April 4, 2012

Greenways could help revitalize one of Dalton’s oldest neighborhoods

Charles Oliver

— Flora Caldwell and her husband have lived in Dalton’s Crown Mill Village area for more than 50 years.

“Our relatives lived in our house before us. Caldwells or Caldwell-related folks have been living here for a hundred years or longer,” she said.

And Caldwell was excited to hear that the city of Dalton had gotten grants last year to build a “greenway” park and trail that will link the Crown Mill Village to downtown as well as to build new hiking and bicycling trails on nearby Mount Rachel. She and her husband were so pleased, in fact, that they donated part of their backyard, about a third of an acre, for right of way for the greenway.

“We have long been hikers, and we love being out on the trails,” Flora Caldwell said. “We thought it would be an asset to the city. And since they are funding this with grant money, it won’t costs city taxpayers anything.”

The city will use a $500,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to build the greenway. It will use a $100,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to build the trails on Mount Rachel.

“The greenway will be a multiuse path, a bicycle and pedestrian connection between Selvidge Street and Chattanooga Avenue,” said Dalton City Administrator Ty Ross. “There’s an old, abandoned railroad spur there, and we will just drop the greenway right on top of it. The city already owns the land, so all the money will be spent on work and materials.”

The greenway will have benches and trash cans along its route and will be well lighted.

“It will look a lot like Civitan Park but with a lot more trees and a lot more shade,” Ross promised.

The greenway will link an existing pocket park on Chattanooga Avenue with a planned pocket park where Park Street dead ends and a planned eight-acre park where Liddell Street dead ends.

In effect, the greenway will be one large park running through the old Crown Mill Village.

While the city has gotten the grant, GDOT still must sign off on all of its plans.

“The first thing that has to happen is a concept report must be turned in to GDOT,” Ross said. “That will contain all the clearance items — a noise study, a water study, a full environmental assessment — as well as a concept drawing with at least three alternatives. Once GDOT has approved that, we will get a notice to proceed. I hope we will have that by the end of the year. But that may be optimistic.”

The city is much further along on the Mount Rachel trails.

“We are looking at about a mile and a half on the mountain itself, and then the connection from Chattanooga Avenue is about another mile and a half,” Ross said.

 The Mount Rachel trails will be rougher than the greenway, but they will be accessed by two “trailheads” that will feature picnic tables, shelters, parking and kiosks with maps of the trails. Interns from the Savannah College of Art and Design spent last summer in Dalton working on designs for the trailheads, which will be at Chattanooga Avenue and Rachel Street. The Rachel Street trailhead will also face the planned pocket park on Park Street.

Ross said bids were to go out on the Mount Rachel project in March and construction should take “six to 10 weeks, depending on the weather.”

Liz Swafford has lived in the Crown Mill Village area for more than five years, and she says the trails could help create more interest in one of Dalton’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods.

“People don’t realize how much history is there. That mill and that neighborhood were a big part in the start of Dalton,” she said.

The planned trails are just the latest step in a drive by city officials and private developers to reinvigorate the area.

The Crown Cotton Mill, founded in 1884, was the first large-scale manufacturing plant in Whitfield County and helped lay the foundation for today’s floorcovering industry. It was converted to lofts several years ago.

The nearby Hamilton House, Dalton’s oldest brick house, was built in 1840 by John Hamilton, an engineer who moved to Dalton to oversee the construction of the Western & Atlantic railroad tunnel at Tunnel Hill. The house, now owned by the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, reopened in 2010 for tours after being closed for three years because of structural problems. The city used $185,000 in federal grants to restore the house.

The Hamilton family donated the old Crown Mill store to the city three years ago. The store, built in the late 19th century, was placed on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s “places in peril list” last year. City officials have already approved $12,000 to repair its roof and are planning to use grants to fully restore the building. They are looking at working with the historical society to turn it into a museum that will showcase the history of the local floorcovering industry.