Murray County

July 6, 2014

Chatsworth historic sites open for tours to tell the city’s story

Chatsworth has the distinction of being Murray County’s youngest, largest and only “planned” city. The Whitfield-Murray Historical Society invites you to learn the story of Chatsworth’s beginning by visiting its historic properties in downtown Chatsworth on Saturday, July 12, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Admission is $5 per person for 12 and older. Children under 12 are admitted free but should be accompanied by an adult. The Section House in the city park, owned by the city of Chatsworth, will also be open.

When the Louisville & Nashville Railroad was completed in 1905, it passed through several towns in Murray County, but it bypassed the then-county seat of Spring Place. Most people figured that a new station labeled Oran, since that was the nearest community along the tracks, would also serve Spring Place, but a group of businessmen had other ideas.

Seeing an opportunity, these business people formed the Chatsworth Land Co., bought land from Mr. Moreland and Mr. Springfield, surveyed the property into town lots and planned a new city. Their land sale was held in December 1906. Within a few months, residents were moving into Chatsworth — at first spelled “Chattsworth” and probably named for Chatsworth Castle in England.

However, the Chatsworth Depot was already there, in the middle of nowhere, and thus is the oldest building in Chatsworth today. Four other Murray County towns also boasted depots and for many years, all were busy places. By the 1970s the Chatsworth Depot was not only the last station open, it was the only depot even in existence.

Several times, various individuals and groups approached the railroad’s owners about the condition of the building and the need for restoration. Not until a combined effort by the city of Chatsworth and the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society resulted in the moving of the structure to a site off the tracks was restoration possible.

In 1990 the work began and since then countless contributors have made the Chatsworth Depot Museum a reality. Today, the building houses a large exhibit of railroad memorabilia from all of Murray County’s railroad towns as well as displays about Chatsworth’s early years. The exhibit on the talc industry has recently been completely revamped and the additions made to the railroad display.

When the depot was relocated, it found a new home adjacent to the historic Wright Hotel, a site already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also called the Chatsworth Hotel at times, the Wright Hotel owed its existence to the railroad, too. Chatsworth had one hotel when Tom and Laura Wright began laying the groundwork for their family enterprise in 1908. The hotel was near the town well and just across the street from DeSoto Park, the town’s original “green space.” Being closer to the railroad station than the other hostelry in the young city, the Wrights just knew they would have first shot at all the travelers who decided to stop in Chatsworth.

All the material used in building this half-acre building was locally produced — the lumber came from the Wright farm on Holly Creek in the Prune community in southern Murray County (yes, that was the post office and Mrs. Wright was the postmistress there). The bricks were specially made at the new brick plant operating just down Second Avenue from the hotel. The business, which was also home to the Wrights and their growing family, opened in 1910.

Good food and continued improvements like bathrooms in the 1920s, closets, electricity and steam heat kept the hotel booming until the 1960s. After the deaths of both Mr. and Mrs. Wright, their children leased the hotel operation to the Quarles and then the Keeter families. One of the Wright daughters, Kate Raine, retired from her career as a public health nurse to the Native Americans of the Southwest and returned to the hotel in 1969. Mrs. Raine once again made the hotel her home, but continued to rent rooms until shortly before her death in 1986.  She left the amazing structure and its furnishings to the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society with the stipulation that the building be preserved and maintained as nearly as possible to its original condition.

For more than a quarter of a century now, the Wright Hotel has been a museum of a most unusual type. Two floors show life in an early 20th century hotel and a third floor houses a museum about the Wrights and their lives in Chatsworth as well as in the Southwest. It is also an anchor of the Downtown Chatsworth Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places which includes the depot and many other commercial buildings from Chatsworth’s earliest days.

Both the hotel and the depot are under the care of devoted volunteers from the historical society. In addition to the “Second Saturday” openings this summer, they are also available by appointment throughout the year and also for events like showers, receptions, etc., by calling Ralph Ausmus at (706) 695-9808. Folks are always welcome to visit these important links to Chatsworth and Murray County’s rich past.

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