How many civilizations have lived in the Sautee Nacoochee Valley area? We know the Cherokee lived here along with other Native American tribes including mound builders, but these ancestors weren’t known for building rock walls and rock structures like those you find in ancient Europe.
Lost in time, not far from the Sautee Village area there is an ancient stone structure on private land that I was lucky enough to be invited to visit with a friend doing research. It was a beautiful day, and I was filled with excitement and anticipation to finally see this structure I had read about.
The structure had at one time had interest and recognition but because our “experts” in archaeology and history can’t seem to place this and other stone walls and structures in Northeast Georgia into our classic textbook historic timeline it has basically been ignored.
Phillip E Smith, an Archaeologist, visited Alec Mountain in 1956 and at that time the stone circle was a
Tourist attraction. He drew this sketch, showing placement of excavations.
Why have we not respected the treasures of our past? This amazing archaeological site has been left to disappear back into the earth, covered with leaves and no effort made to understand the culture that labored to place these heavy stones on top of each other in a large oval shape for some purpose. Who were these people? Was it built in the same era as the mysterious stone wall that encircles part of Fort Mountain near Ellijay, Georgia? Were the same people, the same culture responsible for a stone wall built on top of Soapstone Ridge in the Lake Russell Wildlife Management area near Toccoa?
I wish I had the ability to see deep below the piles of leaves and brush to understand the layout of this structure and maybe somehow discern it’s purpose. I took photographs but they don’t do this historic structure justice. One could argue that it was randomly placed rocks but I doubt Phillip E Smith would have made an archaeological sketch of randomly placed piles of stones.
A Section of Alec Mountain stone circle on the southwest side of the outer wall
The question remains, whether the generations who come along behind us care enough to preserve and understand the meaning of this place before it becomes lost in time.
Long before I hiked the mesmerizingly beautiful trail to the summit of Fort Mountain, I had read about the legends and the disappointing lack of historical evidence regarding the age and builders of the ancient stone wall that zig zags in a serpentine type fashion for 850 ft just below one side of the summit.
So many questions and really no answers! The information sign near the wall briefly covers the Cherokee legend of the moon eyed people or Prince Madoc of Wales as possible builders.
When dealing with mysteries I like to look for coincidences or similarities and having grown up in England, the wall did somehow remind me of the rock (or stone walls) of England, Ireland or Wales. But the question remains, “why?” Why would a tribe or culture build a wall around a partial side of a summit of a mountain in Northeast Georgia?
Fort Mountain, GA. Section of ancient stone wall.
If they lived behind the wall for protection, it did not seem the ideal place for a winter home, with maximum exposure to the elements of freezing snow or rain & high winds. I did not see an obvious water source at the top of the mountain or anywhere to grow crops.
Were they may be protecting the mountain for some reason? Who was protecting whom from what? In my limited findings from internet research I did discover that there is a creek called Goldmine Creek in Fort Mtn. State Park. Placer Gold was panned from this and maybe other creeks on Fort Mountain years ago. Apparently, there is a reference to a large vein of gold on Fort Mountain by the United States Geological Survey when they visited in 1906. A mine was being worked in 1906 when they visited but just a few years later when they came back the mine was shut down. Another question looms, why was the mine shut down?
According to the report throughout the length of the wall there are 19 pits. I was excited by this revelation until I read on and discovered that excavations in and around a couple of these pits did not produce any artifacts or burials. The author of the survey felt that these pits were possibly made by gold diggers or vandals. At the end of the survey very little conclusion is drawn, except that there is a true similarity to other Stone Forts in the southeastern states. One of the best preserved stone forts, not mentioned in the survey is the Old Stone Fort on the Duck River near Manchester, Tennessee.
Regardless of what my explorations of Fort Mountain reveal I am now a dedicated enthusiast of exploring more Stone Forts and look forward to sharing more articles on this subject!
Exploring Northeast Georgia – Memories of a Mountain Shortline
On an unseasonably warm, sunny December day I had the pleasure of sitting down with Emory Jones, author of books including, Distant Voices, the history of the Nacoochee Indian Mound and The Valley Where They Danced, an historic novel set in the background of the Nacoochee Valley, along with David Greear, photographer and author, both local residents of White County, to hear about their recently released DVD, a documentary called, “Memories of a Mountain Shortline – A History of the Tallulah Falls Railroad” which they produced in cooperation with the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center.
Their enthusiasm for the project is contagious and after speaking with them both I immediately went home and sat down and watched the DVD. Having lived in Rabun County for a number of years, many of the names and faces on this DVD were familiar. I would love to mention all of the names involved in the creation of this documentary but there may be too many and I apologize for any omissions.
My challenge today, is how you begin to describe a fifty six minute documentary that is so full of history and stories, in a short article. I will try to hit the highlights but watching the DVD will be a gift to yourself and your family or friends. From the start of this collection of memories, with the sound of the lonesome train whistle in the background and the touching dedication to Dess Oliver (1937 to 2015), longtime teacher at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School, whose commitment to the preservation of the history of the Tallulah Falls Railway made the documentary possible, the viewer will be captivated.
For fifty four years, the “Old TF”, as locals called it ran fifty eight miles from Cornelia to Franklin, North Carolina. The documentary not only includes the history of the railway but also stories of Tallulah Falls, Clayton and the long gone town of Burton which lies under the waters of Lake Burton. Many Rabun County lake property homeowners will enjoy hearing the history behind the construction of the damns and lakes in the area. As Emory Jones put it, “the hardest part was finding a stopping place”, and condensing more than fifty hours of information into a DVD just short of an hour. The documentary is a wonderful collection of historical photographs, including images of some of the fifty eight trestles that were built on the “Old TF”. There are images of trestle collapses, including the 1898 Panther Creek incident and the 1927 Hazel Creek trestle accident. Dess Oliver describes construction of these trestles based on his deep knowledge and understanding of the early engineering techniques that were utilized so many years ago.
Rabun County residents will especially enjoy the colorful interviews with local residents, such as Doris Welch, who describes being a child growing up in Mountain City when the train came through and catching candy and chewing gum (a rare treat back then!) thrown to them from the train. Barbara Taylor Woodall tells a wonderful story of the “slowness” of the train and Paulette Carpenter shares a detailed memory of the train stopping to help put out the fire at the old Lakemont school building. Doug Bleckley shares memories of the role he played in the Disney moved, “The Great Locomotive Chase”, which utilized the Tallulah Falls Railroad for the film in 1956.
So many of the memories of the Tallulah Falls railroad are stored in the minds of the people who lived to see the trestles and stations, tracks and engines. This documentary has captured these memories at an important crossroads in time. Several of the people involved in the history provided for this DVD are no longer with us.
John Kollock, (1929-2014) left many treasures for Northeast Georgia in his art and writing, but he also filmed “The Last Run” of the “Old TF” in March 1961 on 8mm filmed which was digitized and clips are included in the DVD. Rutherford Ellis (1928-2015), Railroad Historian, shared his rich knowledge of the origins of the Tallulah Falls railroad for this DVD.
As I mentioned earlier so many people are involved in contributions to this rich, historical documentary. Brian Boyd, Director of Communications at Tallulah Falls School, author and historian contributes his detailed knowledge on the “impact”, the railway had on the surrounding area. Paige Spivey with Rabun Gap Nacoochee School discusses, “The Mystique of the Tallulah Falls Railroad”. Kay Carver Collins, Rabun County Historical Museum, discusses the impact the railway had on bringing jobs to local people. A popular job was to cut crossties, which were constantly being replaced. Workers would be paid fifty cents each for a crosstie. Also cutting firewood and leaving it by the tracks was another popular job. Many residents remember the train catching the woods on fire when a spark would fly from the firebox
A review of this delightful DVD would not be complete without mentioning the support of Piedmont College, The Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University, Burton Rabun Real Estate Company and many others. To order a copy of the DVD online visit www.yonahtreasures.com and look under the bookstore tab for Emory Jones. The DVD is also for sale at local area merchants.
Times have changed but the excitement children feel surrounding Christmas is timeless. Reflecting back to a simpler time when Scotch-Irish pioneers brought Christmas traditions with them from their homeland, money was sparse but church and family dominated people’s lives.
Stockings may not have been as full of the latest and greatest toys but for a child growing up in the 1800’s in the Appalachian Mountains, a stocking crammed with apples, oranges, stick candy and maybe a few Brazil nuts was surely a treat!
Music was an important part of Appalachian family life. At Christmas time families gathered around fireplaces and listened and sang to the fiddle tunes. The Christmas Carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is rooted in Appalachian Mountain tradition. Families would celebrate “Old Christmas” on January 6th, which was the final day of the twelve days of Christmas.
Before December 25th 1752 Christmas was celebrated on January 6th. Then in Britain and America the new Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752 making Christmas Day December 25th. Some mountain communities continued to celebrate Old Christmas as well as the new Christmas Day, resulting in a twelve day celebration.
Old Christmas Day was celebrated quietly, with church, simple family meals, reading from the Bible and stockings with fruits, nuts and candy. On Old Christmas Eve, Appalachian families believed that farm animals bowed their heads in prayer in their stalls.
Irish and Scottish settlers brought fruitcake, also known as Scotch whiskey cake or Twelfth night cake to the Appalachian region. It is traditionally made of fruits, nuts and whiskey. Fruitcake is a tradition that continues today in many homes throughout the country.
Homes were decorated with whatever natural materials were available, such as holly, nuts, berries, evergreens and pinecones. If the family had room for a Christmas tree it was simply decorated with paper or popcorn strings and homemade decorations. Cookie dough ornaments and gingerbread people were popular and sometimes figures or dolls were made of yarn or straw.
Many of the gifts under the tree were carved wooden toys or corn husk dolls. Most gifts were handmade, knitted socks, gloves, hats or gifts that were carefully sewed or embroidered.
For most families Christmas Day was a day for feasting and sharing preserved fruits and vegetables, fresh game and baked pies and cakes. Several weeks before Christmas women would start baking and preparing for the Christmas meal.
An old Irish tradition that we still practice today is the placing of a lighted candle in the window of a home on Christmas Eve. The candle is a symbol of the welcoming of Mary and Joseph in their search for shelter.
Crescent Hill Baptist Church -A Time for Thanksgving
Tucked away in the gentle and peaceful Nacoochee Valley there is a small church of timeless beauty. Crescent Hill Baptist Church is located near the junction of Hwy 17 and Hwy 75 in the Nacoochee Valley close to the ancient Indian Mound with the gazebo on top.
Crescent Hill Baptist Church was completed in 1872 by Captain James Nichols, a civil war veteran from Milledgeville, who also built the nearby Hardman House which opened as Georgia’s newest State Historic site just a year ago. The church was first known as the Nacoochee Presbyterian Church but changed owners several times before becoming the present Crescent Hill Baptist Church.
Captain Nichols sold the church, along with his home in 1893 to Calvin Hunnicutt from Atlanta. In 1903 Dr L.G. Hardman, (Governor of Georgia 1927-1931) purchased the church and Hardman Farm and it remained in his family until the Hardman property was donated to the state of Georgia in 1999.
This small but picturesque wood frame church is built on a stone foundation with many notable features. The windows are a Gothic Revival style, which was popular from around 1830-1860.
Other characteristic details of the Gothic style are steeply pitched roofs and front facing gables with delicate wooden trim called vergeboards. The wooden trim is often called “gingerbread” and the Hardman House and outbuildings, within walking distance of the church, also have excellent examples of this distinctive architectural style. Other distinctive features of the church are the portico or porch with the slender Gothic columns and ornate church spire.
The Nacoochee Presbyterian Church stopped having services in the building in the early 1900’s. In 1921 Dr Hardman allowed a Baptist group to worship there and the church was renamed Crescent Hill Baptist Church. The church is well worth a visit if you are in the area and you can see the original craftsmanship of the 1870’s in the Gothic architecture and the stained glass windows.
At this time of year we give thanks for a church that has stood the test of time and has remained unchanged for almost 150 years.
As the warm days of September give way to the cooler, crisp mornings of October and God’s glory is reflected in the rich palate of autumn colors, our minds shift back to a different time when Northeast Georgia was sparsely populated. Visitors came to enjoy the cooler mountains and enjoy the splendor of fall. Most of the resorts these visitors came to are long gone but if you look close enough there are reminders of this bygone time.
White Sulphur Springs was a resort just north of Gainesville, close to Lula. Similar to the resorts in Tallulah Falls and Mt. Airy, wealthy visitors and families would spend time at these elegant hotels looking to escape the summer heat and disease caused by mosquitoes carrying malaria. The hotels would provide relaxation for visitors, large porches with rocking chairs, outdoor activities, tennis or walking and in the evenings there would be fine dining, music and dancing.
Steps leading to the White Sulphur Springs Resort Hotel circa 1920’s and the ruins today
Many of these beautiful resort hotels were destroyed by fire, White Sulphur Springs burnt in 1933 and today a few poignant reminders exist of what had been a thriving health resort. Visitors would come to the springs and drink the healing waters. Today the ruins of this once beautiful resort are scattered over private property but a shadow of what existed can be seen in traces of stone steps and pillars, moss covered walkways and broken fountains.
Mt Airy, established in 1874 was another Northeast Georgia town that attracted visitors with the beautiful views from Grandview Avenue looking out over Lake Russell and the Chattahoochee National Forest. Mt.Airy lies on the Eastern Continental Divide, which means the waters falling on the east side of town run eventually to the Savanah River and into the Atlantic Ocean. The waters falling to the west flow eventually to the Chattahoochee River and then to the Gulf of Mexico. With an elevation of 1545 feet, it was the highest point between New Orleans and New York on the Richmond and Danville railway line. Hotels established in Mt Airy were the Mount Airy Hotel which was built by Colonel Wilcox in 1886 and the Monterey Hotel which was built by the Gresham brothers from Virginia in 1902. The Monterey Hotel stood where City Hall now stands but in its day the three-story structure boasted 150 rooms and 50 bathrooms. The Monterey Hotel, tragically suffered the same fate as other resort hotels in Northeast Georgia and burnt down in 1907. It was rebuilt and then sadly burnt again.
Tallulah Falls at one time, probably boasted the largest number of hotels in Northeast Georgia. The first hotel to open there was the Tallulah Hotel in 1840. When the railway finally came to town in 1882, this brought more tourists and more hotels were needed. Tallulah Falls had, at its height of popularity, seventeen hotels and boarding houses.
Cliff House Hotel, Tallulah Falls, Ga.
From 1882 until 1921, an almost forty year span of time, Tallulah Falls flourished and was referred to as the Niagara Falls of the Southern States. People came mainly to see the Falls, but the hotels offered varied activities, music and dancing in the evenings, wonderful front porches to relax on and games such as billiards and tennis. The end came in December 1921 when a fire broke out and burned for days. Most of the buildings were never rebuilt but the magic of that era can still be found in old postcards and photographs and history books.
In our, modern, fast paced world, we don’t spend much time walking through the forests at night. Native Americans were probably familiar with the glowing lights on the forest floor during spring on a moonless night. Whether they knew the origin of these lights, almost certainly they sparked myths and legends of spirits wandering the forests at night.
Foxfire has nothing to do with foxes or fire and was sometimes referred to as “fairy fire”. Although no-one really knows for sure, the word “fox” may originate from an older version of the French word for false “faux”. False fire would have made a suitable name for a plant that glows like embers but is cold to the touch.
Today we know that Foxfire is a bioluminescent plant, or more simply put, fungi that live and are nourished by rotting wood. As the forest floor heats up during springtime, especially in moist oak woods, the fungi grow and emit their eerie lights.
So, why does Foxfire glow? Simply put bioluminescence is a chemical reaction that helps plants or insects (such as fireflies or glow worms) lure prey, attract mates or camouflage themselves. Foxfire might be any of several different types of fungi, but usually the honey mushroom.
So, now that your interest is captured and you want to adventure out one evening to see the glowing Foxfire, here is a safe way to hike in the forest at night without getting lost or stepping on snakes!
Anna Ruby Falls Park next to Unicoi State Park has a program in May and June at 8pm on Thursday evenings. You will need to call ahead in April to make a reservation for this one hour hike up to the beautiful falls to see the glowing Foxfire. Hikes last about an hour and cost $5.00. Group capacity is 40 to 50 hikers. Remember to bring comfortable walking shoes and your camera!
In the high heat of the summer months along with cool creeks and watermelon, homemade ice-cream and fireflies, I think of cool movie theaters and resting long enough to escape the soaring temperatures.
Have you ever stopped to think how many movies have been made in your own backyard? Not literally, of course, but in our North Georgia mountains. On a quick look on the internet for movies made in Northeast Georgia, the majority have been made in Rabun County. I counted seventeen but there may be more than that.
The Disney movie “The Great Locomotive Chase” released in 1956 was filmed in North Georgia and North Carolina, using the now abandoned Tallulah Falls railway.
This Walt Disney adventure movie was based on a real Great Locomotive Chase that happened in 1862 during the Civil War. Fess Parker starred as James Andrews the leader of a group of Union soldiers. The group led by Parker, go behind Confederate lines disguised in everyday clothing and steal a Confederate train north of Atlanta. The adventure gathers momentum as they drive the locomotive back to the Union army in Tennessee.
The Great Locomotive Chase is a great family movie to watch and sit back and relax with a big bowl of popcorn, watch out for local Northeast Georgia scenery and teach the kids a little history along the way.
Other family movies made locally in the area include the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, Foxfire. Jessica Tandy won an Emmy Award for her performance in the movie.
Jessica Tandy plays the part of Annie Nations, an older Appalachian woman who has spent her whole life living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her husband, Hector, played by Hume Cronyn, although passed away for five years, is still very much in her thoughts. John Denver, who plays their country music singer son, Dillard Nations, is trying to convince his mother Annie to sell the farm and move to Florida and live with his family. Annie has to decide for herself.
Before Foxfire became a movie it was a play based on the Foxfire books written by Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn. The movie captures forever the timeless plight of the people of Southern Appalachia. Does a rural mountain family keep a family home place or move away in the name of economic progress? Annie Nation’s decision is heart rending. Does she stay in her log cabin on the land, in the mountains that she and husband, and generations before them, worked so hard for or does she move away from all that she has ever known and loved?
Other movies filmed in Rabun County, may not be for the whole family to watch. The 1976 movie, Whiskey Mountain by William Grefe, features a group of motorcyclists on a treasure hunt who are terrorized by a gang of murderous psychopaths.
The 1976 film Grizzly was filmed in Clayton. The movie is about a fifteen foot tall Grizzly bear that creates terror in a National Forest setting. The movie cast had many local residents in supporting roles, including Catherine Rickman, who played one of the victims. Catherine was the daughter of Frank Rickman.
Frank Rickman (1924-2004) played a large part in bringing the movie industry to Rabun County. For further reading about movies filmed in Rabun County visit the Rabun County Historical Society website http://www.rabunhistory.org and reference Frank Rickman and the role he played in bringing the movie industry to Rabun County.