Archives of Gilmer County


 
Archives of Gilmer County
From the editors of
Roadside Georgia
Established in 1832. Named in honor of George Rockingham Gilmer, "Indian fighter", member of the state and U.S House, and governor during Georgia's gold rush. As a lieutenant in the Georgia Militia, Gilmer personally supervised the construction of Standing Peachtree, perhaps the most famous of the frontier forts in Georgia.

Characterized by a beautiful valley stretching between and among the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, people are surprised that Gilmer County ranks among the earliest settled spots in Georgia and probably the Southeast. Evidence of such, noted by state geologist W. S. McCallie in 1929 indicates that he found a rather large number of some form of Early Woodlands petroglyphs in the county that year near Bear Den Mountain (since destroyed).

In 1566 the Spaniard Moyano visited the area a number of times in an attempt to establish Catholic missions, none successful. References exist to a number of colonial roads running through the area of Gilmer County. An "old Virginia Road" is mentioned in writing in a letter dated 1731, and another dated 1736 speaks of a road from Augusta to "cheroke[sic] country" which probably passed through the county.

Ellijay, Gilmer County's seat lies where the Ellijay and Cartecay Rivers form the Coosawattee. From this point the Coosawattee begins a rapid descent to Carter's Lake. The derivation of Ellijay has been lost, but there are many possibilities. Most favored by the citizens of the town, not for historical but poetic reasons is that it comes from the Cherokee Elatsi-yi or place of green earth. Numerous early references to the town exist. It appears in South Carolina records under a slightly different spelling as early as 1755. The explorer and naturalist William Bartram, whom many believe to be one of the first white men in North Georgia (1773-1778), spelled it Allagae.

As early as 1765 records exist of whites encroaching in the area of Talking Rock(originally Gilmer, now Pickens County) and others followed, sporadically at first. The Cherokee, who controlled the land from about 1650, allowed the Federal Highway to be built (completed 1805). It ran through the south end of the county.

Development began along the road, which followed a Cherokee trail from present-day Ringgold to Vann's Ferry on the Chattahoochee River. Fort Talking Rock, one of the infamous Cherokee Forts was built north of and adjacent to the Trippe House around this time. Additional homes in the area include Carter's Quarters, built c. 1800 and the Harnage House(and Tavern) where the Tate House now stands.

The Cherokee Chief Whitepath lived 5 miles north of Ellijay. A warrior, it was Whitepath and Chief John Ross who swam across the Tallapoosa River and stole the Creek canoes prior to the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, ensuring a victory for Andrew Jackson, a man Whitepath called friend. Twenty years later, when Whitepath and Ross returned to Washington to try and prevent the takeover of Cherokee land by the State of Georgia, Jackson told his friend "You shall remain in your ancient land as long as grass grows and water runs" in spite of the fact that Georgia had already dispersed the land in the 1832 Land Lottery. Four years later Whitepath and the Cherokee began "Trail of Tears." Whitepath died on the journey.

Walking Stick, also of Gilmer County, joined Ross in a failed attempt to abrogate the Treaty of New Echota in 1836. By this time Fort Hetzel was being expanded to house an estimated 1100 Cherokee from the area. Held in the fort for nearly 6 months with little food and no sanitation, many Native Americans died. More died on the march, which began down the Dahlonega to Tennessee Road roughly following Route 52 west of Ellijay. Some letters seem to indicate that the road was improved specifically for the forced march. Fort Hetzel was abandoned March 24, 1842, almost 8 years to the day after Jackson made his "promise" to Whitepath.

Among the early industrial developments were the Atherton Mills near Talking Rock, a complex that had a grist mill, wool carder, saw mill, and cotton gin, that was partially destroyed during the Atlanta Campaign. A significant copper mining industry developed.

After the war Gilmer returned to a agricultural society and the boom-bust cycle of a single product economy. When the railroad crossed the south end of Gilmer there was much anticipation in Ellijay. The Marietta and North Georgia entered the county in 1883 but did not complete the road to the county seat until December 2, 1884. A roundhouse was built since it would be 1890 before service was established further north.

Ellijay, Georgia, county seat of Gilmer County
Ellijay, Georgia
Home to the Georgia Apple Festival, Ellijay developed a significant apple crop before the cotton bust in the early '20's
One bright spot was the addition of apples to the local economy by John W. Clayton in 1903. Mr. Clayton, who competed nationally (and frequently won) with his apples, raised over 70 different types but most were Winesap, Rome Beauty, and Ben Davis.

With the addition of apples to the local economy, Gilmer became less dependent on cotton. When much of North Georgia's economy crumbled in the early 1920's, Gilmer was less affected than other nearby counties. It wasn't until 10 years later that the county's economy would reach the bottom, in the midst of the Great Depression. Habersham County, to the east, also developed a significant apple crop. The town of Ellijay still celebrates the crop with The Georgia Apple Festival on the second and third weekends in October.

Gasoline powered automobiles brought a new age to Gilmer and much of North Georgia. Although the first automobile did not arrive until around 1908, Gilmer would reap the benefit of the invention 70 years later when a developmental highway(515) made it to the county. Advocated by future governor Zell Miller, the highway has made tourism a major part of the Gilmer bottom line. Another significant development in the time period was the telephone (1916).

During the dark days of The Great Crash (Oct., 1929) the Bank of Ellijay closed and remained so until 1933. In May, 1935, the Rural Electrification Act was passed by Congress. On December 12, 1939 Pickens,Cherokee, Dawson, Lumpkin and Gilmer counties began to plan for the future, intending to install electricity in every home. Interrupted by the Second World War, power was available to every person by 1950.

The Gilmer Chamber of Commerce offers additional information by mail. Be sure to join us at the Georgia Apple Festival

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