Archives of Stephens County

Archives of Stephens County
From the editors of
Roadside Georgia
Named for Alexander ("Little Alec") Stephens, vice-president of the Confederate States of America, Senator and Governor. The county is formed in 1905 from parts of Habersham and Franklin Counties

Stephens is one of the last counties formed in the state of Georgia. Although it's history under that name is comparatively brief the land, which the county now encompasses, is among the earliest inhabited in the state. Firm evidence indicates American Indians living here from about 500 A. D., prior to the rise of the Moundbuilder culture, about the time the wall at Fort Mountain is being constructed.

Although the Cherokee migrate to this area in the 15th Century they will not control North Georgia for another 200 years. As these American Indians begin to migrate further west many pass through present day Stephens County on the Cherokee Trading Path.

When America is first settled, it is the navigable rivers that lead whites inland. One of these rivers was the Tugaloo, along the Georgia-South Carolina border. Jesse Walton, a Revolutionary War hero, builds a home in the area and dies defending it in one of many violent encounters between settlers and the Cherokee. A major route develops from the hills of North Carolina through the Cherokee town of Hiawassee, south to Unicoi Gap, then southeast to the headwaters of the Tugaloo River. In the early 1800's some Cherokee and settlers get permission to upgrade the road. They build or improve bridges, add rudimentary drainage control, and bank some turns. In exchange for upgrading the passageway, tolls are collected. The influx of travelers on the road is immediate. Within 4 years from the completion date (1812-1813) the Cherokee cede much of Georgia east of Unicoi Gap to the State of Georgia. Additional lands are ceded in 1819.

Historic Traveler's Rest
The land that Jesse Walton died defending is sold, built on, added to, remodeled, then sold again to Devereaux Jarrett in 1833 who develops it as a general store, blacksmith shop and inn. Today the state runs Traveler's Rest as a historic monument to those early days.

Although Stephens County does not see any significant fighting during the Civil War, a monument to the Confederate soldiers is erected in Toccoa in 1992.

After the war, during Reconstruction, the railroad passes through the county giving it access to many major markets. The Airline Railroad selects a crossroads for a station in the area. During winter months, or after a heavy rainfall a nearby low area turns into a pond. During the summer months this pond dries up, so the area is known as "Dry Pond." Shortly after the arrival of the railroad in the early 1870's the town changes its name to Toccoa, Cherokee for beautiful.

The tourist industry, spurred by the development of Tallulah Gorge, blossoms and the town of Toccoa grows so rapidly that by the turn of the century it is bigger than the Habersham County seat of Clarkesville. An attempt is made to move the county seat to Toccoa, and after this unsuccessful endeavor Stephens County was born.

The formation of the Georgia(later Chattahoochee) National Forest in 1937 helps rekindle tourism after Tallulah Falls stop running (see Habersham County).

Shortly after 10:00am on March 23, 1938 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stops in Toccoa and makes an informal speech, from his "Special Train." A few hours later that day he delivers his famous "Brother's Keeper" speech in Gainesville, GA. During World War II paratroopers are trained near Toccoa. The area where they are housed is now a sleepover camp for girls and boys, Camp Toccoa

On January 1, 1911 the Golden Valley Institute purchases Haddock Inn and 100 acres of surrounding land including Toccoa Falls. Moving to the new site within the year, the facility was dedicated to Christian ministries and service, serving "educationally deprived" students. In the 1930's it became the Toccoa Falls Institute, offering a 4-year degree in a state-chartered school. Several disasters stuck the school over the next 40 years, but all pale to the events that occurred on a late fall night. On November 6, 1977, the dam above Toccoa Falls burst sending the contents of a small lake onto the campus. Among the 39 dead were students, workers, and young children. Many people helped the college in the crisis, including First Lady Rosalind Carter.

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Stephens County links


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