Exploring Northeast Georgia Cigar Box Guitars By Kitty Stratton


I wasn’t expecting a March snow storm on the evening I drove over to meet Mike & Annette Boswell. Their warm and welcoming home was a pleasant contrast to the cold and blowing snow outsi…

Source: Exploring Northeast Georgia Cigar Box Guitars By Kitty Stratton

Exploring Northeast Georgia Cigar Box Guitars By Kitty Stratton



I wasn’t expecting a March snow storm on the evening I drove over to meet Mike & Annette Boswell. Their warm and welcoming home was a pleasant contrast to the cold and blowing snow outside. Mike is tall and friendly and his wife Annette is someone you feel you’ve known all your life. Annette is related to the Meaders family of White County and the story of generations of her family’s pottery making is a story for another time.

I was instantly fascinated by the selection of handmade cigar box guitars that were lining the couch in the living room. Each guitar is different and many have stories to tell. Mike does not claim to be a musician but he does know how to build a cigar box guitar.


He started making these individualized guitars back in 2014 after he had seen some examples on Pinterest. Cigar boxes and boxes in general are something Mike likes to collect and he and Annette enjoy “yard sale-ing” together when they get the opportunity.

Mike generously took the time to show me each guitar individually and to point out different materials he had used for each one. It would be hard to say which was my favorite but I definitely fell for the slide guitar mounted on an old ironing board. He even took the time to play a You Tube video for me, of their friend, playing Amazing Grace on this particular guitar. I had never heard Amazing Grace played quite like that and it was beautiful.


I asked Mike about the history of cigar box guitars and he told me he had seen very old etchings with the guitars in them. They may have originated from the Mississippi delta where music was a way of life and an escape from the pain of poverty. Musicians would create a guitar from whatever they could find, a cigar box, broom handle and some wire could make a makeshift guitar.

It would be hard to include every photo of every guitar that Mike had to show me. Each one was unique in its own way and they are for sale, starting at around $150. Mike puts an average of six hours into making each guitar and the only things he orders are the pegs and strings. The selection of guitars is wide and varied, from guitars made with mule hangs, to sling blades and hat molds, Mike’s ingenuity and creativity seems to have no limits. Twenty-two rifle shells for fret markers and nails for bridges, are some of the ideas that make Mike’s cigar box guitars so unique. I was amazed at the guitars made from bed pans, especially when he plucked a few strings so I could hear the deeper sound of the notes coming from this most unusual instrument!


Mike likes to call his art a Cigar Box Ministry. He and Annette shared with me that they have shared his guitars in outreach programs to help troubled youth. If you want more information or would like to buy a cigar box guitar you can call Mike Boswell at 706 878 9279.

Exploring Northeast Georgia Fort Hollingsworth White House By Kitty Stratton



To describe Fort Hollingsworth White House as anything but a Georgia state treasure and national treasure would be wrong. This building has stood the test of time since 1793 and Willette White Mote who was my guide for part of an afternoon certainly agrees that this property should be cared for and protected for many generations to come.

Not only was Willette my guide but she is also one of many generations of the White family who still own and lived most of their lives on this beautiful North Banks County property. Wilette’s great grandfather, Joshua White was the first member of her family to purchase the property and create additions in the 1860’s. One of my first questions was to ask her why the property was named Fort Hollingsworth White House. She explained that Joshua White had added a dog trot or covered walkway to the property and rooms off to the side of the original fort. While walking through the dog trot I was fascinated to see the original logs with axe marks still visible and the white chinking between the logs was the original white clay used from the creek across the road.


Fort Hollingsworth White House  - Kitty Stratton.JPG

Fort Hollingsworth White House

With Dog Trot to the left and original fort to the right.

Jacob Hollingsworth was the original builder of the fort in 1793. He was a pioneer from North Carolina, who was granted land in North Georgia after the revolutionary war. Unfortunately after they settled into the fort they found out they were across the line, agreed upon in a treaty with the Cherokees. The Cherokee people in the area did not appreciate this disregard to the terms of the treaty and Hollingsworth and other families found themselves in a position of having to defend themselves.

The original fort had no windows downstairs except for a small one next to the chimney built from local field stone. Families in the area would seek protection in the fort during troubling times. By about 1796, conflicts with local Indian tribes were no longer a concern and the string of frontier forts were no longer necessary. The forts soon became log farmhouses. The “Four Mile Purchase” of 1804 was created when the Cherokees ceded a strip of land four miles wide (from the Habersham – Banks County line on Baldwin Mountain, to Line Baptist Church on old Hwy. 441) and 23 miles long extending from Currahee Mountain to the head waters of the South Oconee River. A line of felled trees twenty-feet wide marked the line, which became a “no man’s land.” The United States agreed to pay the Cherokees $5,000 and $1,000 per annum for the property rights.

Fort Hollingsworth White House fireplace - Kitty Stratton.JPG

Fort Hollingsworth original fireplace.

In the time period between Hollingsworth and the White family John Lane was an early owner of the fort. He was killed in the civil war not long after purchasing the property. The property was divided between John Lane’s sisters and so the story comes round to Joshua White, whose wife was a sister of John Lane. Although John Lane was killed and buried in Tennessee there is a memorial to him on the grounds of the property.

Fort Hollingsworth White House is located off of Highway 441 between Baldwin and Homer. The address is 2307 Wynn Lake Road, Alto, Ga. 30510. For more information you can visit the website at www.forthollingsworth-whitehouse.com.  Although the property is not open on specific days you can email to fort@forthollingsworth-whitehouse.com  or call either 706 244 1239 or 706 499 8579 for more information or to arrange a tour.  Fort Hollingsworth-White House looks very much today as it did in the 1860’s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Exploring Northeast Georgia – Memories of a Mountain Shortline Kitty Stratton


Exploring Northeast Georgia – Memories of a Mountain Shortline

Kitty Stratton

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.


Emory Jones & David Greear 2015 Memories of a Mtn. Shortline

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 fireboxTFRR DVD insert 11_30 (1).jpg

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.

Exploring Northeast Georgia Traditions of the Past Appalachian Christmas By Kitty Stratton


Exploring Northeast Georgia

Traditions of the Past

Appalachian Christmas


Kitty Stratton

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!

Appalachian Christmas Stocking.jpg

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.



Scotch Whiskey Cake.jpg

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.

Appalachian Christmas Candles.jpg


Exploring Northeast Georgia Crescent Hill Baptist Church -A Time for Thanksgving By Kitty Stratton


Exploring Northeast Georgia

Crescent Hill Baptist Church -A Time for Thanksgving


Kitty Stratton


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.

Crescent Hill Baptist Church - Nacoochee - Kitty Stratton

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.

Crescent Hill Baptist Church Windows - Kitty Stratton

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.


Exploring Northeast Georgia – A Time Gone By – Kitty Stratton





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.

Exploring NE Georgia - A Time Gone By  White Suphur Springs today - Kitty Stratton

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.

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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.


Exploring Northeast Georgia

Foxfire – Glowing in the Dark

Kitty Stratton

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  Glowing in the Dark - Kitty Stratton

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.

Foxfire Glowing In the Dark #2  Kitty Stratton

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!

Exploring Northeast Georgia – Summer Nights & Movies under the Stars – Kitty Stratton


Exploring Northeast Georgia

Summer Nights & Movies under the Stars

Kitty Stratton

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.