Curious About Helen, Ga History? We’ve got all the info right here!
The first settlers in and around Helen, GA were American Indians called Moundbuilders, after their demise between 1450-1500 the Cherokee Indians moved in and named this area “Land of 1,000 Waterfalls”. For the next 300 years the Cherokees called Helen, GA home, until the American Revolutionary War. At that time, Andrew Pickens came in and burned down the Cherokee village, just south of the city of Helen.
The Unicoi Turnpike, Hwy 17 & 75, was finished by James Wyly, & others, around 1813 and ran through Cherokee country until 1819 when the white settlers forced the Indians to give up their land around the turnpike to the state of Georgia.
In March of 1829 a Georgia newspaper reported a gold producing mine near Loudsville, GA and within a year thousands of people would move to the area marking the first of the America’s Gold Rushes. Many small towns sprang up all over the area housing mostly poor squatters who were known as the “Twenty-Niners”. They left as quickly as they came following the gold belt south to Dahlonega. The mining operations continued, however, on a much smaller scale, until 1857 when hydraulic mining was introduced. This type of mining destroyed a great deal of land near Helen and was eventually outlawed by the state of Georgia because of its destructive nature.
The Railroad Arrives and Makes History In Helen, Ga…
Around 1910 commercial interests began when the Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad built a rail line up the Chattahoochee River to Helen. This line was built to transport the wood that the Byrd Mathews Lumber Company excavated from the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. In 1913 the town of Helen, where the lumber company was built, is officially named. Helen McComb was the teenage daughter of Mr. McComb, who was the Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad manager and later owner of Byrd Mathews Lumber Company, the town of Helen was named after her. Helen was also the niece of John E. Mitchell, and affluent real estate developer in the area.
In 1917 the Byrd Mathews sawmill sold out to Morse Brothers of New York. Their efficient way of doing things launched an extension of feeder rails that ran west through to Blood Mountain and north to Tate City. They harvested the remaining uncultivated forests in north Georgia and by 1928 all the land owned or leased by the Morse Brothers where stripped of trees. The mill ran with very little labor before shutting its doors in 1931.
The Chattahoochee National Forest Is Formed Along With Unicoi State Park…
By the 1950’s the Georgia (now Chattahoochee) National Forest was formed and Unicoi State Park became an area attraction, so much so the state paved State Route 75. Late in the 1960’s the park had steady traffic coming in, but no one stopping to notice Helen, GA.
At Westmorland Steakhouse in downtown Helen four businessmen sat down to lunch. On this day in 1968 these men decided they needed something to make all the visitors of Unicoi State Park stop at their establishments. Helen had become rundown and in need of a facelift. The men remembered the success of Hamilton, a neighboring town, after they painted their storefronts. They decided to call local artist, John Kollack of Clarkesville, to come up with a color scheme. It was Kollack who came up with the idea of having Helen resemble a Bavarian village out of Germany. He spent many years in the German military and thought the idea would spark the interest of the park’s visitors.
Needless to say, in 1972, the small town of Helen came to life once again. The men decide that they needed much more than just a paint job, they agreed to hold “events” in Helen, such as Oktoberfest & the Annual Hot-Air Balloon Race, to keep visitors coming back year after year.
Although Helen has had its moments of uncertainty the quaint little town has grown in such popularity that it hosts over 2 million visitors each year. In 2013 Helen will be celebrating its 100th Birthday, the 40th Annual Hot-Air Balloon Race, as well as, the 43rd Annual Oktoberfest Celebration.
HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!
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