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Posted: April 29, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Mystery gives way to merriment

The ghostly visage of a grand four-columned, two-story home alone in a broad field of alfalfa appears in a photograph likely taken sometime in the first quarter of the 20th century. It sat beyond the eastern edge of Covington, now at the end of Floyd Street and behind the Newton County Library, but at the time the house was built -sometime between 1910 and 1918, it is thought - Floyd Street went only as far as Adams Street, according to local historian Charles King. Copies of the photo belong to Mrs. Nell Mundy and to Stanley Edwards, who found them in a scrapbook left to him by his grandmother. Much of the history cited here comes from Mrs. Jinx Faulkner.

 

The home belonged to a local man named E.G. Martin who married Suzie Ramsey, former Mayor Sam Ramsey's great-aunt. The approach to the home was up Ramsey Drive - then dirt - and was planted with sturdy oaks on either side. It is described in the photo's accompanying cutline as being a "modern farm home." It boasted two tall chimneys, a porte-cochere to the right and, on the left, a bump-out and columned porch. Surrounded by land under cultivation, the house lacked a cooling canopy of trees.

Mr. Martin is described in the History of Newton County as having had "large farming and dairying operations as well as extensive grading and road building contracts."
When Mr. Martin died in the 1930s in a machinery accident, Mrs. Martin moved further east of town into a small house across the road from a former Wal-Mart building on U.S. Highway 278, near the Martin dairy. The dairy barn would be converted later to a drive-in hamburger restaurant called "The Cow Palace," now long gone.

The big house was sold at auction to a Patterson family who planted the community's first broad, sloping grass lawn.

Billy Travis, who visited the home as a boy, recalls that it had two spiral staircases and was filled with beautiful furniture, including a grand piano in the foyer and a mahogany pool table with pearl inlay in the sunroom on the back of the house.

When that couple divorced, Mrs. Patterson, a teacher, retained the home, but it soon fell into disrepair.
She moved to what was called "The Teachers' Cottage" in Porterdale where she continued teaching, but she left possessions that would make one think she'd be right back, including a car.

Storyteller Andy Irwin explored the abandoned home as a boy.

It was still fully furnished, and he even "played" the grand piano.

He and his friends found laundry hanging in the basement and groceries in the car trunk.

Sometime in the '80s, he visited the home again and found a neatly made up mattress that indicated someone was living there.

The site grew up in briers, vines and privet, becoming almost impenetrable.

As it decayed, the home became a magnet for curious children and teens. It was a great place to come and "scare the girls," as Scott Fuss and Mark Reagan now recall.

The house had burned either before or just after the county condemned and acquired the property sometime in the late '80s, says Billy Smith, a county commissioner from 1980-1992.

Cheryl Delk, Newton County's Special Projects Manager, "discovered" the remains of the old house in its wild space while working on the construction of the Newton County mental and physical health building next door.

"I thought I was walking into ‘The Secret Garden,'" she recalls, citing a beloved children's book.
Immediately, the site seemed to suggest its potential as a public access park, and thus the seed for today's Chimney Park was planted.

For the third year, the park is hosting its Fairy House Festival, always on the first Saturday in May, this year May 7, from 2-5 p.m. with a rain date of May 14.

Young and old are dusting off fairy wings and elf and gnome costumes and finalizing details of fairy homes made with all natural materials that will be hidden in the woods that day.

Guests can make their own fairy houses with materials gathered on site. A petting zoo has been added to the lineup this year, along with music, crafts, storytelling, a dance around the May Pole and refreshments. A $3 entry fee will be charged to offset costs to the privately funded Friends of Newton Parks, the annual sponsor. On that day, mystery will give way to merriment.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.

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