Those travelers on Interstate 75 with an interest in history should detour on exit 345, turn left on Highway 41 toward Ringgold and go 1/4 mile to the Old Stone Church Museum.
In 1837, a year before the Cherokee Indian removal, a group of devout Scotch-Irish Presbyterians came into the Cherokee Nation with the intent of forming a church. They found a spot 1/4 mile south of the Old Federal Road. A log cabin was built, and the Chickamauga Presbyterian Church was organized Sept. 2, 1837. The log cabin was used from 1837 to 1845, and a new site was selected one mile south of that location. A shed, measuring 40 feet by 70 feet, was constructed and referred to as the "Dogwood Campground." The congregation met there until a new church was built.
In 1850 the congregation decided to build a more substantial church, and members used sandstone quarried from the nearby Stubblefield farm and lumber from Taylor's Ridge to construct their church. Work was completed in 1852. Services began in what was later known as the Old Stone Church. It was constructed just a couple of hundred yards from the Old Federal Road. The Presbyterian congregation met there until services were interrupted by the War Between the States.
The most notable battle in the vicinity was the Battle of Ringgold Gap on Nov. 27, 1863. There is a statue of Gen. Patrick Clebourne in Ringgold Gap with a historical marker detailing the battle. The next two days saw thousands of Confederate soldiers passing through Ringgold on their way to Catoosa Station, a railroad station that also saw military action during the Civil War. As a result, the Old Stone Church was put into use as a Civil War hospital by both the Union and Confederate armies, and church services were suspended for two years. When Union forces occupied the church, the pews were taken out into the yard and were used for troughs to feed the Union Army horses. The imprint of the horses teeth can be seen in those pews today. Most notably, blood stains remain in the floor and are still visible to visitors. In addition to being used as a hospital, military dispatches and field reports during the Civil War indicate both Confederate and Union Armies used the building as headquarters and a major point of reference during the battles.
In 1887 A.J. Showalter preached at a revival service held at the Old Stone Church. Afterward, Elder I.L. Magill invited Showalter to his home for the mid-day meal. After the meal, Showalter went into the Magill parlor and composed the music to the poem "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," written earlier by Rev. Elisha Hoffman. The three Magill girls sang along, and at the evening services this hymn was sung for the first time at the Old Stone Church.
In 1920 the membership had dwindled at the Chickamauga Presbyterian Church, and the remaining congregation joined the Ringgold Presbyterian Church, which had just opened. The Old Stone Church was later bought by a group of Methodists, and the Harris Methodist Church was formed. The Methodist congregation met there until 1935, and the church then passed on to a Baptist congregation. In the early 1950s the Stone Church was used as a mission and was instrumental in training pastors to preach. In 1968 the Highland Park Baptist Church of Chattanooga owned one third interest in the building and used it as well.
The Old Stone Church achieved National Register Status in 1979 due to its historical significance and unique architecture.
In 1995, the Catoosa County Historical Society took steps to acquire the building for restoration. This effort was supported by the Catoosa County government and the state of Georgia. Plans were finalized and a grant was obtained. Society members and others began a renovation of the church that was completed in October of 1997. The Catoosa County Historical Society now meets there monthly and operates a history museum that is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Visitors can experience 169 years of history at a site that has witnessed the Cherokee Removal and the Civil War. The church contains original historic exhibits of the area. It is certainly worth the trip down I-75 to visit.
Jerry Summers is an attorney with Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers. Nancy Crowe is President of the Catoosa County Historical Society.