"100 Years. . . A Legacy of Unity and Diversity" ....
Fitzgerald, by nature of her founding, appeals to people from every state. At a time when the fires of hatred against Yankees still burned passionately in the hearts of most Georgians, a Union Soldiers' Colony sprang up almost overnight in a pine forest only ten miles from the scene of the capture of the President of the Confederacy. That Colony, which became the City of Fitzgerald, made history peculiar unto itself--history unparalleled in our nation.
|In the early 1890s, a paralyzing depression crept across the United States. Simultaneously, a terrible drought ravaged the farmlands of the great Midwest, rendering once fertile farms mere cauldrons of dust. The people knew hunger, fear, and despair.
A call went out for help and Georgia, the state so systematically devastated during the War Between the States, was the first and most generous to respond, sending trainloads of food and feed to their fellow Americans.
A Drummer Boy's Dream
In Indianapolis, Indiana, P.H. Fitzgerald, a newspaper editor and veterans' pension attorney, saw in this act of mercy seed for the fruition of his dream. He envisioned a Southern colony for aging Union soldiers victimized by the bitter winters and oppressive and unrelenting droughts. Through editorials in his newspaper, Mr. Fitzgerald detailed his desire to veterans.
In further pursuit, he petitioned to Governor William J. Northen of Georgia (himself a Confederate veteran) for assistance in locating a site. As inquiries mounted from veterans, Governor Northen responded with a promise to help. Mr. Fitzgerald soon organized the American Tribune Soldiers' Colony Company, selling sufficient stock throughout the Union to enable a 50,000-acre purchase (later doubled) of virgin pine forest in the heart of south Georgia.
By the summer of 1895, before the surveys could even be completed, people started filing into this area--by wagon, horseback, steamboat, train, and even hack--thereby beginning one of the greatest colonization movements our country had experienced since Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims. In fact, so many stamps were sold at the Swan (the turpentine village serving as the colony hub) Post Office, that a special investigator was sent to determine the cause.
While the colony was open to "all good people," Union veterans were in the majority, numbering some 2,700. Among them were survivors of every major battle, Sherman's March to the Sea, Andersonville Prison, and even one member of the contingent that captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
As surveyors struggled with recalcitrant Southern landowners to locate a center stake allowing for the desired four-square city, colonists set up housekeeping in shacks, tents, and covered wagons. Thus, Fitzgerald earned its initial working name, "Shacktown."
Roll Call of the States
Determined to honor their wartime leaders, seven streets of the new colony were named for Union generals, and, as a practical concession to their neighbors, seven streets were named for Confederate generals. A wooden bandstand soon became the social focus of the community. The music ranged from Yankee Doodle to Dixie, and a roll call often yielded responses from Maine to California and from Washington state to Florida.
|Seeking to provide local employment and attract tourists, the Colony Company instituted one of the first Public Works projects in America, a mammoth wood-framed hotel. Grant-Lee was to be its name, but the long faces of the Southerners soon argued for its eventual christening as the Lee-Grant.|
Schools opened in the fall of 1896; children from thirty-eight states and two territories arrived with twelve teachers, only one of which (the superintendent) hailed from below the Mason-Dixon Line. The Colony Company also provided the first free textbooks in the state of Georgia.
With the first year's hardships behind them and with thankful hearts, the colonists erected a Corn and Cotton Palace, planning a great Thanksgiving harvest. Invitations blanketed the surrounding area. Most natives were skeptical of the Yankees, but many decided to see for themselves. The Festival Committee had planned separate Union and Confederate parades. . . no use in asking for trouble. But as often happens, their plan did not work. When the band struck up a march, veterans in gray, recognizing the accomplishments of the colonists, stepped into formation with veterans in blue, and all marched as one beneath the Stars and Stripes. The stage was set for the future of Fitzgerald by men who, having met once on the field of battle, determined on that day to meet again on the field of life and forge a unique and enduring city where North and South reunited: Fitzgerald.