Fitzgerald was settled as an “Old Soldiers’ Colony” by a Union veteran and was known in its early days as a place of reconciliation, where veterans from both sides of the Civil War lived side by side in relative harmony. Fitzgerald’s Blue & Gray Museum, was established in the old Lee-Grant Hotel by Beth Davis in 1960 to document this fascinating history. It’s now located in the restored Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic Railway depot. The story is also told on the city seal, designed by David Jay. It depicts a Union and Confederate soldier shaking hands, flanked by the flags of their respective sides. The museum has evolved over the years to include other aspects of local history.
The early settlers of Fitzgerald were very involved in commemorating the Civil War. Union settlers were members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and the Women’s Relief Corps (WRC) and Southern settlers were part of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).
Henry Bruner, the last Union veteran in the colony died in 1940, and William Joshua Bush, the last surviving Confederate veteran in Georgia, died at the age of 107 in 1952. Personal items belonging to these men, and other veterans, are part of the museum collection.
Beth Davis was focused on the early history of the community, and initiated a “Roll Call of the States” to reflect the diverse background of the pioneers. It was her tradition to photograph people from other states when they visited. This was also a part of the pageant Davis wrote to celebrate the city’s history, “Our Friends, the Enemy”.
Alongside Civil War relics, ephemera related to the town’s commercial and educational history are a big part of the collection. Fitzgerald’s large railroad presence is also highlighted.
Local sports teams are also featured, including the 1948 state champion Fitzgerald High School football team, as well as the minor league baseball team, the Fitzgerald Pioneers.
It took many years, and is still incomplete, but the story of Fitzgerald’s black community is now included in the museum. This is an area that I hope to see expanded through community input.
I’ve served on the board of the Blue & Gray board for nearly ten years and am proud of my hometown’s history and my connection to it. I spent many afternoons with Beth Davis, often taking her home because she never learned to drive. Beth’s daughter Betty graduated from high school with my father and her daughter Julia graduated with my mother. David Jay was part of a regular tennis doubles group with my father for many years and played as well as most men half his age. Janie Law, stepdaughter of William Joshua Bush, graduated from Fitzgerald High School with my grandmother and was a family friend, as well.
The museum is open from 10-4 on weekdays (excluding holidays) and admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children. Call for more information: 229-423-5069.