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History of the Old Rock Building

The "old rock building" in Murray County, Georgia, was built in 1934. The building is significant as the first consolidated high school in Murray County, Georgia. It replaced three small high schools: Lucy Hill, Chatsworth, and Eton High Schools. In 2002 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Interestingly, before the new rock high school was even completed, one of the older schools, Chatsworth High, was struck by lightning and burned. Consolidating the schools was a controversial move and caused some squabbling among the various towns, several of which hoped to have the high school in their own community. See photos (recent, pre-renovation).

Besides being an early consolidated high school, the rock building is also significant for its architecture and stone masonry. The building is made of grayish brown mountain rock that is native to the area. The stone was blasted from the mountains during the construction of the Chatsworth-Ellijay Highway and was donated to the School Board at the request of V.C. Pickering. Local truckers hauled them to the site for fifty cents a load. Mr. Watkins was the head stone mason on the project. The natural stone and unique facade make it one of the most attractive buildings in the county, and one of only a handful of such stone buildings in North Georgia. The surrounding landscape is set off by the cobalt blue of the Cohutta mountains. These features make the building a favorite landmark, much loved by the local community.

The building was completed as a project of the 1930's Works Progress Administration of the government. According to a 1934 article in Dalton Citizen, over 55 local men were put to work on the project. Workers received one dollar per day and stone masons, two dollars. (The school board later raised this amount and paid hourly wages of up to fifty cents.) V.C. Pickering, a prominent citizen of the county, was instrumental in getting the high school built, obtaining the stone and donating $5,000 and 164 acres of land to the school board; hence, the building's new name, the V.C. Pickering Administrative Center. Other funding came from the state and the Board of Education.

Renovation began on the building in 2005. The plan was to make it the new headquarters for the central office of the Murray County school system. A group of alumni began a fund to help pay for renovations. The Rock Building Committee oversaw fundraising efforts, supported by various local organizations, including the Murray County High School Alumni Association and Whitfield-Murray Historical Society. Various class reunions of the era also raised money for the renovation. The building was given a new roof in 2004, during Phase I of the renovation. However, on October 26, 2009, lightning struck the building during a mid-morning thunderstorm. The building smoldered for several hours before breaking out in flames. Though firefighters arrived very quickly, the building was already fully engulfed. The fire devastated the building, destroying the new roof, gutting the interior, and causing severe damage to the exterior stone walls and facade. Early reports called the building a complete loss.

Engineers determined that the building could be saved. The building was fully covered under an insurance policy that made rebuilding more feasible than demolition, so the controversial decision was made to renovate the old rock building. Renovation began in 2010. By 2011, the building was serving as offices for the school system.

Article updates: Oct. 27, 2009; November 9, 2009; April 19, 2012.

West Hill Chapel: an Architectural Treasure Saved
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HISTORIANS/RESEARCHERS: TIM HOWARD, RANDALL RICHARDS & KEVIN MCAULIFF.
WEB AUTHOR: D.K. PRITCHETT.







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