“It’s a tradition,” said Wallace, referring to the flower show, which is held at the pre-Civil War Stilesboro Academy. “I’ve attended most years. ... The flowers are always beautiful and it amazes me how the [Stilesboro Improvement Club members] can get together and display them. It’s a lot of work involved. They do just a wonderful job displaying them in the arrangements. They’re beautiful. And, of course, [I enjoy] seeing old friends and the food. You can’t beat the Brunswick stew and the cakes and the chicken salad that the ladies make year after year.
“Just all of it together [is wonderful], plus that’s where I went to elementary school — not in the academy but the elementary school was by the academy. We would play around [the academy] and in the yard of it when I was [attending] the third through the eighth grade out there at Stilesboro,” she said, adding her eighth grade graduation was held at Stilesboro Academy in 1951. “So it has a lot of memories for me when I go back.”
On Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., the Stilesboro Chrysanthemum Show will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Implemented in 1912, the event is the largest fundraiser for the Stilesboro Improvement Club, which is charged with maintaining Stilesboro Academy.
During the flower show, the public will be able to view the annual contest in which club members enter chrysanthemums in various competition categories. Drawing on its theme, 1912: A Country Fair, the Stilesboro Chrysanthemum Show will utilize fresh greenery and other items, such as games, quilts and canned goods, inside the structure off Georgia Highway 113 to illustrate an early-1900s fair.
“It’s one of the oldest chrysanthemum shows in the country,” said Ann Mascia, a Stilesboro Improvement Club member and a lifelong attendee of the flower show. “We’re awfully proud of it. Miss Campie Hawkins saw the plants grown in a tenant farmer’s yard [who] had gotten the plants from the agriculture department in Washington, D.C. My great-aunt Campie was so impressed with this technique of disbudding that she ordered plants of her own for the next season and grew them. [Then she] invited the club to a tea at her house to sell the club on the idea of using chrysanthemums as a way of having a show and letting that be a fundraiser to take care of the academy.
“And it’s more important right this minute than it’s ever been to take care of the academy because the roof is getting worse every day. We simply cannot afford to do it ourselves — a tiny little club. We’ve [even] had a piece of ceiling fall,” she said, adding the estimated cost is $42,000. “And, of course, we recently got listed on the Places in Peril for Georgia [by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation]. That is great because that will hopefully get us some notoriety. Notoriety is nice but the bank doesn’t cash notoriety. What we need is donations badly. I would venture to say that within five years there will be irreparable damage done.”
Located at 14 Taff Road, eight miles west of Cartersville, Stilesboro Academy served as a school for children in the first through 12th grades from 1859 through the late 1930s. When the Bartow County School System wanted to close Stilesboro Academy, the club paid what the lumber was worth and in turn received the deed for the school in 1939. According to local legend, Union Gen. William T. Sherman spared the academy on his march to Atlanta due to the motto of West Point — his alma mater — being inscribed inside the structure.
“[Stilesboro Academy] is something that Bartow County is extremely fortunate to possess,” Mascia said. “We are lucky [because] at one time [there] were hundreds of these in the South and due to neglect and Sherman’s army and various other things, they have almost all been destroyed. So it’s a very lucky community that owns one of these buildings because it’s pretty well impossible to reconstruct something like this if for no other reason than it’s totally impractical to build a building with 20-foot ceilings and 12-foot doors.
“... [Stilesboro Chrysanthemum Show] is a wonderful time to be there, the best time of the year to be there, because of course the academy is beautiful when you decorate it like a giant garden inside. The evergreens and the chrysanthemums smell fantastic. When you mix those odors together and throw in a little Brunswick stew for good measure, you can’t beat that. It’s one of those things that you can get very nostalgic about in a hurry. One trip to the Chrysanthemum Show and hopefully you’re hooked on it forevermore because it is a very addictive thing to do.”
For more information about the flower show or contributing financially to the Stilesboro Improvement Club, call Mascia at 770-382-7773. Admission to the event will be $2 for adults and $1 for children. For a minimal cost, the public also will be able to partake in an