Bring history to life; a perfect way to spend a lazy summer day

Bring history to life; a perfect way to spend a lazy summer day

June 27th, 2013 by Katie Ward in Local Regional News

The historic Gordon-Lee Mansion is in downtown Chickamauga.

Photo by Katie Ward Hamilton

People don't have to travel to Charleston or Savannah to tour a historic home; Walker County has plenty in one's own backyard. If you're looking for something to do this summer, why not take a trip through time - without having to make a long drive. Here, we've provided an itinerary along with a few interesting facts.

Chief John Ross House

The home, which dates to 1797, is open for summer tours Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 1 through Aug. 31. According to roadsidegeorgia.com, it is the oldest remaining structure in Northwest Georgia. The home served as post office, country store, schoolhouse and Cherokee Council room during the period that John Ross lived in it, the website also states.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to learn about local history by touring the Chief John Ross House," said Chief John Ross House Association secretary Jackie Atkins, who is a fourth generation descendant of Ross through his second marriage. "There's prior history even before Chief John Ross. A British agent, James McDonald, built the home and he was John Ross' grandfather. John Ross came to live here when he was 7 when his father died."

A marker in front of the home reads: "This log house was the home of Cherokee Chief John Ross from boyhood until he went west over the Trail of Tears, losing his Indian wife en route. Although only one-eighth Indian himself, Ross was elected the principal chief of the Cherokee nation for 40 years and their advocate for justice for 57 years." Though Ross' mastery of the Cherokee language was lacking, his bicultural background allowed him to represent the Cherokee to the U.S. government. Similarly, the Cherokee needed his English skills and influence; mixed-race children often married and rose to positions of stature in society, both in political and economic terms.

Gordon-Lee Mansion

Construction on the house was begun in 1840 by James Gordon and his wife Sarah and was completed in 1847.

The grounds held the Cherokee Courthouse prior to the displacement of the Indians through the Trail of Tears. The mansion was used by both Union and Confederate forces during the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1883, according to the friendsofthegordonleemansion.org; one of the only remaining structures to be used by both sides during that battle. Both Union and Confederate troops were treated in the field hospital in the house and on the grounds during the battle, which involved the second highest number of casualties in the Civil War following the Battle of Gettysburg.

"For three days it was a hospital," said Friends of the Gordon-Lee Mansion docent chairwoman Linda Graham. "There are still bloodstains on the floor."

In 1889, 14,000 Civil War veterans returned to the grounds for the Blue-Gray Barbecue to eat, fellowship and smoke a peace pipe. It was at that event that the decision was made to form the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, the first Civil War battlefield in the United States to be set aside for historical preservation.

The Gordons passed the mansion to their daughter Elizabeth and her husband and James Gordon's business partner, James Lee. In turn they passed it to their son Gordon Lee, a U.S. congressman, and his wife, whose maiden name was Olive Berry. In 1974, the house and grounds were purchased by dentist Dr. Frank Green and restored with historical accuracy, according to the Friends website. The home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is completely furnished in 18th and 19th century antiques, most of which are from the American South and are of museum quality.

The Friends group opens the mansion each Saturday from June 1 through Labor Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Martin Davis House

Located at what is now Davis Crossroads, the home and surrounding farm date back to 1850, when the late Martin Davis became the owner of 160 acres along Chickamauga Creek. After building a 1.5-story dog trot-style frame house, Davis moved his family into the home that still stands today.

On his tours of that house, Martin Davis House Foundation Director Jim Staub recounts that Davis died in 1859, leaving his widow, Julia Tate Davis, and six children ages 4-18 to manage the farm.

On Sept. 11, 1863, Confederate and Union troops clashed at the farm. The south parlor blue room that today contains an antique piano, mandolin and violin is missing one of its historical artifacts: a marble-top table in the room was once buried to hide it from Union troops.

Davis' widow passed the farm down to their son John Davis Jr. and his wife, Ruth Hall Davis, who owned the farm from 1882-1897. In 1897, J. W. Lee purchased the property. The home and farm ownership changed hands again in 1920 when Mary Eudie Lee Trotter, J. W. Lee's daughter, and her husband, Frank Trotter, became the owners. On Jan. 1, 1948, Frank Clements Shaw purchased the farm and moved into the house with his wife, Myrtice Dunaway Shaw, and their son, Frank Clements "Bug" Shaw Jr. From 1948-2006, the Shaws, most recently Frank Clements Shaw Jr., preserved and managed the farm.

"Mr. Shaw [Jr.] established a foundation through a trust fund to preserve and protect the property," said Staub, adding that Bug Shaw passed away in 2006. "I was hired to carry on the work and his interests."

The house and detached buildings built by Bug Shaw replicate a 19th century country village for modern visitors, even a bit of his own. In addition to a detached kitchen, blacksmith shop, weaving shop, doctor's office and schoolhouse, he built a general store that represents the business he helped his father run, Frank Shaw Grocery.

The Martin Davis House and Farm offer weekly summer tours by reservation.

Marsh House

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Marsh House holds a museum and hosts events. The antebellum home is located on North Main Street in LaFayette, across from John B. Gordon Hall, a schoolhouse where Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg planned the Battle of Chickamauga. Union soldiers occupied the Marsh House as well as Gordon Hall for three days during the war, leaving behind blood-soaked floors and hoof prints in the home's main hall that are still visible today.

During Walker County's early years, many slaves were pioneering partners with white settlers. In 1850, Mr. Marsh owned 12 slaves, and in 1860 he housed eight slaves in two slave houses. One of these men was the Rev. Wiley Marsh. Some time after the Dec. 18, 1833 formation of Walker County, the Rev. Marsh was the first recorded black birth in LaFayette. He was a skilled carpenter and built houses and assisted former slave the Rev. George W. Wheeler in founding numerous churches for blacks, according to marshhouseoflafayette.com.

"I think the Marsh House and John B. Gordon Hall are two of the best-kept secrets in Walker County," said Marsh House events coordinator Mary Smitherman, who gives tours of the home. "These two buildings survived the war. The buildings are 177 years old."

The house, which remained in the Marsh family for 150 years according to marshhouseoflafayette.com, offers tours Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 1:30-3:30 p.m.