Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Slight Changes in the Way We Post Messages

We have gone through the very difficult task of migrating our main website, Southern Muse, to a new host. We used the wonderful New Google Sites building tool on G Suite, and so far, we love it. We would love to have this blog use the Southern Muse domain name, but it was originally built as a personal site. We have granted permission to ourselves (ahem) to post under our main domain's account console. Some of our new posts may have "The Muse Herself" or "Southern Muse" as the author. Don't be alarmed ~ it's still just me!

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Old Rock Building in Chatsworth, Georgia

The old rock building, a historic site in Chatsworth, Georgia, was built in 1934 as the first consolidated high school of Murray County. The building is special to the community as an historic and architectural landmark. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as the Murray County High School Historic District. The architectural style is arts and crafts or American Craftsman. It is built of native stone from the nearby mountains. The building was officially named as the V.C. Pickering Administrative Center in 2005, prior to Phase I of its renovation. A year or so later, it received a new roof, but then was severely damaged by fire in 2009. The Old Rock Building was fully renovated in 2010 and now serves as the central offices of Murray County Schools.

The building is significant as the first consolidated high school in Murray County, Georgia. It replaced three small high schools: Lucy Hill, Chatsworth, and Eton High Schools. In 2002 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Interestingly, before the new rock high school was even completed, one of the older schools, Chatsworth High, was struck by lightning and burned. Consolidating the schools was a controversial move and caused some squabbling among the various towns, several of which hoped to have the high school in their own community.

Front view of the rock building from Green Road

A side view of the old rock building

Besides being an early consolidated high school, the rock building is also significant for its architecture and stone masonry. The building is made of grayish brown mountain rock that is native to the area. The stone was blasted from the mountains during the construction of the Chatsworth-Ellijay Highway and was donated to the School Board at the request of V.C. Pickering. Local truckers hauled them to the site for fifty cents a load. Mr. Watkins was the head stone mason on the project. The natural stone and unique facade make it one of the most attractive buildings in the county, and one of only a handful of such stone buildings in North Georgia. The surrounding landscape is set off by the cobalt blue of the Cohutta mountains. These features make the building a favorite landmark, much loved by the local community.

The blood, sweat, and tears of the local people went into building this beloved old structure. Some of the men who worked on it were lucky to have completed the third grade, and they wanted their children to have better opportunities than they had had. Perhaps that's why the generation who built it, and their children, were so affectionate toward the old school. This quaint little plaque, inscribed by hand by one of the workers, is a token of that affection. It says simply, "Built 1934 MCHS." To me, the plaque itself is a pretty little piece of folk art...

History of the Old Rock Building

The building was completed as a project of the 1930's Works Progress Administration of the government. According to a 1934 article in Dalton Citizen, over 55 local men were put to work on the project. Workers received one dollar per day and stone masons, two dollars. (The school board later raised this amount and paid hourly wages of up to fifty cents.) V.C. Pickering, a prominent citizen of the county, was instrumental in getting the high school built, obtaining the stone and donating $5,000 and 164 acres of land to the school board; hence, the building's new name, the V.C. Pickering Administrative Center. Other funding came from the state and the Board of Education.

Renovation began on the building in 2005. The plan was to make it the new headquarters for the central office of the Murray County school system. A group of alumni began a fund to help pay for renovations. The Rock Building Committee oversaw fundraising efforts, supported by various local organizations, including the Murray County High School Alumni Association and Whitfield-Murray Historical Society. Various class reunions of the era also raised money for the renovation. The building was given a new roof in 2004, during Phase I of the renovation.

Fire Damages the Old Rock Building

On October 26, 2009, lightning struck the building during a mid-morning thunderstorm. The strike was detected by a  The building smoldered for several hours before breaking out in flames. Though firefighters arrived very quickly, the building was already fully engulfed. The fire devastated the building, destroying the new roof, gutting the interior, and causing severe damage to the exterior stone walls and facade. Early reports called the building a complete loss.

Engineers determined that the building could be saved. The building was fully covered under an insurance policy that made rebuilding more feasible than demolition, so the controversial decision was made to renovate the old rock building. Renovation began in 2010. By 2011, the building was serving as offices for the school system.

On September 26, 2009, during heavy storms and flash flooding, lightning struck the old rock building in Chatsworth, Georgia, causing a devastating fire. The loud clap of thunder that came with the strike was heard and felt for miles. The direct hit of lightning was documented by an Arizona company that monitors storms around the country. News of the disaster came to Murray Countians as some were battling water from heavy rains and flash floods from the overflowing Conasauga River and area creeks. The fire destroyed the new roof, gutted the interior, and caused severe damage to the exterior stone walls. Renovation of the structure was already in progress even before the fire, so the damage came as a double blow to those concerned in the project. The building had recently received a new roof.

After the fire, community and school-board members held public forums to discuss the future of the building. The general sentiment among the public was to save the structure if at all possible, though there was some dissent. The building was insured and engineering reports showed that rebuilding was feasible. To those of us who love the old building, it seemed almost impossible, even miraculous, to think that this phoenix could once again rise out of the ashes, but it did. Renovation began in 2010 and was completed by 2011. The building is once again a landmark.

Murray County Museum (a virtual museum) has articles about the school. It has some photos of the fire (down toward the bottom of the page).


Phase I of the Rock Building Renovation, before the fire, had put a new roof on the old rock building. After the fire, it appeared that all the hard work was in vain. First reports indicated that the building might have to be demolished. The local school board, citizens, and builders met to discuss options. Feelings were mixed, as some citizens felt that the building could not be saved; some thought that it might be saved, but that attempts to renovate would be too costly; and others felt that it should not be saved ~ that taxpayer funds would be best used elsewhere. In the event that the building could not be saved, general sentiment leaned toward building a memorial park, pavilion, or monument from some of the stone. Further studies were done to determine which options were feasible. The terms of the insurance made rebuilding more cost-effective than demolition. Engineers determined that the structure could be saved, so the decision was made to renovate. Once the renovation was complete, the building was dedicated for use as the central office.

Rock Building Information

The V.C. Pickering Administrative Center, or "Old Rock Building," as it is more affectionately called, serves as the central offices for Murray County Schools. The building is located on Green Road in Chatsworth, Georgia, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1934 and was in continuous use until the 1980s by Murray County High and later, Bagley Middle School. The building was devastated by fire in 2009, after a direct hit by lightning, and was renovated in 2010.

Our beloved "Old Rock Building" is located at 1004 Green Street, Chatsworth, Georgia. The site is included on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, as part of the Murray County High School Historic District (added 2004, no. 04000628)

Murray County, Georgia, as featured in the National Register of Historic Places...

References to Related Articles (links not available):

"Fundraisers to start to save rock building" Daily Citizen, Dalton, Georgia: Wednesday, October 12, 2005, page A1, article by Misty Watson. 

The Works Progress Administration connection to the stone building was mentioned in an article on Murray County on-line at New Georgia Encyclopedia. The old link is no longer extant. The National Register of Historic Places (Murray Co., GA) shows this property as: Murray County High School Historic District (added 2004 - District - #04000628).

The old rock building was mentioned under North Georgia, Murray County History, at Georgia Magazine (accessed 17 October 2005). 

This article was written in 2006. It was first published on my main website, Southern Muse (Southern Muse.com). It was updated on that original website in 2012, and republished here on February 11, 2019.

West Hill Chapel in Dalton, Georgia

The Forgotten Chapel: West Hill

West Hill Chapel sits in a quiet spot in West Hill Cemetery in Dalton, Georgia. It is a lovely little structure built in the American Craftsman style of architecture (inspired by English Arts and Crafts). The windows are gothic arches surrounded by cream-colored voissoirs, the stones surrounding each window. Similar trim is used for the cornerstones of the chapel. The diamond-shaped window panes have wavy, watery, old-style glass. Steep corner gables complete the classic look. The high-pitched roof is covered in heavy slate shingles.

Brief History of West Hill Chapel

The chapel was made of native mountain stone. It was built just before World War II. When the war came along, the chapel was abandoned. In fact, it was never consecrated. As time went on, the city began to use the old chapel for storage. They added the metal shed ~ a functional necessity at the time, but also a nasty eyesore. The building endured well, even in neglect ~ a testimony to its original excellent construction. The lantern-style light fixture (above right) turned up unexpectedly ~ a Dalton citizen, having saved it years ago, donated it to the restoration project. The chapel renovation has earned the city of Dalton a Preserve America Designation, awarded for historic preservation and education efforts. The chapel renovation was also featured in an issue of American Cemetery Magazine, a trade journal. The building has become a featured stop in recent cemetery tours that have been conducted by Whitfield-Murray Historical Society. The chapel was also rented out for weddings and other special events.

My Story...

The first time I saw West Hill Chapel, I thought, "What a shame!" It was sadly neglected, surrounded by bulldozers and overgrown with weeds. An ugly, utilitarian metal shed leaned up against one side. Even so, the architectural quality of the chapel was evident. It is one of the most attractive buildings in North Georgia. Located in Dalton, Georgia, it is built of native mountain stone from the surrounding Cohutta Mountains. The arts-and-crafts style architecture gives it both beauty and lasting historic significance. The stone masonry is impressive ~ large, square chunks of brown and rust-colored stone are set off by gray mortar. Gothic-shaped windows are trimmed in white limestone blocks and inset with diamond-shaped wavy glass panes that are criss-crossed with strips of lead.

"How did this little chapel come to be so neglected?" I wondered. Even in its deteriorated state, it served as an unexpected surprise to lovers of classic architecture, who happened to be strolling through West Hill Cemetery. West Hill, with it's quiet paved paths and tree-shaded landscape serves almost as much as a park to local citizens as a cemetery.

One day, while walking in West Hill Cemetery, I happened up on the chapel and found it open. Some men were standing inside it, looking over the interior. "It's a shame this building can't be put to better use than as a tool shed," I said. "I wonder if it couldn't be restored?" I soon learned that, in fact, the chapel was about to be renovated. I had, by accident, run into the man who was about to save the little chapel from becoming a complete ruin.

Renovation of West Hill Chapel

Terry Christie, one of Dalton's aldermen, had discovered the lovely old chapel on his own. He, too, had wondered why the chapel had been forgotten. A bit of research showed that the city of Dalton already owned West Hill Chapel. Christie, a lover of architecture, saw the potential of the chapel. He also saw that the slate roof was in danger of collapsing under its own weight if not preserved immediately. Christie made sure that that didn't happen. He immediately began raising funds for the West Hill Chapel renovation.

Restoring the chapel was no easy or inexpensive task. The mortar had to be repointed. The roof needed support. Interior trim had to be repainted. Throughout the restoration, the integrity of the original arts-and-crafts architectural style had to be maintained. One surprise came when the original light fixture for the chapel turned up unexpectedly. Years before the renovation, a man who lived near the cemetery had spotted the lantern-shaped lamp in a pile of scrap iron and wood that was being discarded from the chapel. Construction workers gave him the scrap metal. He had held onto the light fixture for many years. Later, when he learned that West Hill Chapel was to be restored, he offered to give the lamp to Christie, who gladly accepted the donation. Both men were glad to see the lamp put back into place. It now hangs in its rightful place, in the center of the chapel ceiling. (West Hill Chapel is located in historic West Hill Cemetery on West Cuyler Street in Dalton, Georgia.)

The photos below are in no particular order. The day we met, Mr. Christie kindly allowed me to go in and enjoy the chapel for an hour or so, and take all the pictures I wanted. I believe I was still using my ancient Honeywell-Pentax camera at that time. Everything had to be manually set, and I am no expert at photography. These are among the usable photos I took that day.

West Hill Cemetery has paved roads that local citizens use for walking paths. The Confederate section has a monument listing soldiers who died in local hospitals during the Civil War. General location: The front door of the chapel is on the large, gabled end, with the round window above it. If you stand facing that door, the Confederate cemetery is to your right, about 50 feet away. Still facing the main chapel door, look to your left, up the hill: that section has some of the oldest graves in the cemetery and some interesting statues.

Some of Dalton's famous (and infamous) citizens are buried at West Hill Cemetery. Whitfield-Murray Historical Society occasionally offers tours and can provide more information on the people buried there. For lovers of classic arts-and-crafts architecture or those who are interested in the craft of stone masonry, it's well worth stopping by the cemetery just to see the chapel.

The chapel is not open, but one may view the exterior. It is located in West Hill Cemetery in Dalton, Georgia. Here is a link to West Hill Chapel on Google Maps.
Short URL: https://goo.gl/maps/WAcArrj2CaK2

According to the city's website, West Hill Chapel can be leased for events. The lease is available on the City of Dalton website. (This information is current as of February 11, 2019).


Contact information:

City of Dalton
P. O. Box 1205
Dalton, Georgia 30722
Phone: 706-278-9500
Fax: 706-278-8245

I am providing here a deep link to the West Hill Chapel page on the City of Dalton website, but in my experience, these links sometimes break as the government sites update or change hosts.


This article was first published years ago on my main site, Southern Muse (SouthernMuse.com). I'm in the process of migrating the site to a new host, so I've moved most of the content to my various blogs. This post has been edited slightly from the original article, which covered several pages.