Donna Street points through the window at Dade County's
historic but long-vacant courthouse, which she is spearheading
a campaign to renovate. In the background is County Attorney Robin
Rogers, whom she plans to hit up for a donation in honor of his mother,
a past Superior Court Clerk. Ms. Street will cheerfully accept donations
from less-connected residents. Make checks payable to the Dade Historical
Society and deliver to the county commission office.
At its monthly meeting Thursday night, the Dade County Commission heard a progress report on the long-delayed renovation of the historic courthouse that has stood vacant at the center of downtown Trenton since 2010.
Donna Street, the retired educator and local history maven who is spearheading the project, said the renovation committee had accepted a $65,000 bid for preliminary work by Premier Roofing and Home Restoration. She said the committee will need $55,000 from the county for the work this year and the next two. The courthouse renovation received approval for SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funding for the last three referenda, reminded Ms. Street. “We really haven’t delved into it very deeply,” she said.
In addition to the county money, the courthouse committee hopes to raise $75,000 to $100,000 in private donations, she said. The Dade County Historical Society itself will kick in $5000, said Ms. Street, but in $1000 increments. The committee also hopes for some assistance from Georgia Power, will hit up citizens whose families are associated with the building, plans to peddle “naming opportunities”—for a mere $1000, one of the courthouse’s 48 windows can memorialize your name into the future—but realistically hopes to meet its goal via modest donations from the general public. “A lot of people will give $10, $30,” said Ms. Street.
Ms. Street told the commissioners that the courthouse is worth the money because it is the symbol of the community and an anchor to downtown business. Historically, courthouses were designed as the heart of the community, she said. “They almost always built the courthouse on the highest point in town,” said Ms. Street.
Dade’s old courthouse is certainly a prominent landmark, standing like a shrine at the center of the town square with Highway 11 traffic routed in a circle around it. But it has been an abandoned shrine since the county courts were moved to a modern new facility six years ago.
Ms. Street said that a renovated courthouse can be a tourist draw for the county; it was once a marriage mill and people whose parents or grandparents were wed there enjoyed posing for pictures there, she said.
Dade County Executive Chairman Ted “The Boss” Rumley interjected that the county still gets calls from couples wishing to get married there themselves.
If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation, checks should be made payable to the Dade Historical Society, with a notation they are for the courthouse renovation, and delivered to the Dade County Commission.
Newsman Evan Stone asked when citizens would be allowed inside the courthouse—the renovation has been on the back burner for 15 years, he reminded. Rumley said that might be possible by October. “I hope we can have an event on at least one floor during the Christmas parade,” said Ms. Street.
Forgotten Park Acres
Speaking of matters historical, Ms. Street and Rumley also discussed the 300 neglected acres of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park situated inside Dade County. The Boss said local resident John Logan had brought the matter to his attention after stumbling upon moldering monuments deep in the woods and confirming they were part of the national park.
Ms. Street and the historical society are trying to arrange field trips for locals to the forgotten historical site but that access is a problem: The site can be reached via an old road running from Reflection Riding in Chattanooga but in Dade County only by going out Carroll Road in Wildwood and crossing the creek on private land. But both Ms. Street and Rumley, himself a local history buff, told listeners the park land could bring the county considerable historical tourism.
And on a final historical note, Rumley paid homage to recently deceased Dade Sole Commissioner Dan Hall, who during the 1960s and ‘70s paved roads throughout Dade, building Burkhalter and Hale’s Gap roads to provide Trenton access to residents of Lookout and Sand mountains.
On the subject of paving, District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman said the county road crew had recently refurbished multiple Sand Mountain roads. District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford said the Georgia Department of Transportation is promising to repave problematic Highway 136 East between Trenton and LaFayette, sections of which keep sinking, any day now. “Hopefully within the next month or so that’s going to happen,” he said.
Rumley said the road from Highway 11 to the new Vanguard International plant over the railroad tracks—interaction with the railroad had complicated construction—should be completed this week. Vanguard should be in production by August. “That’s just weeks away,” he said.
Another big expansion for Trenton/Dade is also looking good, said the Boss; closing between the county and Fred’s Dollar Store for the site of Fred’s planned “super center” is slated for July 28, he said. “Hopefully in the next few months, if they do what they say, this thing will come alive,” he said.
Dade is selling Fred’s the Main Street property where the Georgia Forestry Commission’s office stood before it was demolished by the 2011 tornadoes. The county acquired the site through a swap with GFC for its current location near the Four Fields.
Alex Case in his capacity as the mayor of Trenton said he was working with Fred’s on the new store’s design, to make it fit in with other South Main buildings such as Case Hardware. “I feel it’s fair to the other business owners to have that same look,” he said.
Case said Trenton is still working on landscaping at Jenkins Park after its installation of $240,000 worth of new play equipment there but should shortly announce a grand reopening date for the playground. He said teen vandalism had been a problem during the closure. “If you see somebody in there, please call 911,” he said.
In his capacity as Dade’s emergency services director, Case asked and received SPLOST funds toward the construction of a previously discussed crisis warning siren that will mostly be funded by federal and state grants. He also discussed briefly tornado shelters that double as warming and cooling centers, subjects of a future grant.
Audrey Clark of Trenton Telephone stood up to confirm her company is rolling out its new “gig” capability—internet speed of 1 gigabit per second—for Dade residential and business clients. She could not yet guarantee a timetable but Dade County Library manager Marshana Sharp said Trenton Tel had doubled internet speeds at the library that very day.
The Planet will continue to report on the gig rollout.
County Clerk Don Townsend said Dade had collected an amazing $78,000 through selling surplus county property online. In his usual exhaustive tour of the county’s finances, he explained the numbers were skewed by federal and state grant money such as funds for the aforementioned warning siren.
District 3 Commissioner Goff underscored Townsend’s point: Detractors might say the commission spent more money than it budgeted but actually it was an illusion caused by running that grant money through the county budget as bookkeeping standards require. Audrey Clark (with Allan Bradford in background)
Townsend concluded: “We sure don’t want to turn that money away.”
Marshana Sharp of the Dade Public Library said 1700 federally-funded free lunches for children had been served during June but reminded that no lunches are to be served in July. She said the library is hosting adult programs in July (listed under “Upcoming Events” at side), plus Movie Day on July 29 and a genealogy workshop on the 30th. Call (706) 657-7857 for details.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. The public is encouraged to attend.