Habersham County Checks All the Boxes
Apr 10, 2017 03:36PM
● By Tracy McCoy
If you were making a list of qualities and attributes for an ideal location to visit, what would that list look like? What makes a community attractive; what qualities make it stand out as a destination?
While geography is certainly an important component, “location… location… location” only leads off the menu of desired options. It’s what’s contained within that locale that entices visitors not only to come, but to stay awhile. (Perhaps decide to make it their second home, or even their retirement address?)
Habersham County, Georgia is a fantastic definition of the term “destination”. Read on…
It’s the places to see and visit that can make or break the deal. The more family-oriented a community is, the wider range of attractions it has, the greater the draw will be. Some folks seek to explore preserved local history, while others get all excited about shopping. Families with children look for play and recreational options, and others want to enjoy scenic vistas, fish, hike and get back to nature, while local arts and crafts are a tremendous draw. Festivals are popular attractions as well.
Once there, those guests need some place to chow down and many times they’re looking to enjoy foods different from what they can get back home. Whether home is close at hand, or on the other side of the continent, wherever they are at that moment is their world, while they’re there. They need a place to lay their heads; reasonably priced, comfortable lodging – motels, bed & breakfasts, rental cottages, campgrounds, even back-to-the-basics camping opportunities.
Just check the boxes then check out Habersham…!
The county was created in 1818 and was named for Colonel Joseph Habersham, whose former summer home still stands outside Clarkesville. Col. Habersham was a Georgia politician, Revolutionary War officer and was appointed by President George Washington as the country’s third Postmaster General.
Begin in the north end of the county, on U.S. Highway 441, where Habersham and Rabun Counties each share claim, in the famous town of Tallulah Falls. Here you’ll find the mighty gorge, which once thundered with majestic white waters, that thunders now instead with the feet of the many visitors who come year-round. This is where high wire artist Karl Wallenda once crossed the gorge on a cable. Guided tours to the bottom are offered at specific times, but pack your hiking shoes, water bottles and even something to replenish your starch levels. That’s one deep gorge.
Traveling south from Tallulah Falls, you’ll leave the four-lane highway at Hollywood – no, you haven’t strayed into California, although you will travel west, into the historic, charming town of Clarkesville. While the downtown area is contained within a few small blocks that can easily be walked and enjoyed, the town itself, actually a commercial historic district, is jam-packed with specialty shops, places to eat and art and antiques galleries. A number of historic buildings, some of them homes – The Henry Asbury House, the Baron-York Building, the Cornelius Church home, the Furr-Lambert House, the Mauldin House, Grace Church, to name a few – are just some of the 35 structures in Habersham County listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After all, the county will be 200 years old in 2018.
Back on Highway 441, you’ll detour west again just a short distance into Demorest. On one side of the street is the commercial historic district, with roots that date back to the mid-1800s. On the other side of the street is Piedmont College, which was founded in 1897. Demorest was known as a “Temperance Town”, so called because it was initially a settlement planned, financed and populated by followers of the U.S. 19th Century temperance movement. This group worked to outlaw consumption of alcoholic beverages. Early advertising referred to the growing town as a “city of refuge” from the problems of urban life.
Demorest today is a destination for learning and the arts, and a downtown that still retains and reflects its heritage.
Just a few short miles further south is Cornelia, a thriving town established where once moonshine still churned out its special elixir, deep in a forest, that in the 1870s became the fledgling town.
Most notable in the downtown area is a 22-foot red apple alongside the restored railway depot. The 5,200 pound bright red fruit is one of the world’s largest apple sculptures and pays homage to the importance of the apple in the growth of the area. Cornelia was where baseball legend Ty Cobb elected to spend his retirement years. In 1957, the town was also the base of operations for production of “The Great Locomotive Chase” that was filmed along the Tallulah Falls Railway. The line ran from Cornelia northward along the rim of Tallulah Gorge, all the way to Franklin, North Carolina.
Visitors in that day from other parts of Georgia and the south converged on the Cornelia Depot to travel on into the mountains. The town is known as “The Home of the Big Red Apple”, and still hosts “The Big Red Apple Festival” each autumn.
Not too far out from town, between Cornelia and Mount Airy, the next town to the south, is Chenocetah Mountain. Here, in 1936, during the depth of the Great Depression, workmen with the Works Progress Administration, quarried native granite and built a unique looking tower that assumed the name of the mountain. In the Cherokee language, “Chenocetah” translates “see all around”.
And see all around you can. From an elevation of 1,830 feet, add 54 more feet up to the observation room and the view is something you literally have to see to appreciate. Around the tower itself grows one of the largest stands of Rhododendron minor in the country. It was in 1984 that the National Register of Historic Places accepted the structure for inclusion. It remains as part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Chenocetah Tower is today the only stone fire tower in the state, and represents local pride, hometown history and homage to those who crafted that heritage.
The town of Mount Airy itself dates from 1874. The small burg began primarily as a summer retreat for wealthy families from Atlanta and Savannah, who sought refuge from the heat and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Over time, part-time summer visitors began to make the small hamlet their permanent home.
At the extreme southern end of the county is Alto, the smallest community, which actually shares land with neighboring Banks and Hall Counties.
Whether you jump onto Highway 441 at Tallulah Falls, or enter from the south at Alto, in between are 25 miles packed with all manner of opportunity for a great time. Perhaps you’ll find yourself passing through Habersham County, traveling to other destinations. Maybe you just need a day away from the rat race, or a change-of-pace weekend is on your radar. Or you might just feel like coming to stay for a few days, maybe a week. Possibly longer?
Whatever your travel plans, Habersham County rolls out the welcome mat and invites you to serve yourself from their smorgasbord of opportunities. Build your visit to suit yourself. Just scroll through the menu of possibilities, check off the boxes and Habersham County will be waiting to welcome you.
By John Shivers