HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Old Rock Jail Museum will transform into a haunted historical site this Halloween for the second year in a row. Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green made the announcement at the society’s Sept. 9 meeting.
“We’re going to have a haunted Halloween at the jail, and that’s something that Tyler (Osborn) and Mary Ann (Miller) will be working on,” Green said. “We’re going to revise it a little bit from last year, and it will be new and improved. But we’re also considering charging a dollar for admission and hope that that would be a good moneymaker for the jail. So we’ll be working on that in the weeks to come, and I’m sure as creative as they are that they will come up with some great ideas.”
Members of the local Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) will assist the historical society officers in shaping the spooky setting. Towns County, in cooperation with the City of Hiawassee, will host its annual Halloween trick-or-treat, costume contest simultaneously.
Additionally, the Old Rock Jail Museum will once again feature “Picking on the Porch” in early October. In the event of inclement weather, the music will be held indoors at the Towns County Civic Center.
The festivities won’t end with the close of the autumn season, however.
“We’re also doing something new, and I can thank Tyler Osborn, our secretary, for coming up with this idea,” Green shared. “We’re going to have an old-fashion Christmas open house at the jail in December, and we’re going to do that in conjunction with the lighting of the tree on the Square.”
Holiday decor depicting the 1930s and 1940s eras, a time period when the jail was operatable, will be on display.
The Old Rock Jail Museum is currently open for touring Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although donations are greatly appreciated by the Towns County Historical Society.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A good place to find Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green is at her home away from home, the Old Rock Jail Museum, in Hiawassee. The historical site, which celebrated its grand opening last year, sits adjacent to the Towns County Courthouse. FYN visited the museum on Friday afternoon, as Ms. Green tended to the colorful blooms bordering the former detention center. A beloved project of Green’s, the historian was instrumental in the revitalization of the site.
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 until the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The jail was renovated in 1980, and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the site Jan. 27, 2017.
The Old Rock Jail musuem contains a variety of photographs and relics, preserved and donated by local families. The museum is open for tours Fridays and Saturdays, through October, from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although donations are greatly appreciated. Vistors can roam what was once the living quarters of past Towns County sheriffs and their families before climbing a narrow set of stairs, leading to the barren cells above. The final sheriff to reside in the Old Rock Jail was Jay Vernon Chastain Sr. who was killed in the line of duty in late 1974.
Historian Green pointed out a new addition to the museum, a baby’s crib graciously donated by Maggie Oliver. Built around 1938 by Alvin Baxter “AB” Oliver for the first Oliver grandchild, the crib cradled four successive children. The last occupant to slumber in the crib was Drew Oliver, a Hiawassee resident. The bed was moved into storage until it was rescued and refurbished by Maggie Oliver in 2019.
Green reminded of the historical society’s monthly meeting, scheduled for Monday, May 13, at the Towns County Civic Center. The presentation will focus on Native American artifacts uncovered in the area, specifically how the Brasstown Valley area could be affected by the construction of the Young Harris bypass. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society presented the city of Hiawassee with an artifact Monday, March 26, at the council’s monthly work session: the original 1929 tax digest for the city.
“This is very appropriate since you were just talking about your budget,” Towns County Historian Sandra Green told Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. “This is the 1929 tax digest for the city of Hiawassee. This is the original and we’re presenting it to the city. You’ll love some of these numbers. The Bank of Hiawassee, their city tax was $21.70, but they only paid $20.30, and we aren’t sure why.”
The crowd erupted in laughter.
Penciled beside the typewritten taxes due from the Bank of Hiawassee, the amount paid is scribbled.
The aged list contains the names of citizens and businesses that operated in Hiawassee nearly nine decades ago.
The tax calculations were based on 40 cents per $100 worth of property.
The total amount of taxed property amounted to $46,977, with $187.60 due to Hiawassee.
The highest amount in taxes owed by a citizen was $16.40.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales expressed appreciation to the Towns County Historical Society for the framed document.
The Towns County Historical Society reminded that restoration of the Old Rock Jail will soon be completed with the museum scheduled to open May 19.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green announced on Thursday, Jan. 10, that four officers, herself included, have resigned their positions, effective immediately, and will not seek reelection on Monday, Jan. 14.
In addition to Green, Treasurer Frances Shook and Membership Secretary Mary Ann Miller will no longer serve on the board. A statement that Vice President Nancy Cody would not seek reelection was delivered at the historical society’s December meeting.
“It has been a joy to be part of leading the organization and watching it grow for as long as we’ve held our positions. To the best of our knowledge Betty Phillips is still on the ballot as Secretary and David & Myrtle Sokol will still be videoing the meetings,” Green announced, signing off with, “sincerely and with sadness.”
While the specific circumstances surrounding the decision to step down from the positions are unclear at the time of publication, FYN will continue to seek clarity in the coming days. It is known that the society met earlier in the day for an executive session where alleged conflict ensued, leading to the resignation of the officers.
Towns County Historical Society meets at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan 14, at 900 North Main St. in Hiawassee. Members are eligible to vote in the officer election.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Fetch Your News (FYN) correspondent, Robin Webb, was granted an impromptu tour of the Old Rock Jail in Hiawassee on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green approached the site as heavy afternoon rain fell and found the reporter perched on the porch, seeking cover from the storm.
The historian was scheduled to meet an electrician in a continuing effort to restore the jail to its original glory, and kindly offered the curious journalist an opportunity to explore before the workman arrived.
“The floor restoration is our proudest achievement. Coker Custom Floors was able to preserve the original wood,” Ms. Green informed as the pair entered what was once the sheriffs’ living quarters, “and the walls are unique. The style is called grapevine.”
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 to the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The building was renovated in 1980 and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The jail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the future museum on Jan. 27, 2017.
Ms. Green guided the way through the former kitchen where a wood burning stove once stood, winding around into a narrow hallway. “I believe a desk sat there for registering the inmates,” the historian said, pointing to an area beneath the stairwell.
The intrigued reporter glanced toward the steps that lead to the desolate cells above as thunder rumbled outdoors. “Just wait until you see the up there,” the friendly historian chimed, well aware of the writer’s fascination.
The final room toured on the lower level once served as bedrooms for the sheriffs and their families. Green pointed out a marking on the wall where the room was previously separated by a partition. Once the restoration is complete, the area will become the museum’s main display section for rotating historical artifacts, while the living area will be decorated seasonally to reflect and preserve the sheriffs’ dwelling.
The time had arrived to head upstairs to view the jail itself. “Watch your footing,” Ms. Green cautioned as the journalist followed closely behind. “We still need to install a railing.”
The historian swung open a heavy iron door and the duo proceeded inside. The cells were dimly lit and a dampness hung in the air. The skeletons of metal bunk beds surrounded a cage that once housed up to four inmates at any given time. Countless names were scrawled and chiseled into the rock walls by the inhabitants, alongside spray-painted graffiti, an act of vandals after the jail was vacated in 1977.
Across the hall lies what was once a bullpen for additional prisoners. A compact cell with the bars running diagonally lines a corner. “We believe that was the drunk tank,” Ms. Green explained.
The last upstairs room entered was the former sheriff’s office. “That’s why the walls in here are so much cleaner than the others,” the historian quipped as the reporter snapped more photographs. Military memorabilia will be placed on display throughout the jail’s upper level.
Six Towns County Sheriffs once called the Old Rock Jail home, the final being Sheriff Jay V. Chastain Sr. who was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 8, 1974
FYN inquired as to when the site’s final restorations are expected to be complete. A date is unknown at the time of publishing. One thing is for certain, however. It will be a must-see spot for history lovers, both local and tourist alike.
The Old Rock Jail is located next to the Towns County Courthouse, south of Hiawassee Square.
Featured Image: Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society honored local military veterans on Saturday, July 14, during an annual heritage ceremony which began in 2014, founded by Historical Society Secretary Betty Phillips.
Phillips – the daughter of a veteran, and the widow of a World War 2 United States Army Staff Sergeant – recalled a conversation with her late husband before the program began. “Richie knew how much I loved history, and one day he made a point of reminding me of how different our history would be without our veterans. He said, ‘Betty, would you have the freedom to preserve history without the veterans?’ His words inspired me,” Phillips said with a smile.
The room in the former recreation center on Main Street, which now serves as a meeting hall for the historical society, quickly filled with veterans and supporters on Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. Historical Society President Sandra Green opened the ceremony, acknowledging the dedicated effort Phillips applied to the project. The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by the National Anthem, sung by Karli Cheeks, and an invocation was offered by Doug Nicholson.
“I am truly blessed and honored to be standing up here because I don’t feel worthy of it, necessarily, because we owe it to those that have served,” Phillips emoted, “Either they were drafted, or they were willing to go and volunteer. We would not have a society like we have today if they had not sacrificed. Now, some people paid the ultimate price, and in Towns County, we have one of the nicest veterans’ parks that you can find anywhere. It’s in a beautiful location. It overlooks Lake Chatuge and the mountains, and most of all, the names of the veterans go on that wall. The other day, I started counting the names. There are over 1300 names on that wall. Now, the ones who paid the ultimate price, they have their own monument, their picture and their plaque.” Phillips noted that in World War 1, there were eight veterans who sacrified their lives for the sake of American freedom, three of which were Phillips’ relatives. During World War 2, thirteen service members paid the ultimate price. The veterans’ memorial is located in front of Towns County School on Highway 76 East.
The keynote speakers were World War 2 veterans James Richard Lewis, 96, and Fronz Goring, 97.
Lewis, reminised on his childhood, and his love for aeronatics; an appreciation which led to serving as a naval mechanic during the second World War. Lewis reenlisted in 1950, and served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. Lewis listed serving under four Commanders-in-Chiefs: Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon. “If the current Commander-in-Chief asked me to join the fight, I’d carry it to the gates of hell for him,” Lewis asserted.
Towns County’s oldest veteran, Goring, recalled his military service, and spoke lovingly of his late wife, Mason L. Goring, also a veteran, whose name is enscribed on the local veterans’ memorial wall. The couple met Thanksgiving Day of 1945, married Jan. 13, 1945, and spent 61 years together. “Right now, I’m stationed at Brasstown Manor Resort,” Goring joked.
A decorated table filled with photographs of local veterans lined a wall, and a touching video clip of an interview of local World War 2 veteran Bud Johnson, 95, who attended Saturday’s ceremony, at the late Governor Zell Miller’s recent memorial service in Young Harris, was shown on a projection screen.
Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales attended the program, offering words of gratitude to the veterans and their families.
Members of Friendship Baptist Church presented certificates of recognition to veterans of different eras, and ensured that the crowd received a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, chips, cookies, and a soft drink at the conclusion of the program.
Towns County Historical Society expressed appreciation to its members, and to Alpha Delta Kappa Sorority, for helping to make the hertiage program possible.
Next year’s ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, 2019.
(Feature Photo: Towns County’s oldest veteran, Fronz Goring, age 97)
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Four days after announcing a decision to vacate posts, three Towns County Historical Society officers have rescinded their resignations, choosing to remain on tonight’s election ballot.
“As you may be aware, several officers submitted an unofficial oral resignation at the last officer’s meeting and notification was posted on Facebook and via email,” Green stated, “Due to overwhelming outcry from the membership, these officers have decided to rescind their resignations for the good of the mission of the Towns County Historical Society: preserving and sharing the rich history of our area.
“At the December meeting, the nominating committee presented a slate of nominations including Sandra Green for president, Jerry Taylor for vice president, Frances Shook for treasurer, Betty Phillips for secretary, and Mary Ann Miller for membership secretary. An additional nomination was made from the floor of Terry Lynn Marshall for president. The election will proceed as planned, and there will be an opportunity for additional nominations before the election. Please remember that only members who are current on their membership dues are eligible to vote.”
Towns County Historical Society meets this evening, Monday, Jan. 14, at 5:30 p.m. at the Old Recreation Center, located at 900 N. Main St. in Hiawassee.
Jerry Taylor will present a program on the Cherokee names of the area, following the business portion of the meeting.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced that Halloween on Hiawassee Square may be relocated to the Towns County Courthouse grounds in order to feature a new addition to the well-loved annual event: A haunted house attraction at the historic Old Rock Jail.
Ordiales revealed that the City of Hiawassee is collaborating with Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw and Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green on the notion. The festivities are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31.
Traditionally, the event has taken place on town square. Hiawassee City Council, along with Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, voiced agreement with the slight shift in venue due in part to parking issues. The relocation will free the parking spaces surrounding the square that were dedicated to candy booths in years’ past, potentially reducing the swarm of trick-or-treaters trekking across Main Street from business parking lots.
While the plans for the haunted house and venue change were not firmly solidified by Mayor Ordiales as of Monday, Sept. 24, Commissioner Bradshaw stated no objection to to the plans.
The Old Rock Jail is located adjacent to the Towns County Courthouse, with renovation to the 1936 stone jail recently completed through the efforts of the Towns County Historical Society. The two-story site serves as a museum, featuring artifacts and photographs, and is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. or by appointment.
Scarecrows, created by area businesses, are set to begin “invading” Hiawassee Town Square on Oct.1, staked thoughout the month.
A list of autumn activites in the Hiawassee area is available from FetchYourNews.com
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society held their 2019 board election on the evening of Monday, Jan. 14, following rescinded resignations from three presiding officers. President Sandra Green faced challenger Terry Lynne Marshall, with Green securing reestablishment, along with the unopposed reelection of Treasurer Frances Shook and Membership Secretary Mary Ann Miller. Historian Jerry Taylor was elected to serve as vice president, a post vacated by former officer Nancy Cody. Secretary Betty Phillips was defeated by 22-year-old Tyler Osborn. Phillips graciously congratulated Osborn, adding that she believes the group can continue to work together to benefit the society’s mission. Nominations were unexpectedly accepted from the floor, adding Osborn to the ballot on election night.
Brief, sole-sided conflict ensued preceding the paper-ballot vote as presidential candidate Terry Lynne Marshall adamantly refused to speak with President Sandra Green situated beside the podium. Marshall recited a lengthy resume of qualifications, stating, “I really don’t want to be president, but I feel the need to be now for this group.” Marshall served as the historical society’s president from 2003 until 2012, relinquishing the post to care for her aging parents.
Marshall relayed that her paramount concern involves proper, permanent preservation of “Wisdom of our Elders,” a historical timeline of recorded interviews. Marshall voiced dissatisfaction with the current handling of the records, and strives to forge a group of volunteers dedicated to the project.
Prior to the casting of ballots, Green, a key player in the restoration of the Old Rock Jail museum, humbly stated a passion for history as her cardinal qualification, explaining that the Towns County Historical Society is the only organization to which she is devoted, adding, “I am very proud of what I have done.” Green remained composed throughout the meeting.
FYN spoke with Green after the election to inquire whether the matter regarding the recorded interviews will be addressed. Green stated that discussion will take place at the society’s upcoming executive meeting, with the item potentially placed on February’s agenda.
“Congratulations to Jerry Taylor on being elected as vice president of the Historical Society this evening,” Green later wrote on social media, “Also to Tyler Osborn who was elected as secretary. I look forward to working with them as well as Frances Shook and Mary Ann Miller, who were re-elected as treasurer and membership secretary. 2019 should be an exciting year for us. I look forward to working with them to make the organization better than ever! Hope you’ll make our 2nd Monday of each month meetings a regular part of your schedule! Thanks for your support.”
Feature Photo: Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green
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