Archives of Pickens County

Archives of Pickens County
From the editors of
Roadside Georgia
Established in 1853, Pickens County was named for South Carolina military leader and politician Andrew Pickens, who fought the Cherokee in 1760 and 1782. During the Revolution he was awarded a sword for the victory at Cowpens. He also served in the state house. Some locals claim that the name is something of a joke and was actually taken because the county got the "pickin's", a Georgia term implying the best, of Cherokee and Gilmer Counties

 Cemetery at Tate, Georgia
Tate Cemetery
Tate, Georgia

The Tate Family controlled Pickens county in the early 1900's. Located just past the Tate train depot on Highway 53
At the beginning of the Appalachian Mountains, the story of present-day Pickens County begins with the Cherokee Indians, who had a major settlement here (The Long Swamp Branch). These American Indians were forced to cede land further east as punishment for siding with the British during the Revolutionary War. In 1782, Col. Pickens hung 6 loyalists near present-day Nelson.

Pickens was one of the earliest counties with white encroachers (probably pre-Revolution) near Talking Rock. These early settlers later ran inns and taverns to accommodate the travelers on the Old Federal Highway which bisected the county.

In an area known as Taloney to the Cherokee and Talona Station to early whites, missionaries, most notably Dr. Elizur Butler, constructed an elaborate development which they used to educate the Cherokee with the blessing of Cherokee Nation. The original deed for the land, one of the first issued by the Cherokee bears the signature of Return J. Meigs, local Cherokee agent. James Monroe, President of the United States, spent the night of May 19, 1819 in the Harnage House, at the site of the present-day Tate House. On his journey through Cherokee Country he was accompanied by 3 other men.

External events began to shape the history of the county starting with the North Georgia Gold Rush. Although the area today known as Pickens did not share directly in the event, miners would use the Federal Highway to get to Lumpkin County and the area grew. When the State of Georgia created the original Cherokee County, encompassing 6900 square miles of land formerly controlled by Native Americans, the first courthouse was in the Harnage House. The spring house on the grounds of the Tate House is the only remaining building from this time. In 1830 Corn "George" Tassel allegedly murdered another Cherokee near Talking Rock. Tassel was tried in Hall County and murdered by the state in Gainesville.

Among the missionaries who taught with Dr. Butler at Carmel was the Rev. Issac Procter. Samuel Austin Worcester, Rev. Proctor and Doctor Butler were arrested by the Georgia Guard in March, 1831 and charged with disobeying a law that required all whites working on Cherokee land to have a license. The law, passed the previous year, had been specifically designed to eliminate the missionaries who were friendly to the Cherokee. If the state could extend its laws over the Cherokee, their Nation would no longer be sovereign and would not be protected by the federal government. Tried and convicted in Gwinnett County, the men sat in jail while the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, who ruled that the state could not extend it's laws onto the Cherokee Nation. The ruling was unenforced by President Andrew Jackson.

In the spring of 1838 the tribe was rounded up, along with other Cherokee and herded into Talking Rock Fort (also known as Fort Newnan) and Fort Buffington(near Canton, Ga.), Removal Forts until they moved north to Rattlesnake Springs (now Tennessee) and began a journey to Oklahoma on The Trail of Tears.

Sam Tate, a settler from Gainesville, won parcels of land in Pickens County during the Land Lottery of 1832. Packing twelve children and his wife in a wagon, Tate moved to the county and built a home.

As early as 1836 marble was being quarried in Jasper. Over the next 25 years this area changed little. In 1861, to protest the secession of the state, residents here flew the Union flag for nearly a month. During the Civil War Pickens County remained strongly pro-Union, even after the initial Confederate victories. Only minor engagements occurred in the county.

After the war the county returned to its agrarian roots. The North Georgia railroad reached Jasper in 1883. Although this gave local farmers an additional outlet for the agricultural products raised in the area, moonshine would be economically important well into the 20th century. About this time Stephen Tate, son of Sam Tate, began to mine significant amounts of marble, although by 1890 less than $150,000.00 worth was being removed each year.

In 1906, the old Pickens County jail was torn down and replaced with the Jail to the right. Inside is a gallows that was never used. The building was used as a house for local sheriffs and prisoners until the federal government ordered it closed in 1981.

Col. Sam Tate, named for his grandfather, inherited his father's marble quarry upon his death. He began to combine local quarries into a company he called Georgia Marble. By 1917 the consolidation was complete and in 1923 he began work on his palatial estate known as the "Pink Palace" on the site of the Harnage House. He personally selecting the marble used to build the home from a streak of rare pink marble from local quarry over a 4-year period. A rural aristocracy began to form with Tate and Cherokee County's R. T. Jones at the core.

In 1930 a monument to James Oglethorpe was built on Grassy Knob. Renamed to Mount Oglethorpe in his honor, the peak served as the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Tate Mineral Springs and Simmons Mineral Springs were popular stops in Pickens at this time.

Today Pickens is enjoying a new boom. Jasper has become a popular retirement community, serviced by I-575. Marble production continues to this day, and the western part of the county supports significant agriculture.

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