Magic Hill, located just south of Manchester off Georgia Highway 85, is a well-known area landmark. It was widely promoted as a tourist area in the early 20th century, depicted on numerous postcards. The draw was that cars would “roll uphill” when in reality, it was just a topographical anomaly. These sites exists all over the world and are known as gravity hills. Gravity hills are defined as places where a slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope due to the layout of the surrounding land, creating the optical illusion that water flows uphill, or that a car left out of gear will roll uphill.
This whimsical crawfish sculpture was crafted by Camden County educator Carlos G. Jones, Jr., in 2009 for the annual Woodbine Crawfish Festival and is located at the Satilla River Waterfront Park.
Hoboes were ubiquitous characters in the American landscape of the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries. They were often depicted as bums and were the bane of the railroad police at various times, but many were simply vagabonds who had fallen on hard times and ostensibly began their journeys in search of work. Local legend holds that one such hobo, Campbell Johnston (24 January 1874-15 December 1905), fell from a train one night and died at this site. Local officials took care of his burial and his headstone was donated by the Woodmen of the World. It seems odd that such a character would have been afforded this memorial, and therefore, his story would be fascinating to track down.
The gravesite is located within the Satilla River Waterfront Park.
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.
Union Methodist Church Cemetery/Hays Campground Cemetery is located across the road from the Union United Methodist Church, though its history predates the congregation there. The cemetery contains the remains of the original settler of this section of what was then Talbot County, Jeremiah C. McCants (1808-1866), a native of South Carolina who founded the nearby crossroads community (now known as Jarrell) and also gave land, with Robert P. Hays (Hayes) in 1840 for the construction of a church and use as a cemetery. Union Church was originally used by both Baptists and Methodists. The Hays Campground, complete with tabernacle and tents, was also active here in the late 1800s but all remnants of the structures are gone. While extremely historic on the merits of its connection to the early history of Talbot County [this area became a part of Taylor County in 1852], it is most noted today for its antebellum wooden grave houses, covering the burial places of numerous area pioneers. It is believed that they are contemporary with the burials. All are constructed of pine and feature shake shingle roofs.
One shelter covers the grave of William George D. McCants, who died at just over a month old (3 April 1847-11 May 1847). The adjacent shelter is that of George R. McCants (8 July 1808-24 May1850), a brother to Jeremiah C. McCants].
This curious shelter, located in front of the more formal structures, marks a McCants burial, but I’m not sure which one.
Andrew Wood notes: This is my family! The stone at the left is my 5x great grandmother Sarah Black Hamilton McCants and the shelters cover the graves of two of her sons. She was born in Ireland to Dutch parents in 1765, settled on the Georgia frontier as a widow with 15 children before 1830 and lived to be 93!
National Register of Historic Places
This Greek Revival landmark was originally the home of General Elias H. Beall, who established a trading post at what is now Columbus for Governor John Forsyth. After the Civil War, the house was purchased by James Monroe Mobley. It is also known as the Beall-Mobley-Williams House.
Curiously, a portion of the house is used today as a Subway restaurant. An architect was used to do the modification and I presume he was sensitive to preserving the historical importance of the house.
This is the first photo that Anne Chamlee shared with me from her personal archive of backroad photographs from Middle Georgia, and it’s still my favorite. It really is it, perfectly representative of the all the forgotten places I’ve spent nearly 15 years documenting.
It has been a real honor to get to know Anne and to share her passion for rural architecture and history with all of you. I hope you have enjoyed her photographs as much as I have.
These grave houses, located at Salem Baptist Church Cemetery, mark the final resting places of Clemons* Mercer (1832-1881) and Jane Elizabeth “Janie” Johnson Mercer (1835-1880). Clemons Mercer served in the Third Seminole War in Florida and contracted malaria there in 1856, which he never completely recovered from. He was later a lieutenant in the Emanuel County Militia (Captain Moring’s Company) during the Atlanta Campaign in the Civil War. Janie Mercer bore him 11 children, all of whom lived to adulthood.
Gary Lee writes: Local lore is that it was raining the day of her burial and her husband promised that another raindrop would never touch her grave. Her family actually rebuilt these a few years ago. Also near her are two of her sisters, Hattie and Adeline who were married to twin brothers, George Washington Lee and Henry Clay Lee who gave the land and the materials for the church.
*also recorded as Clemmons Mercer
Roscoe Peoples built this Sinclair Gas station in 1935, in the Mediterranean Revival style often associated with the roadside architecture of the time. In recent years it was home to John Lindsey’s service station and the Snake Hunters Club. John Lindsey was a well-known snake collector who milked venomous species for the manufacture of antivenom. The structure has been restored and now serves as the Oak Park City Hall.