Hernando De Soto in Clarkesville, Georgia – Kitty Stratton

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Hernando De Soto in Clarkesville, Georgia.

 Kitty Stratton

It was the year 1540.  King Henry VIII of England had just married his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.  It was the age of exploration.

Hernando De Soto had been born in Spain in 1496.  He was destined to become one of history’s famous explorers and Conquistadors.  Conquistadors or conquerors were soldiers and explorers who served the empires of Portugal and Spain. They colonized a large part of the world during the 15th,16th & 17th centuries.  Their goals were to conquer territories and open trade routes.

Fortunately for De Soto, he had acquired a large fortune from his part in the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire in South America.  He was famous as a negotiator, soldier and horseman but was also unfortunately known for his brutality.

The fortune he made in South America financed his explorations of the southeastern states of North America.  However the planned trip cost him heavily and he was highly motivated to recoup his losses by discovering gold in “La Florida”.  He was given the governorship of Cuba by the King of Spain and was expected in return to colonize North America for Spain.

When his party left Havana, Cuba, De Soto had recruited 620 volunteers for the planned four year exploration.  They loaded no less than nine ships with armor and heavy equipment, large quantities of livestock, including 237 horses and 200 pigs.

The entourage arrived at Charlotte Harbor, Florida and proceeded northwards. De Soto’s travels were well documented for the time.  There are several different recorded eye witness accounts of his explorations.

Hernando de Soto

Hernando de Soto

The records of his travels are fascinating and his group travelled through Florida, up through Georgia, North & South Carolina, Tennessee and further west.

De Soto was definitely in Georgia, but did he pass through Clarkesville, Georgia? There is a marker near the Courthouse in Clarkesville that states.

DE SOTO

WITH 500 SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE SOLDIERS

AND

WITH 200 CHEROKEE BURDEN BEARERS

PASSED HERE

ABOUT MAY 30TH 1540

TWENTY SIX YEARS BEFORE

THE FOUNDING OF

ST. AUGUSTINE

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De Soto died in the Spring of 1542 from a fever.  He was, however, the first European to cross the Mississippi River.  No gold was ever discovered on the expedition but the legacy of the accounts of his travels are documented and stored online as a living history for generations to come.

 

 

TUGALOO BEND HERITAGE SITE By Kitty Stratton

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TUGALOO BEND HERITAGE SITE

By Kitty Stratton

After a week of freezing temperatures and snow in January, Northeast Georgia was blessed with a day of clear skies and warm sunshine.  I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon taking a tour of the Tugaloo Corridor area in Stephens County.  My tour guide was Joe Ferguson, Chairman of the Stephens County Foundation.

We visited many sites in the Tugaloo Corridor between historic Traveler’s Rest site and Yonah Dam, but the main area of interest on this particular day was the Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site.

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Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site opened to the public beginning March 1st 2014, and is open from 8:30am to 5pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and from 1pm to 5pm on Sunday afternoons.  Groups can be scheduled by appointment. Volunteers will be available to orientate visitors to the different trails available. Amenities include a handicapped accessible nature trail, restrooms, a classroom pavilion and parking lot.

The highlight of my visit to Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site was hiking the approximately 1 mile loop River Trail that can be accessed by a short walk from the parking lot past a wetland area with an active beaver dam into a quiet & peaceful pine forest.  The trail loops along the banks of the Tugaloo River which flows quietly beneath its surprisingly high banks.  The trail is well marked with green painted trail markers on trees and the terrain is flat and surprisingly dry.  For those of us who appreciate a less strenuous hike the trail is perfect.  Opportunities for viewing wildlife are plentiful, especially along the duck pond edge of the trail.

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PHOTO OF TUGALOO RIVER FROM THE RIVER TRAIL

After attending a volunteer orientation and excellent slide show in early January I came to learn that the vision of Tugaloo Bend and preservation of the Tugaloo Corridor had started back in the late 1990’s. Channing “Billy’ Hayes, Jr. was the owner of the 87 acre “Tugaloo Bend Farm” and had decided to sell this property but wanted to see the land preserved and protected from future development.  The main part of the story of the Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site starts with the creation of the Stephens County Foundation and a collective desire to give back to the community.

The vision of the foundation has been preservation, education and recreation.  The Tugaloo Bend Heritage site is for the community and area visitors.  Visitors will have an opportunity to come to a quiet and beautiful location to enjoy the natural surroundings and hike the different trails.

Directions to Tugaloo Bend Heritage site are as follows.  From Toccoa head north on Prather Bridge Road from the intersection of Tugalo St and Prather Bridge Rd (at the First Baptist Church) go 7 miles until you see the Tugaloo Bend Heritage site on your right.  The facility is located on Yonah Dam Rd which curves to the left just before you cross Prather Bridge into South Carolina.

For further information or to schedule a group outing contact, The Stephens County Foundation, 706 282 7636.   More information about the Tugaloo Corridor project can be found at http://www.tugaloocorridor.org

DISCOVERING NORTHEAST GEORGIA – ECHOES OF THE PAST – by Kitty Stratton

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DISCOVERING NORTHEAST GEORGIA  –  ECHOES OF THE PAST

Kitty Stratton

Travelling through the small towns of Northeast Georgia there are many roadside markers that historically connect our communities.   Recently when visiting Historic Traveler’s Rest located off of Highway 123 close to the South Carolina state line I saw a marker explaining the route of the old Unicoi Turnpike.

I wanted to know more about the Unicoi Turnpike and discovered that the word Unicoi means “white” in Cherokee, possibly meaning that this was a road built by white settlers in the area.  The turnpike part of the name referred to the gates along sections of the road which were simply, very long poles serving as gates.  The pole would be moved away when the traveler paid the toll to the landowner for using that section of the road.

Who were the people who used the Unicoi Turnpike?   History tells us that in 1813 the Cherokee people signed a treaty to allow the Turnpike to cross the Cherokee Nation but long before the Turnpike was built the route had been used as a pathway before White settlers came to the area.   After the Turnpike was built drovers would herd cattle and other livestock from Georgia on up into Tennessee.   Traders used the roadway to transport animal furs and deerskins.

Wagons usually travelled around twenty miles a day and so there was a need for rest stops. Traveler’s Rest was one of these stops along the Turnpike and there will have been many others.  Sometimes families would open their home to travelers for room and board.

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Traveler’s Rest Historic Site off of Hwy 123 located east of Toccoa.

The turnpike was completed in 1819 and provided a wagon road northwest through Georgia from Traveler’s Rest  passing close by Toccoa Falls, heading towards Clarkesville, crossing the Soque River at some point and passing through Sautee, Nacoochee valleys and Helen.  There are a few sections of the original Turnpike visible near the Nora Mill just south of Helen.  The turnpike followed the main road through Helen but there were no bridges and the Chattahoochee River had to be forded.

 

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Historical Marker outside of Traveler’s Rest Historic Site off of Hwy 123 located east of Toccoa. 

Crossing the mountains must have been a hardship for these early travelers.   The Turnpike crossed the lowest point of the mountains ten miles north of Helen at Unicoi Gap at an elevation of 3000 ft.  It is hard to imagine the arduous climb they had to endure with wagons and livestock, especially with days of rain and mud.  Descending the other side of the mountain the wagons had no brakes and to avoid rapidly sliding down the mountain, they would attach large logs to the back of the wagons to slow them down as they eased down the steep and primitive roadway.

What I had not realized after living in Northeast Georgia for more than 30 years was that there are still sections of the Unicoi Turnpike still visible and looking much as they would have done hidden away in our National Forests.  There was recently an excellent article in the Toccoa Record, “Retracing the Unicoi Turnpike” by Angie Ramage.  This article does an excellent job of telling the story of the Unicoi Turnpike and there are great photos of well-preserved sections of the historic roadway.

 

UNICOI TURNPIKE HISTORICAL MARKER PHOTO NR. HELEN GA.

A Georgia Historical Marker along the Unicoi Turnpike outside of Helen, GA.

For further reading on the Unicoi Turnpike, Matt Gedney has written a very interesting and informative book called, “Living on the Unicoi Road”.

The Art of the Dulcimer – A Mountain Tradition – by Kitty Stratton

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The Art of the Dulcimer – A Mountain Tradition

 Kitty Stratton

Northeast Georgia is part of the Appalachian Mountain region and has a strong and rich heritage dating back to when its coves and mountains were first settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants. When these immigrants arrived they brought with them strong traditions of storytelling, folklore and music.

Their music was rooted in English and Scottish ballads and Irish reels and one of the main instruments used to play this music was the violin or fiddle.   As time went by it became difficult to find violin makers in the Appalachian Mountains and a need for an easier to make string instrument gave birth to the Appalachian or Mountain Dulcimer.

There is no previous recorded history of a dulcimer anywhere else in the world although it is related to other diatonic fretted string instruments.  It is even possible that its roots date back to the mediaeval psaltery a stringed harp-like instrument.

Today the dulcimer is regaining popularity and there are many, delightful recordings of music played on the dulcimer.  Some of my favorite music played on the dulcimer are the old time hymns.

I recently had the opportunity to take some beginning dulcimer lessons.  I had not yet purchased a dulcimer, thinking it might be wise to wait and see if it was a fleeting whim or a true interest.  On a beautiful winter morning I traveled over to Helen to the Smithgall Woods State Park to take my first mountain dulcimer lesson.

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Gwen Aumann, our dulcimer teacher for the afternoon has, “Discovering the joy of the Dulcimer”  written on the top of her business cards.  After 3 hours of her kind and patient instruction and hearing myself and the rest of the small group of beginners actually playing, “Boil them Cabbage Down” and the lovely hymn, “Nothing but The Blood of Jesus”, I felt I had truly discovered the joy of the dulcimer.  The dulcimer is not a difficult instrument to learn to play and there is definitely a feeling of joy playing with others.

To my surprise, Gwen had dulcimers for rent, for those not quite ready to make a financial commitment.  I was especially delighted by the “cardboard” dulcimer she had brought along as a loaner.  The sound it produced was very pleasant and I proudly headed home, with my very own cardboard dulcimer for a week!

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I had signed up for two lessons and will probably end up purchasing my own dulcimer. Gwen gave us good sound advice on the different types of dulcimers that are available for sale.  Depending on the sound you are looking for you will want to ask what type of wood a dulcimer is made from.  A cherry wood instrument will produce a brighter sound than say a walnut which is mellower. Dulcimers can vary tremendously in price, from something cheap you could purchase on EBay for example to an expensive performance dulcimer.

For anyone interested in learning to play the dulcimer either individually or in a group, email Gwen Aumann  Gwen.aumann@yahoo.com  you will definitely not be disappointed and you will discover the joy of playing the mountain dulcimer.

Exploring the “Land Beside the Water” by Kitty Stratton

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Exploring the “Land Beside the Water”

Kitty Stratton

When I was a child visiting my grandparents in Seneca, South Carolina I had no idea then, that the places I loved to visit were steeped in Cherokee history and folklore and Civil War History.

Oconee County, the county in South Carolina closest to Rabun County and separated by the Chattooga River, was named “Ae-quo-nee” by the Cherokees or “land beside the water”.   Oconee was a Cherokee Town at a location now called Oconee Station situated off of the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway or Hwy 11 near Walhalla, South Carolina.

One of my favorite places to visit as a child was Stumphouse Tunnel north of Walhalla off of Highway 28. My brothers & I would sing “She’ll be Coming around the Mountain” as my grandmother drove her Oldsmobile up the winding roads heading towards Stumphouse Tunnel.  Our anticipation and excitement were only dimmed slightly by the eeriness of the vast, cavernous entrance to this dark and dripping seemingly endless tunnel.  Hugh puddles of water made navigation difficult in the inky blackness and somehow we never had flashlights but we would edge each other forward until our older brother would grab us or make hideous sounds to terrify us back to the entrance.

 

STUMPHOUSE TUNNEL  S.C.

Stumphouse Tunnel is still there, sadly abandoned during the civil war because of lack of money.  The tunnel was part of the Blue Ridge Railroad system. It was started in 1852 to connect Charleston South Carolina by rail to Knoxville, Tennessee.  Stumphouse tunnel is 1617 feet long but unfortunately you cannot explore the full length.  There is a gate preventing exploration of the complete tunnel to protect visitors from falling rock from an airshaft further down the tunnel.

In the heat of midsummer the tunnel can be wonderfully cool and damp.  I remember being fascinated when my Uncle who taught Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University would tell us stories about the blue cheese making process that was started in the cool damp environment of the tunnel.  The tunnel is still owned by Clemson University but the cheese is no longer cured there!

As well as Stumphouse Tunnel in South Carolina there are also abandoned tunnels in Northeast Georgia.  In Rabun County there are the Warwoman and Dicks Creek tunnels.  These tunnels were started in 1854 but were abandoned due to lack of money in 1858.  What is most fascinating to us today is that these tunnels of this long abandoned railway system were built entirely with hand tools and human labor.  Many of the laborers were of Irish descent and lived close to the Stumphouse Tunnel in a small town, aptly named Tunnel Town.

Dicks Creek tunnel was finished about half way.  From the west end more of the tunnel was completed and extends 1400 feet into the mountain but because the slope of the tunnel goes downhill it has flooded.  The west end is not accessible to the public due to being located on private property.  The east end of the tunnel is much shorter, only about 59 feet.  The entrance is on Chattahoochee National Forest but is difficult to find.

Close to Warwoman Dell picnic area in Clayton you can find the east end of the Warwoman tunnel but the entrance was closed off by landslides and has not been reopened. There is still evidence of the old railway bed at Warwoman Dell.  The west end of the Warwoman tunnel was lost during road construction and grading many years ago.

If you are interested in bringing the past to life there are many reminders of the abandoned Blue Ridge or Black Diamond Railway in Rabun County.  The history is reflected in road names such as Black Diamond Road in the Warwoman Community or in the remains of the 30 to 40 foot tall stacked stone abutment on Warwoman Creek which was built to support a section of what could possibly have been one of the most scenic railways in the Southeastern United States.

Stumbling on N.E.Georgia’s Hidden History – written by Kitty Stratton

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Stumbling on N.E.Georgia’s Hidden History

When I first moved to Toccoa I had no idea of the rich history of the area.  I loved the sound of the lonesome train whistle in the night as it made it’s nightly passage from Atlanta northwards.  I already knew from reading local history that Toccoa had been the site of a coaling station for the Georgia Airline Railroad in it’s early history after the civil war.

During one of many hikes in the area I stumbled on historic puzzle pieces of  a time long gone.  Close to my home where the modern Amtrak & freight trains rush by on modern and efficient rails, there is evidence of an old railway cutting  The cutting runs in to a paved road,  that curves sharply, with steep drops on either side.  After talking with neighbors, I came to find out that this was not originally a road but in fact the remains of an old earthen train trestle.  It’s construction leaves you wondering  how much dirt must have been hauled to create this earthen trestle  over the North Broad River.   The earthen Trestle was built to  carry a train on  a single track of the old Airline-Railway, between 1871 and 1873.

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 “North Broad Curve” was located at a point where the single track crossed North Broad river as it turned south, on what is now known as Rock Quarry Circle, towards Currahee Mountain.

The sharp North Broad Curve came to be replaced by the “Wells Viaduct” and was constructed between the years 1915 to 1919.   The Chief Engineer of the project was W.H.Wells.  The trestle is the highest trestle on the line between Washington D.C. and New Orleans, Louisiana.

The trestle is approximately  1,400 feet long and is supported by ten reinforced concrete piers with heights of up to 200 feet above the valley of the North Fork of the Broad River.

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North Broad Trestle

Today the trestle can now be viewed from a public viewing area located off the Hwy 17 bypass that circles around Toccoa.  The public viewing point is in the Trestle Falls subdivision.  If you are lucky you might catch a photo of a train as it speeds over the trestle and across the North Broad River.

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View from Underneath the North Broad Trestle

For more adventurous hikers, the viewing area under the trestle can be reached from the Chattahoochee National Forest, Locust Stake ATV Trail System on the Trestle Loop.    Locust Stake Road can be reached from Rock Road off of the Hwy 17 bypass near  the county boundary between Habersham and Stephens County .  The ATV  Trail System is currently closed for maintenance and repair due to heavy rainfall.  Hikers can still access the trail system but must make sure when they park that they do not block any forest service gates.  Blocking a forest service gate can result in getting a ticket, so be warned!  For more information about the Trestle Loop trail visit the following website  http://www.fs.usda.gov

Published my First Children’s Read Aloud Book

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A day finally comes when you realize you don’t have forever to accomplish your dreams.

Maybe this doesn’t happen quite the way you imagine.   I could think of a thousand or more incidents that created a meandering pathway to the doorway of finally doing what I have always wanted to do.  Maybe it was having a broken ankle and finally taking the time to put my ideas down on paper, to take some photographs and just let an idea be born. Or maybe it was losing a ten year career job and feeling hopeless.

When you love something you want to share it and I have always loved children and animals and delighted in their innocence and wonder.   What better way to capture that love than to create something tangible as simple as a children’s book.   My true hope is that a parent, somewhere, will hold a child on their knee and read my book aloud and share the wonder!