May 20, 2013

McNeills, Mohawk honored for historic preservation

Misty Watson
mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com

— SPRING PLACE — Mickey and Jan McNeill found their dream home in Murray County in 1984 when they moved to North Georgia.

Their L-shaped ranch house, known as the Latch House, was built just before the turn of the 20th century with a view of Grassy and Fort mountains in the eastern part of the county. The couple didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the exact floor plan of a dollhouse Mickey McNeill had built for their daughter several years before, just another reminder this was meant to be their home.

Since they moved, they have worked to preserve and add on to the home while continuing to reflect its original style.

For that, and Jan McNeill’s involvement in the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, as well as several committees and organizations dedicated to preserving local history, they were awarded this year’s Murray County Historic Preservation Award by the historical society on Sunday at the Old Spring Place Methodist Church. The Whitfield County award went to the Mohawk Foundation for grants given to the historical society, which were used to buy heating and air units for Crown Garden and Archives as well as the Hamilton House, according to society president Randy Beckler. No one from the Mohawk Foundation was present to receive the award.

“It was always our dream to have an old house,” said Mickey McNeill, former superintendent for the Murray County school system and assistant principal at Dalton High School. Jan McNeill is also a retired educator.

When the McNeills viewed the home, then-owner Angie Nix was sitting on a canopy bed sewing a dress with a hoop skirt for a school dance where students dressed in Southern antebellum outfits.

“My heart was thinking, ‘Oh please, let me get this house.... Oh my goodness, this house is perfect for us,’” Jan McNeill said.

The McNeills loved furniture and began their life together buying pieces of oak. Their first was an $18 dresser.

“All of our furniture was made for that house,” she said. “We didn’t buy the house and then furnish it. We had the furniture then found the perfect house for it.”

The Latch House was built around 1899 by Bill Latch who was involved in the talc mining on Fort Mountain that had been ongoing since the Cherokees lived in the area. The property was acquired by him through the land lottery after the forced removal of the Cherokees.

“Latch was looking for gold, but he settled for talc,” said Murray County Historian Tim Howard.

The Latches sold the land when bigger talc mining companies opened as Chatsworth was being incorporated in the early 1900s. They moved to Spring Place for a while, where Bill Latch worked at Cohutta Bank. Then they moved to Texas.

Lela Latch Lloyd, who wrote “If the Vann House Could Speak,” was born in what is now the McNeills’ living room.

“She would come back to visit and call it her old home place,” Jan McNeill said. “She was a lovely person.”

There are several years in the home’s history that are unaccounted for. The McNeills don’t know who owned it when at some point it became a rental property.

Ricky and Angie Hix owned the property before the McNeills and did a lot of restoration to the home, Jan McNeill said. The McNeills have added on to the home — a family room, a loft, a garage, a screened-in back porch and a front porch — keeping in line with the original style of the home. They even used old windows from a portion of the house that was no longer an outside wall because of the renovations in another section.

Jan McNeill, who is originally from South Florida, said she has always loved history and antiques.

“The first thing I remember doing work with was the Wright Hotel,” she said. “I’m very interested in that. I am one of the original — 25 years ago — Wright Hotel Committee members. I’ve been a trustee of the Vann House for 20 years, and I’ve been a Friend (of the Vann House) for a long time.... To me the Wright Hotel and Vann House are special places. They’re dear to my heart.”

She is also secretary of the historical society.

“I’m proud of Jan,” Mickey McNeill said. “She earned this one.”