Down from the Mountains
Hello again everyone, Don Milne here, your ROADTRIP-'62 ™ traveler. We are traveling southbound on US-23, the first of our ROADTRIP-'62 ™ routes. We’re at Franklin, North Carolina today, fourteen days out from our northern beginning point at Mackinaw City, Michigan. Today will be our last day in the mountains as we head south on the roads of 1962. After this, we’ll begin a long slow coast down to the Atlantic Ocean. I'll be driving on this virtual roadtrip, but if you see things you like, I encourage you to get out on the road and enjoy them in person. A virtual roadtrip like this may be fun, but there's nothing like the real thing! Of course, at any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Time once again to buckle up and hit the road!
As I mentioned back at the Colburn Museum in Asheville, this area contains the greatest variety of minerals in the country. Near Franklin you can pay a small fee to hunt, pan, or dig through piles or buckets of rock and dirt if you’re interested in finding something pretty and perhaps valuable. Many of these mines were here back in 1962, as the county boasts that people have been finding gems for over 100 years. Macon County is known as the "Gem Capital of the World", and places like Ruby City Gems have been selling cut gemstones and finished jewelry for folks that just can’t wait to find their own, since 1958. The great New York jeweler Tiffany's even showed an interest in the area in the 1890's for gemstones, but nothing came of that. The Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum is downtown in an old jail building and has thousands of specimens on exhibit. Though it was still an operating jail until 1972, the building and the gems were both around in 1962, so we can cheat a bit on this.
The chief mineral that everyone is seeking is corundum, which is second only to diamonds in hardness. It used to be mined here commercially for abrasives but synthetic corundum has replaced it. I remember Norton sandpaper in the 1960s printed with "corundum" beside the trademark and grade information on the back. Beginning back in 1870 and continuing to the early part of the 20th century, several companies mined the area. Today, North Carolina leads the country in the production of feldspar, lithium minerals, scrap mica, olivine and pyrophyllite, and high-grade silicates. The silicates are used in everything from tile, paint and insulation to cosmetics and computers, creating a very good chance that the computer you are reading this on contains North Carolina silicon. Today only the tourists and rockhounds look for the gems, seeking corundum as sapphires in its many forms: green, pink, yellow, blue, red corundum (rubies), and more depending on the different impurities in the crystals. Besides the sapphires, quartz also can be found in many forms: amethyst citrine, aventurine and of course both smoky and clear quartz crystals. There are also emerald, aquamarine, garnet, topaz, tourmaline, and moonstones.
In this area, some incredible finds have been made, including some of the largest sapphires, the largest emerald ever found in the United States, and 14 documented diamond finds, though our chances of finding anything larger than a marble are slim. I’m going to try my hand at gem mining at Rose Creek Mine, operating since 1952 and located just west of US-23. If you don’t want to take the time, they also have "Dirt to Go" available! Some area mines buy gems from elsewhere and provide guaranteed buckets but Rose Creek still gives raw local dirt. You receive a bucket of dirt, a screen for washing and then you sit down at your spot on the flume, a trough of running water. Place some dirt in the screen, then place the screen in the water and start washing the mud away. It’s easy to spend the whole day but I’m leaving in a couple of hours. Remember to keep your eyes open for any unusual pieces of stone, or any colored glints. Staff is available to show you examples of what you should look for, and to help with technique and identification. You may need help too, because rubies in the mud look nothing like the brilliantly cut gems you're used to. After a little practice to identify them, you'll be off and running like a pro. Afterwards, if you want instant gratification, there are many artisans in the Franklin area who will cut and mount the stones for you.
I’m also going to cheat just a little before I leave town today and stop at the Scottish Tartans Museum. This was opened in 1963, so it’s not too much of a stretch, and it’s just too unique to pass up if you’re of Scottish heritage like me. The Museum was founded by the Scottish Tartans Society, formed to study the origins, history and development of tartans. If you’re not familiar with the term, tartans are the fabrics of Scottish clothing with the plaid designs. The designs today are associated with various family or clan names, but originally, tartan designs had no names, and no symbolic meaning. The naming appears to have begun with the weaving company of William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn after 1765. They named the patterns as a sales tool to identify the tartans, much as any company names its products. By 1819, their Key Pattern Book showed names for about 100 tartans, some of which were Wilsons' designs, but also others they had collected from all over Scotland. Today the names have been formalized, by a rather complicated and somewhat haphazard process through the 1800-1900s, and many are supposed to represent various clans. There are now well over 4000 unique tartans on record, and the folks at the museum will assist you in researching one for your use. At the museum you can not only see displays of Scottish Tartans, but also the culture, history, migration and military history of the Scottish.
If I hadn’t spent so much time pawing through the mud and rocks this morning, I would take a short waterfall hike here, but there is another later today. The one I’m going to skip is located just a couple miles west of Franklin, on Wallace Branch. The falls are a sliding type, where the water slides over a rock incline instead of falling from a cliff. On the way you can see wildflowers: I saw some nice little wild orchids one spring when I visited. The falls are in the Nantahala National Forest and on the Bartram Trail. The Bartram Trail is a 220-mile trail through several states that is well-maintained in this area but unmarked and poorly maintained in other parts. From Franklin, it heads south into Georgia and we cross it again later. The trail approximates the route of William Bartram, America’s first native born naturalist and an artist and author. The travels he made through eight southeastern states from 1773 to 1777 culminated in an account of his adventures published in 1791, and form the basis for the trail. We could not have traveled it without great difficulty in 1962, as the Bartram Trail Conference, Inc. which co-ordinates marking and maintenance of the trail, was not founded until 1976. However, Wallace Branch Falls would have been easy to reach back in 1962.
As we head south into Georgia, we enter the seventh state of our eight-state roadtrip. By next year (1963), the route will be shorter in this area as it appears US-23 was rebuilt between Franklin and Georgia then. This was part of the early stages of a continual improvement process that has now resulted in US-23 being a 4-lane divided highway almost the entire way from Standish, Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia. We’ll still use a few old roads alongside modern US-23. As we cross the state line we also cross into the Chattahoochee National Forest. This will be the last large forested area of the trip and the last National Forest, so enjoy the trees while you can. The first land for this national forest was purchased in 1911 for $7.00 per acre. As with most eastern national forests, they were established after the land had been mostly ruined and abandoned after excessive mining, lumbering and failed attempts at farming. In the case of these lands, gold was mined in almost every stream in northern Georgia in the mid-1800s. Afterwards, as railroads came through the area, lumbering became easier and cutting began on much of this mountain land. The practice of the times was to cut the timber, sell the land, and move on other land. By 1962 most of these national forests were well established with second growth trees and all the wilderness features that follow a forest.
It’s still a bit too early for lunch for me, otherwise I might stop at the Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia. It’s been serving travelers since 1917, making it one of the oldest restaurants on our trip. Up until sometime in the 1980s, US-23 ran right in front of it, but today it retains some rural ambience because the highway has been moved. It’s situated on beautifully kept grounds with flowers in bloom all summer, in a real old country inn building with just enough modern additions to provide multiple dining rooms. I have found nothing but good comments about their fried chicken, the signature dish. They also serve okra, butter beans and many other southern specialties; all served family style. They have their own 600-acre farm where they raise corn, beans and okra and even smoke their own hams. And, the Dillard House includes an inn so we could have also stayed here in 1962.
Well, we’re coming to the last few waterfalls of this trip. An easy one that everyone can get out and see is Darnell Falls in Rabun Gap, Georgia. It’s located just a couple miles east of town in the Chattahoochee National Forest, just 200 yards from the end of a road. Only a few miles south of Rabun Gap on US-23, and west of Mountain City, Georgia, is Black Rock Mountain State Park. We can follow Black Rock Mountain Parkway out of town to the park. This state park is named for the cliffs of dark gneiss rock and has some of the most spectacular scenic vistas of Georgia’s portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve come down quite a ways from the 5,000-foot or higher mountains of North Carolina, but at over 3,640 feet high, this is still a real mountain. By the end of tomorrow, we’ll be out and back to rolling hills. The park was opened in 1952 and includes lots of hiking and some small waterfalls. I’m taking a couple of short hikes across the wooden bridges over Taylor Creek and Greasy Creek, walking along these cascading streams and crossing the 80-foot bridge over Cricket Cove. Finally, the trail to Ada-hi Falls is through an outstanding example of a moist, Appalachian cove with the lichen-covered rocks, ferns and dense thickets of rhododendron typical of these mountains.
Mountain City also holds something that was begun in 1974, so it’s too new for us: the Foxfire Museum. This museum houses exhibits relating to Appalachian life in reconstructed and relocated buildings. It also documents the popular Foxfire Magazine and Foxfire Book series. This series consists of collections of oral histories gathered by local high school students beginning with a 1966 class. As this is all too new for us, we’ll continue south to Clayton, Georgia and find some lunch. There are quite a few places downtown and just south along old US-23, so many of them may be old enough for us. The Clayton Pharmacy may seem an odd location for lunch, but they have an old fashioned soda fountain. That sounds like just the kind of place we may have stopped back in 1962, and they’ve been in business since 1947. This building is new though, so we’ll just have to imagine the old one. That Coca-Cola sign over the door should help.
In downtown Clayton, we cross US-76. This US-numbered route is only a short, regional route; running west only as far as Chattanooga, Tennessee. Clayton is also where we cross the Bartram Trail again. And, as with several places we’ve traveled through, the rivers near Clayton are popular for whitewater rafting. I thought this sport was not around in 1962, and this was confirmed when I learned that the first local company here, Southeastern Expeditions, got it’s start in 1972 using equipment purchased from the set of the movie Deliverance. So, once again we will not be whitewater rafting.
Because we are not here at night, we also will not be stopping at the Tiger Drive-In, in nearby Tiger, Georgia. This is one of the few open drive-in theaters along US-23! The Tiger is a small drive-in that opened in 1954, closed in the mid-1980s, and re-opened in 2004. I’m surprised they can do business here, as Tiger is not near any large city. But it’s still showing first run movies and sometimes has a classic car show on site, so you can enjoy two old-time activities in one place!
Instead of rafting or a movie, we’ll head down the old road to a city named for a waterfall that almost isn’t there any more. Tallulah Falls, Georgia still sits next to the beautiful Tallulah Gorge, but the falls fell victim to a power dam on the river in 1913. Because of the land around the dam’s lake and 13 others in the state, Georgia Power is the largest non-government provider of recreation facilities in the state. This dam was very controversial when built, because of its effects on the river. The power company was very progressive for the times, building one of this country’s first outdoor high voltage substations to get the power to Atlanta. Though the river still flows, and includes five major falls in the gorge, it is a trickle of its former self. However, each April and November, Georgia Power releases water on weekends to increase the water flow for recreation. On these occasions you can see the power and beauty of the Tallulah River as it flowed before the dam was constructed.
Tallulah Gorge State Park has a three-mile loop trail with several overlooks and a suspension bridge spanning the gorge about 85 feet off the gorge floor. The park was not opened until 1993, so we could not have seen it in 1962. Some facilities may have been operated by Georgia Power back then: they still operate the campground and day use area because they own the land. Instead, we would have stopped at one of the favorite tourist traps of the time, right on old US-23. Tallulah Point Overlook is one of the last remnants of the resort era of the town, sitting since 1912 at the edge of the gorge. They offer the traveling public the only free roadside view of Tallulah Gorge, right from their covered overlook porch. Of course, they hope you will also buy something in the gift store, where you’ll find a mix of modern and nostalgic items. The rest of the town used to consist of grand hotels, some also along the edge of the gorge with names to show it: the Chasm Brink Hotel, The Cliff House, and the Grandview. The resorts began in 1870 with the opening of the Shirley Hotel and ended with the dual disasters to tourism occurred in Tallulah Falls: the damming of the river and a fire in 1921 that burned most of the town.
Tallulah Point Overlook is one of the last remnants of the resort era of the town, sitting since 1912 at the edge of the gorge. They offer the traveling public the only free roadside view of Tallulah Gorge, right from their covered overlook porch. Of course, they hope you will also buy something in the gift store, where you’ll find a mix of modern and nostalgic items. The rest of the town used to consist of grand hotels, some also along the edge of the gorge with names to show it: the Chasm Brink Hotel, The Cliff House, and the Grandview. The resorts began in 1870 with the opening of the Shirley Hotel and ended with the dual disasters to tourism occurred in Tallulah Falls: the damming of the river and a fire in 1921 that burned most of the town.
Down the road we go to Clarkesville, Georgia to see a different form of water. Annandale Springs Water Company and its natural spring source are located here, bordering the Chattahoochee National Forest. The springs dates was originally part of a plantation and horse farm called Annendale and the water carries the slogan, "From the source, since 1855." We could have bought some back in 1962, long before bottled water became popular. Today we can buy it in supermarkets in the familiar plastic bottles and it’s filtered through a series of 1-micron filters, treated with ultraviolet light, and ozonated before bottling at the source. I’m sure that’s a lot more treatment than it received back in the 1960s. If you want to take the time to wander around a small town, Clarkesville has a walking tour of historic buildings near downtown. The tour takes you past 20 sites ranging from private homes to commercial buildings, churches, and even a cemetery.
In Cornelia, Georgia, we would have met the end of US-123, which ended here until the 1990s The end was moved north then, nearer to Clarkesville, at the US-23 freeway. The entire distance of the route is only about 87 miles, running northeasterly from here. There was once a railroad running along US-23 from where we began this morning in Franklin, North Carolina to here in Cornelia. The Tallulah Falls Railroad bought its track from an older railroad and its last freight train ran on March 25, 1961, except for the short section between Cornelia and Demorest, which operated until the early 1980s. Passenger service had ended back in 1946. The line enjoyed some fame near the end of its life though, as it was featured in the 1956 Disney movie, "The Great Locomotive Chase." The movie starred Fess Parker, who also played Kentucky’s favorite son Daniel Boone in the TV show of the same name. I’m sure the railroad buffs of the time would have been all over here taking pictures yet in 1962.
Gainesville, Georgia is where we’ll stop for the night. We cross US-129 here, and will cross it again in Macon, Georgia. There seem to be several older motels in good shape: I’m beginning to think I’ve seen more of these in good shape down south than up north. I wonder if the franchises invaded the more heavily-trafficked northern states earlier in the 1970s, thereby hastening deterioration of the old motels? For dinner, I’m trying Loretta’s Country Kitchen based on some excellent reviews of their home cooking. I sure hope they do well by the name: Loretta was my mother-in-law’s name. See you tomorrow on Roadtrip-'62 ™ .
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2012, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.