When I was a young teenager I first visited this house with my father, who worked on the railroad for many years with owner Harold Mathews (7 August 1923 – 16 May 2004). Harold knew how much we loved history and he eagerly gave us a tour of the house and his extensive holdings of local ephemera. He also showed us the attic, where he kept his neatly organized collection of stamps and postal history. It greatly influenced my own interest in postal history, which continues to this day.
We weren’t aware at the time that this was the oldest house in Fitzgerald, but research suggests that it is. It was built by a Mr. Dow in 1895, before the old soldiers’ colony was even incorporated as Fitzgerald. [P. H. Fitzgerald initiated the colonization effort in mid-1895 but the town wasn’t incorporated until 1896]. The house itself is a rambling Queen Anne, with a Foursquare design and a rear wing. Its most notable architectural features are the unusual corner porch entrance and widow’s walk.
Thanks to Michael Baxter, the present owner of the house, for inviting me to photograph. He has done a nice job of preserving this important house and is proud to be a guardian of its history.
The following history is abridged from Sherri Butler’s fascinating article, “Four generations of colonist’s family lived at Mathews Glen on Washington Avenue” (Fitzgerald Herald-Leader, 19 October 2016). Sherri is an exemplary newspaper columnist, and has been an enthusiastic supporter of my work since I first started documenting Vanishing Georgia in 2008. Her ‘Feature Front’ column is the most anticipated and most widely-read piece in each week’s paper and I am always grateful for the threads of local history she uncovers and shares with me and with the community at large. She has served as Chairman of the Blue and Gray Memorial Association and is also the co-author of Fitzgerald (Images of America), Arcadia Publishing, 2010. I’m still hoping Sherri will compile her articles into a book; her take on history is refreshingly modern, mixing old facts with reminisces of those who knew the subjects well.
“When Ransom Mathews pulled up stakes in South Dakota and came to settle in the Union veterans’ colony in South Georgia, he had new calling cards printed. He wanted everyone to know of his service in the Civil War – the units in which he had served were listed below his name: 47th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, 16th Regiment of New York Volunteers, 60th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers and 193rd Regiment New York Volunteers (In the latter, he received the rank of first lieutenant).“
“Born in Potsdam, N.Y., in 1839, he was the 10th of 11 children of David and Lory Mathews…from age 17 until the beginning of the Civil War he lived in Massachusetts...[After the war] like so many others, he headed west...Mathews first went to St. Louis, and in 1867 he traveled Missouri, representing a fire insurance agency. He also married the former Lizzie Gowen…The next year found him in Fayette, Iowa. He stayed there until 1880, working for a brick company. Lizzie died in Iowa in 1878, but the couple had two children. Their son, Harry, was described as being in the “fruit business” in Louisiana…He joined his father in Fitzgerald in 1917. The Mathews’ daughter, Fannie May, was a graduate of the Broad Street Conservatory of Music in Philadelphia…In 1879, Ransom Mathews married Mrs. Mary J. Gillespie. From Iowa, he went to Kingsbury County, South Dakota, where he lived in a community called Nordland for three years. In 1883, he bought a hotel in the village of Arlington. He named the hotel, located a block from the Northwestern depot, Mathews House.“
“In 1899, he purchased the Washington Avenue home from a Mr. Dow, who had built it four years earlier. For Mathews, it would be both home and business, as he operated it as a boarding house…he ordered stationery imprinted with ‘Home of Ransom Mathews, Mathews Glen’. He quickly became part of the community, active in the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic] and also the short-lived Blue and Gray Association that united Confederate and Union veterans…When the Georgia Division of the United Confederate Veterans held its Re-Union in Fitzgerald in 1915, Ransom Mathews was there at the Ben Hill County Courthouse to welcome the old Confederates on behalf of the Grand Army of the Republic…[His] second wife died in 1914. Ransom died on 22 August 1918, at the age of 80.”
“[After growing up in Iowa and South Dakota, Ransom’s son, David Harry Mathews (4 November 1871-22 August 1952), who was a musician who formed the DeSmet Kid Orchestra in DeSmet, South Dakota…] lived in Hammond, Louisiana, for much of his life. He was 46 when he came to Georgia. A farmer, he had also been a pitcher for the New Orleans Indians and often wore his uniform when he went to watch baseball games at Blue and Gray Park...”
Harry’s son, Harold Ransom Mathews, inherited the house upon his father’s death and lived there until his death in 2004. He and his wife Montine, raised their children, Janice and Ramsey, here. Montine was the former Montine Mizell, daughter of Hamp Mizell. Hamp was one of the pioneer white settlers of the Okefenokee Swamp and owned one of the swamp’s most famous fishing holes, known as Suwanee Lake. He was a contributor to one of the first histories of the Okefenokee and was a favorite subject of folklorists, including Francis Harper and Delma Presley. There is at least one photograph of Montine as a young girl in Dr. Presley’s Okefinokee Album.
Wonderful house! Wonderful article!