“It was a good country to come from, but a hard country to get to”
Most travelers, have little trouble finding Rabun County, Georgia, today; but that was not always the case. What remains one of the jewels of North East Georgia was not always so convenient, but it has taken two- and- three- quarter’s centuries of early adopters, through a rich and colorful history, to create and preserve our location as one of the most enduring tourist destinations in the South. We seem so close to everything, few travelers could believe how deeply historic travel roots run through our mountains. Today, most travelers find us the high tech way, using TripAdvisor, and GPS at every intersection, but our origins were decidedly low tech. Our early tourists moved through the County, much as they continue to do into the present day, all be it without the bells and whistles, and in truth were really not tourists at all. The Cherokee Nation ranged from the Appalachian Mountains all the way to the Mississippi River, and from the Ohio River to the Piedmont of present –day Georgia and Alabama. This area of some 100,000 square miles was first inhabited by a Mound builders, a civilization beginning in about 2500 BC and lasting to about 1400 AD. By the time of first Spanish contact with the Cherokee and the beginning of epidemics (1697) there may have been as many as 50,000 members of the Nation.
The movement on North- South routes convenient through the Appalachian Mountains was the Cherokees natural transportation corridor crisscrossed by trails connected villages near present day Franklin, North Carolina, to Hiawassee, Georgia and all along the Chattooga River. Of the many large and small villages established along these routes, the closest, Turura, (a name thought to be a variation on “Tallulah”) was in the Tallulah Falls area. Continuing north, present day Clayton, Georgia was once known by the Cherokees as “Dividing’s”, several miles north is present day Mountain City, Georgia originally named “Passover”. Each of these names were descriptive of geography as well as the natural flow of travel into and out of the area. As in the case of “Passover” one would passover through the Gap in essence crossing the Eastern Continental Divide.
Military tourism, not typical of today’s Priceline Negotiator was the order of the day, and each group traversed the well-worn Cherokee path. Early European explorers, the first real tourists, who traversed this gateway through Appalachia may have included Hernado De Soto (1496-1592) who in 1540’s, hunting for gold (on his way from Florida like many travelers today) ventured through the area.The History of American Indians in 1775. Each of these travelling expeditions described what they found. In his account of the area, Adair described “French Waters” or “Herbert’s Spring”. According to his account, Carolina traders into the Cherokee Nation, after exceeding their planned stay, reported that whosoever drank of Herbert’s Spring could not possibly leave the Cherokee Nation for seven years. This location is thought to be along this same path near present day Mountain City, Georgia, and is possibly Darling Springs today.
“Whosoever drank of Herbert’s Spring could not possibly leave the Cherokee Nation for seven years”
The military adventures continued during the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), as French, British and American forces moved through the area. The British trudged from Charleston over the Chattooga (1759-1761) during the so called Cherokee Wars. They visited their forts along the Tennessee River. Again, British and Americans visited during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). We were indeed very fortunate to see such early travel to the region, while unfortunately it continued to squeeze out the Cherokee, it also sketched out an area of rich and diverse resources. These early adventures certainly manufactured interest, and the influx of land and fortune seekers it brought put pressure on the Cherokee residents, until control of the region ended for the Cherokee and the ceded lands were organized as Rabun County in 1819. The first land rush began to this land, soon followed by the gold rush when substantial amounts were found in the 1830’s, far earlier than the ‘49ers began our Manifest Destiny to the West. All of these events and the influx of people produced reports and stories that lead to the advent of very early tourism for tourism sake.
As early as 1819, the September Georgia Journal firmly established the new era of tourism to the area when it published a description of Tallulah Falls as “one of the greatest known curiosities in the United States”.
|Currier and Ives-Tallulah Falls|
“Tallulah is destined to be the resort of the South”
|York Ad c 1907|
In 1854 construction went forward on two tunnels in Rabun County to connect the Blue Ridge Railroad connection into South Carolina. While North East Georgia saw no Civil War action, it squelched any railroad progress during the War. At the conclusion of the war, numerous railroad schemes were planned as travelers once again began to venture to the area. Athens Banner- Watchman announced that “Tallulah is destined to be the resort of the South”. Tallulah Falls was one of the largest attractions in the South at that time, with as many as 2000 visitors hiking the Gorge on a typical Sunday afternoon. Justice Logan Bleckley (1827-1909) once wrote about Rabun County, “It was a good country to come from, but a hard country to get to”. That, in ways, has a bit of truth to it, even today. Getting around our area can be difficult at times, especially when you get off the beaten track and feel that you have fallen into a scene from Deliverance. But that is part of the adventure, and part of the fun that has captivated! Many people in the early days arrived for the cool summer climate and to escape malaria-carrying mosquitos or the typhoid fever epidemics that periodically racked the large cities. Temperate climate, fresh air and clean spring waters were the best antidote for the respiratory infections and diseases of the day. There were limits, however, our Inn, The York House, offered accommodation to guests after about 1910 with the caveat “no consumptives taken”.
|York Ad c 1910|
The rails that began expanding access to the region did so in an efficient and inexpensive way. For as little as a $3.35 round trip ticket from Atlanta, visitors swarmed into the area for the day, week or months at a time.
|1904 Excursion to Tiger|
|Cliff House c 1906|
The railroad fueled swell of tourism encouraged an era of grand hotels and boardinghouses to be developed all though out the area. Many of the wealthy adventurers we not used to roughing it apparently, and the abundant supply of trees kept the many sawmills busy during this railroad and lodging building boom. By 1900 up to seventeen hotels and boarding houses were available in Tallulah Falls alone.
|TFR 1918 Timetable|
These full service hotels and boarding houses drew visitors following railroad progress along the line. Several, including the Dickerson House in Wolffork Valley, Rabun Gap continued operating faithfully for each new “Season” of visitors into the 1970’s.
“Hydro- Electric Company” survivors
|Tallulah Lodge c 1904-1906|
While tourism worked its magic in the area, so too did the tremendous hydraulic resources of the rivers. It didn’t take long for the “Hydro- Electric Company”, Georgia Railway and Power Company (now Georgia Power) to dam up the entire operation in the 1912-1913 period streaming electricity to Atlanta. Power from hydroelectric sources in nearby Dillard reached our Rabun Gap location in 1907. This operation was the beginning of the end to the major attraction of Tallulah Falls raw power, and thus the decline of the grand hotels and lodging in the area began. While the dam operation was the largest Hydro power operation until the TVA, the number one producer of electricity in Georgia for many years, it still impacted tourism in the Tallulah Falls area which was essentially finished off with the fire of 1921 which destroyed almost all available lodging. Perhaps offsetting this loss, was the construction of many homes along the newly minted shorelines along Lakes Rabun and Burton. The Cliff House constructed by “the father of Tallulah Falls”, Rufus Moss survived until 1937 when fire sealed its doom as it did throughout the years to the rest of the areas lodging operations. Now only the Rufus Moss House (1880) survives in Tallulah Falls, its days of a great lodging area now passed.
|Chance Vickers and W S Long Tallulah Falls c 1905|
|York House c 1907|
Sadly, our Inn, the York House established in 1896 is now one of the last surviving examples of this great era.With the distinction as the only lodging place on the National Register of Historic Places in the area, the oldest continuous business in the County, we are also the oldest continuously operating Inn in the State of Georgia. At the time it was established, York advertised its availability, being only a “five hours drive from Tallulah Falls” (a trip that today approaches 15 minutes!). With the arrival of the railroad and a Rabun Gap stop, what began as two rooms in the original chestnut log cabin, transformed with the help of railroad travel in 1907 to 26 rooms.
|York House Inn today|
The trip from Tallulah Falls was only 1 hour 24 minutes to the Rabun Gap stop just 400 yards from the York House front door! Hoping off the train, weary travelers were “driven” to the York House front door. Travelers, restrained only by the available timetable of the railroad, ventured into the area to spend a few days, weeks or even months exploring. We are constantly reminded of the “legs” of this era of tourism, as we are visited by families who have been visiting with us for upwards of 80 years. Several examples of Inns of the later 1920’s period remain operational today as well, namely the Lake Rabun Hotel and Beechwood Inn.
The first automobile
|Traveler to York House 1930|
The first automobile was seen in Rabun County in 1911, and with it came the slow demise of rail traffic ( Tallulah Falls Railroad ceased operation in 1961). Road improvements were however still very rough and it was not until the 1930’s that paving was completed that could carry travelers from Atlanta to Franklin, North Carolina.
|1st car up new road to Blackrock 1931|
|Tallulah Gorge Lookout c 1930|
“Where Spring Spends the Summer”
Fortunately, the vast government holdings of available land was the answer to a wilderness prayer. Today Rabun County is graced with the largest holding of State Parks in Georgia, and the Chattahoochee National Forest. An incredible 60% of the County remains in State or National Forest or protected by the 20% holding of Georgia Power. The north-central portion of the County is the watershed of the Little Tennessee River which flows northward from Mountain City onward to eventually join the Mississippi River. The Eastern Continental Divide runs through Rabun County, providing mild weather throughout the warmer months of the year, leading to the county’s slogan “Where Spring Spends the Summer”. This same Divide accounts for the “Smokies” on mountains as well as our standing as the rainiest County East of the Mississippi. An astounding average for rainfall is about 70 inches and the wettest annual rainfall 103.51 inches was set in 1979. No wonder just about anything put in the ground grows!
It was estimated that something on the order of 50,000 guests stayed in the County in 1929, today Tallulah Gorge State Park is ranked in the top ten parks nationally, and alone is visited by over 260,000 annually. Tallulah continues to draw those interested in this unique eco system. Recently our guests included entomologists from the British Museum collecting in the area and visitors to the Gorge were treated to discover the first nesting group of Peregrine Falcons in the Gorge for the last 80 years! We continue our rich history of serving travelers, along this same historic route, flocking to the area to get away from coastal heat in the summer months. As a primary corridor from urban areas, you might be surprised that a getaway can be so close by. What used to take days of travel is but a few hours from Atlanta, Greenville SC or Asheville NC. The County also draws seasonal visitors from all over Florida. Today’s globalism has drawn many nationalities, as visitors from China, England, France and Germany roam through the area, solidifying our international destination credentials.
Today, we have the features and benefits for a wide range of activities. Many visit our numerous State Parks and a National Forest, and explore hiking, waterfalls, fishing, boating, kayaking and white water rafting. There are still times of the year during the periods of aesthetic water release where you can experience some of Tallulah Gorge as it may have appeared to early travelers. It isn’t just about nature anymore.
|Harvest at Tiger Mountain Vineyard|
|Golden Memories Auctions|
Each of our visitors, enjoy the North East Georgia experience today just as much as they have for so many years. While many come to camp, or to spend time at their own lake home or cabin, we also feature many of the regions finest Inns. There is really no better way to experience the area than by staying for a night or more at the survivors from the golden era of travel. We all welcome you with fine amenities, farm to table meals and even wine “happier hours”. A visit to our neck of the woods is just the answer for people seeking the same authentic experience in North East Georgia that we have been providing literally for centuries and since the advent of tourism.