By Gerry Clare
First Posted November 08, 2013
Editor’s Note: Gerry Clare was one of the Fernandina Observer’s first volunteer reporters. She retired as a realtor and began freelance writing for fun, and published a book about funny real estate experiences. Gerry took us to important events in our community, introduced us to new restaurants and businesses, and even reported on a blimp that made the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport a temporary home. Her husband Tom was usually at her side, serving as photographer. Gerry now lives a happy life at Cypress Village, where she continues writing. Thank you, Gerry, for all of the support you have given us over the years.
When you first meet George Geiger, you know that there must be a story behind the farmer’s hat, jeans and suspenders and the handlebar mustache. And there is. He is still sort of a farmer, he says, and his kin, as far back as his great-great grandpa, were from Hilliard- the Kings Ferry area. There they were loggers and farmers and owned lots of land. Many are buried there at the Buford Bay Baptist Church.
His Daddy was the youngest of six, and when they sold the land, he moved his family to Fernandina, to work in the mill (Kraft, later Container), but ended up in the Navy for a hitch. He followed construction jobs and even took a job up in Iceland after the service, but eventually retired from the mill.
George’s younger 3 brothers were born in Fernandina, but George, the oldest, was born in Folkston. George remembers early Fernandina, as they lived on South 7th Street. He went to school at St. Joseph’s Academy from kindergarten to third grade. Centre Street was really wide and brick paved, so that when it rained, it was slippery. O’Kanes was the first Ford dealer in town (later moved to Gum and 8th Street).The Fudge Shop was Hardee Brothers Hardware store. City Hall was a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Next door to the Marina Restaurant, George remembers a huge rack for bicycles. You could ride the trolley to the beach where families roller skated, danced, bowled and enjoyed the beach. He fondly remembers the shrimp salad at Bower’s restaurant. At the other end of town at the end of Bonnieview was a dairy farm. And at the south end of the Island, he recalls seeing Indian Mounds and collecting arrowheads.
However, the family moved out to O’Neal (Nassauville area) and bought 8 acres of land to farm. They raised peas, corn, tomatoes and okra and sold and canned them over the years. He remembers when he ate at his fishermen friends’ houses, they had lots of seafood and those families had lots of good farm food in exchange. There were chickens, hogs and an occasional cow to keep the four boys busy.
The land they farmed was part of a Spanish land grant that included Piney Island and ran all the way to the Springhill Baptist Church. When A1A was expanded, his family actually bought land farther back from the new road to farm. George graduated from Yulee High School and started working in construction. After a 4 year hitch in the Army and a construction job in Viet Nam, he returned home and again did construction jobs. The other boys left the farm for their careers as well.
Meantime George had met Vivian, “the city gal from Jacksonville,” and married her. They moved between the Jacksonville and Fernandina area and finally settled here. George remembered his grandfather’s advice about “ buying land near rivers that can be blocked up as a watershed, because Florida is going to have water problems.” And he did finally purchase 40 acres on Lofton Creek, where to this day, he still maintains a small farm with peas, watermelons, cantelopes, corn and sugar cane.
His career finally settled with the Carpenter’s Union. He worked for the Union in Jacksonville as an assistant business agent, became a union organizer and retired as an executive secretary for local unions. He recalls proudly, that “ when he retired, the Union Pension Fund was fully funded.” He was also active in politics and Chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Executive Committee. He has prized pictures of his meeting Governor Lawton Chiles and Vice-President Al Gore. Today he is enjoying life in Yulee and his three daughters’ families including 3 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
George and Vivian are still involved with their church and, I found out, mules. Elum, their 21 year old mule, gave me a ride around the area while George told me how he used to train and break quarter horses and mules. He used mules (and still does) to plow as they are easier to train, when you train them right the first time. He and his brother Charles were also involved with the Nassau County Sheriff’s horse patrol and mounted posse program under Sheriff Ellis. Coincidentally, this program is currently being revived under the current sheriff.
George’s carpenter skills also extended to some fine woodworking projects around the farm and included most of Elum’s bridle and some fine leather work he displayed when we returned to the house. I was most impressed with this mule, as I thought he looked more like a sleek horse than what I think of as a mule work animal.
George also mentioned that he and Vivian built their comfortable house 50 years ago. It seems like his family heritage his love of land and mules (they used mules to haul logs in western Nassau County) have stayed with him and guided his life. In fact, his father was involved in construction of the addition to the First Presbyterian Church on North 6th Street and George is still involved there, teaching Adult Sunday School.
Oh, and in case you wondered about the trademark mustache…all the Geiger brothers wear one. Pictured in an old photo dated March 2005 are (left to right)
Gerry was a longtime member of our local American Business Women’s Chapter, a volunteer cancer driver and church deacon who loves to read, travel and meet interesting people. She now resides in Cypress Village.