“It’s a fellowship for the community,” said club member Susiann Brock. “Everyone can come, bring a picnic lunch and we can all just sit, visit and eat.
“Used to, years ago, we had big crowds for this picnic. Family members that would marry and move away would come back and have a homecoming. They’d bring their families and everybody would get together. Even when I was a little girl, we had big crowds. The crowds have dwindled in the last few years but communities have changed and activities have changed.”
Rain caused the picnic to move inside but attendees still enjoyed fried chicken, iced tea, potato salad, green beans, biscuits, caramel cake and apple pie. While the crowds attending the picnic have become smaller, the history of the building continues to grow.
“[The academy] has been a part of my life, all my life,” said Brock. “It was a school before there was any free, public education. The people in the community donated the property. I think the lumber was bought but it was cut off local land, so it has significance in that it means a lot to this community and it has for a long time.
“It was completed in 1859 and we have an inscription over the chapel that says … ‘To God and Country,’ in Latin, and it’s credited for having saved the academy when [Union Maj. Gen. William T.] Sherman made his famous ‘March to the Sea,’ because it was the motto of West Point, which is where [Sherman] went to school.”
The scripture remains above the chapel and has never been re-painted. Evidence that the Union troops occupied the building, during their march, are displayed inside the academy, including benches bearing horses’ teeth marks. The benches are believed to have been pushed together and used as feeding troughs for Sherman’s horses. Members of the Stilesboro Improvement Club have made it their mission to keep the academy and its history alive.
“We were originally created to protect the building, to be sure the building was not distorted,” said Brock “The county was about to bulldoze the building and a group of ladies said, ‘No, you can’t do that; we’ll keep the building,’ and so they gave it to the original members of the Stilesboro Improvement Club, to keep. Some of us are descendants of them and some of us are just friends that have joined throughout the years. We’re always looking for new members.”
According to club member Edna Martinez, money from last years fundraisers, which include the flower show, barbecue and plant sale has been used to repair the academy’s roof and windows. The next to-do on their list is to paint and continue raising funds to keep the building looking its best.
“[The academy is important because of] its beauty; it’s a really incredible building and, of course, its history with Sherman and the Civil War,” said Jennifer Capes. “I guess it’s sad that [Bartow] used to be such a farming community and now everybody is more spread out and living in the city of Cartersville that some of these older buildings, right outside town, are kind of forgotten about. Everybody knows about Rose Lawn because it’s in town. I think it’s just such a beautiful, underutilized building. I mean it would be beautiful, can you imagine weddings and stuff here? The first time I saw this building, I was like, ‘Man that is beautiful.’”
“I didn’t grow up in Cartersville, but obviously I want my children to grow up with that sense of community and have roots, so we try to do local stuff.”
This is the second year that Capes and her family have attended the picnic. She says it won’t be their last. For information on upcoming events hosted by the Stilesboro Improvement Club or for ways to donate to keep the academy’s history alive, visit www.stilesboroacademy.org.
“The picnic is important because it’s our way of saying, ‘Thank you’ to the community for all they’ve done to help us,” said Martinez.