment, educational opportunities, and other benefits. The community has enjoyed the generosity of the mill’s various owners over the years. Today, operating as Brunswick Cellulose, Inc., the mill continues to give back to the community that once struggled to collect its 25-cent bicycle tax from hard-pressed citizens. So if you have ever been tempted to hug a tree, start with a Georgia pine.
-Leslie Faulkenberry, author and local historian