Ben Hill County covers 252 square miles of south central Georgia. Georgia’s 146th county was carved from Irwin and Wilcox counties in 1906 and is named for Benjamin Hill, a U.S. senator who served as Troup County’s state representative and senator in the mid-1800s.
The county seat is Fitzgerald, founded in 1895 by Philander H. Fitzgerald, a newspaperman from Indiana. The town’s settlers opened a public school, which became the first school to provide textbooks free of charge. The courthouse was built in the first decade of the twentieth century and renovated during the 1950s. Still in use, the courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population is 17,634, a modest increase from the 2000 population of 17,484.
Although agriculture has always been important to the county, the high concentration of population in its county seat has resulted in a higher than average percentage of employment in the manufacturing sector. One of the largest employers in the area is Shaw Industries, and major agricultural crops are cotton, poultry, peanuts, timber, and tobacco.
Among the historic places listed on the National Register are the Ben Hill County Jail, the Charles W. Kimball House (also known as the C. W. Smith House), and the Dorminy-Massee House, all located in Fitzgerald. Also in Fitzgerald is the Blue and Gray Museum. The county boasts nine recreational parks and one river-access park to the Ocmulgee River. Annual spring events include the Wild Chicken Festival, the Ebony-in-Arts Festival, and the Colony City Chase.
A satellite campus of Wiregrass Georgia Technical College is located in Fitzgerald.