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Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara look alike contest winners Doug Carson and Tillie Denney are presented to onlookers. The contest was part of The Gone With The Wind Ball held at Gordon Lee Mansion.
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Corey Ryan Forrester
Corey Ryan Forrester grew up in Chickamauga — equal distance to a funeral home, a grocery store, a bank and a church. Now a comedian, he pays the bills by poking fun at his childhood in the small town.

"You could get up, get your groceries, die, they could have your service at the church, you could have your other service at the funeral home and then be buried over there at the cemetery," he says. "And I think some people do that. I think there's a good portion of people."

But earlier this year, Forrester conceded to the Times Free Press that he actually loves many aspects of his childhood. Chickamauga is a small town with small-town charms. People around here compare it to Mayberry (though that's the common refrain among people in every small town, it seems).

Forrester, whose family moved to Chickamauga when he was in third grade, remembers walking to the ice cream shop after school, playing recreational baseball and working as a lifeguard at the now-closed Pine Forest Pool. He remembers jumping off a cliff into a spring with his friends, despite his mother's concerns. And wasting hours chucking rocks at old beer bottles by the railroad track. And then there was the time he and his friends scoured the recycling center for discarded car magazines, until a moment of spiritual awakening, when they found a Playboy.

LOCAL FLAVOR

As far as food, Forrester is partial to Choo-Choo BBQ & Grill's Brunswick stew, pulled pork and banana pudding. Friends have told him Thatcher's BBQ and Grille is also good, though he's been on the road since that place opened.

Choo-Choo BBQ & Grill

12960 US-27. Call 706-375-7675.

Thatcher's BBQ and Grille

505 W. Ninth St. Call 706-375-9269.

As he grew older, and as his comedy career bloomed from open mic nights at The Comedy Catch on Brainerd Road to a national tour, Forrester realized how small Chickamauga was. But it was a safe, interconnected community. And the small-townness of it all forced him to be creative.

"That gave us a great imagination," says Forrester, who is in the midst of the wellRED comedy tour and co-authored "The Liberal Redneck Manifesto" in 2016. "We didn't need a mall. We didn't need a roller-skating rink. As far as a cool little place, you feel very safe. And everybody just knows everybody."

A lot of people move to Chickamauga for the city school system, and Forrester says he was pleased with his education. Most of his teachers were products of Chickamauga City Schools themselves. This generates great pride, he says.

"There was this ever-running current of pride at the school," says Forrester. "I don't know if it was deserved or not, but it was definitely about Gordon Lee — all blue, all gray, all day, as they say."

"It's a group of good people," he adds, referring to his hometown. "And I love every single one of them, contrary to popular belief."

BY THE NUMBERS

WHO WE ARE

Median household income: $45,461

Population: 3,101 (2016 estimates)

Median age: 36

White: 94.4%

Black or African-American: 1.9%

Two or more races: 4.3%

*Does not equal 100% due to overlap.

Source: American FactFinder

WHERE WE LIVE

A recent search on the Greater Chattanooga Realtors' database showed 35 homes for sale in Chickamauga, with a median listing price of $159,900. On average, they had been on the market for 71 days. Of 46 homes sold in Chickamauga in the last four months, the median home price was $154,750 and, on average, those homes were on the market for 49 days.

While people come and go, there is not a lot of new development in town. Local real estate agent Bobby Teems says there has been no new construction available to the public since 2010, though a couple of people built custom homes for themselves.

'LIVE, WORK, PLAY'

Chickamauga was named one of 2017's nine "Live, Work, Play" cities statewide by Georgia Trend Magazine and the Georgia Municipal Association. The designation denotes cities that are attractive to both residents and tourists and that are working to further enhance their draw. Chickamauga was one of three in the small-city category. City Manager Michael Haney attributes the win to fundamentals like the city's lack of a property tax along with newer efforts related to the focus group-driven Downtown Renaissance Plan.

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OUR SCHOOLS

Chickamauga has its own school district for city residents and tuition-paying non-residents. There is one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. Consistently, they have performed better on standardized tests than the Walker County school system that surrounds the small district.

The Georgia Department of Education's College and Career Ready Performance Index shows that the city better prepares students for life after high school. On a scale of 0-100, the index measures achievement, progress, ability to close educational gaps, college readiness and high school graduation.

Chickamauga Elementary (K-5)

Population: 510

Report Card (2016-17): Schoolwide grade B (85.2)

» Overall performance is higher than 79% of schools in the state and is similar to Chickamauga City Schools district.

» Academic growth is higher than 42% of schools in the state.

» 72.1% of CES third-grade students are reading at or above the grade level target.

Gordon Lee Middle

Population: 334

Report Card: Schoolwide grade B (80.7)

» Overall performance is higher than 68% of schools in the state but lower than the district.

» Academic growth is higher than 57% of schools in the state.

» 75.5% of GLMS eighth-grade students are reading at or above the grade level target.

Gordon Lee High

Population: 454

Report Card: Schoolwide grade B (87.9)

» Overall performance is higher than 85% of schools in the state and higher than the district.

» Academic growth is higher than 69% of schools in the state.

» Four-year graduation rate is 100%, which is higher than 99% of high schools.

» 58.1% of GLHS graduates are "college ready."

Source: 2016-17 Georgia School Grades Reports

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Nancy Mays, left, Julie Mays and Rhonda Lansford use an old cobblestone walkway at the Gordon Lee Mansion to get to a fashion show luncheon.

HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

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The Georgia monument at Chickamauga Battlefield.
Chickamauga Battlefield

This sprawling, solemn marker of the turning point of the Civil War draws over 900,000 visitors each year. One of the bloodiest battles, there were 30,844 casualties there. More than 1,000 markers scattered across the battlefield show the flow of the fighting, placed by Union and Confederate veterans after the end of the war as part of the dedication of the nation's first military park. 3370 Lafayette Road. Call 706-866-9241.

Lee and Gordon's Mills

Another popular event venue, beginning in the 1830s this served as a gristmill and general store for those in the area, making it one of the oldest mills in North Georgia. It was built by James Gordon. An important spot for both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War, it today houses the Veterans of All Wars Museum, open Tuesday-Sunday. 71 Red Belt Road. Call 706-375-6801.

Walker County Regional Heritage/Train Museum

Built as a depot stop on the Central of Georgia Railroad line from Carrollton, Ga., to Chattanooga, service has resumed via the Tennessee Valley Railroad's "Chickamauga Turn." From spring through the fall, passengers can board in Chattanooga for a 6 1/4-hour round-trip that gives them free time in both the Chickamauga Battlefield and downtown Chickamauga. 200 Gordon St. Call 706-375-4488.

Gordon-Lee Mansion

Today a popular wedding venue, the antebellum home was built in 1847 for the family of James and Sarah Gordon. The mansion is open for spring, summer and Christmas candlelight tours offered by the volunteer Friends of the Gordon-Lee Mansion group, which supports the historic home's upkeep. It was here that the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was conceived when former Union and Confederate troops returned to smoke a peace pipe during the Blue-Gray Barbecue, an event commemorated through the town's annual Blue and Gray BBQ. 217 Cove Road. Call 706-375-4728.

DETAILS

CITY SERVICES: The Chickamauga City Council meets the first Monday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at city hall, 103 Crittenden Ave. Call city hall with questions at 706-375-3177.

BIG EVENTS: Every May, the city hosts Down Home Days, which includes music, a parade, dancing, food vendors and crafts. Each summer, family friendly movies are shown in Veterans Memorial Park. In September, the city hosts the Blue and Gray BBQ, with living history demonstrations, tours, a quilt show and a barbecue contest. October brings the Merchants Pumpkin Fest, with pumpkin themed contests, kids' activities, live music and vendors. And in December, the city hosts a Christmas in the Streets parade.

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