"It will indeed be a great introduction to learning about the history of the area because there is a remarkable amount of history around the Stilesboro area," said Mascia, who's great-aunt was a charter member of the Stilesboro Improvement Club. "It's one of a very few remaining academies in the Southeast. They used to be all over the South but [Union Gen. William] Sherman's army burned most of them. Then a lot of them just fell apart due to neglect.
"So it's a remarkable thing when you can find one of these old buildings still standing. [Helping maintain the academy] just gives you a greater sense of yourself, I suppose, to have a community within a community, you might say. It's a warm nostalgic feeling and it's a tie to your own roots and to the roots of the community."
Located on Taff Road off Ga. Highway 113, eight miles west of Cartersville, the three-room building that Sherman spared on his march to Atlanta 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 the academy, the club paid what the lumber was worth and in turn received the deed for the school in 1939.
One of the most notable stories surrounding the academy's tie to the Civil War is an inscription in the building's interior.
"'DEOACPATRE' written in all caps, one word -- that's painted above the stage in the chapel of the central room of the building," Mascia said. "It's the same as the motto of West Point, which is where Gen. Sherman went to school and supposedly the local legend says he chose to save the local building from burning because of the inscription that translates to God and country."
To help generate funding to preserve Stilesboro Academy, the 22-member club is hosting a Plant Sale today from 9 a.m. to about 1 p.m. Starting at $1, the plant selection includes annuals, perennials and some heirloom plants. For the sale's merchandise, club members are looking to their gardens for inspiration.
"I'm going to bring some jade plants and I'm going to bring some January jasmine [to sell Saturday]," said Susiann Brock, secretary of the Stilesboro Improvement Club. "A lot of people don't have that. It's a little hedge. I've got some spirea and I'm going to have some daffodil bulbs that bloom early, early like December and January and a few iris. I don't know what other people are bringing. We [are transporting plants] out of our yards. And then I've even heard there will be a few vegetable plants.
"We've never done [this] before. We're continuing to try to expand our money raising because we have lots of work that needs to be done on our building. The building is such a big [project] that we need lots of help. The county helps us to some extent but we have to get up the money for materials. We're going to have to have a roof. We've got window seals that are deteriorated. We have had leaks in our roof [so] the ceiling will have to be cleaned up and repainted [and] not just the ceiling but down the walls too. So it's major [work]."
On Saturday, May 5, the club invites the community to bring a "well-filled picnic basket" to the grounds of the academy at noon. Participants are encouraged to furnish at least one dish to share with others. Held for more than 150 years, the event's first gathering celebrated the dedication of the academy when it was completed in 1859.
"It's the oldest continuously held picnic in the United States. [Its heyday] was the turn of the last century, about 1900. There were excursion trains that were put on from Florida, Tennessee, Alabama to bring several hundreds [to the picnic]," Mascia said, adding the event has decreased in size through the years. "People whose family attended school at Stilesboro Academy [attend now and] people who grew up in the Stilesboro area, that kind of thing.
"[What I enjoy most are] the surprises, for one thing, [and meeting] people who have never been before. Sometimes an old photograph will surface that you absolutely had no idea existed that somebody will bring. And it's just a wonderful shock and surprise to see this photograph that is from [the 1800s]. That brings us another piece of history to the academy."
For more information about either event, contact Brock at 770-382-2993.