Historical society looks to rebuild museum lost to fire

HAZLEHURST, GA (WTOC) - A historic building containing the Hazlehurst Jeff Davis Historical Society museum was lost last week to a fire. Rooms filled with local history went up in flames.

Those who ran the museum hope to move forward with preserving the past.

An antique sewing machine sits in ashes with other pieces of Jeff Davis County's history. Mary Ann Anderson could only look in the window of the museum at what fire destroyed last week.

"There's no replacing anything in there, as far as I know. My aunt had a quilt in there that belonged to my great grandmother that was made before 1912," said Anderson, who is the historical society president.

The building dated back to 1890 and was built of heart pine. A contractor had just started renovations and was stripping old paint with a heat gun. The heat ignited insulation behind the wall and it burned up to the attic and ignited it in seconds.

"The contractor and I ran out the back door as soon as we smelled smoke and knew what was going on" Anderson said.

He called 911. Firefighters got there in two minutes, but the fire was already too far spread. It took the heirlooms of some of the community's oldest families.

Ethelyn Creech, of the historical society, said pictures of her mother, sister at different manufacturing sites were lost in the fire.

The fire also claimed the treasures that Anderson had collected as a travel writer from around the world. Members of the group hope community members will help them assemble another collection of keepsakes.

"As we rebuild, we hope more of that stuff comes out of the closets and the community can look at it as a chance to start over and do it even better this time," said Roy Simmons, of the historical society.

That hope is the only thing that helps the hurt of what they say their community lost. Because the museum is owned by the city and county, the local fire department turned the investigation over to the state fire marshal.

Copyright 2011 WTOC. All rights reserved.