January 18, 2024

Jesup’s vibrancy impresses our guests


            What I’m about to do is get myself in trouble.

            You do that when you toss out accolades, and you leave deserving recipients off the list. So, from the start, please forgive me.

            My hometown puts its best foot forward. All you have to do is look around and smile. Oh, sure, we have some scruffy spots. But for a small town, Jesup’s vibrancy is right up there with the best.

            That was the sentiment of our recent guests, too. As we walked the sidewalks and rode around, you could tell that they were impressed. Too many rural communities greet their visitors with plywood on storefront windows. Not Jesup.

            Commerce is bustling. The more they looked, the more our visitors said, “Wow!” Over and over. They didn’t see an empty building. They bragged on the streetscape and the curb appeal of downtown.

            The James Bland Park caught their eyes, and they loved hearing about the restoration of the train depot. “Tell me about that arch,” our friends asked. Of course, I started from the beginning, when the original arch was in front of the Norris and Yeomans homes. As a kid, I walked by and under the Cherry Street arch dozens of times on the way to Ashley’s Store, where New China Restaurant is now.

            There wasn’t time to visit all the shops, but my guests awarded David’s a gold star for quality and selection. I remember 50 years ago when David Bowen opened his store. Today the second- and third-generation Bowens earn the accolades. The Bowens were our around-the-Persimmon-Street curve neighbors. David and my dad co-farmed an ambitious garden.

            A downtown gem is the Strand Theater and its three screens. Naturally, I had to toss in, “And Jesup Drive-In, twin cinemas, is Georgia’s oldest drive-in theater.” During the walking tour, we ducked into the Strand Bistro & Chophouse next to the theater. Again, our guests marveled at the atmosphere, the menu and the non-hurried, helpful wait staff.

            Wayne County loves to eat. The Atlantans really liked the culinary choices. There wasn’t time to taste-test them all, but I suspect they’ll make Jones Kitchen a regular stop on the way to the Golden Isles. Besides the as-close-as-you-can-get-to-home-cooking, the couple were struck by the friendliness and down-home atmosphere. People weren’t just asking, “How are you?” They stopped to listen for your answers.

            “How long has Jones Kitchen been around?” I was asked.

            “The best way is to show you,” I said. In a few minutes we were looking at the now-dilapidated two-story house on West Plum Street, where Mrs. Susie Jones started her business. I’m guessing it was more than 70 years ago, because my parents took me there—after church—when I was just toddling along.

Several years after Mrs. Jones sold her Cherry Street all-you-could-eat restaurant to Mrs. Minnie Brown, she opened Susie’s Home Cooking on South Second Street, behind her home. Today heirs of Mrs. Brown keep the tasty tradition of Jones Kitchen humming.

            Downtown Jesup is a blue chip among small towns. But it’s not all about the core-business district. You know that, and I know that. Just as impressive is the medical district. Many rural hospitals are comatose or dead. Not in Wayne County. Our medical community is alive and thriving.

            Our schedule was compressed, so we didn’t get to see all of Wayne County’s points of pride.

            As a teenager—working at S&R Men’s Shop—Jimmy Sullivan asked me to help decorate the showcase windows. He advised, “Don’t try to put everything that the store has in the windows. Put just enough to make them want to come in.”

            That’s what I did with my tour.

I gave my friends just a glimpse, hoping they’d come back.

So, please forgive me.

In the meantime, I think you can tell that I love my hometown.