Local News

October 30, 2010

Civil War anniversary: Hamilton House

DALTON — A house is just wood and bricks. It is the people who inhabit it and the events that happen there that shape it into a home and a place to be remembered. Such is the Hamilton House in Dalton.

The land on which the Hamilton House was built has a fresh water spring that has an estimated flow of 430 gallons a minute, or 620,000 gallons in a 24-hour period. It was the spring that attracted the first home and later industry to locate nearby. The first home built on the property was by Cherokee Chief Youngbird (sometimes called Chief Red Bird) in the early 1800s.

The chief’s favorite hobby, horse racing, lead to his death as he raced down what is now Thornton Avenue. Buried west of the house near the railroad track, the chief’s ghost is supposed to haunt the trains. All of the property of the Cherokee Indians in Georgia was confiscated in 1834 by the Georgia Land Lottery.

John Hamilton, born in 1803, in White Plains, Westchester County, New York, was a civil engineer. While working on a Tennessee River project in Kingston he met and married Rachel Wester. He and Rachel moved to Cross Plains (now Dalton) in 1839, while he was making stone culverts and bridge approachments for the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The two-year-old community only had nine other families living there, but that would change with the establishment of Crown Cotton Mill on property adjacent to the Hamilton House.

John bought the chief’s property, consisting of five land lots, in 1838 from Mr. Absolem Holcomb, a land speculator, or real estate man, who had bought the property through the Georgia Land Lottery. He and Rachel lived in Youngbird’s double log cabin while their beautiful brick home was being built. It is the oldest home in Dalton, built in 1840.

The construction of the home is timeless. The brick home is very large, with 10 rooms; four on the ground floor with a large hall down the middle. The upstairs, with dormers, was a duplicate of the downstairs floor plan. The kitchen, with a large fireplace, (6 feet wide and 54 inches high) was in the basement. The kitchen, 15 feet by 15feet, attracted a lot of attention as fire was a great hazard and most kitchens were located away from the main house in those days. The house was heated by a coal-fired furnace with vents in the foyer and fireplaces.

A few years after the house was completed, an addition was made with a kitchen and dining room on the ground level and a room above. A carriage house was added beside the main house.

John took great pride in his work and used his knowledge of stone and brick to build his home. It was built to last and it has with only two renovations in its history. The walls throughout are of solid brick and wide wooden beams and rafters that are still sound and strong. The bricks were made on the property.

It is said that John liked to sit on the large back porch so he could admire his stone work on the railroad and the culvert he had supervised.

John also recognized the importance of the spring and had it walled in with brick and paved the approach to the spring. He built a well house with a vaulted stone arch over it, which was seriously damaged in the Blizzard of 1993 and had to be removed. John also used the well house as an office, where it was cool and quiet.

John and Rachel had 11 children. Four died very young. Five boys and two girls survived to adulthood. It was said to be a happy home and a religious one also. Neighbors looked forward to visits and parties at the Hamilton House. John and Rachel were known for their gracious dinners and parties, and the children had a childhood of comfort and joy.

A nearby mountain was named for John’s wife and daughter, Mount Rachel, on which a large lighted star is displayed every Christmas season.  Dalton’s main downtown street, Hamilton Street, is named for John.

John was a wealthy landowner with a 1,000-acre working plantation. He was active in county politics and served as a judge in the inferior court. Four of the children are buried near the Hamilton House in a fenced graveyard with four headstones and footstones still standing, but the lettering has disappeared with the ravages of time and weather. John and Rachel are buried in the Old Presbyterian Cemetery. He was first buried on the Hamilton House property but his remains were moved when Rachel died.  John died in 1853 before the Civil War and Rachel, left with seven children and a huge plantation, proved to be an astute businesswoman and successful plantation owner.

The house would now see history at its door and in the halls and rooms and even on the lawn as the Civil War came to Georgia.

All five sons of John and Rachel enlisted in the Confederate Army, and all survived. During the war, Rachel and the children went to live in Butts County in central Georgia. Rachel returned home before the end of the war to nurse the wounded soldiers hospitalized in her home. After the war she remained there until her death in 1876.

The house was used by both Confederate and Union forces as headquarters and as a hospital, first by Confederate Brigadier Gen. Joseph H. Lewis, 1863-64.  His brigade was called the “Orphan Brigade” because Kentucky was in the hands of the Union forces.  Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee spent the winter of 1863-64 in Dalton. Outnumbered and outflanked by Sherman’s forces, the Brigade and Johnston evacuated Dalton on May 12, 1864.

The famous locomotive chase of “The General” went by the house and actually slowed briefly near the location of Crown Cotton Mill to cut the telegraph lines and observed Col. Jesse Glenn and his company of men drilling in the fields in the Hamilton bottoms. Two hospital buildings were built on the property with lumber supplied by Rachel.

The house was used as a hospital near the war’s end and tents were used for the army’s headquarters. Dalton was spared Sherman’s burning of Georgia and the historic home was saved.

In 1884 the home and plantation were sold to Crown Cotton Mills.  Destined to always be known as the Hamilton House, mill superintendent Frank Hamilton and his wife Maud moved in in 1904. Janice Kreischer, their daughter, was the last Hamilton to live in the old house. She moved to Atlanta in 1983.

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