About the series
These days, small towns are beginning to look more and more alike, with a fast-food chain on the corner and a big-box retailer down the street. But this winter, The Times will take you to the unique communities within Hall County, sharing their history, their characters and their charm. Look for a story each day through the New Year. To see previous stories, go to gainesvilletimes.com/hamlets.
Chestnut Mountain resident Harold Nichols has lived in the community all his life and in the same house for 49 years.
Nichols, 70, often stops by the Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian Church to chat with his pastor, John Batusic. The church, which was established in 1874, and the nearby Chestnut Mountain Baptist Church, established in 1887, are the oldest churches located in the area. About 650 people attend the presbyterian church and it’s where people come for community, faith and conversation.
“They’re good, common folk,” Batusic said. “They love their community and they love God.”
The unincorporated town is located in the southeastern part of Hall County and people were already living in Chestnut Mountain when the county was settled in 1818, according to a manuscript written by late historian Sybil McRay in the mid-1970s.
Chestnut Mountain was named for a hill on Ga. 53 near the mill of David Tanner, an early settler, she wrote.
Farming was the main industry and common crops included cotton, corn, produce, chicken and eggs, and fruit.
“The name ‘Chestnut’ probably came from the chestnut trees which once grew in abundance in the area,” McRay wrote. “Prior to 1950 a blight killed most of these trees in North Georgia.”
The pastor and his family moved to Chestnut Mountain in 1987 and he said he has seen the area grow as the children grow up and start families in the area and more businesses open and flourish.
There were no stop lights and Winder Highway was two lanes when Batusic first moved to the area. He was a pastor in Virginia when he was called to lead the church in Northeast Georgia.
“There ain’t no better place in the whole world,” Nichols said. “There’s no place that I’d rather live.”
It’s a very special place, said Tom Oliver, outgoing Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman and a poultry and cattle farmer. He is president of Chestnut Mountain Egg Farms, located on Oliver Road.
Oliver grew up in the community and except for college and his military service, he’s lived there all his life. His farm has been in the family for generations and his father, William Newton Oliver Jr., is a well-known figure in the community.
“W.N.’s a good man,” Nichols said. “He might be the oldest man here. He’s older than dirt.”
The community is close-knit, although it was once small enough that everybody knew each other and a lot of families intermarried in the early days.
Everybody pretty much knew everyone else and now you see a lot of people you don’t know, Batusic said. Still, crime doesn’t seem to be a large concern. Batusic and Nichols said that some residents don’t lock their doors at night and they leave their keys in their cars.
“Over half the people in the church were three families,” the pastor said, referring to when he first started in the church.
Batusic’s referring to the Turks, the Benefields and the Stricklands. They were among the early supporters of the church, agreeing to pay from $5 to $50 to the church on Sept. 17, 1873, McRay wrote.
E.W. Strickland, father of Chestnut Mountain resident Loyd Strickland, ran a general store in the community and owned a blacksmith shop. Progressive farmers Charlie Benefield and his brother, Melvin, came to the area from Gwinnett County, and descendant Jeff Benefield is pastor of the Chestnut Mountain Baptist Church. The Chestnut Mountain Turks are descendants of Milton Turk Sr., who helped found the Presbyterian church.
Many children that grow up in Chestnut Mountain stay in the area and that’s helped the area grow, said Batusic, grandfather of three. His oldest son stayed in the community and his younger son lives nearby in Sugar Hill. Two of his three children live here, Oliver said.
The people are down-to-earth and their hobbies include hunting, fishing and gardening, Batusic said.
“It’s just home,” Oliver said.