HISTORY: Indian Culture, Georgia Gold Rush and Now Helen, Georgia

How Did Helen Become What It is Today?

Prior to 1800, this area was the center of Cherokee Indian culture, with villages scattered throughout Nacoochee and what is now known as Helen valleys. A townhouse was located on top of at least one of the four ceremonial mounds in Nacoochee Valley. In 1813 the Cherokees approved construction of the Unicoi Turnpike, a wagon road through their Nation from the Savannah River headwaters to northeast Tennessee. This trail, now Highways 17 and 75, ran through the valleys toward Hiawassee. The Cherokees left the area on this "Trail of Tears", and were replaced by white settlers.

Gold was discovered on Dukes Creek in Nacoochee Valley in 1828. The Great Georgia Gold Rush belt was bound by Dahlonega on the west and Nacoochee-Helen Valley on the east. Thousands of miners came into the Valley and mined in the foothills for over a century, generating thousands of pounds of gold. The historic England Gold Mine, site of Helen's current gold mine, and Hamby Mountain were mined extensively. Mining operations ceased by the end of the century, and settlers moved on.

Timber officials came into the Valley, saw huge virgin timber, and built a great sawmill, Matthew's Lumber Company. Simultaneously, the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad came up the Chattahoochee River to Helen. In 1913 the Valley was named "Helen", after the daughter of the railroad surveyor. The lumber company, located in the center of Helen on the Chattahoochee River, continued sawmill operations until 1931, shipping to Europe and the U.S. until all timber was cut. Settlers again left for opportunities in other places. By the 1960's, there was nothing left except a dreary row of concrete block structures.

In 1968, local businessmen met to discuss what could be done to improve their town. They approached a nearby artist friend, who had been stationed in Germany. He sketched the buildings, added gingerbread trim, details and colors to the buildings, giving an Alpine look to the entire town. In January 1969, business owners and local carpenters began turning ideas into reality. Now all downtown stores have been renovated and many buildings and cobblestone alleyways added. Faces of buildings were painted with scenes of Bavaria and North Georgia, mirroring the migration of early settlers.

Helen has accomplished much; it has created a new town and industry, providing jobs for more people and boosting the economy of the entire area. Helen also commemorates its historic past when the early settlers came to this remote area. A village with mountain heritage and a touch of Bavaria, Helen has created a unique experience for its visitor.

So-this is the story of Helen, the miracle of a small, remote mountain community who revitalized itself in various ways throughout several centuries, and who today hosts millions of visitors each year.

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