Friday, November 16, 2012

100th Chrysanthemum Show in Stilesboro, Georgia

After being away from blog land for a while I have been catching up on my reading of all the new posts of my bloggy friends.  I have not downloaded my Black Sea trip pictures yet.  But I have the pictures, still in my camera, of our latest trip.  We came back at the end of October and when I saw an advertisement for the 100th Chrysanthemum Show in a nearby town on the first Saturday of November we decided to drive there and have a look.

That Saturday, 3rd November, was a warm and sunny day.  It took us about 45 minutes to drive the 20 miles of little country roads to Stilesboro, Georgia - an unincorporated small town near Cartersville in Bartow County.  I found out that the town was named in honor of William Henry Stiles (1808-1865.) Stiles, born in Savannah from an aristocratic family, studied law at Yale then served in the US Congress as a Democrat from 1843-1845.  US President James K. Polk appointed Stiles to serve as a Charge d'Affaires for the U.S. at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna, Austria, from 1845 to 1849.   When the 1849 Revolution occurred, Stiles serves as a mediator between Hungarian freedom fighter L.Kossuth and the Imperial throne. Prior to going to the Congress Stiles was a district attorney for Georgia and was assigned the duty to pay off the Cherokee Indians in gold for their land.  Traveling through the northwest Georgia mountains Stiles purchased land and built a plantation home "Etowah Cliffs" on the banks of the Etowah River.  In 1845 the neighboring little town of Stilesboro was named in honor of William Henry Stiles.  He died of pneumonia in Savannah in 1865 and is buried there.

Photo Courtesy Etowah Valley Historical Society

I am ambivalent about the chrysanthemum because it denotes a sad flower to me.  In France the chrysanthemum is considered the flower of the dead.  This started in France after the war of 1918 when it was chosen to flower the tombs of the fallen soldiers, as it flowers in the fall and can withstand some frost.  When we went to France in October-November 2010 my cousin and I went to purchase some chrysanthemums at a local nursery.  There was a large variety to choose from. (Click on the pictures and collages to enlarge them - they look ever so much better.)

There were other flowers for sale, of course, but chrysanthemums were those to buy that "Toussaint" day (day of the dead.)  I decided on pink chrysanthemum pots

and placed them on my parents' grave.  I read that in 2010, 21.3 millions pots of chrysanthemums were sold in France during October-November.

But to get back to this year, we found the historical Stilesboro Academy where the oldest chrysanthemum show in Georgia has been held since 1912. 

As indicated above this was a community-built school house.  It is a Greek revival building with twenty foot ceilings and 12 foot doors made of heart pine

After walking around the building and taking pictures of the large trees on the ground 

and the lovely rural landscape in the back

we entered the Academy and paid our $2 admission.  We looked at the historical displays in the entrance before going to the show.

We read that the three benches on display still bore Federal Troops horses' teeth marks and notches as General Sherman's troops stopped there and used the benches (placed front-to-front and fastened with rope) as feeding troughs in May 1864 during the Civil War.

Once in the show hall we had time to look at some chrysanthemum (mum) displays before the opening ceremonies began.

I had read earlier that in early 1910 sixteen women formed a social club, as it was done then often in the South.  One of the members, Miss Campie Hawkins, had seen mums in a tenant farm and had grown some in her garden.  She then persuaded the ladies of the club  to grow mums as well then have a show, the proceeds of which would be used to improve Stilesboro and the academy.  The first show was held in 1912 and since then this Annual Chrysanthemum Show has been held continuously by members of the Stilesboro Improvement Club.  The opening ceremony started and the Club President, Jan Shepherd,  gave a welcome speech.  It was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a Devotional by Reverend Fisher.  Then there were more remarks by the Program Chairman, Teresa Cook, and music played by Ms. Ann Lowe (shown below.)

Everyone was free then to go around the hall to admire the different varieties of mums.

You can see above the lettered Latin inscription "Deo Ac Patriac" MDCCCLIX  (To God and Country - 1859.)  This was painted by an Englishman in 1859 when the structure was originally built - it has never been repainted.  Legend has it that this was the reason General Sherman did not burn the building during his "March to the Sea" in 1864 because this is the same motto as the West Point Academy, beloved by General Sherman.  There are many flower forms of mums - the different forms and shapes have been categorized into 13 types.  Some have giant blooms, some have florets (petals) loosely in-curved, some have irregular florets, some have long tubular spider like florets.  I admired many lovely types in the hall.

Walking around the hall, I also looked at some old photographs hang on the wall - such as a group of cotton pickers nearby in 1923 (top left) - Etowah Heights, a large house destroyed by fire in 1911 - a midget wedding and Professor Sharpe with his class of 1892 at the Stilesboro Academy.

There were some country displays and a "Quilt Raffle" - I purchased some tickets, but did not win.

Nell Buchanan, the Vice President of the Stilesboro Improvement Club, told me that she baked the three pies above and gave them the names of her sisters.  She graciously let me take her photograph, below.

My husband and I kept walking around the hall looking at individual mums

and at more arrangements like the pretty ones below.

I came closer to the photo showing the lady above but there was no indication as to who she had been.  Here is a closeup of her below.  Addendum October 11, 2016 - Just received a comment indicating that this lady is Cecelia Stovall Shelman, a Southern Lady and lost love of General William T. Sherman.  You can read more about her here.  Thanks for the note.)

Then it was time to partake of the advertized "1951 style" lunch - Brunswick stew,  chicken salad, congealed salad and and assortment of homemade cakes and pies - with soda, iced-tea or coffee.

After lunch I went to take a closer look at old pictures of earlier chrysanthemum shows lining the dining hall.

Then it was time to walk through the tall doors, pass the old benches and the weaving lady and return to our little car.

But I wished to make another stop.  We had passed some cotton fields on our way to the Academy - they were ready to be picked and looked beautiful.  

From a distance it looked as it could have been snow on these fields.  The area was huge and cotton could be seen far and away.

Then we stopped to take a closer look at the cotton. What a beautiful sight this was - lovely, fluffy cotton as far as we could see - it was a splendid image to take back home.


Thérèse said...

Mr Stiles had such a busy and such an interesting life... I am just wondering what actual congressmen would think when reading such a fulfilled life?
Meme chose au sujet des chrysanthemes: chrysanthemes = Toussaint.
Beautiful beautiful cotton fields! I brough back a branch of cotton from Arizona which helps me remember.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Very nice pictures. My fall garden always must have some bright colored mums. They are so showy and along with pansies and kale,extends my gardening time for another two to three months.

I have never seen a cotton field. They are really lovely. Thanks for sharing.

Scriptor Senex said...

What a super post! I love the photos of all the different mums and displays. I think my favourite display is the one with the tiny penny-farthing bike.

Like 'Starting Over...' I've never seen cotton fields and I can't even recall seeing pictures of them so that was fascinating as well. Thanks.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a lovely day trip. There is so much to see where you live.

I'm amazing how much cotton is grown in north Georgia. I always associated cotton with the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta. We saw a lot of cotton on our way south on I-75 this month.

Hope you have a lovely weekend.

DJan said...

I didn't know that about mums. To me, they signify fall celebrations. Very interesting pictures, I especially enjoyed the cotton! It's so nice to see you back again, and your blog redesign is very spiffy, too! :-)

Pat said...

What a great day out. I remember being warned in France not to give white mums as a present.
I love the photos both old and new.
Congealed salad sounds a little odd and the portait of a lady could be ne of the Bronte sisters.
She does look a little like them.

Barb said...

You are always on the go! Those cotton field are wonderful. And, what could be more Southern than a congealed salad? The mums you saw were so lovely. Good luck to you and your husband.

Anonymous said...

Magnifiques photos d'un environnement bien différent du mien.
C'est très intéressant!

bayou said...

I absolutely love those pictures of the cotton fields, it must be a very special experience to walk through them. But chrysanthemums, non merci. When many moons ago I came to Belgium, I worked in a flower shop and people ordered those flowers for the graveyards. They were all in heavy clay pots. They did not bother to bring them themselves to the graves and we had to do it. And to clean the stones. I generally loved all flowers but since then, I have no sympathy for chrysanthemums anymore. Nor for Belgium cemeteries. But I do love the colours of your pictures :-).

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, thank you for the tour of the academy building and the mums, I'm used to seeing only the smaller compact blooms on the plants here in Missouri. Mostly they seem like small shrubs dotted with innumerable blooms.

I've never seen cotton fields before now even a simply cotton plant. They do appear to be like snow blanketing a field.

Thank you again for sharing such interesting historical facts with us. Peace.

Rosaria Williams said...

Such rich traditions represented here! I just saw Lincoln in the theatre and wonder how much destruction the Civil War caused! That mansions are still revered and preserved, including the artifacts so connected to the war, is a testimony of grit and courage. So much of history is torn down here in the West, and it's hard to feel the connection without the artifacts. Thanks for sharing.

Emm in London said...

This post appeared in my Google Reader! Was this the one you were missing?

I see now that the building is in Greek Revival style. Very interesting. I can see that now from your other photos of it. I guess I'm used to stone and brick buildings in Europe but this caught my eye because it is wooden.

Your photos of the cotton fields are amazing!!! Wow, I would love to see that in real life one day.

Friko said...

A flower show for just one variety of flower, albeit a very attractive one. Did somebody win first prize? Some of the mums are spectacular. I have them in the house round about now, when they are cheap and plentiful. They are a flower which is taken to the cemetery in Germany too.

A very interesting account of an event, with plenty to see and do. As always, you have made an interesting post out of an outing, with history aplenty thrown in.

The cotton fields are breathtaking, I have never seen photos of cotton before, only ever read about cotton picking in novels.

Sally Wessely said...

I love chrysanthemums. I think they add so much color to the fall landscape. My husband loves them too. Perhaps because they are in bloom at his birthday.

It is interesting to read of a celebration that honors this flower that has been going on for 100 years. I found a lot of regional history and cultural aspects to this post that I found very interesting.

Thanks for the photos of the cotton fields. Oh how I would love to see that in person someday.

snowwhite said...

Hi Vagabonde,
Oh, beautiful photos of mums going with interesting stories!!
Mums are very familiar flowers to us. I think they are the most loved along with cherry flowers. Sixteen petaled mum is the emblem of Japanese Emperor.
I love the photo of the vast cotton field!! Someday I hope I will see a cotton field like this.
I also have been away from blogger, but soon I will be back!
Have a great autumn day with beautiful mums!!

Miss_Yves said...

J'adore votre nouvelle photo, avec votre chat!De belles couleurs fauve!

Ginnie said...

After all my years in your neck of the woods, Vagabonde, I never heard of this show. And who would have known there were so many varieties of the mum! I can imagine what it must feel like when you've grown up with mums associated with death/funerals/memorials. When I think of mums I think of autumn. I think of Thanksgiving and cold weather. In fact, Astrid bought mums for our balcony not too long ago!

David said...

Vagabonde, You do take some great photos. Thanks for stopping by my blog and giving me that lead for a future drive off the beaten path. We like to get off the expressways any chance we have...and wander around on the back roads. Much more scenic, laid back and interesting too! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Arti said...

What an amazing post. How many photos have you taken... but of course, thanks to digital photography. I still remember we used to buy rolls of 36 exp. Kodak and took our photos sparingly. I've enjoyed your detailed descriptions. But you know which is my major interest, well, at this point, is that school Stilesboro Academy and the cotton fields. Why? I just watched Spielberg's epic film Lincoln. And I'm really interested in the Civil War period and the history. I'm sure you have a resourceful data bank on that subject. And, hope to read your thoughts on that film. I'm kind of apprehensive in attempting a review of it... since I know so little about Lincoln and his times, as an 'outsider'.

Lynette Killam said...

Thanks for stopping by my page! I enjoyed scrolling through your flower pictures, but really enjoyed these cotton fields as it's not anything I've ever seen. Great shots!

Linda said...

Like you I have mixed feelings about chrysanths - the French 'jour des morts' association, and then the happier British fascination with prize blooms and pride of place in autumn gardens.

The cotton fields look incredibly exotic to me!

tasteofbeirut said...

Chrysanthèmes remind me of the tea that they make I believe in Vietnam with it! Love it! looks like such an interesting trip!

Jenny Woolf said...

What an interesting and informative post. I believe that chrysanthemums are also seen as a flower of death in Japan, although I might be wrong about that. I don't quite know why they have these gloomy connotations. There are so many varieties, if your photos are anything to go by.

I prefer dahlias, which always seem to me to be rather similar, because they seem to have nicer colours, but I know that many people are just obsessed with chrysanthemums.

The historical lady in the photo was pretty with a sweet face.

I would have liked to see the cotton fields. I have never seen a cotton field in full flower. From your photos it reminds me somehow of popcorn :)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

All your pictures are so wonderful, my dear...I LOVE Mums, and I am particularly partial to the tubular Spider Mums--Though, in truth, I think they are ALL Gorgeous!
Leave it to you to find such an interesting and Historical Event...! Such History there, and in truth, I guess everywhere---But YOU always find these amazing wonderful things to do and to share with all of us!
The Cotton pictures are stunning!!! That first one is a classic! But they are all really Beautiful. I've never seen a Cotton Field "live" before, except in a movie....This was truly GREAT, my dear...!

Elaine said...

Sounds like you had a lovely day! Amazing that they have held the show for 100 years. I love your shots of the cotton fields. Although I have seen a few when we've been traveling they are a rare sight for me. Happy Thanksgiving!

stardust said...

Chrysanthemum (kiku in Japanese) festivals and exhibitions have been held since October and they are associated with death as funeral flowers in Japan, too. While cherry blossom is thought to be an icon of Japanese culture, Chrysanthemum with sixteen petals is crest of Imperial household. I like all the different varieties of mums and various displays. The flowering cotton fields are spectacular, which I’ve never seen in person. Thanks for sharing.


Vicki Lane said...

What a treat -- the lovely old schoolhouse, beautiful flowers, and that small town community spirit. Thank you for taking us along!

Down by the sea said...

I loved reading about the crysantheums and the history of the show. The flowers in England are found in most bouquets throughout the year.
Those cotton fields are amazing it looks like snow from a distance.
Sarah x

Perpetua said...

Such an interesting and informative post, Vagabonde and your photos are wonderful. I love your description of a small town annual show, very like the kind of village show or exhibition I'm used to here in the UK, with all pats of the community contributing.

Like Friko I loved the pictures of the cotton fields - so beautiful.

Kay said...

I especially like chrysanthemums just because they are so hardy and last so long. We use them a lot on our temple altars.

Jeanie said...

This was a beautiful show! Such color! And I must say, I always learn from you -- in this case, that in France the chrysanthemum is the flower of the dead. That's one thing that makes visits here so satisfying!

joared said...

Lovely flowers and your photos are quite good. I recall as a young teenage midwesterner our family was driving across country to the southwest. Entering Ark. as I rode along in car's back seat, I suddenly heard from front seat, "Cotton! Cotton! Cotton!" I leaned forward to gaze out the windshield to see fields of white ahead as you picture here -- the first time I ever saw cotton fields -- spectacular!

The Travel Lady said...

I am so happy that I discovered this wonderful account of the annual Stilesboro Chrysanthemum Show that is still going strong here in the countryside near Cartersville, Georgia. The lovely lady you mentioned looked like one of the Bronte sisters, is Cecelia Stovall Shelman, the lost love of General William T. Sherman. You can read more about her story, and about the surrounding area at

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