If Those Walls Could Only Talk - The Ringgold Opry

Saturday, July 15, 2006 - by Thomas Brown

A fairly common expression in the Southeast is "If those walls could only talk…"
Variants of talking walls include "If them walls could talk, boy I'd be in a heap a trouble," or "I sure am glad those walls can't talk," and the occaisional "shush, the walls might be listening (which implies that they do and will talk)." The walls of the Ringgold Depot speak volumes.

One of the older structures in Northwest Georgia, the Western and Atlantic Rail Road depot was constructed of local sandstone and completed in 1849. Its 14 inch walls were shelled by Union artillery during the war between the states and the damage was repaired with limestone blocks, resulting in a nice two tone effect. Just east of the historic structure is where General Pat Cleburne and his forces heroically held back Union troops that were pursuing the retreating Confederate Army following the route at Missionary Ridge. Cleburne's troops numbering a little over 4,000, were able to surprise and hold back about 12,000 of General Hooker's at the Battle of Ringgold Gap in November of 1863.

A year or so earlier the folks around the depot had had seen some exciting action as Union spies and train theives known as Andrew's Raiders chugged speedily by on the W& A RR General hottly pursued by the Texan. A couple of miles north of the depot in Rabbit Valley, the Raiders hopped off the locomotive abandoning their plan after a valve blew and the steam engine lost power. The Raiders were soon after apprehended, hung, and served as an inspiration for a Disney movie in the 1960s.

In 1978, after more than 100 years of service the depot's huge doors were shut and it seemed likely that it would be destined to face the fate of the slow death of so many old depots across the land. However in 1993, several Ringgold residents including Dr. Ronal Graham and Bobby Wilborn were kicking around some ideas about preserving the landmark. Conversations soon resulted in the establishment of a 503-c non-profit organization, The Depot Preservation Corporation. The organiztion was set up with 17 other area citizens agreeing to serve on the board. The board decided to establish the Ringgold Opry as a way to generate funds for the renovation of the facility.

Soon after the opry was begun, news of it traveled like wildfire along the bluegrass grapevine. It very quickly attracted bluegrass music lovers and pickers from all around the North Georgia and East Tennessee area. Saturday night radio broadcasts began in September of 1994 on WSGC in Ringgold and WDRZ in Etowah, Tn. On a clear winter's night the Ringgold Opry could be heard from Adairsville, Ga. to the Kentucky line for the 15 months that the program was broadcast over these stations. The show was then broadcast over WFLI atop Lookout Mountain for 12 months.

The renovations of the depot chugged along slowly, funded primarily on the dollars and loose change taken up by passing the hat during the opry. A major grant was received in 2002 which really greased the tracks toward complete renovation. Of the renovation Wilborn says " Without the support of the Ringgold City Council and state monies, it (the renovation) would not have been possible."

Following a the renovation, the Ringgold Depot was reopened in January of 2006. It was a very very cold and windy night, but it was standing room only, as hundreds came to hear the line up of some of the region's best talent. Each second Saturday of the month since reopening, folks show up to listen, perform, jam, or maybe to just shake and howdy. The depot has about 150 seats, but attendance seems to average around 200 with a lot of jammers in the back rooms and on the large deck.

Since its inception, the Ringgold Opry has attracted talent. Numerous major bluegrass artists, country singers, and Grand Old Opry stars have shared their talents on the depot stage. The list includes John Conlee, Stonewall Jackson, Rhonda Vincent, James Monroe and the Midnight Ramblers, Greg Cahill and Special Consensus, The Dry Branch Fire Squad, New Tradition, and Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike.

The Ringgold Depot is located conveniently off of I-75 approximately 15 minutes south of Chattanooga and roughly 90 miles north of Atlanta. Bands interested in performing at the Ringgold Opry should contact Bobby Wilborn at Wilborn Music in Ringgold (706) 965-3933. Bands are not paid, but there are allowed to sell CDs, t-shirts, and other promotional items.

Thomas Brown is an educator, songwriter, free lance writer, and banjo enthusiast. He can be contacted at spatialeffectsbluegrass@yahoo.com.

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