Category Archives: –BEN HILL COUNTY GA–

Old Hospital, Fitzgerald

2008

Fitzgerald’s first general hospital was built in the late 1920s or early 1930s to replace Dr. Dudley B. Ware’s much smaller convalescent hospital on Central Avenue.

My grandmother worked here in the 1950s and my mother and father were born here. It was used by the community until 1974 when a more modern facility, Dorminy Memorial Hospital [now Dorminy Medical Center] opened. When I was growing up, the hospital housed the Cooperative Extension office and other governmental offices.

It was lost to arson in 2012.

C. M. Copeland Workshop, Fitzgerald

I made these photographs in 2019, a few months before this structure was razed. For most of my life, it was known as C. M. Copeland’s workshop and studio. I believe it was originally a neighborhood grocery store but I can’t confirm that at this time.

C. M. Copeland, Fitzgerald, 1977 [detail]. Library of Congress. Public domain.

C. M. Copeland (15 July 1916-4 February 2000) was a brilliant wood carver, best known for his sculptures of wildlife made with cypress knees. He was often referred to as “The Happy Wood Carver”. He was also a banjo picker and folk singer, who had a radio show on local radio station WBHB with Wimpy Fowler, The Wimpy and Jigs Show.

C. M. Copeland Treasures in Wood, Fitzgerald, 1977. Library of Congress. Public domain.

He was documented by folklorists for the South Georgia Folklife Project in 1977, both for his picking and his carving.

Wimpy Fowler and C. M. Copeland, Fitzgerald, 1977. Library of Congress. Public domain.

At the time of the South Georgia Folklife Project photographs, his shop was a few blocks down the road from this location. This structure was adjacent to his home and I believe he moved his operations here sometime after 1977 for the sake of convenience.

Hall-and-Parlor Farmhouse, Ben Hill County

I photographed this house, which was located near the Fitzgerald Airport, in 2010. It had collapsed by 2017 [or earlier]. The hall-and-parlor form is often associated with tenant housing in South Georgia, though many tenants ended up owning the houses and using them as residences after the sharecropping era.

Old Field Cemetery, Ben Hill County

Benton Memorial

The Old Field Cemetery is a rural cemetery located a few miles from Fitzgerald which has fascinated me since I first photographed it in 2009. It contains a mixture of commercial and vernacular memorials, with several significant vernacular memorials, including the unusual Benton Family cross [pictured above]. Old Field Cemetery predates the establishment of Fitzgerald; the earliest identified burial [1861] is that of Archabald McInnis (4 July 1816-7 July 1861) with several other burials dating to the 1880s. At least one pioneer family of the Old Soldiers Colony of Fitzgerald, the Hallett Rathburn family, is also associated with the cemetery. An historically white cemetery, it is also used today by a nearby African-American congregation, Fairview Missionary Baptist Church.

An interesting comment on the entry for Flora Ann Dixon McCall on Find a Grave fills in an important fact about potentially missing gravestones: Rumor has it (as recounted by Josie Mims McCall) that many McCall’s [sic] were buried in the Old Field Cemetery, however, a local man vandalized the cemetery and many of the grave stones were destroyed as he “cleaned” up the cemetery. He was upset that no one in the town of Fitzgerald helped him clean up the cemetery, after he placed an ad in the local paper to encourage all families to lend a hand, so he demolished most of it with a tractor during his “clean up.”

Vernacular Memorials of Old Field Cemetery

Cylindrical Memorial No. 1, Decedent Unknown

There are three cylindrical headstones in Old Field Cemetery. It’s an unusual form of grave marking that I’ve not encountered elsewhere .

Cylindrical Memorial No. 2, Decedent Unknown

All are made of poured concrete and two examples are ornamented by round stones placed on the ground beside them.

Cylindrical Memorial No. 3, Decedent Unknown

I don’t think these stones have any particular religious meaning but rather a practical one. I don’t believe they ever contained the names of the decedents and their identities may be lost to history.

Wooden Grave Marker, Decedent Unknown

Wooden markers were commonly used to mark graves in the past, especially in rural cemeteries. Wood is among the most vulnerable of all the materials used to mark graves and countless examples have been lost to the elements over time.

Benton Memorial, detail

The top left horizontal section of the Benton Memorial cross is actually signed by the maker, Jessie Morris. Morris may be responsible for several of the vernacular memorials in Old Field Cemetery. Signed vernacular stones are very rare.

Benton Memorial, detail

The top right horizontal section of the cross [see first photo in this article for an overall view] contains the words God Bless You All.

I cannot read the names of the Bentons buried here and have no idea if there’s a connection, but my father remembers two or three Benton brothers who lived in the general area in the 1950s. He recalls that they were bachelors and lived in a large old house on the Jacksonville Highway [U.S. 319] and were among the first people he knew of in Ben Hill County to grow and sell strawberries.

The original memorial marking the final resting place of Brinkley Bishop was surrounded by four cedar trees that have since been removed.

Brinkley Bishop (1811-1899), detail

It was replaced by a modern vernacular stone by his grandchildren.

There are quite a few simple vernacular memorials throughout the cemetery, like the two Hasty stones pictured above.

Baby Morris (birth and death dates unknown)

The headstone for Baby Morris features a butterfly and vine design. It possibly dates to the late 1930s, when considering the design of the Baby Beck memorial which is located nearby.

Baby Morris (June 1938)

I believe the two baby memorials may be the work of Jessie Morris, who made the cross for the Benton family.

Frank Cook (29 September 1870-4 April 1928)

The memorial for Frank Cook is a hybrid form commonly found in rural cemeteries. The headstone was poured into a mold and the lettering and shaking hands designs are created with stencils.

Commercial Memorials of Old Field Cemetery

John Sullivan (1842-?)

The headstone for Frank Sullivan notes that he was a Marine. It is in the government-issued style known as “Civil War” or “Recessed, or Sunken, Shield” and was in widespread use from the 1880s until at least the 1910s.

Alex M. McInnis (10 May 1881-31 July 1883)

The headstones for two of the six children of Daniel A. (15 December 1855-26 May 1906) and Elizabeth Tucker McInnis (14 February 1859-12 July 1934) are very common examples of one of the most popular commercial motifs of the Victorian era.

Mattie Thetis McInnis (4 July 1889-4 December 1893), detail

The lamb represents the Lord and also symbolizes innocence, hence its presence on numerous infant and toddler graves throughout the United States.

Mattie Thetis McInnis (4 July 1889-4 December 1893)

Infant and childhood deaths were common before the advent of modern medicine.

Mary Cook (1874-20 January 1949)

The five-pointed star represents Christ.

Blue & Gray Museum, Fitzgerald

Seal of the City of Fitzgerald, created by David Jay

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.

Encampment hat, United Confederate Veterans

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).

Union Civil War drum, restored

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.

Roll Call of the States

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”.

Hall of Honor, Blue & Gray Museum. This represents a tent used by pioneer settlers before permanent structures were completed.

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.

Household dishes, clothing, and Railroad uniform

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.

Fitzgerald High School letter man’s jacket, 1948

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.

Prominent black citizens, circa 1940s

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.

View inside Blue & Gray Museum, showing a mantle from the Lee-Grant Hotel, and the favorite rocking chair of Georgia’s last Confederate veteran, William Joshua Bush. Flags of all 50 states are also visible.

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.

McLendon-Walker House, 1903, Fitzgerald

This Queen Anne landmark was built circa 1903. It was the home of Evelyn and Richard McLendon for many years. Richard was a coach and Evelyn was a longtime history teacher at Fitzgerald High School. Current owners Patricia and David Walker have lovingly restored the home.

*- This post was originally published in 2018. This update replaces it.

South Main-South Lee Streets Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Unidentified Church, Queensland

This church doesn’t appear to be in use. I hope someone can identify it.

Evergreen Primitive Baptist Church, Queensland

This is one of three congregations located within a few hundred yards of each other in the Queensland community. I hope to share more history soon.

Mountaintop Missionary Baptist Church, Queensland

As I’ve noted before, the Queensland community in northern Ben Hill County was settled before the county seat of Fitzgerald.

The church dates to the early 1880s at the latest, a typical foundational time for churches in Freedmen’s communities.

The church is one of the most historic and perhaps the most significant surviving African-American religious structure in Ben Hill County. It is well maintained.

The stained glass windows and the steeple are distinguishing architectural features of the church.

Mountaintop Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery

The earliest known burials at Mountaintop date to the early 1880s, which is typical of churches established in the first generation after Emancipation. These are representational and not meant to be complete.

Artee Williams (16 August 1900-11 May 1902)
Deacon M. B. Coffee (12 October 1857-24 August 1915)

Deacon Coffee was the Treasurer of the Ocmulgee Baptist Association, with which Mountaintop was affiliated at the time.

Lonnie Brown (7 April 1879-11 June 1963)

Lonnie Brown was one of the leaders of the Queensland community throughout his life and one of the main roads in the neighborhood bears his name today.

Stewart Family
James Charlton & Eva Charlton
Avary Tarlova
Amy Staley (d. 3 March 1953)
Rosa Hughes (15 February 1891-19 July 1977)

Ben Strickland House, Fitzgerald

This double-shotgun house was the home of Ben Strickland. Ben was one of the most interesting “characters” I knew growing up, with a vast knowledge of reptiles and amphibians. Some people called him the “snake man” because he was adept at handling the creatures and spent more time with them than he did with people; he wasn’t scared of them and had great knowledge of their ways, from a lifetime of observations. This fascinated many of us youngsters, even when some folks thought it a bit odd.