April 4, 2012

‘Heart of stone’ mystery revealed

On tower at Fort Mountain

Mark Millican

— It takes an astute eye to locate — but there it is, unmistakably — a rock set in the stone tower on Fort Mountain in the shape of a heart.

Did the builders of the tower find this stone on the mountain during construction and place it on the wall facing east toward Ellijay for a reason? If not, who carved it that way and why?

Historians know the 38-foot tower at Fort Mountain State Park in Murray County, at one time used for spotting fires, was built in the 1930s by workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “alphabet agencies” created in an attempt to pull the country out of the Great Depression that began in 1929 and peaked — or rather reached its nadir — in 1933.

But Marjorie Bailey Anderson of Ellijay, who contributed to the book “The Heritage of Gilmer County, 1832-1996” produced by the Gilmer County Heritage Book Committee, knows the answers to the above questions. She said her father, Arnold Bailey, who was born in 1913 and grew to be a “strong young man eager to work hard,” took a job with the CCC in 1934.

“For the rest of his life, Daddy was profoundly grateful to FDR for providing such jobs during the worst part of the Depression,” Anderson wrote. “Indeed, when he died at the age of 80, there was still a picture of (Franklin) Roosevelt hanging on his bedroom wall.”

Bailey was hired as an “LEM,” or Local Experienced Man, in the CCC because of his background as a stone and brick mason. His job was to lead a team of men to build the stone tower on Fort Mountain, and the crew also emplaced stone culverts where streams crossed the road up the mountain — many of which are still in use today.

As a section foreman Bailey’s pay was $36 a month. Most regulars in the CCC earned $1 for each day they worked.

“Daddy was 20 years old, and as he put it, he was ‘young and in love’ and thought he could do anything,” Anderson said. “His sweetheart was 16-year-old Margaret Reece, and he wanted her to know how much he loved her, so using his skills as a stonemason he carved a large stone in the shape of a heart. He then cemented the heart into the wall of the fire tower, where it can be seen to this day just above the window of the east-facing wall.”

Evidently the heart made an impression, Anderson said, since Margaret married Arnold in 1935. Their marriage lasted 59 years until his death in 1994. Margaret Bailey died last year. They have four grown children — Marjorie, Wanda, Ken and Jim — who have children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren among them now.

Wanda Bailey Davis said the heart of stone “has been a topic of conversation all our lives” in the Bailey family.

“I treasure the fact that my father had the knowledge to do this,” she said while standing beside the tower in mid-March. “But more so that he loved my mother so much to do this. It’s also neat that we’re able to stand here and talk to other people who enjoy seeing it.”

A couple from Milledgeville had hiked up from the parking lot and announced they read about the heart in a Georgia-themed magazine and just had to see it.

“It’s hard to describe,” said Ken Bailey, becoming emotional when asked about his father and what the legacy set in stone and in his family’s history signifies to him. “It means so much. I just wish we could find the money we waste so foolishly to preserve things like this for future generations. All of the things like this will be lost one day without some attention.”

At one time visitors were permitted to go inside the tower and walk up to the top. Now the stairs have been torn out and large stones on one exterior corner have fallen away.

Another son, Jim Bailey, said the tower has an enduring quality.

“Personally, I know that love transcends time, and love goes beyond the life span we have here on Earth,” he reflected.