Yonah Mountain (3166′), better known as Mount Yonah, is the great natural landmark of the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley. Located between Cleveland and Helen, it is seen here from its eastern slope. Yonah means bear in Cherokee.
Category Archives: –WHITE COUNTY GA–
Today, Helen is known for its kitschy Alpine/Bavrian appearance and for the numerous outdoor recreation opportunities at its doorstep. But the village didn’t start out this way. The area was long occupied by Native Americans and in the 19th century became a hub for gold mining. It was a transient community during this time.
It was incorporated in 1913, due to the presence of the large Byrd-Matthews sawmill and named for a daughter of one of the timer company’s partners. It was successful until the Great Depression but after its closure the town fell into decline.
In 1968, Pete Hodkison, a local business owner, approached renowned Clarkesville artist John Kollock about suggestions for improving the appearance of his business. Kollock had been stationed in Bavaria while in the military and had long fostered an idea of bringing the look of the region to Northeast Georgia. Work began January 1969, after other local business owners warmed to Kollock’s idea to reimagine the entire town as an Alpine village. The Orbit Manufacturing Company was the first to be transformed. At the outset, there were just nine businesses in Helen but today there are nearly 30. All of the ornamental trim and details were originally done by Ray L. Sims and J. S. Chastain, local builders.
Helen has fewer than 500 permanent residents but at any given time is filled with tourists. It’s among the most popular tourist destinations in Georgia with up to 1.5 million visitors annually. The river attracts thrill-seekers and ecotourists and the shops and restaurants are a popular draw. Some have called it a tourist trap, and while it may have that feel, many visitors soon realize that the appearance of the place is but a small part of its appeal. Perhaps it took the Alpine look to bring people to the area in the 1960s but Helen’s perfect location and natural beauty are as big a draw today as its aesthetic. I prefer to think of it as a base of operations for great adventures to be found all around.
The Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail is one of the nicest walking/hiking trails in Northeast Georgia, following the Chattahoochee River from the edge of downtown Helen to the Hardman Farm State Historic Site.
Much of the prime riverside property was donated to the Trust for Public Land in 2007 by Ted Turner and his foundations, insuring forever its protection from development. The one mile trail (2 miles round trip) is also ADA accessible.
Lush vegetation and pristine river views can be found all along the paved trail. We also found a few bear scratches, so be careful on the trail.
In Helen, access the trail from the parking lot just below the Helen Tubing & Water Park off Edelweiss Strasse.
Built in 1876 by John Martin, a gold miner who decided to stay in the valley, Nora Mill got is present name when purchased by Dr. Lamartine Hardman around 1903. He christened it Nora Mill to honor the memory of his sister.
Instead of the typical water wheel usually associated with milling, Nora Mill utilizes a turbine, fed by a raceway, and gravity, to grind the grain. The 1500-lb. French Burr millstones have been turning out product for nearly 150 years.
In the early 1980s retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ron Fain leased the mill from the Hardman family and thereafter revived it. His family continues to operate it to this day. The third and fourth generation of the family (Joann Fain Tarpley and husband Rich) run it today.
Tommy Martin has been the manager for many years and is glad to talk about the process and the history of the mill with visitors. His enthusiasm for the place certainly makes you want to return again and again. He told me that the corn meal is popular far and wide, and that Shaquille O’Neal had recently placed a large order for his new restaurant in Los Angeles.
Nacoochee Valley Historic District, National Register of Historic Places