I spent the last week learning all about Murray County history. “Murray on My Mind,” offered by the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, is a class taught by recently-retired history teacher and local historian, Tim Howard. If you want to know about Murray County history, Tim is your first call. He has taught this week-long course for many, many years and I’ve always wanted to take it. This year, I decided that I didn’t want to wait any longer and possibly miss my chance (like the advanced methodology course at IGHR, about which I’m bitterly disappointed), so I took a week off work for an intense stay-cation. The class is from 8 AM to 3 PM every day and takes participants all over Murray County, with stops at historic buildings, cemeteries, and other interesting sites. As we were riding around the first day, it occurred to me that it’s very much like the bus tours offered to tourists in historical cities, but this tour is all about home.
The old Spring Place Methodist church was “home base” for the week. We started and ended each day here. This is the oldest public building in Murray County. It is on the National Historic Register and is now owned by the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society. The first morning, we stayed at the church for a couple of hours, while Tim gave us an overview of Georgia and Murray County history. I knew most of this already, but I did pick up a couple of interesting facts.
- The Old Federal Road was started in 1805, under great opposition. James Vann wanted the road to be built so that he could set up trading posts. The road started in Athens, Georgia and forked at Ramhurst, with one fork going to Nashville and the other following the path that U. S. Highway 411 follows today. This explains why Ramhurst figured so prominently on a map I saw in a presentation on migration patterns that I attended in Richmond.
- The song “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” was written and published in Dalton. (This is not Murray County history, but still very interesting.) I had no idea.
Then we loaded up on a school bus and set out to tour Spring Place, which was the original county seat of Murray County.
Our first stop was the Treadwell Cemetery. This is one of the oldest family cemeteries in Murray County, with burials going back to at least 1847. This cemetery is famous, because the face Smith Treadwell appeared on his tombstone soon after it was erected in 1893; the story was picked up by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in the 1930s.
Not being a Spring Place girl, I had never visited any of the springs for which the town is named. We had lunch at the main spring and enjoyed freshly dipped water. The Lucy Hill Institute stood near here, which is where my two great-aunts, Blanche and Edna, went to school.
We also visited God’s Acre, burial ground for the Spring Place Mission, which was founded by Moravian missionaries in 1801.
Tuesday was devoted to the south end of the county. One of our first stops was at Center Hill Cemetery, formerly known as the Osborn Family Cemetery. Here we heard a story of murder and mayhem. Coleman Osborn was murdered late at night in 1927. The story was quite a sensation and was reported in newspapers nationwide. Three people were arrested (by my great-grandfather, Jim Butler) for the murder – a white man, white woman, and black man (a former Negro League baseball player). All three were sentenced to execution, with Eula Thompson being the first woman in the state of Georgia sentenced to the electric chair. The two men were executed, but Eula escaped the chair when her sentence was commuted by the governor. It’s a fascinating story and if you want the read more, the newpaper accounts are online.
Another famous Murray County connection was revealed on a hilltop in the middle of timber land. Trees were being felled even as we stood there. This is the Connally family cemetery. It has only a few graves, because the Connally’s children moved to Texas. One of their descendants was Governor John Connally. Yes, the Governor Connally who was shot and wounded during the assassination of President Kennedy.
Lunch was at Rock Spring Farm, known locally as Carter’s Quarter. All the markers in the family cemetery are this same style, which thrills a genealogist’s heart. Each tells not only the name and vital information of the deceased, but also includes spouse, marriage date, parents’ names and their vitals.
This is Dennis Mill, which was once the center of a thriving community. Work is being done to get this area named as a historic district.
On Wednesday, we toured the northeast part of the county, including Eton, Crandall, and points farther north. Eton, which now sports one traffic light, had three hotels once upon a time. It was a popular stop on the railroad and traveling salesmen needed a place to stay.
This beautiful view is the lake at the Cohutta Springs Conference Center. This resort was built in the 1980’s, but there were two other resorts in the Cohutta Springs area, going back to Civil War days.
Cisco School was established in 1904, but this two-room schoolhouse wasn’t built until 1924.
Former students and other members of the community have turned the school into a fabulous little museum.
The big excitement of the day was when we drove up Doogan Mountain in a school bus. To put this in perspective, the road up Doogan is a twisty-turny, National Forest dirt road. I’m comfortable driving it in my four-wheel drive SUV. But in a school bus, and a long school bus at that? We all agreed that Six Flags could charge people for that ride.
We spent Thursday on the northwest side of the county. This is the view from Sumach Cumberland Presbyterian church. I have a number of McEntire relatives buried in the cemetery here, and in fact, the McEntires donated part of the land for the church. We also visited Center Valley Cemetery, where Levi Branham is buried. Levi Branham was born into slavery, then became a school teacher, historian, and author.
As you can see, it was a very full week, and this post only includes a smattering of what we covered. For news of future sessions of “Murray on My Mind,” follow the WHMS on Facebook or check the website.