Prominent Places


Establishment of Dalton

by Marvin Sowder

The area encompassing Northwest Georgia was home to the Cherokees for hundreds of years.  The whole section from the Etowah to the Tennessee River was described as wild country, scarcely anything but trackless forests with only here and there a small clearing with a Cherokee cabin thereon.

In the early 1830’s the settlement of Cross Plains was a Cherokee trading place.  The road from Vann’s Place and the road from New Echota to Ross’ Landing intersected here and was part of the Cherokee Nation.

Through a series of Georgia Land Lotteries the Cherokee land was divided into 160 acre lots.  The 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery gave white men titles to the land.  By 1837, there were a dozen or more white families living in Cross Plains.  Starting in the fall of 1838, the Cherokees were forced to leave their homeland.  In detachments of 900 or so, they marched overland to what is now Oklahoma under the most harsh of conditions.  As many as 4,000 died along the way.  Their journey has been appropriately called the “Trail of Tears.”

Less than a year after their removal, on December 21, 1839, Cross Plains was incorporated in the County of Murray.  The town limits extended 400 yards in all directions from its center which was located at the intersection of today’s West Morris Street and Thornton Avenue.  For the next several years, Cross Plains continued to grow until 1846.  Plans for a railroad to connect central and southern Georgia with the Tennessee River near Chattanooga brought many new settlers and investors into the area including Captain Edward White from Massachusetts who purchased several tracts of land in the area.  White represented a New England investment syndicate.  Another developer, Mark Thornton, deeded property for a depot square to the State of Georgia which would subsequently become the new center of the new city, Dalton.

Edward White was a visionary with grandiose ideas.  He laid out a city with long wide streets and city blocks that rivaled many cities.  He provided land for churches, schools, and a town hall.  Naming the new city “Dalton,” after his mother’s family, White petitioned the Georgia Legislature, and on December 29, 1847, an act was signed by Governor George W. Towns changing the name of Cross Plains to Dalton.  The city limits were extended one mile in all directions from the depot and the new City of Dalton was born.

The Western & Atlantic Railroad did come and on June 22, 1847, the first train arrived in Dalton.  It was a grand day and called for speeches and much celebration.  A big barbeque was planned.  R. A. Rushton ran the first train in with J. F. Reynolds as conductor.  When it came into sight an unearthly yell rent the air such as had never been heard before!  The result of the Railroad demonstration was the sale by Mr. White of scores of town lots for weeks thereafter.  Dalton went rapidly forward and continued to grow until the dark days of the 1860’s.

Map of Dalton

The John Hamilton House – Dalton’s Oldest Brick Home    C.1840

Dalton and The Statue of General Joseph E. Johnston

by Robert D. Jenkins, Sr.  

For nearly 100 years Dalton and Whitfield County, Georgia, has been home to the Nation’s only statue of one of the Confederacy’s most famous generals, Joseph Eggleston Johnston.  Erected and dedicated in 1912 by the Bryan M. Thomas Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, this statue overlooks Dalton’s downtown business center.  Johnston is shown holding his hat to his side while defiantly leaning on his sword, a symbol of both dignity and defiance.

Perhaps this image also befits his host city, as Dalton’s ante-bellum past struggled to survive during the next century from the post-war years to the Great Depression and through the post-World War II urban development expansion which ended the life of many small southern towns.

With determination and grit, the little railroad junction and mill town grew from the depths of the Depression to the heights of a new industry, the carpet and floor covering capital of the world.  Today, Dalton serves as the hub of Northwest Georgia’s carpet industry which is the world’s largest carpet manufacturing region.  For six months during the Civil War, Dalton also served as the center of the Nation’s attention as she became host to one of the Confederacy’s two principal armies.  From November 1863 to May 1864, the eyes of the Country looked to the events in Dalton as the war’s drama unfolded in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Northwest Georgia.

Soon, a second statue of Johnston will be unveiled in Bentonville, North Carolina, the scene of the end of his service to the Confederacy and the death of its dream.  But, in the heart of the “Gateway City to Georgia,” Johnston’s statue remains as the one and only statue which has commemorated him for a century.  While the statue was erected to honor the memory of a man, it serves more as a testament to a city’s courage to endure through her struggles and a will to succeed.  Dalton stands today a city that has embraced both her past, replete with its sorrows and joys, and her future, which appears as bright as the candles of “Love Lights” that are given each year to the city’s Hamilton Medical Center, through the Whitfield Healthcare Foundation by her citizens, and the “Christmas Star” which shines on Dalton every December from nearby Mount Rachel.

Johnston Statue

Dedication of the Johnston Statue

The Western & Atlantic Railroad

by Robert Jenkins

Dalton was a young city at the outbreak of the Civil War, even by American standards.  Originally named Cross Plains, the city came about after the Georgia General Assembly in 1836 voted to create a state railroad from the Tennessee River near Chattanooga south “to a point on the southeastern bank of the Chattahoochee River,” according to Governor Wilson Lumpkin.  He and the Georgia Legislature hoped to link Georgia and her coastal and river cities and farms with the Midwest Region of the sprawling country.  With the removal from middle Georgia of the Creek Indians in the 1820’s and the Cherokee Indians in the 1830’s from north Georgia and after the discovery of gold near Dahlonega around 1828, the fledgling state began carving up and giving out the newly acquired lands of northwest Georgia to white settlers in a series of land lotteries.

Further, as the state’s population rapidly grew, westward expansion and the need for new roads, particularly the new railroad for train travel, was inevitable.  The new railroad was to be called The Western and Atlantic Railroad of the State of Georgia, an appropriate name describing the legislators’ goal of joining the two regions across the state.  Colonel Stephen Harriman Long, an experienced Army engineer, was commissioned to choose the best and most practical route for the new rail line.  Beginning on the Tennessee River at Rossville, Long mapped out several routes through the Southern Appalachians toward the center of Georgia and the Chattahoochee River and carefully surveyed each one.  In 1837, after considering a half-dozen routes, he finally settled on an ending point about eight miles south of the Chattahoochee River where connecting ridges and Indian trails converged.  He drove a stake into the red clay near what is now Five Points in downtown Atlanta.  This location would mark the ending place for the new rail line through northwest Georgia.

As construction of The Western & Atlantic Railroad from this southernmost point, or “Terminus,” progressed to the northwest toward Chattanooga, other railroad construction began, linking the Terminus of The Western & Atlantic Railroad to the rest of Georgia so that by the time of the outbreak of the Civil War there were four rail lines with five railroad companies sending trains regularly to the Gate City, as Atlanta became to be called.

At the same time that Atlanta grew as an important rail hub, the area around and just east of the former Cherokee Indian trading post called Cross Plains (which was centered at the intersection of today’s West Morris Street and Thornton Avenue), began to grow, first as a settlement of railroad workers and engineers.  Soon, merchants and craftsmen, opportunists and land speculators began to arrive.  While the village of Cross Plains continued to grow, it soon became clear that the area’s new leading businessman was Edward White, a land speculator and developer from Massachusetts.  Laying out city streets and providing land for churches and schools from the tracts he had purchased between Cross Plains and the new railroad, White laid the foundation for the new city.

On June 22, 1847, the first train arrived in Dalton along the new Western & Atlantic Railroad, and on December 29, 1847, Cross Plains was changed to “Dalton” in honor of White’s  mother, Mary Dalton White, and his grandfather, Senator Tristram Dalton of Massachusetts.  Almost overnight, shops sprang up along The Western & Atlantic Railroad at Dalton which continued to grow until the time of the Civil War.  Over the next ten years, the city grew into an important place of trade and commerce, and it became clear that its location at the end of the Southern Appalachians had made her a vital rail center.  “By 1861 Georgia had an extensive railroad system, the best in the Deep South and second only to Virginia in the whole South.  Over fourteen hundred miles of tracks, mostly 5-foot gauge, crisscrossed central Georgia, spilled over into the northern and southern sections of the state, and linked up with other lines snaking out into the rest of the nation,” according to historian Kenneth Coleman.

In contrast, older and wealthier states such as New York and Pennsylvania failed to match railroad expansion in the southern state that her citizens proudly called “The Empire State of the South.”  While each state developed its own rail lines as the industrial revolution spread across the nation, Georgia out spent her sister states by pumping some $26 million into her rail lines, including over $6 million in The Western & Atlantic Railroad during this time.  The ratio of railroad miles to inhabitants in Georgia was 1 to 744 in an 1860 study, as compared to 1 to 1,083 miles for the rest of the country.  As Georgia’s railroads continued to spread across the state, Dalton continued to grow in both size and prominence.

The Western and Atlantic Route

Chetoogeta Mountain Tunnel

by Steve Hall

The Western and Atlantic Railroad was built in the very early days of railroading, begun only eight years after the first commercial railroad had started in Charleston, S.C.   Railroading in those days was very new, but one thing became apparent very quickly:  railroads do not climb hills or mountains.  Steel wheels on steel rails do not make for very good traction.  This explains why railroads must be as level as possible.

In the surveying of the Western and Atlantic Railroad through north Georgia, it was very apparent that the mountains of the region would make for some very difficult building.  How do you build a railroad through all of these mountains while still maintaining as level a track as possible?  To give a better idea of the problems faced, keep in mind that even today’s railroads are limited to a 4% grade except in the direst of situations, with 2% or less being preferred.  A 4% grade means that the track can not change elevation any more than 4 feet vertically for every 100 feet traveled.

In surveying the route through north Georgia the builders were able to minimize the grade for most of the journey simply by curving the tracks around the hills and valleys, lengthening the track but lowering the grade.  As a matter of fact the Western and Atlantic has so many curves in its 137 mile journey from Terminus (now Atlanta) to the Tennessee River (now Chattanooga) that if one takes the total radius of all of the curves and makes them into a continuous spiral, the spiral would loop around 37 times!

Curving the tracks to slowly gain or loose altitude will only work so far.  At Allatoona Pass the engineers had to make a huge cut in the mountain to make it through.  Luckily the mountain there wasn’t too large.

North of Dalton they ran into another obstacle: Chetoogeta Mountain, named for a local Cherokee Chief.  One way around the obstacle would have been to continue the railroad north into Tennessee toward Cleveland, then turn toward the Tennessee river and back down to Ross’s Landing.  The problem here was that there was still a fairly formidable grade to contend with.  As a matter of fact, later when the East Tennessee and Virginia railroad built their line here they found that if a train stopped in Varnell heading north, the grade was too steep for it to start up again and would have to back up a mile and a half to get a running start.

Another problem was Taylor’s Ridge to the west, but this could easily be pierced by going through Ringgold Gap, the same gap that the railroad shares today with I-75 and US 41.  The question now was how to reach that gap.  There were only two ways, go around the north end of Chetoogeta, then back down the other side to Ringgold Gap, or go through the mountain.  It was decided that, due to the grade east of the ridge that going through the mountain was best.  It was then decided that removing the entire top of the ridge was not feasible and that it would be better to simply dig a tunnel through the mountain.

Work was begun on the west end of the tunnel on July 28, 1848, with another crew starting the work on the east side of the mountain on Aug. 25.  The two crews worked feverishly to complete the work as the railroad needed to be operational into Chattanooga by Jan. 1, 1850  to win a lucrative mail contract.

The digging on the west end soon hit a snag when they ran into a bed of hard limestone which would have to be laboriously blasted out of the mountain.  This was very dangerous work in 1849-49 as all of the work had to be done using black powder!  Dynamite, invented due to the dangers of using black powder, would not come along until 1865.  In order to blast the rock the men had to first drill holes into the rock.  This was done using a device known as a “star drill” but it was not like any drill we use today.  It was more akin to a jackhammer in that it was an iron bar 4 to 8 feet in length that one man held while a second hit it with a sledge hammer!  If the man striking the drill missed, the other man might not have any hands left!  They would drill into the rock several feet, place black powder into the hole with a fuse, pack in a little clay to help contain the blast, light the fuse and RUN!

Work on the other end of the tunnel progressed much easier since they only had to dig through fairly soft soil.  They did have several problems, however.  While digging they would hit areas that were so moist that they were basically digging out mud.  It is not known how these men managed to get through this mud, but on the new tunnel, built 1926-28, they hit mud so thin that they had to pump a low-grade concrete into the mud, let it set up, then dig it out.  Also due to the soft soil on the east side of the ridge, the tunnel had to be extensively braced during construction with many of the beams having to be left in place while the rock walls were built around them.  Later, when the walls had set, the beams were cut out and removed.  The holes left behind were then plugged with smaller rocks and even bricks, but since there is no weight on theses plugs, several have fallen out over the years, leaving holes in the side of the tunnel.  In a few of these one can see the remains of the original timber bracing to this day.

While the two teams were working, it became apparent that they would not get the tunnel completed by the deadline, so the decision was made to continue work on the railroad west of the tunnel.  The rail line was built through Ringgold Gap, crossing the Chickamauga Creek no fewer than nine time, and into what is today Chattanooga.  In order to get the line operational, a train was needed on the north end of the line, so an engine, tender, two box cars, and a flat car were hauled across Cheetogeeta Mountain by teams of oxen and mules and placed on the tracks west of the ridge.  From this point on goods would be hauled up to the ridge, unloaded, carried across, and reloaded on the other side of the ridge.  Any passengers going north could ride to the tunnel, but then were on their own for the remainder of the journey into Chattanooga.

Work continued on the tunnel until on Oct. 31, 1849 (yes, Halloween day) the two crews made the first opening through the tunnel.  Perhaps the most amazing feat is not just that they met each other in the mountain at all, but that when they did meet the center-line of each bore met less than 1/8 inch off side to side, and only ¼ inch off up and down!  Something that today’s engineers find hard to duplicate!

Work progressed on digging out the tunnel and building the stone and brick masonry inside which would hold up the maintain for the trains to pass through.  The first train would not pass through the tunnel until May 9, 1850, less than two years after the work had started, and, amazingly taking only 4 months longer than it would take crews to build the “new” tunnel nearby over 75 years later.

All of the work was not yet complete, however.  In the area of the tunnel where the two crews met there was still much work to be done.  The brick archway and some of the masonry on the walls were not yet complete, but in order to operate the railroad they could not have any scaffolding blocking the tunnel, so they came up with an ingenuous method of cutting notches into the brickwork where they could then wedge the “barrel vault” used to hold the bricks of the archway in place until the mortar dried.  This would allow the workers to continue with the brickwork on the 2.5 feet thick roof while the railroad could operate underneath.

The construction of the tunnel in Tunnel Hill was a major feat of engineering in the early days of railroading, with this tunnel being the oldest railroad tunnel in the South, and the second oldest in the nation.  The completion of this tunnel, and the railroad, opened up north Georgia to later become an industrial and transportation hub, but it would also make the area very valuable militarily to both sides in the upcoming War Between the States.

Historic Western & Atlantic Tunnel in Tunnel Hill, Georgia (then)


The East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad

by Robert Jenkins

Ross’ Landing was founded in 1816 by the Cherokee Indian Chief, John Ross, who was 7/8’s Scottish, and only 1/8th Cherokee.  After the Cherokees were removed in 1838 and sent on the famous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, white settlers began to pour into northwest Georgia.  Soon, plans were made to build a railroad across the region.  In 1850, the Western & Atlantic Railroad was completed, linking what would become Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Ross’ Landing, which became Chattanooga in 1838.

Tennessee also saw the importance of railroads, and soon, the Volunteer State would begin building railroads, as well.

Chartered on July 4, 1836 by the Tennessee Legislature, the Hiwassee Railroad was authorized to raise capital and begin construction on a railroad linking Knoxville to somewhere on the Tennessee-Georgia Border through the Hiwassee District.  On February, 4, 1848, the name was changed to the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad Company (ET & Ga RR).  Later, the line was extended to connect with the Western & Atlantic Railroad at Dalton, Georgia.  The states of Georgia and Tennessee had previously signed agreements in 1837 to cooperate with each other in the erection of railways.

The Hiwassee Railroad began construction of one of Tennessee’s first railroads in McMinn County in 1837. Plans called for a line from Dalton, Georgia, through McMinn County to Knoxville, a distance of ninety-eight miles. Financial problems and a general economic depression statewide halted construction in 1839 after the completion of sixty-six miles of graded roadbed and a bridge at Calhoun. Work was resumed in 1849 by the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad. Athens served as the railroad’s headquarters until 1855, when the central office was moved to Knoxville.

With the arrival of the railroad came the new towns of Riceville, Sanford, and Mouse Creek (now Niota), which developed along the line. During the Civil War, the railroad gained added significance, serving as a vital link for transporting troops and supplies between the Lower and Upper South.

The East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad line intentionally bypassed Chattanooga because the railroad did not believe that Chattanooga would ever develop into anything more than just a small river town.  Besides, with the ominous Lookout Mountain to the south, the Tennessee River to the north, east and west, and various mountains surrounding the village to the north, Chattanooga was a most difficult place to reach, let alone cross through.

So, the investors and developers of the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad Company looked for a place to tie their rail line from East Tennessee to the Western & Atlantic Railroad in Georgia, and Dalton was the ideal and logical choice.  One of the ET & Ga RR’s investors was Mr. Ario Pardee, a Pennsylvanian who was known as the “King of the Coal Barons” for his coal empire in that state.  He and others looked for a way to ship their coal to the Gulf States and the coast.  Ironically, during the Civil War, his son, Ario Pardee, Jr., would lead a Pennsylvania Regiment down the same railroad during the Atlanta Campaign.

In 1848 the Tennessee General Assembly endorsed bonds of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad(N&C), but the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad won a precedent-setting direct loan two years later. The General Internal Improvement Law of 1852 provided state loans to railroads at $8,000 per mile ($10,000 per mile by 1854). Every Tennessee antebellum railroad (except the N&C) received grants under this system.

Copper was discovered in Southeast Tennessee at Polk County in 1843.  This discovery would impact the lives of Copper Basin residents for generations.  Population growth, land speculation, numerous mine openings and other related activities led to the boom of the area by the early 1850’s.  It would also have a profound effect on Dalton, Georgia, as well.

The lack of roads into the Basin increased its isolation and prevented economical shipment of goods outside the Basin and helped retain an agricultural lifestyle. The earliest recorded shipment of copper out of the Basin occurred in 1847 when shipped, by mule, 90 casks of copper to Dalton, Georgia, the nearest railroad.

1847 was a big year for Dalton.  The city had just received her charter the year before, the Western & Atlantic Railroad was running from the city to Atlanta, and the Western and Atlantic Depot had just been completed.  The final segment of this pivotal railway was completed in Tunnel Hill, Georgia, in 1850 as the tunnel through Chetoogeta Mountain was opened allowing for train travel all the way to Chattanooga.

Now, with the need to ship coal from Pennsylvania, copper from Tennessee, and other goods and travelers through Tennessee and Georgia, The ET & Ga RR made plans to tie into Dalton.  By 1852, the ET & Ga RR line would be completed to Dalton from southeast Tennessee.

Running from Dalton via Athens and Loudon to Knoxville by 1855, it was the second railroad completed in Tennessee. A more direct route between Cleveland and Chattanooga was completed in 1858.

The East Tennessee and Virginia (ET&V), chartered in 1849, was completed from Knoxville to Bristol in 1858, ending East Tennessee’s railroad isolation.  During the Civil War, the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad became the object of much destruction by soldiers and Unionist civilians alike, as it was a vital link in the connection between Atlanta and Richmond.

In 1869, the East Tennessee & Georgia (Knoxville to Dalton) Railroad was merged with the East Tennessee and Virginia (Knoxville to Bristol) Railroad to form the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad.


by Marvin Sowder

Long before the white man came to Northwest Georgia, the district known today as Varnell was part of the Cherokee Nation and referred to as Red Hill for the many red clay hills found there. In the late 1790’s and early 1800’s there were a dozen or so Cherokee families living along the creeks and near some of the forty-two springs that dot the area.

A Cherokee named Rattling Gourd, together with his sons-in-law, Young Wolf and William Williams, were living at Big Spring (Horne Spring today, located at the southwest corner of Georgia Highway 2 and Cleveland Highway). When the Federal Road was opened in 1805 they established a wayside stand to serve the travelers as they journeyed back and forth from Tennessee through the Cherokee Nation to Georgia. The family became quite prosperous.

In 1831 Georgia Governor Wilson Lumpkin sent teams of surveyors throughout the Cherokee Nation and divided it into one hundred and sixty acre land lots, districts and sections. These land lots were then parceled out to white settlers in the 1832 Georgia Cherokee Land Lottery. Soon after, they began moving in to claim their prizes.

In 1834 a post office was established at Red Hill with John Martin serving as post master. It was the earliest post office in what was to become Whitfield County. As early as 1836 a group of Baptist missionaries, including Bushyhead, Beaver Carrier and Evan Jones visited Big Spring as emissaries from the Amohee Baptist Church of Polk County, Tennessee. Some of the earliest white settlers as plotted by the surveyors in 1831 were Pitner, McGauhey, Varnell, Kenan and Webb. Others families were Fagala, Rauschenberg, Johnson and Prater.

In 1838 all the Cherokee families were forced to remove to lands west of the Mississippi River, now Oklahoma, on the infamous Trail of Tears. Many perished along the way, leaving only their names on many of our present-day landmarks.

Cherokee Circuit Court Judge Owen H. Kenan (1785-1860) bought the Rattling Gourd homeplace and approximately 1,700 acres surrounding it.   Mitchell P. Varnell (1807-1886) settled at another large spring (Varnell Spring today) in a brick house built by the Dr. John Dryden Dold in 1847.  It was used as a temporary hospital by Federals and Confederates during the Civil War and is still standing today.

In the early 1850’s the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad made its way from Knoxville to Dalton, passing just east of Mr. Varnell’s home. Mr. Varnell was appointed the railroad agent and established a depot giving it the name of  Varnell’s Station. In 1854 the post office was changed from Red Hill to Varnell’s Station and Mitchell P. Varnell was named post master. He also deeded property for the Baptist and Methodist churches.

During the Civil War men from the Varnell’s Station area formed the nucleus of Company I, the “Red Hill Guards”,1st Regiment Georgia State Guards, which served from September 11,1863 to January 31,1864 under the command of Captain John F. Groves (1822-1902). Other men from Varnell’s Station served the South with distinction in the 39th Georgia and other regiments.

On May 9,1864 the Battle of Varnell’s Station was fought between Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Cavalry and the Federal Forces under  command of Gen. Edward M. McCook resulting in a total rout of the Federals and the capture of Col. Oscar H. LaGrange, fourteen other officers and 136 enlisted men.

After the War, Varnell’s Station experienced some growth around a cluster of small enterprises, a depot, two churches and a post office. The surrounding area developed into small farms producing corn, wheat and cotton, most of which were ground or ginned nearby at Prater’s Mill, owned and operated by Ben Prater (1826-1893). The mill was built in 1855 and is still operational today.

On July 1, 1929 the post office name was changed from Varnell’s Station to Varnell. The unincorporated town adopted that name and retains it today. It was on April 8, 1968, that the city of Varnell was incorporated and W.M. Bill Kinnamon (1922-1982) was elected as its first mayor.

Varnell is a young city with a bright future. It comes with an interesting old history and many stories yet to be told.

The Varnell House


Prater’s Mill

by Judson Manly, Jr

Prater’s Mill was a family project undertaken by the John Pitner family in the last year of John’s life in 1855.  John was my great, great, grandfather and was a hard working pioneer and true entrepreneur for our county.  In the 1820’s the larger Pitner family had lost their good farm in Sevier County north of Seymour, Tennessee.  John was trying to scratch out a living on 75 acres of land 0.1 miles wide and 1.1 miles long on the side of a steep hill.  In 1837, while the Cherokee Indians were still here, John loaded his few possessions and his family on a flat boat on the nearby French Broad River and floated to Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga).  The rest of the trip to the Cohutta area was made by wagon.  The family consisted of 37 yr old John, his 36yr old wife Sarah McGaughy Pitner, their 6 yr old son, Tilman Howard (T.H.), their 4 yr old daughter Amanda, and John’s 20 yr old brother, Galaway.  They somehow had been able to buy a 160-acre Cherokee Indian land lottery lot from the lottery recipient.  The lot was close to the one where the lottery land surveyors had seen John clearing land years earlier on an arrangement with the Indians.  Chief Rattling Gourd was a neighboring friend and Sarah swapped recipes with his wife before the “Trail of Tears” removed them in 1838.  The lot was split by the current Cleveland Highway near North Hills Drive and Marla Drive and later would include part of Nob North Golf Course.

“The legend of Charles Prater” maintains that Charles was a Cherokee Indian boy whose parents chose to legally stay in Georgia by voluntarily becoming slaves of a white settler who was John Pitner.  Charles must have had two or more siblings since the 1840 census for John Pitner’s slaves showed 1 older adult male and 1 adult female under 25 and 3 children under 10.  Shortly afterwards John received some more slaves.  His older brother Elias Pitner had left Sevier County earlier and had been a white planter in Troup County, Georgia, in 1830 and Cass County (now Bartow) Georgia, in 1834.  Presumably, the land lottery interfered financially and Elias moved to Bradley County, Tennessee, by the 1840 census.  I have John Pitner’s 1842 will that stated that John was in poor health and instructed that executors settle with Elias in some way for the slaves “he got of him.”  The number of slaves was not listed, and they were probably acquired by John in 1840 or 1841.

John built his large 2-story house on the Cleveland Road to serve as a stagecoach stop to provide income.  He built and expanded a farm including a tannery for tanning hides, soap making, large orchards, a store, etc.   He also made other investments.

The 1850 census was taken as of June 1, 1850.  John Pitner was listed as a farmer with land valued at $7,000.  Many of the other farmer’s lands were valued at $500.  The census showed 7 others living at least temporarily with the Pitner family of 4.  Some must have been involved in the building of the East Tennessee and Georgia (later called the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia) Railroad that ran adjacent or thru the Pitner land.  They included a 24-year-old farmer born in North Carolina, a 30-year-old stonemason and his wife born in New York and Vermont, a 32 year old engineer and his wife born in Tennessee, a 21 year old assistant engineer born in New York,  and a 24 year old salesman born in Tennessee.  The first track was laid for this railroad about 6 months later on Jan. 1st, 1851.  With 15 slaves the Pitners had 26 persons living at their farm.  The number of “slaves” is misleading since only 4 males were age 12 or more.  The ages of the male slaves were 34, 16, 14, 12, 8, 6, 1, 1 and 2/12 with females 39, 19, 14, 4, 3, and 3.

Ben Prater was 15 yrs. old in 1842 when his father died at their farm along the Tennessee River near Lenoir City, Tennessee.  His mother later married a Russell.  Ben raised horses, and years later, was driving them to Augusta for sale when he stopped at the Pitners and met their daughter Amanda.  Ben stopped again on the return trip and before long at age 25 in July 1852 he married the 19 yr. old Amanda Pitner.  They tried living in Blount County but returned to Cohutta.  Ben needed a job and apparently worked some as a miller with an individual named Joel Barrett who had a small mill on Coahulla Creek.  Barrett wanted a large mill but could not build it.  Ben and John Pitner worked out a deal where John Pitner would put up the money and contract for $2,819.38 to build the new replacement mill on Barrett’s land.  Barrett would agree for Ben to be assured of a job and Barrett would pay off a mortgage.   Ben apparently secured John Russell from Blount Co (possibly a relative) to build the mill using John Pitner’s slaves and agreeing for Russell to have an employment agreement, too.  The Russell farm was 6 or 7 miles above Ben’s home place and also on the Tennessee River.  The mill was completed in the summer of 1855 and John Pitner died at age 55 a few months later in Dec.  John Pitner’s Nov 1855 will left major provisions for his wife with the remainder of property to be divided equally between his son T.H. Pitner and son-in-law Ben Prater.  Each got 9 designated slaves which he called “servants” instead of slaves.  T.H. Pitner quickly married John Russell’s daughter Malinda Russell in Blount County and continued running the Pitner farm and looking after his mother.

Barrett, Ben Prater, and John Russell ran the mill for 3 years and it was sometimes called Russell’s Mill.  When Barrett could not make the payments he was bought out on Sept 7, 1858 by T.H. Pitner and Ben thru a $5,000 mortgage which he would not try to pay back and he left a few months later.  After 3 more years on Oct 8, 1861 Ben bought out T.H. Pitner’s interest in the mill and associated property for $4,500.  Ben Prater was now the sole owner of the Prater Mill complex and T.H. Pitner owner of the Pitner farms.  Both men were civic minded leaders in their communities.

The Civil War had started in 1861 and on Mar 10, 1862 31 yr. old T.H. Pitner enlisted in the Confederate Army with his neighbors to be their Captain of Company B of the 39th Georgia Infantry.  He was at Vicksburg and the Battle of Chattanooga.  He was moved to Missionary Ridge over the railroad tunnel the night before the battle on Nov 24th or 25th, 1863 and was promoted to Major that day.  They held their end of the ridge and even charged and captured some Union soldiers.  They had to retreat to Dalton when the center and South end of the ridge were overrun.

Ben Prater at age 37 enlisted on July 2, 1862 as a 3rd Lieutenant in the Georgia State Guards and did guard duty at Villanow, Snake Creek Gap, Calhoun, and Atlanta.  After the war, Ben gave land to his former slaves near the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad. They took the Prater name and have been valued members of the community and bought more land.

T.H. Pitner was elected Clerk of Whitfield County Superior Court and owned the Pitner farm plus a general store in Cohutta.  His daughter, Maggie Pitner, married Frank Manly in 1892 and was my grandmother.

Ben and his son “Bill” Prater operated the mill for a total of 86 years until Bill’s death in 1941.  The Prater Mill complex had consisted of the mill, store, warehouse, cotton gin, blacksmith shop and houses.

After milling by others until 1963, the 108 year operation of the mill ceased.  Private individuals leased and began restoring the mill and the first Praters Mill Country Fair was held in 1971.

Mr. Billie A. Prater, who is descended from the original slave Charles still lives here.  I was recently able to publicly convey my thanks to him for his Prater Mill Volunteer efforts to preserve the mill that our ancestors built.

Prater’s Mill