About North Georgia Mountains
Forming the eastern front of the Appalachian Mountains in the Southeastern United States the Blue Ridge Mountains cross the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Beginning as a narrow strip of land south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the geological Blue Ridge Mountains run northeast to southwest, rarely more than a few miles wide in Virginia (and only a mile wide at a point near Roanoke), North Carolina and South Carolina. When they reach Georgia in the extreme northeastern part of the the state, the mountains turn to the west and widen, up to 60 miles across in places. The Blue Ridge Province, a geographical area that includes other mountain ranges also extends from Pennsylvania to Georgia including the states of West Virginia and Tennessee with those that hold the geological Blue Ridge.
Long, parallel ridges, separated by deep valleys define the Blue Ridge Mountains. A rise at the top of Wolfpen Ridge known as Brasstown Bald (Union and Towns County) is the highest point in the state. Other high mountains in the Georgia Blue Ridge are Blood Mountain, named because it was the site of a battle between the Creek and Cherokee, Tray Mountain and Rabun Bald. The Blue Ridge ends in extremes: At the southern end is spectacular Amicalola Falls (Dawson County), tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi, and at the western end is a 2000 foot drop from Fort Mountain to the Great Valley (Murray County).
Slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains facing the coastal piedmont are generally steeper and more rugged than those facing the interior of the United States. Rocks from the eastern slope are among the oldest on earth, some exceeding 1.2 billion years and pre-dating the formation of the mountains. These mountains were formed in three major uplift phases, the first about a billion years ago, the second perhaps some 550 million years ago, and the final one about 300 million years ago. Other uplifts that were regional in nature occurred as well. Since that time water, wind, temperature and gravity have caused the fundamental erosion that created the Blue Ridge.
Winter scene in the
Blue Ridge Mountains
Distinctive weather marks the mountains of the Southern Blue Ridge. In the mountain valleys temperatures average 6 to 8 degrees cooler than the nearby piedmont in the summer months. Near the tops of the mountains the difference can be 10-12 degrees. There is little average temperature difference in the winter months between the piedmont and the mountain valleys, however the peaks are both colder and windier in the winter. Although the average relative humidity is lower in Atlanta than in the Blue Ridge, the total amount of both rain and snow in these mountains easily beats the nearby city. Only the Pacific Coast gets more rain. In Georgia, 60 inches of rain fall on average each year in the Blue Ridge Mountains while in neighboring North Carolina the amount increases to 71 inches.
Meteorologists know that Georgia’s Blue Ridge have a far-reaching effect on the weather. When conditions are correct, they form something of a tunnel with the cooler coastal waters. When a storm in the Southeast United States moves through this relatively small corridor, by the time it reaches Washington and New York a weather system can intensified dramatically. A second wide-ranging effect is simply known as “The Wedge” to meteorologists. This is a body of relatively dry air that forms on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge in Georgia and extends south to Atlanta and west to the Alabama border. When wet weather coming from the west hits the wedge rain begins to evaporate.
Hernando deSoto was the first European to reach the Blue Ridge Mountains, visiting the Nachoochee Valley and a site near Carters Lake. The route he took between these locations is a hotly argued topic. Other Spanish explorers made it to Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains as well – as did some Spanish gold miners who knew of the wealth of the these mountains.
First of many English explorers to enter the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains may have been Col. George Chicken in 1702 (or earlier). Working for South Carolina Governor James Moore, Chicken established relations with many of the Overhill villages in present-day Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee including the villages of Chote and Nachoochee on the northern end of the Chattahoochee River in the Nachoochee Valley of White County. Most famous of the early explorers was William Bartram, who walked through Georgia’s Blue Ridge in 1775. He frequently referred to them as the Cherokee Mountains, because of the large number of Indian villages he found.
England’s King George III included the Blue Ridge Mountains as part of the American colonies when he defined the western extreme of British occupation in Southeast in 1763 (Proclamation of 1763). At the time, virtually the entire range in Georgia was considered to be Cherokee land. The Cherokee farmed the valleys and hunted in the mountains, and called it “The Enchanted Land.” They would continue to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains until they were forced west on the tragedy known as the Trail Of Tears.
Establishing a through route from Savannah to Knoxville was important to the coastal traders. From the navigable end of the Toccoa River (at Travelers Rest), the Unicoi Turnpike ran to Knoxville across the Blue Ridge. It was the first road to cross the mountains in Georgia. Others followed including the Union Turnpike (later called the Logan Turnpike) and the Georgia Road (called the Federal Highway after 1819).
Georgia gave away land in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a series of land lotteries and the gold lottery. Much of the high mountain land was undesirable and winners sold it to settlers from other areas of Southern Appalachia. These men and women eagerly moved into north Georgia when the Cherokee left, and Georgia’s Blue Ridge quickly became an extension of Appalachia. Settled mostly by poor Scottish and Irish immigrants, Southern Appalachia developed its own language, customs and music that differed from the culture developed in the United States as a whole.
Sparsely populated at the start of The Civil War, the mountain communities tended to be pro-union until the outbreak of war. Once Georgia seceded, the mountain families remained loyal to their state, in spite of the fact that most did not own slaves. With fathers and older sons off fighting the war, near anarchy conditions made life difficult for those left behind to tend farms. Georgia Governor Joe Brown, who was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains, would send troops on occasion to restore order.
After the Civil War the agricultural economic base was extended with additional businesses. Mining, especially copper and carborundum was making money, thanks in part to new railroads running near and through these North Georgia’s mountains. Travel to remote destinations became more popular, with Tallulah Gorge one of the major attractions. Another business popular in the mountains was distilling. Moonshine from the northern tier of counties found its way to the thirsty mouths of Atlanta from the 1880’s on. Large-scale operations were found in the mountains into the 21st century.
Beginning in 1900 large areas of the abundant North Georgia forests were stripped of trees. Major logging operations were centered near Ellijay, Helen and Dahlonega, with smaller saw mills pulling trees from almost the all of north Georgia. The federal government purchased the barren land, forming the Cherokee National Forest. In 1937 the national forests were organized along state boundaries, so the Georgia portion of the Cherokee National Forest was renamed the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Power was essential to a growing city like Atlanta, and Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains were the perfect location for hydro-electric generation. In 1912 the first major power project got underway at Tallulah Gorge. All the power went to Atlanta; workers on the project went home to candles and wood-burning stoves. Electricity (and phones) did not become common in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains until after World War II.
Long distance rail carriers avoided the mountains prior to the 1880’s — they made it much more difficult to make a profit. Not that it hadn’t been tried. In Warwoman Dell there are the graded remains of a railroad sometimes called the “Blue Ridge Railroad.” The project entailed connecting existing lines from Knoxville to Cincinnati and Charleston to Andersonville with track across the Blue Ridge Mountains called the Cincinnati, Louisville, and Charleston Railroad. Work began in 1854. The state of Georgia proposed and chartered the “North Eastern Railway” connecting Athens, Georgia with the as yet unbuilt line. The Civil War interrupted construction and when it began again after the war money issues stopped it again. The first railroad to breach the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains was the Marietta and North Georgia, from Marietta to Knoxville. To the east, the Tallulah Falls Railroad purchased an existing line between Cornelia and Tallulah Falls, extending it to Franklin, North Carolina.
County, state and federal roadbuilding projects began in these mountain communities in the 1920’s. County roads and most state roads remained gravel into the 1960’s, but the federal government began to build paved “farm-to-market” roads like U. S. 76 in the 1930’s. With the roads came a second wave of economic diversity that stabilized the agrarian economy. Gas stations, auto repair shops and in some towns, car dealers – mostly as an addition to the local hardware store – energized local economies. As the fingers of the interstate highway system reached towards the mountains in the early 1980’s, Georgia built the Appalachian Development Highway (GA 515 or “the four-lane”).
Today’s mountain communities are very similar to the suburbs of nearby larger cities: Wal-mart and Home Depot are frequently part of the scenery.
Part of the region we call “Appalachia,” the Blue Ridge Mountains have a rich cultural heritage that it shares not with individual states, but with other mountain areas in the this country within a country. Today the individual culture of Appalachia no longer exists, but has become part of our society in the form of both country and bluegrass music, “southern” rock and roll and the many varieties of folk art.
In Georgia, Appalachia’s cultural works include the Foxfire Books, bluegrass music, the rich folk art of the mountains, and poetry. Foxfire is both a magazine and series of books published by students from northeast Georgia that chronicle the lives of the people of Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Bluegrass music, sometimes called “old-time music” is a unique sound that had its earliest roots in post-Civil War Appalachia. It features mostly acoustical instruments and combines elements of both traditional Scottish and Irish folk music. Song lyrics, if they are present, can run the gamut from Christian to stories about life in this mostly rural area.
By the 1880’s, loose knit “fiddlers conventions” were held throughout the region, normally in a large town near the mountains. Fiddlers would compete for small prizes and bragging rights. With the advent of radio the musical genre went commercial, thanks to men like Georgian Fiddlin’ John Carson, the first commercially successful country performer. Carson, who was born in Acworth, Georgia and grew up in Marietta, fabricated a birthplace of Blue Ridge, Georgia and a birth date of 1868, so that he would appear older and more rural to his core constituency. It is from performers like Fiddlin’ John that modern country music evolved.
Traditional folk arts were also an important expression. Storytelling, folkdancing plus a wide range of handcrafting are additional outlets for creativity among the mountain folk. The poetry of the region includes Georgia’s poet laureate, Byron Herbert Reece, who was born in Towns County, Georgia.
Want more information on Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains?
The Georgia Mountain Parkway is the fastest and easiest way to the mountains. After reading our story on the road, visit the web site and request a free brochure.
Fannin County, Georgia is known as the Gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce offers a toll-free “hot line” at 1-800-899-MTNS (6867).
North Georgia Mountains
Mountains and mountain chains of North Georgia including Lookout Mountain, Brasstown Bald, and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
North Georgia Naturally
North Georgia — it’s a natural! From outdoor adventure to our natural history, About North Georgia covers the area with in-depth articles, photos, and insights into those great, little-known “secrets” of the area.