North Georgia on the mind

Published 3:52 pm Monday, June 1, 2015

Contributed Photo/Jo Voigt Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site

Contributed Photo/Jo Voigt
Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site

Trippin With Jo Logo
Not too long ago we lucked into a very affordable off-season deal for a week at Silverleaf’s Apple Mountain Resort in Clarksville, Georgia about 3-and-a-half hours away from Elizabethton, a drive that takes you through beautiful country. Even though it was the middle of November, the weather was nearly perfect and we had a lovely, roomy condo in a beautiful resort.
Having done our homework, we had a list of nearby places to visit. Our first venture was to Dahlonega where we enjoyed going through the Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site in the public square, housed in the 1836 Lumpkin County Court House, the oldest courthouse in Georgia. A film tells of “America’s First Gold Rush” in the northeast mountains of Georgia that took place in 1829, twenty years before the California gold rush.
The museum depicts the gold rush through exhibits of nuggets, golddust, Dahlonega minted gold coins, mining apparatus, and photographs of early mining activities and the people involved. Dahlonega thrived and a U.S. Branch Mint opened in 1838, coining more than six million dollars in gold before closing in 1861. Examples of some of these coins are on display in a safe.
The public square affords shopping in some unique shops and a choice of tempting restaurants and cafes. It is a very quaint and welcoming atmosphere.
A visit to the Dahlonega Consolidated Gold Mines was a real treat. The mine closed in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war, mining resumed and continued until the early 20th Century when the price of gold was fixed at $35 an ounce, making mining unprofitable. That is quite a difference from today when gold is nearly unaffordable for most of us. Visitors can take a 45 minute tour of the mine and learn how gold was mined and the many dangers involved. The tour was well worth the time. There is also the opportunity to try your hand at panning for gold and discover that it really is work.
After a short trip to Ingle’s for a rotisserie chicken, some salad and vegetables, we were in for the night and a good rest to venture out the next day.
A great blue sky and sunshine greeted us the morning we set out for Helen. On the way, we took a fortuitous wrong turn that took us to Smith Lake in Unicoi
State Park, near Helen. The lake was like a mirror that reflected the beautiful trees, blue sky and white clouds — a perfect photo op.
We headed back toward Helen which we by-passed for the moment to go to Anna Ruby Falls in the Chattahoochee National Forest (NOTE: If you’re 62 or older and have the National Parks “Golden Pass Passport,” you get in free). The 0.4 mile hike back to the falls is a gentle incline leading to the base of the falls and takes about 30 minutes depending on how fast or slow you hike. There are benches provided along the way to rest and enjoy the scenery. The Lion’s Eye Trail is equipped with Braille signs that interpret various features of the area for those who are sight challenged.
After the Civil War, the land surrounding and including the falls was purchased by Colonel John H. “Captain” Nichols who named the falls in honor of his only surviving child who he adored — “Anna Ruby.”
Anna Ruby Falls marks the juncture of the Curtis and York Creeks. Both creeks begin on Tray Mountain and are fed by underground springs, rain and snow. Curtis Creek drops 153 feet and York Creek 50 feet to form the twin falls known as Anna Ruby Falls.
From the falls, South Creek tumbles downhill to Unicoi Lake and then to the Chattahoochee River. Its journey continues south, eventually joining the Appalachicola River in Florida and ending its 550 mile journey in the Gulf of
Mexico. The hike back to the falls and the falls is a breathtaking experience with the rush of the falls and the river and the flora along the trail. It is well worth the time and energy to see.
We returned to Helen which was originally Cherokee land that was called “Land of 1,000 Waterfalls”. When the white settlers gradually moved in, the Cherokee were pushed out. The settler influx necessitated turning trails into turnpikes to make access easier for people to get there for the “Gold Rush”. The “Rush” cooled down for the period of the Civil War. Then, with the reopening of the mines, progress continued. Around 1910 commercial interests began when the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad built a rail line up the Chattahoochee River to Helen. The line was built to transport the wood harvested by the Byrd-Matthews Lumber Company to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. In 1913 the town was officially named Helen McComb where the lumber company was built. Helen was the teenage daughter of Mr. McComb , manager of the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad and later owner of the Byrd-Matthews Lumber Company. The town became known as Helen. The lumber company changed hands, and by 1928, all the land owned or leased by owners, the Moore Brothers, was stripped of trees. The sawmill closed in 1931.
In 1925 the U.S. government purchased the stripped land to become part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. It came under the protection as part of the National Forest system which allowed the forest to gradually regain its natural beauty.
With the closure of the mines, the lumber industry and the sawmill, Helen began a decline. By 1968, it was in pretty bad shape when four businessmen decided that something had to be done. They hired local artist, John Kollack of Clarksville to come up with a plan. His idea was to turn the town into a Bavarian Village as he remembered when he lived in Germany. Through his expertise and efforts Helen underwent a complete makeover and became a Bavarian Village and gained popularity. In 2013, the people of Helen celebrated their 100th birthday. Today they host around two million visitors a year and have become the third most visited place in Georgia, following Atlanta #1 and Savannah #2.
While we were in the magical Alpine/Bavarian Village, we enjoyed a delicious meal at “Old Heidelberg German Restaurant and Lounge.” After lunch we meandered through various unique shops, some with a European flavor and found some unusual items to bring home. Just walking in and among the buildings, decorated for Christmas, was a pleasure. Not all of the shops were open, being off season, but enough to keep looking — and buying.
There are a number of wineries in the area. We visited three on our way out and outside of town and found some very nice wines. We also found a wonderful pottery combined with a winery. What a perfect ending to a fabulous day.

Next: The rest of the Georgian Northeast Mountain saga.
Safe and Happy Trippin’

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