Category Archives: Fitzgerald GA

Mathis House, Fitzgerald

This was home for many years to Fitzgerald’s last door-to-door pedestrian mail carrier, Richard Mathis. It was originally owned by his father, I believe. Richard graduated from high school with my grandmother and was one of my Sunday School teachers at Central United Methodist Church.

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

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Denmark-Hiers House, 1906, Fitzgerald

This was the home of Fitzgerald pioneer settlers Dr. Arthur Howell Denmark (1872-1957) and Bertha Twiss Denmark (1879-1949) and was owned by their descendants for over a century. His daughter, the late Frances Denmark Hiers (1909-2010), spent most of her life in the house. She and her husband Jimmy opened Hiers Jewelers in 1945 and Frances later served as the first woman president of the Georgia Jewelers’ Association.

She earned a degree in Drama from the State Normal College in Athens (now UGA) and taught “expression” at Fitzgerald High School for a number of years. She directed the first production of the local historical pageant, Our Friends the Enemy, but is best remembered for directing over 1000 weddings. I was a member of one of those wedding parties and have fond memories of Mrs. Hiers. She was all business and didn’t suffer foolishness but was an absolute delight. Her civic involvements were legion and included service on the boards of Central United Methodist Church, the Pilot Club, the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill Arts Council, and the Blue and Gray Memorial Association.

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

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Zion Rest Primitive Baptist Church, Circa 1910, Fitzgerald

This is thought to be the oldest surviving wood frame church building in the city of Fitzgerald. After many years of neglect, it is very endangered.

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Home of Georgia’s Last Confederate Veteran, Fitzgerald

This was the home of William Joshua Bush (1845-1952), Georgia’s last surviving Confederate veteran. For his service to the Confederacy, he was afforded the honorific “General” in his last years. The historic marker at the site, first erected in 1954, reads: This was the home of General William Jordan Bush, last survivor of the 125,000 heroes from Georgia who fought for the South. Gen. Bush was born near Gordon, Ga. July 10, 1845, and died here Nov. 11, 1952. In the War Between the States he was a private in Co. B, 14th Ga. Infantry, under Capt. Tom Wilcox and Gen. John B. Gordon. His title of General was won through offices held in the United Confederate Veterans. Active until a few weeks before his death at 107, Gen. Bush attended all UCV reunions and danced at public functions.

His stepdaughter Janie Law was a classmate of my grandmother and on several occasions in the late 1980s and 1990s shared her memories of him with me. They were similar to the following article by Wylly Folk St. John, published in the Atlanta Sunday magazine on 24 April 1949:

Georgia’s last Confederate is a spry old soldier of nearly 104, who lives in a little confederate-gray house in Fitzgerald, Georgia. He is “General” (an honorary title) William Bush, of Company B, 14th Georgia Infantry. He was a teen-aged private when he fought the Battle of Atlanta. He is regarded with appropriate awe throughout the state, as the last living Georgian who wore the gray during the War Between the States – the only flesh and blood contact with the Lost Cause that is left to us on this Memorial Day.

The General is Fitzgerald’s most famous and most carefully taken care of citizen. The UDC offers him everything he could possibly want to make him comfortable, the State Patrol drives him home in state when he’s out late, the Ordinary not only brings him his pension check but also the $75 to cash it with, he is always being asked for pictures and autographs, and he gets sheaves of fan mail. He is senior deacon of his Baptist church, and received his “diploma” as a Mason in 1888.

For a man who’ll be 104 next July 10, he is astonishingly vigorous. He can read his Bible without his glasses, he can hear well with no artificial aid, his blood pressure is perfect and his heart is okay. He can still dance a jig if you dare him to, and sings “Dixie” in his quavery brave old voice. Until a few years ago, he walked downtown every morning to talk over old times with his friends. Now he has to call a taxi when his wife’s back is turned. Sometimes, when Mrs. Bush, who teaches the sixth grade, misses him, she finds out he has dressed up by himself and “gone out with the girls” to the UDC meeting. Mrs. Bush has celebrated her 27th wedding anniversary with the General, whom she married when he was 76 and she was 34. He lived with his first wife 48 years before she died, and had six children.

Bush was a bare 16 when he joined the Gray army. “I told a lie to get into it, and I’d have told another to get out,” he says, and then immediately retracts “No, I wouldn’t either. I fought to the end and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He was “near-bout” the whole time with General Gordon, but part of the time with General Johnston. When asked if the young army did much training before it went into battle, he replies “We didn’t waste no ammunition practisin. When we shot, we shot to kill – it was hand to hand fightin” He brought home a big Confederate flat from the last Gettysburg reunion that he carries in all the Memorial Day parades.

Until a few years ago, there was also one Union Veteran left in Fitzgerald, Henry Brunner. On Memorial Day, the two old soldiers would go to the cemetery together and put flowers on the graves of their fallen comrades, General Bush decorating the Northern graves and General Brunner the Southern. When his friendly enemy died, General Bush sent a wreath “from the last of the Gray to the last of the Blue”.

Now General Bush has to place, tremulously, the flowers and laurel wreaths for both of them. There will be tears no doubt, when emotional Southern ladies see his lone indomitable figure in the parade this year, the Last Confederate, wearing his Gettysburg medal and carrying his Confederate flag.

The other men in Gray are all gone. Now at the cemetery, when the bugle softly plays Taps, it is for ALL the Confederates – except Josh Bush. There is no other man left alive in Georgia today who fought in ’61. It is a lonely emenence.

Here is Georgia’s Last Confederate.

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Floyd’s Hamburger Shack, Fitzgerald

A friend recently reached out to let me know that I should photograph this Fitzgerald landmark because it’s about to be razed for redevelopment, as are all the other adjacent commercial structures. (Thanks, Sara Padgett). The little brick building at the corner of Merrimac Drive and the Ten Mile Stretch will always be remembered as Floyd’s Hamburger Shack, but its history goes back a bit further.

Francis Marion “Frank” Malcolm II (1874-1954) came to Fitzgerald from Waycross in 1906, and in 1910 he bought the largest single tract of land (11 acres) in the city, to which he moved a home from Alapaha Street (still standing) and built other structures over time. [A house he built across the road from his own, in 1948, is where I spent the first six years of my life]. His grandson, renowned artist David Malcolm, told me that the ‘Floyd’s’ building was built in 1930 as a cannery, which employed young women. He even related that my grandmother, Nettie Pate Brown once worked there before she married my grandfather. After the cannery shut down, it was a Venetian blind shop and later, a grocery store.

The association with Floyd’s came in 1952 when J. W. Floyd moved his popular short-order business from the Five-Story Building (Garbutt-Donovan) to this location, which was closer to the new homes and subdivisions being built on the west side of Fitzgerald.

Later owners were Wade and Myrtice Malcolm and their daughter and son-in-law, Barbara and Varnell Hendley. Walter Owens and C. L. Martin also operated a barber shop in the connected space next door to the restaurant.

Hamburgers topped with grilled onions, a concoction known as Mama’s Stew, and barbecue smoked in the pit out back were required eating by generations of families in Fitzgerald. The barbecued goat was a particular favorite.

Pam Hunter, daughter of Barbara and Varnell Hendley, kindly shared the recipe for Mama’s Stew. [Mama was Pam’s grandmother, Myrtice Malcolm]. She writes: I think great recipes are made to pass down to future generations and share with friends! You will need 2 lbs. Ground pork*, 4 lbs. Ground beef and one diced onion. Brown this up in a large pot and drain off the grease. Cover all this with water and add salt and pepper to taste. Next dice 6 large baking potatoes and add to the mixture. Make sure water still covers all. Cook until potatoes are tender. Now add 2 cans of cream corn, one can of LeSueur English peas(drain), 3 cups of Heinz ketchup, and 3/4 cup Heinz 57 sauce. Do not substitute . It will not taste the same! Go easy when adding salt as the ketchup and 57 are both salty, but those taters need some salt when cooking! I hope your families enjoy this as much as mine does! Don’t forget the crackers and salad! This makes a lot, but you can freeze it and it is still good!

*Ground pork and sausage are not the same thing, if you’re wondering. You can find ground pork in most groceries and specialty meat markets.

An iconic hamburger sign was located on the side of the building and was synonymous with Floyd’s.

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Wilcox House, Fitzgerald

This was the home of sisters Dorothy Wilcox and Irene Jones. Dorothy was the Church Secretary at Central United Methodist and Irene worked at Sears for many years. Thanks to Jan Stokes for assistance with the identification.

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

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Christmas in Fitzgerald, 2020

One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is riding around and looking at all the lights with my grandmothers. It’s still a tradition with my mother and me. Here are some highlights from my hometown.

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The Wild Chickens of Fitzgerald

My hometown has long promoted itself as the Colony City, for its settlement by Union veterans in 1895 [Confederates came soon after]. In recent years, this focus has shifted to the wild Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) which roam the city. Everyone in Fitzgerald just calls them wild chickens and I’ve seen and heard them all my life. For years they weren’t really on anyone’s radar, unless they were doing battle with the fowl for control of their flower beds.

The Red Junglefowl, native to the Indian subcontinent and found throughout South Asia, has been determined through genetic studies to be the progenitor of all domesticated chickens and thus is the most economically and culturally important bird in the world.

When I was a teenager, my good friend Milton “Buddy” Hopkins told me how they came to be here. Buddy was a farmer and a sportsman, but as an ornithologist he wasn’t in favor of the chickens’ local presence, understanding the havoc wrought by introduced species on native populations. He followed their progress in the wild quite closely nonetheless.

The story really begins with the efforts of Gardiner Bump, a New York State Game Commissioner, who traveled to Asia in 1948 to research potential “replacements” for much of the wild fowl which had been depleted from American forests in the first half of the 20th century. Bump convinced the U. S. government that they could repopulate the forests with foreign species and the species he settled on was the Red Junglefowl. By the early 1960s, Bump’s efforts seemed to be paying off and over 10,000 Red Junglefowl were released into Southern forests, including over 2000 at the Bowens Mill Fish Hatchery north of Fitzgerald.

Nearly all of those birds vanished, likely victims of predators or disease. And by the end of the decade, the prevailing view among American biologists and game managers had shifted to a more integrated management program that focused on restoring old habitats and encouraging the re-introduction of native species. In 1970, the remaining birds in the program were ordered to be terminated, but somehow, a small population from Bowens Mill made their way to Fitzgerald, about ten miles distant. Against the odds, they not only survived but thrived.

As I stated earlier, the chickens weren’t generally given much thought by the people of Fitzgerald unless they were scratching up their flower beds or waking them up with their ritual crowing. They certainly weren’t seen as a symbol of the town. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, growing disdain by many led to occasional editorials in the local paper, the Herald-Leader.  My good friend Foster Goolsby saw himself as a defender of lawns and order and was the author of the most memorable of those editorials. The chickens had a particular affinity for his wife Frances’s flower beds, so you can imagine his urgency. Foster was a pilot in World War II and a longtime principal and headmaster.

By the early 2000s, anti-chicken fervor had reached its zenith and there was talk of attempting to exterminate the birds. At this point, Jan Gelders took on the role of defender of the chickens. Jan had earlier established the local Humane Society and as an advocate for animal rights felt the chickens should be left alone. Cool heads prevailed and after much debate the chickens were allowed to live. It doesn’t mean they’re universally adored, but for the most part, people have just learned to tolerate them.

Estimates vary wildly as to how many of the Red Junglefowl populate the streets and alleys of Fitzgerald today, but the low estimates I’ve seen have been around 5000 birds. The Jaycess host an annual Wild Chicken Festival and a recent government project is taking the the unofficial avian mascot to new heights.

At 62 feet, Fitzgerald’s Chicken Topiary [pictured above], created by Joe Kyte of Tellico Plains, Tennessee, will be the world’s tallest upon completion and is so large it will include a rentable room for overnight stays. I won’t wade into controversy here, except to say the town is about as divided about the use of funds for building a 62-foot chicken as it is about the chickens themselves.

 

 

 

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Beall-Dowlen House, 1900s, Fitzgerald

This Eclectic Victorian house was built by the Beall family of Bowen’s Mill circa 1907, then served as the parsonage of the Methodist church from 1912 until 1944. Sam P. and Hazel Evans Dowlen purchased it that year and their daughter, Nan Lee, lovingly maintains it to this day.

Nan is very passionate about the history of the house and notes that it’s essentially in original condition.

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

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Saunderson House, 1900s, Fitzgerald

This was the home of Warren Edgar (Sr.) and Ruby Walker Saunderson. Mr. Saunderson was one of the pioneer settlers of the Old Soldiers’ Colony of Fitzgerald. The form, a Victorian T-Plan gable front house, was popular with immigrants to the colony from Indiana and is one of several remaining examples in Fitzgerald.

It features a patriotic Union shield in the front vent. A few homes of Confederate veterans once featured the same emblem, but turned upside down. I’m not sure if any of those survive outside the Blue & Gray Museum today. I believe the house dates to circa 1905.

Thanks to Jan Stokes for the identification. She grew up down the street and recalls: Mr. Saunderson was tall and thin and very quiet. Mrs. Saunderson was short, round, and jolly.

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

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