After many years of waiting and a lot of hard work from club supporters to raise the necessary funds, the school house built in 1859 will get the finishing touches of a much-needed repair in coming weeks.
“We’ve been needing a roof probably a couple years, maybe three,” said Susainn Brock, Stilesboro Improvement Club member. “Over the years, we had been accumulating the funds to have it repaired. Actually, we keep a fund going all the time because it’s a humongous building and it has to have work done to it all along. It’s a never-ending job. So we try to keep money coming in through various projects, so that when something needs to be done we’ll have the finances to do it.
“We’ve had many donations from kind members of the community, we found a roofing company we can afford and we’re hoping to get a roof on by the end of next week if the weather permits.”
In the meantime, work is being done to prepare the aging structure for the project ahead. Don Liotta of Outside the Box Construction has been tasked with the job of bracing rafters, removing unnecessary burdens and repairing old storm damage before roofers can replace the Stilesboro Academy roof.
“Right now, we’re stabilizing the roof structure,” Liotta said. “It’s been up here a long time. They didn’t have wind beams in place, so we’re just going through and making sure that when we get a bunch of people up there working, it’s not going to cause it to sag or move. Also, the structure took a direct hit from a tree some time ago and some of the repairs were probably done to the best they could, but they weren’t longstanding measures so we’re doing some further repairs to where the tree has damaged the roof.”
The Stilesboro Improvement Club has served as the advocate and protector of Stilesboro Academy since the women of the area stepped in to keep the county from tearing it down in the first half of the 20th century. Ever since, the club has held events to raise money and awareness for the Greek-revival building constructed almost entirely of heart pine, which boasts 20-foot ceilings and 14-foot-tall doors.
Growing up in the Stilesboro community, Brock has a desire to see the building maintained so that future generations can visit a piece of history. Within its 154-year-old walls is a time capsule, a vision of life in antebellum Bartow County — then Cass County. Not only did the building serve as a school for local children, but it is also believed to have housed Union Gen. William T. Sherman as he rode through Cass County on his March to the Sea. Few buildings remain from the time period, not only from the passage of time, but from scorched ground left in Sherman’s wake. It is believed all that saved Stilesboro Academy from being burned by Sherman’s troops was the Latin inscription, “Deo Ac Patriac,” which translates, “To God and Country.”
“The academy was built before there was free public education,” Brock said. “The members of the community got together, donated land and materials and a building was built so local people could have an education. So people in the community came here for their learning because there was no place else to go.
“It was completed in 1859, so it was there when Sherman came through and legend has it Sherman didn’t burn it because the motto on the wall is the same as the motto at West Point where he attended. And the evidence of his time at Stilesboro Academy is seen in benches still in the building that were used as feed troughs for his men’s horses.”
In October 2012, Stilesboro Academy was placed on the Georgia Trust Places in Peril list and in November, the Stilesboro Improvement Club held its 100th Chrysanthemum Show, an annual event held each fall inspired in part by Brock’s great-aunt Campie Hawkins.
“I live two miles from the building and I guess all my relatives that came before have been involved with it. My great-aunt originally had the first flower show. They got involved in growing them, learned to disbud them and decided they could raise money with them, and this past fall we held our 100th Chrysanthemum Show,” Brock said. “There was nothing I could do but grow up with it. We lived with my great-aunt and she taught me to grow flowers from a very young age. I guess I was about 7 when I learned to grow Chrysanthemums.”
Although the building has seen a lot in its time, Liotta has spent the past two days within its rafters and can speak to the workmanship that originally went into the building of Stilesboro Academy and the hard work that has been done since to keep it standing.
“Through the ages, you can see that quite a few people have tried to maintain this building,” Liotta said. “They didn’t even have electric equipment in the period of time this was built, so everything was done by hand and to see the amount of work where they actually mortised and notched beams into other beams. You can see that it was all hand hewn with axes, but the squareness of it all — to all be done by hand is incredible.
“They’ve got benches in here Sherman fed his horses out of and other people throughout history have trodden on this ground and now I’m privileged enough to work to keep this bit of history in place. ... I think the most exciting part is getting to meet with all these ladies that have such a passion for history in our community and they just want to pass on their legacy whether it’s through Chrysanthemums or through this building.”
In addition to bracing rafters, Liotta has been gradually tightening turnbuckles built into the building’s trusses to keep the walls from separating. He also is removing nearly a ton of brick from the remains of a fireplace. The 14 feet of chimney left from an old fireplace was left in the ceiling, placing its entire weight on the roof. Work done by Outside the Box Construction this week will ready the building to be re-roofed next week.
Located on Taff Road, off Ga. Highway 113 eight miles west of Cartersville, Stilesboro Academy will continue its legacy of history and education with the help of community members and the ladies of the Stilesboro Improvement Club. A calendar of 2013 events was recently announced.
The club’s first event will be a bake sale at the Cartersville Belk on the Saturday before Easter, March 30, beginning at 9 a.m. A barbecue and silent auction will raise funds at the academy on April 6, from 5 to 7 p.m. A plant sale will take place April 27, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the academy. The annual May Picnics is free and open to the public at the academy on May 4, at noon. A hobo supper will take place at the academy on Sept. 14, from 5 to 7 p.m., and the Stilesboro Improvement Club’s 101st Chrysanthemum Show will be held at the academy on Nov. 2, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information, visit www.stilesboroacademy.org.