Dalton: Georgia's gateway to Civil War

Dalton: Georgia's gateway to Civil War

September 18th, 2011 by Mariann Martin in Glimpse 2011

A pedestrian walks past a 1912 statue of Civil War Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston along a newly streetscaped section of Hamilton Street in Dalton, Ga. on Monday. The city is undergoing an eight-year, $6 million renovation of downtown streets.

Forget the stodgy name of Carpet Capital of the World. Local historians and tourism folks say Dalton's claim to fame lies in its history, enriched by Native American beginnings, Civil War battles and railroad lore.

"We are the gateway to the Civil War in Georgia," said Brett Huske, executive director of the Dalton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It is a wonderful place to visit to find out all about the history and the battles in the area."

In late 1863, after being defeated in Chattanooga, Confederate troops wintered in Dalton. The area is peppered with battle sites from the spring of 1964, as Union troops pushed south during the Atlanta Campaign. The town also served as a hub for injured troops, with the most seriously injured sent south to Atlanta.

Two restored buildings in downtown Dalton showcase the old depots in the town and are a favorite hangout for visiting train watchers.

The Pinhoti Trail, a 240-mile trail stretching from Alabama's Appalachian Mountains into Northwest Georgia, passes through the Dalton area. It is the longest foot trail in Georgia.

The trail and other mountain trails are popular among mountain bikers and hikers.

"The best part about Dalton is the variety of things to do -- you have the Civil War history, the recreational things such as the Pinhoti Trail and mountain bike trails," Huske said.

Directional signs point to the parking area for a newly-opened section of the Dry Creek Trail near the Chatooga/Walker County line that joins the Pinhoti Trail. The new Dry Creek Trail is for use by horse riders, bicyclists and hikers.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

AT A GLANCE

• Population: 33,128.

• Best things to do: Tunnel Hill Heritage Center Museum, W&A Railroad Tunnel and Clisby Austin House; Dalton historic homes such as the Blunt House, the Crown Gardens and Archives and the Hamilton House; Silver Shoe Ranch; the Freight Depot; Prater's Mill; West Hill Cemetery; the Pinhoti Trail.

• Biggest employers: Carpet mills.

• Miles from downtown Chattanooga: 33.

• Landmarks: Rocky Face Ridge, Mount Rachel, Haig Mill Lake.

• Date founded: 1847, when the city changed its name from Cross Plains to Dalton, in honor of founder Edward Dalton White.

• Historic info: Woodland Indians and the Creek Nation lived in the area of present-day Dalton until being pushed out by the Cherokee Indians in the mid-1700s. The Cherokees were forced out of their homes in 1838 when the U.S. government relocated them in what has become known as the Trail of Tears. Two railroads were built in the late 1840s and early 1850s, and Dalton became known as a railroad town. During the Civil War, Dalton first saw action during the Great Locomotive Chase in 1862. In late 1863, Confederate troops wintered in Dalton. The area saw numerous battles as Union troops began the Atlanta Campaign in the spring of 1964.

• Most-famous natives: Marla Maples, actress and television personality; Deborah Norville, television broadcaster and journalist; J.R. Martinez, actor, motivational speaker and retired U.S. Army soldier; Saul Raisin, former professional cyclist; Lori Beth Edgeman, actress; Mel Pender, Olympic gold medalist, track and field/runner; Harry Leon "Suitcase" Simpson, one of the first black professional baseball players; Adm. Mack Gaston, first black American Navy admiral.

• Unique traditions: Battle of Tunnel Hill Civil War Re-enactment. Prater's Mill Country Fair. The first Downtown Dalton's Peacocks on Parade is scheduled for this fall. Back when the area around Dalton first became known for its handmade bedspreads and, later, carpets, it was known as Peacock Alley for the most popular bedspread design.

• Fun fact: Whitfield County was named after George Whitefield, an evangelist and one of founders of the Methodist Church. Because his last name was pronounced "Whitfield," the spelling of the county's name was changed to be sure it would be pronounced correctly.