January 19, 2014

Historic sites to be open to public for first time

Misty Watson

— SPRING PLACE — There are areas of Whitfield County that have been mostly untouched since battles were fought there 150 years ago during the Civil War.

There are still earthen platforms where canons sat, aimed at advancing Union forces. There are still trenches where Confederate soldiers stood to fight any Union soldiers who may approach them.

And for the first time, those locations will be open to the public as Civil War enthusiasts commemorate William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea this spring, said Jim Burran, member of the Dalton 150th Civil War Commission, as he spoke to the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society during a meeting on Sunday at the Old Spring Place Methodist Church. Updates on all of the historical society’s projects were given during the meeting.

“Not only is it the 150th anniversary of the Sherman campaign, but several of these sites will be available to the public for the first time,” Burran said. “It’s a neat way of showcasing newly available sites.”

Potato Hill, Fort Fisk and Mount Rachel will be included as stops on a guided tour on May 3. All feature Confederate artillery emplacements.

“They are big, built-up earth platforms,” Burran said. “They are perfectly straight. They’re a level surface for canons to be placed and sighted so they could fire and move at about a 45-degree angle. Crews would have been up there. A group of infantry soldiers would be there with rifle pits dug. They could ward off any Union infantry that might try to make a run at them.”

Potato Hill is along the eastern edge of Crow Valley, near the intersection of Reed Road and Poplar Springs Road in northern Whitfield County. There was an engagement there on May 9, 1864, during the opening week of Sherman’s campaign across Georgia, Burran said. The property was deeded to Whitfield County recently, he said.

Fort Fisk is adjacent to a pocket park at Mill Creek Gap. The property was never actually a fort, but that’s what it was referred to, Burran said. The property was part of the Georgia State Patrol barracks property, but was recently deeded to Whitfield County.

Mount Rachel, which has a hiking and biking trail, also has an undisturbed artillery emplacement site.

“It’s not an easy trail to hike; it’s pretty steep,” Burran said. “For those who are physically able to get up there, it’s yet another new site that forms a part of these Civil War historic sites in and around the Dalton area.”

Soldiers at Mount Rachel would have guarded the railroad, which was in Union hands, he said.

“It’s thought that the artillery platform up there was occupied during that opening week of Sherman’s campaign by (Evan) Howell... He was one of the famous Howells of Atlanta. His son Clark Howell became editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Constitution after the war and brought it to national prominence.”

The Chester House will also be open to the public. The Chester House was a three-story brick hotel known for its good food and served railroad passengers coming through town. It stood on the corner of Hamilton and King streets. The basement of that original building is still intact.

The Clisby-Austin House in Tunnel Hill, Mill Creek Gap and the Dug Gap Battle Park will also be open.

The Cook-Huff House on Selvidge Street served as the headquarters of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston while the Confederate Army was camped in Dalton during the winter of 1863-64. It was recently donated to the historical society by the families of Ken and Jim Boring and has only been opened to the public once. But it will open again in May.

“Many people know the significance but have never been in it... because it was an office building,” Burran said.

Historians are still looking at options for the Cook-Huff House. A committee to oversee the property is in the works, but not finalized, said Nathan Burnette, who is a member of that committee.

Burnette said that an official with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation as well as building inspectors are scheduled to look at the house to see what kind of maintenance and repairs are needed as well as what can be done with the property.

“We’re going to be open for suggestions,” he said.

Ellen Thompson, with the historical society, said the official with the Georgia Trust Foundation will give “professional guidance on the importance of the house and what some options are.”

The inspection is being paid for by a grant from the Mohawk Foundation, she said.

“We’ll take the information that we get from him, and he will meet with our board to discuss all the options,” Thompson said.

The building, as well as other historical properties in the city of Dalton, has been reclassified as residential instead of commercial by Dalton Utilities meaning cheaper power bills, Bruce Davies said. Davies heads the Hamilton House committee.

Hamilton House

The home is 175 years old, Davies said.

“We had a problem in the back with bricks deteriorating and water runs down and pools,” he said. “The 175-year-old bricks soak up the water and they start to crumble.”

An inside wall was built to help support the weight of the home, Davies said, adding measures have been taken to help reroute the water runoff causing the deterioration.

In 2014, he says committee members will focus on raising funds for the home.

Blunt House

In 2014, Joann Lewis, who heads the committee for this property, hopes to replace the roof and add more original watercolor paintings to the home. Lewis was not present, but had submitted her report to be read during the meeting.

There will also be a Blunt House scholarship for $1,000 given to a student working in the Blunt House.

Chatsworth Depot

The depot committee is working to get bids on exterior repairs for the depot as well as for the train caboose on the property, said Tim Howard. Several items have been donated by Herman and Carlton McDaniel to be displayed in the depot.

Wright Hotel

Those on the hotel committee are working to gather stories on the hotel for a book called “Hotel Tales.”

“We’re trying to get as many stories of anyone’s family members who stayed there, get them in the book and index the hotel register,” said Dale Lowman, who heads that committee.

The book would include stories of people who stayed at the hotel or were acquainted with the Wright family. It could include stories of people who worked there or knew other operators of the hotel, Howard said.

To share stories, contact Ralph Ausmus at (706) 695-9808 or Howard at (706) 695-2740 or email Melissa Burchfield at mburchfield86@bellsouth.net.

Some period pieces, which include furniture and bonnets, have been donated to display at the hotel. More than 1,000 historic photos from Murray County have been digitized, Lowman said.

Friends of the Vann House

The friends group purchased 25 acres east of the Vann House for $10,000 that can be used in the future for educational purposes, said Carolyn Luffman, with the friends group.

State cuts in the past several years have left the Vann House without enough people to give guided tours so volunteers have been conducting tours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Luffman said. They also assist with cleaning and maintaining the property.

The friends group also paid for summer interns, which has partially been reimbursed from the state, she said.