Home on the Hill, Rome, GAHome on the Hill

In 1832 Major Philip Walker Hemphill, a planter, purchased a tract of land deep in the heart of the Cherokee Indian nation, floated logs down the Coosa River and built Alhambra, the antebellum columned house known now as Darlington School's Home-on-the-Hill.  The oldest house in Floyd County, it has served as home to Darlington School's five presidents since 1923.

     In the spring of 1834 Major Hemphill entertained three other prominent Georgia planters in his home: Colonel Daniel R. Mitchell of Canton; Colonel Zachariah B. Hargrove of Cassville, and Colonel William Smith of Cave Spring.  These four gentlemen advocated the establishment of a new town at the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah Rivers.  To decide upon a name for the town they placed four names in a hat and drew out the name Rome.

     After the death of his wife in 1844, Major Hemphill sold his property to William T. Price and moved to the Mississippi Delta region.  Mrs. Hemphill, the former Elizabeth Cunningham, and their two infant daughters,  who preceded her in death, are buried in the Hemphill graveyard behind the house.

     By 1877 the property had passed through more than one ownership to Samuel G. Mobley, at which time the property acquired the name Mobley Park.  He sold it that same year to James E. Berry, W. G. Foster and John M. Berry.  The family of John Berry moved into the house, but his wife Elizabeth refused to live in such a rural area unless she had somewhere in town to entertain her friends.  Her husband indulged her by leasing chambers on Broad Street, where Elizabeth could socialize with her friends.

     Along the way, the property was also called DeSoto Park because of legend that the famed Hernando DeSoto had camped at the site during his sixteenth century exploration of Georgia.

     In the late 1890's the City Electric Railway Company bought the property as an investment and opened the area as a park.  The lake was enlarged, and spanning it was an elaborate arched bridge.  The historic old home was a recreation and refreshment center.    Romans rode the trolley from town to the park where they swam, fished and picnicked.

     John Paul Cooper, a prominent Rome cotton merchant who, with his wife Alice Allgood Cooper had founded Darlington in 1905, purchased the property in 1912 and deeded the land to Darlington School in 1921.  The school originally was housed on the second floor of the old East Rome Fire Hall, then was moved to a building on East Ninth Street before being moved to its new campus in 1923.

     From 1923 until 1955 the first president of Darlington, Dr. Clarence Rothwell Wilcox, and his family lived in the historic home.  By the time Dr. Wilcox and his family moved into the house, it had been remodeled many times and bore little resemblance to the dignified structure Major Hemphill had built.  A large porch and second balcony, embellished with Victorian diamond-patterned latticework obscured the simple lines of the front of the house.

     Generations of owners and a many-year stint as a recreation center had resulted on appalling deterioration and some thought the ramshackle building past restoring.  Dr. Ernest L. Wright, who succeeded Dr. Wilcox as president of Darlington, was adamant that the house be restored, and without his efforts the house would have been torn down.  He convinced Darlington's Board of Trustees that the historic structure should be preserved and restored as closely as possible to its original simplicity and dignity.

     Atlanta architect Jim Godwin, who also designed Darlington's chapel, planned the renovation which took a year to complete, since the house had to be partially rebuilt, Rogers Construction Company of Tome undertook the renovation work, tearing away porches and balcony, rebuilding the columns on the front, replacing the front steps with carefully gathered antique bricks, and replacing worn-out wood and glass on the front of the house.  Particular care was taken, where possible, to leave original work on the house.  Special woods were procured to match original materials used so many years ago. Damaged floor boards and stair slats were replaced and the wainscotting in the foyer and front parlor was stripped to the studs and rebuilt.  The dining room wainscotting was saved and the graceful spiral staircase remains essentially the same.  Likewise, the uniquely carved mantels of the two downstairs fireplaces were left alone, as was the lovely fanlight over the front door, which holds filmy glass and is apparently very old.

     The construction, over the Home-on-the-Hill, was again a showpiece and a fitting residence for the school's presidents:  Dr. Clarence Rothwell Wilcox, 1923-1955; Dr. Ernest L. Wright, 1955-1963; Dr. Richard M. Yankee, 1963-1971;  Mr. Gordon E. Bondurant, 1971-1979; Mr. James P. McCallie, 1979-present.  In the stately structure the preparatory school's leaders have received students, parents and alumni from all over the United States and the world.

Darlington School