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Habersham County, Georgia History

The Settlement and Environment


Habersham County, Georgia, was organized in 1818 from lands largely taken from the Cherokee Indians on their removal by Governor George R. Gilmer. However, parcels of land were also taken from Franklin County and Jackson County to form Habersham as it was first created. Later, parts of Habersham County were taken to be added to the counties of Cherokee, Rabun, White, Lumpkin, Banks, and Stephens.

There were several white settlements in the county prior to 1800. One of these settlements was located near Providence Church, in Batesville; one was near Clarkesville; and another was on Broad River near Wofford's Shoals.

While there were scattered settlements in the county prior to 1818 and 1819, the county was not fully open for white settlers until the Cherokee Indians Cessions of these years, except that portion of the county lying around Lake Russell. This area was settled about 1800 and was obtained in the Cherokee cession of the "Four Mile Purchase" in 1804. Until 1818, the area was part of Franklin County.

Habersham County was named for a Revolutionary War patriot, Joseph Habersham. He was later Postmaster General of the United States. He was a native of Savannah and, according to the Reverend George White, in Historical Collections of Georgia (1854), "among all the patriots of Georgia there were none more devoted to liberty."

The early settlers in what was then Franklin, now part of Habersham, County came for land. Each family head received one hundred fifty acres of land, plus fifty acres for each minor child. After the 1818 and 1819 cessions, the land was surveyed into land lots, and these were distributed by means of a lottery to citizens of this state. Many citizens receiving these lots in the Cherokee Land Lottery of 1827 moved to the county and made homes on their land. About 1830, gold was discovered in what was then Habersham, now White, county, and many seeking gold settled in the county. About 1880, several hundred German and Swiss settlers came here to raise grapes, make wine, and farm. These settlers had come for many varied reasons. Many came because of the free land that the state had given to them after having taken it from the Indians. Others chose to come because they like the foot-hills and mountains. The German-Swiss felt the high plateau was ideal for grape-raising and were reminded of their native Switzerland.

The county grew rapidly. Large plantations with many slaves were developed in the lowlands of what arc now Banks and Stephens Counties and in Nacoochee Valley in what is now White County. Many distinguished families moved here from Virginia and South Carolina. About 1830, when gold was discovered on Dukes Creek (then in Habersham County), the county was filled with gold seekers. There were approximately 3,000 people in the county in 1830.

After 1830 there came to be a great interest in military matters. In 1833, the Habersham Mountaineers were incorporated; in 1834, the Union Rifle Company; and in 1836, the Habersham Rangers. These militia companies were largely social. In 1841, the Habersham Blues were incorporated; and, in 1850, the Habersham Volunteers Mounted Infantry was organized.

There was also early development of the industrial part of the county. Iron was mined near Demorest by the Habersham Mining Company, incorporated in 1821. The Habersham Iron Works and Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1837. The iron ore was mined near Demorest and carried to Habersham Mills where the old foundry was located. It is believed that Habersham Mills made cannon for the Confederate Army during the War Between the States.

There was a lime kiln near Antioch Church, where the limestone was burned to make lime. But of the minerals found in Habersham County, none has been known as long as that of gold. The early settlers found gold trinkets among the Indians of the mountains, and their eyes were soon attracted by the glistening particles in streams.

According to White in Statistics of the State of Georgia (1854), the principal mines were Loud's vein, Gordon's, Lewis's, Holt's, Richardson's, White and McGie's, Gordon and Lumsdcn's, William's, Little John's, and Horshaw's. R. J. Nesbitt, in Georgia: Her Resources and Possibilities (1895), points out that much of the gold from the mines never reached the mint and that many mines, which were profitably worked for years, remained idle or undeveloped in the years following the War Between the States. Other minerals available in Habersham county were listed in White's Statistics as cynanite, garnet, carnelian, augite, asbestos, tourmaline, ruby, and plumbago.

These new settlers were usually very religious men. They were mostly Baptists and Methodists. It is said that the main difference between the Baptists and Methodists in those days was that the Methodists built schools and held church in the school house, while the Baptists built churches and held school in the church. In 1850 there were eighteen Baptist churches in the county one Episcopal church, nineteen Methodist churches, and one Presbyterian church.

According to the census of 1850, statistics were as follows: dwellings, 1338; families, 1338; white males, 3962; white females, 3713; free colored males, 2; total free population, 7677; slaves, 1218; deaths, 17; farms, 732; manufacturing establishments, 5; value of real testate, $327,003; value of personal estate, $1,083,771.

Prior to the War Between the States, most of the slaves resided on the plantations in the river valleys. Smith, in his Story of Georgia, describes these plantations as follows:

A large plantation was a little kingdom. The overseer was in charge, a black driver was under him, there were hoehands, plowmen, quartermasters, cooks, gardeners, blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, a midwife, nurses, dairy maids, spinners, weavers, seamstresses, chicken- and turkey-raisers, and even a gang of little negroid called the "drop-shot gang" which carried water and food to the hands in the field. The system of working was exact. There was a horn blown, or a bell rung, as carry as it was possible to sec, and by sunrise the hands were in the fields. The work was steady until noon, then the mules were fed and the hands ate their midday meal; work was resumed and continued until dark. On Saturday the rations of three and (one) half pounds of bacon, one peck of meal and one quart of molasses were given to each adult. At the quarter each Negro family had a cabin, a garden or patch, some chickens, and often a pig. The overseer's orders were imperative and absolute and were never resisted. He knew his own interests too well to punish injuriously a slave to overwork him or neglect him.

Between 1850 and 1860 the county diminished. Part of Lumpkin had been cut off Habersham in 1831. In 1857 a large part was cut off into Banks. The Line Baptist Church between Cornelia and Homer was the old boundary between Habersham and Jackson Counties. In 1858, White County was created out of Habersham. Later, the territory north of the ridge was lost to Rabun in a lawsuit, and Stephens Count)' was created in 1905. However, in 1860 the county was still larger than it is today. At the beginning of the War Between the States, Habersham County contained about two-thirds of what is now Stephens County and claimed to the Tailulah River north of the mountains in what is now Rabun County.

During the years 1870-1900, the count)' progressed industrially as well as educationally and agriculturally Railroads were built. Piedmont College was founded. Vineyards and apple orchards were set out in the county

About 1880 there was a wave of immigration from Germany and Switzerland to Habersham County These people were industrious farmers and wine makers. This growth brought trouble, with the famous "courthouse war" as the result.

Clarkesville was the original county seat, but it was small and off the main line of the railway. Toccoa was growing fast, and its people wanted to move the county seat from Clarkesville. At that time, the courthouse was in the middle of the square, and one night it was blown up with dynamite by persons unknown. However, Clarkesville kept the county seat. People "below the ridge" caused Stephens County to be created so that the)' too might have a county seat. In the meantime, a new courthouse was built in Clarkesville.

The desire for a railroad system to pass through Habersham County had been considered for many years. The railroad companies, seeking a passage from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the sea, had been interested in running a line of tracks through the county Before the War Between the States, they had tried to get a railway from Walhalla, South Carolina, by way of Clayton and on into the mountains. The way was stopped, but some of the old tunnels and tills still exist to the cast of Clayton.

In 1856 The Clarkesville Tennessee Railroad Company was chartered by the General Assembly of Georgia with John Stanford, Phillip Martin, George Kollock, William Alley, and George D. Phillips as incorporators. It was given authority to construct a railroad "from the village of Clarkesville through the Hightower Gap to the Tennessee line near the copper mines." The railroad was never built.

The Athens and Cornelia Railroad Company was incorporated by the General Assembly of Georgia in 1890 with Rufus K. Pearce, J. H. Rucker, Asbury H. Hodgson, H. L. Smith and Peter King as its incorporators. It was never built.

The Airline Railway built what is now used by the Southern Railroad around 1875. They planned to run this line from south of Gainesville, by Gillsville, Homer, and Camesville, into Anderson, South Carolina; but the cost of obtaining a right-of-way and building the necessary bridges across the rivers in Banks County caused them to take the ridge route through Cornelia.

For many years there had been a desire to run a track from Athens through the gap at Rabun Gap into Tennessee by way of Franklin, North Carolina. The road was constructed first from Athens to Lula, then followed the Airline to Cornelia, and on to Tailulah Falls, Clayton, and finally Franklin. These roads went bankrupt; and the state, which had guaranteed the bonds, operated them for a while and then sold them.

From the earliest records of the white man as he ventured into Indian Territory, the land of what is now Habersham County has been renowned for its healthful climate, beautiful scenery, and rich natural resources. In a report prepared by Dr. Jasper G. Woodroof for the federal government in 1937, we find the following words:

Among the natural resources of the Hills of Habersham are crystal springs, swift streams, picturesque waterfalls, murmcring pines and hemlocks, stately hardwood trees, and some of the most gorgeous laurel, rhododendron, azaleas and dogwood to be found in the state. From these can be had a panorama of colors of leaves in the fall, a show)' display of fruit in spring, and a haven from the heat in summer. These conditions furnish an ideal setting for a "playground" for the state in summer, including hiking, natural study, fishing, camping, and picnicing.

Numbers of mountains once roamed by the Cherokees are distinctive and abound in legends. Tray, or Trail, Mountain, the king of the Blue Ridge, was so-named by the Cherokees because they were in the habit of ascending to the summit, a height of 5,000 feet above sea level, to watch for the approaching enemy. Other mountains include Yellow, Crow, Alec, Stone, Black, Grassy, Chimney, Goshen, Erwin, Powel, Aoram, and Tailulah Gap (History and Resources, p. 28). Chenocetah Mountain, which lies partly in the city of Cornelia, is Cherokee for "sec all around," and, when on the mountain with the other mountain ranges encircling it, one can understand the pictorial beauty and exactness of the Indian language. The elevation of the mountain is 1,829 feet. Local residents call it "Tower Mountain" after the tower built on it in the 1930's by the Public Works Administration. On some maps the name may be Griffin Mountain.

Rivers and creeks wind their way through the 290 square miles within the boundaries of the county. The Soque River rises in the northwest section of the county  on Goshen Mountain and swings far to the east until it runs into the Chattahoochee River in the Fork Militia District. It has its entire course in Habersham County. The Tailulah and Tugalo Rivers form natural boundaries for the northeast corner of the county, while the Chattahoochee forms a natural boundary between Habersham and White Counties.

There are four lakes in the county: Russell, which was named for the Russell family, Chief Justice Richard B. Russell, Sr., and Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr.; Habersham, which is near the head of the Soque River and furnishes power for Habersham Mills; Nancytown, on which a dam was constructed in the 1930's during the Roosevelt Administration and which, along with Russell Lake, now lies within the Chattahoochee National Forest; and Democrat, which lies within the city limits of Demorest and furnishes water for the town. At one time ice skaters used the lake in the winter; but either the lake has become deeper or the climate more mild, for the lake never freezes hard enough now for such sport.

There are thirteen creeks within the county: Mauldin Mill, Rapor, Sutton Mill, Beaverdam, Hollow Bank, Deep, Panther, Hazel, Mud, Glade, Sautee, and Shoal (History and Resources of Habersham, p. 28). There is a state park at Panther Creek, which is on the road from Clarkesville to Clayton.

The Tailulah Falls are formed by a stream which is the western branch of the Tugalo River, and its rapids are about ten miles above its junction with the Chattooga River. The Tailulah River passes through a ridge of mountains and has banks of huge rock, with sides often perpendicular and smooth (Statistics of the State of Georgia, George White, 1854). Prior to 1913, when the Tailulah River was diverted around the falls by a tunnel, there were six falls ranging in height from sixteen to eighty-nine feet. The area contained mineral springs also. A swinging bridge was built across the gorge near the bottom for tourists, and during the summer months excursion trains brought tourists from nearby as well as from distant cities such as New Orleans or Jacksonville (History and Resources, p. 18-19). Among the interesting sights which were seen were Hawthorne's Pool, 100 feet deep; Tempesta Falls, 76 feet high; Hurricane Falls (known as the Niagara of the South), 91 feet high; Ocean Falls, 47 feet high; Bridal Veil Falls, 35 feet high; Horseshoe Bend, where the course of the river formed a perfect horseshoe, 1,000 feet below the canyon's rim; Lover's Leap, 700 feet high and legendary in Indian lore; Devil's Pulpit, 750 feet high; Council Rocks (last court of the Cherokees), 800 feet above the bed of the river; and ribbon Cascade, 1,000 feet high (History and Resources, p. 51).  Tallulah Gorge, which was cut by the Tailulah River, is noted both for its scenic beauty and for its historical significance. To descend to the river at the bottom of the gorge enables one to sec some of the most beautiful scenery in Georgia. The gorge is three miles long and from 600-1000 feet in depth (Habersham County Sketch Plan, p. 19).

In Georgia, Historical and Industrial, published in 1901, several interesting facts are mentioned concerning Habersham county (which at that time included that part of Stephens County which had not been cut off). There were 224,857 acres of land, 74,779 of which were under cultivation. The main products were cotton, corn, wheat, oats, rye, sorghum, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, field-peas, berries, fruits (of which apples and peaches brought the best profits), and melons. Few forage crops were raised because the native grasses supplied abundant pasture without them. 2000 lbs. of clover to the acre were produced without any special effort. Timber consisted of white oak, post oak, maple, hickory, beech, walnut, elder and pine. There were six saw-mills operating as well as cotton mills, flour and grist mills, and a woolen mill. There were five brandy distilleries.

According to the Census of 1900, the following statistics were available: white males, 5870; white females, 5942; colored males, 869; colored females, 923; domestic animals in barns and enclosures (not on farms or ranges), 91 calves, 46 steers, 2 bulls, 281 dairy cows; 203 horses, 40 mules, 1 donkey, 4 sheep, 498 swine, and 3 goats.

The land has always been the focal point of the citizens of Habersham County. A dedication to a rural life style has been a part of the heritage since its earliest beginnings. Even with a shifting of interest to industry, the small towns have remained loyal to the county and work toward making it a strong force throughout the state.


Source:  Joseph Habersham Historical Collections.



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