Stilesboro is a small community located about eight miles southwest of Cartersville on GA Hwy 113. The rural area was incorporated from 1866-1995, and took its name from a prominent area settler and attorney, William H. Stiles, who was elected to the U.S. Congress and served in the Georgia House of Representatives. Life here centered around home and the Stilesboro Academy, completed in 1859, though classes were held there the preceding year, at a cost of $5,000 contributed by community residents.
At the onset of the Civil War, the Stilesboro Academy served as a sewing room for Confederate uniforms until General Sherman’s troops stabled their horses there. It is believed that the inscription Deo Ac Patriae or God and Country, painted in the central “chapel” room may have deterred the Union Army from destroying the building completely. Post-war education continued there until a new school nearby opened in 1940.
Since 1940, the Stilesboro Academy has been in the stewardship of the Stilesboro Improvement Club, a ladies’ club founded March 25, 1910, for the purpose of supporting community needs through volunteerism and benevolence. In 1912, the club’s most enduring and enjoyable fundraiser was suggested by Miss Campie Hawkins when she advocated hosting a chrysanthemum show and tea similar to one that had been hosted two years prior to the club’s founding. For many years, the ladies around Stilesboro had been growing and sharing chrysanthemums. Stilesboro history records show that a sharecropper’s wife at Captain H.J. McCormick’s farm was the first in the community to disbud plants, in order to produce larger blossoms. The club members agreed to host the event and the tradition of the Stilesboro Chrysanthemum Show began November 6, 1912. Refreshments were served and 10 cents admission was charged. Club memoirs record that first show netted $16.00.
Interesting notes through history show that only twice has the show been canceled: in 1918 due to an influenza epidemic, and in 1942 due to a shortage of gasoline and rubber tires. In 1919, the club sent a box of 12 chrysanthemum blossoms each grown by a different member to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson who had suffered a stroke just prior to the annual show. A note of thanks written by President Wilson’s secretary Mr. Joseph Tumulty remains a treasured memory.
Other astounding show trivia notes a potted “Brown Button” chrysanthemum bearing 2,911 blossoms grown by Miss Lula Jackson. A November 6, 1914 Atlanta Journal news article describing 600 flowers on exhibit, and “blossoms as large as dinner plates.” Some blossoms displayed have measured twenty-seven inches circumference.
While the number of flowers and size of blossoms entered in show varies each year, the tradition continues to be a strong reminder of simple times and pleasures. Recollections of a Vagabonde writer Mireille Saskia Wilson provides an excellent firsthand account of a recent visit to the Stilesboro Chrysanthemum Show. See Vagabonde…
Here she posts a lovely picture of a Stilesboro lady, Cecelia Stovall Shelman, who made a lasting impression on General William T. Sherman. Read more…