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History

From the editors of Roadside Georgia

Created in 1857, from Habersham County.  Named in honor of David T. White.

Mound at Sautee-NacoocheeThe earliest settlements in the area known today as White County, Georgia were of the Mississipian Culture known as "Moundbuilders". The prominent mound at Sautee-Nacoochee is just one of many that exist in the state. Spanish miners visited the area from the late 1500's until the 1730's. During this time control of the land passed from Creek Indians to the Cherokee.

The travels of William Bartram brought him to the area during the Revolutionary War and he was impressed by the work of these earliest inhabitants. By this time the Cherokee were so abundant in the area that he would frequently refer to the southern Appalachians as the Cherokee Mountains. The road that became the Unicoi Turnpike was used by the British during the Revolution to move men between Augusta and Fort Loudon, near Knoxville, Tennessee. Heading south from Hiawassee(Towns County) across Unicoi Gap in the eastern face of the Appalachian Mountains it passed in the vicinity of Helen, Georgia and turned almost due east through the Sautee-Nachoochee Valley ending near Traveler's Rest in Stephens County.

As whites expanded their control of the coast pressure was put on the Cherokee to move. Prior to 1820 there were many violent encounters with these Native Americans as settlers encroached on their land. With the Treaty of 1819, which ceded the area to the state, Native Americans moved further west, mostly to Arkansas. Many of the earliest settlers of Habersham County west of the Chattahoochee were from North Carolina. They purchased the land from Georgia residents who had won it in the fourth Land Lottery.

The county developed rapidly in the early 1830's thanks to the North Georgia Gold Rush. In one of those quirks of history, Lumpkin County in general, and Benjamin Parks in particular, is given credit for the first "discovery" of gold. Although gold had been mined in the area around Duke's Creek in White County as early as 1560, the modern discovery of gold should be credited to Maj. Frank Logan, whose black slave found a nugget near Loudsville. In George White's 1849 book Statistics of the State of Georgia, he states "The first discovery of gold in this state was made at Duke's Creek, Habersham (now White) County," and the first contemporary documentary reference of gold in North Georgia appears in the Georgia Journal, a Milledgeville newspaper in 1829.

A gentleman in ... Habersham (now White) County writes us..."2 gold mines in this area"

Old Sautee Store

Along the Unicoi Road, the Old Sautee Store has been a friend to travelers for more than 150 years. At the junction of State Roads 17 and 255 Old Sautee Store still attracts visitors from nearby Helen, Georgia. Today the country store atmosphere is dotted with beautiful pieces from the owner's home country, Norway.

By the 1840's numerous communities and churches, predominately Baptist, dotted the landscape. Demands on the county government grew, creating a problem. Some local residents had to travel more than two days to get to the Habersham County seat. In the mid 1850's the reduction of travel time to Clarkesville became a campaign issue. William Shelton, a representative from Mount Yonah(Cleveland) proposed the creation of Wofford County. The bill was defeated in the General Assembly. David T. White(some sources list George or John) rose and addressed the assembly. After a brief but eloquent plea from the senator, the assembly reconsidered the vote and passed the resolution. So grateful were the citizens of the new county they named it White in honor of their benefactor.

The area was relatively untouched by the Civil War. During early reconstruction the area suffered as did most of Georgia, but in the early 1870's a railroad boom had a positive effect on the county, especially in the south. Poet Sidney Lanier was staying in the county when he penned "The Song of the Chattahoochee." In 1899 Cleveland got its first telephone line. The Gainesville Telephone Company ran a single line to the city, and all who wanted service participated in what must have been a rather large party line. In a short time Cleveland had it's own switchboard.

Population that had been expanding since the war did an abrupt about face at the turn of the century when nearby employment attracted many locals. About the same time Henry C. Bagley, a railroad magnate from Cincinnati, discovered the forests of White County. The virgin trees were ripe for harvest. Bagley built a railroad to transport the trees to markets and created camps for the "wood hicks" at Helen and Robertson. Here the trees were turned into board lumber and shipped to the northeast and mid-west. The land was clearcut and abandoned as worthless.

With the advent of the automobile the state began a series of road projects. Included in these projects were roads from Cleveland to Clayton and to Blairsville begun in 1922 and completed in 1926. During this time the Federal Government began to purchase large amounts of land in the area devastated by the lumber and mining industries and consolidated it into the Georgia(later Chattahoochee) National Forest. Arthur Woody was it's first Forest Ranger.

No history of White County would be complete without mention of Xavier Roberts, one of North Georgia's favorites. He turned an idea, Cabbage Patch Dolls, into a national craze. Babyland General, the place where the dolls were "born," became an overnight tourist attraction and for a while, one of the most popular stops in the mountains. While other fads had swept the nation, this is generally considered to be the first in a series of toy crazes that feature adults lining up in front of stores and going to battle over a child's toy.

Today tourism is a major industry in the county. The Bavarian town of Helen has replaced Tallulah Falls as the most popular destination in the northeast Georgia mountains. The Appalachian Trail runs along much of the northern border of the county. And the great outdoors calls people from across the nation to White County.

History from the White County Chamber of Commerce

  • No history of White County could be written without making mention of the Cherokee Indians. They lived here contented and happy before Oglethorpe ever came to Georgia. These Indians were a fine race physically and of good mental ability. Their number was small and they had no idea of the value of their land. This cheap land was the attraction for the first white settlers who came to this section of the state. This area, part of the fourth lottery, was originally opened to white settlement as part of Habersham County. The treaty with the Cherokee officially established the settlement. The treaty was signed by John C. Calhoun who years later became interested in our gold mines.
  • Two parties of sixty-one families came to Nacoochee Valley in the early part of 1822. These two parties came from Burke County, North Carolina, and rapidly spread over the entire county. Among them were carpenters, blacksmiths, masons and farmers. There were also three Methodist ministers in the group. One of these ministers built the first known schoolhouse in the White County area. These two parties were led by Daniel Brown, Edward Williams, Reverend Jesse Richardson, Abraham Littlejohn and Adam Pitner. Other settlers, even earlier than these, were the Oxfords and Owensbys, who settled in the Town Creek section of the county. This section was named Tesnatee by the Indians.
  • Habersham County, of which White and the present county of Stephens were a part, became the fifty-eighth county to be organized in Georgia. This was done in the year 1818. White County remained part of Habersham for thirty-nine years until it was officially organized in 1857.
  • It was during the year of 1857, while White County was still a part of Habersham, that Mr. William B. Shelton, a resident of Mt. Yonah, as Cleveland was then called, was elected to the legislature on the issue that he would introduce a bill creating a new county. He was elected and introduced his bill in the General Assembly, then in session at Milledgeville, the Capital of the state at the time. On the last night of the session, December 22, 1857, his bill having failed to pass, Mr. Shelton felt so keenly disappointed at having failed to carry out his promise, he sat down and wept in the representative hall. Col. White, a member of the General Assembly, arose and moved that the bill passed. Mr. Shelton then proposed to have the new county named "White" in honor of Col. White, and its county seat named "Cleveland" in honor of "Wofford" for the county and "Woffordville" for the county seat had been named in the original bill.
  • Later on in 1863, a small part of the western side of White County was added from Lumpkin County. This was done When Dr. A. F. Underwood was a member of the Legislature.
  • Isaac Brown was the first sheriff of the new county, and Micajah McCrary was the first postmaster.
  • December 11, 1858, a tri-weekly, two horse hack line between Clarkesville and Dahlonega was established. This road passed through Cleveland along the road now known as Underwood Street. The Post Office was kept in part of a building which stood on the present county lot.
  • The county was established and laid out in 1858 and the contract for the building the courthouse and jail was awarded to Mr. Edwin P. Williams of Nacoochee. The buildings were completed in the latter part of 1859 or the early part of 1860. Mr. Williams was paid $10,000 in Confederate money for his work.
  • White County either outgrew or wore out their jail, because the old one was torn down and a new one built about 1900. The only Baptist church in the town stood where the Baptist Church is now and was named Mt. Yonah Baptist. In it school was taught and Court was held while the courthouse was being built.
  • In 1860 the first Census was taken of White County. The population was 3,315. 263 of these slaves and eleven of these were freed colored. The population of White County today is estimated at 13,120. In 1820 when White County was still a part of Habersham, the population more than tripled. In the census of 1830, the records list 10,671 residents of Habersham County.
  • Small deposits of several minerals were found in White County near Dukes Creek in the 1828 or 1829. For over a century gold was mined in White County, and one-third of Georgia's gold came from this county. This news reached the mother country of England, and some of the people came to America for the definite purpose of coming to these sections to mine gold. Some who came were well educated; others had very little education. Some were very rich and with many slaves, while still others hoped to make themselves rich. Preachers and educators came also for they realized that the field was ripe for their type of work.
  • The gold mines began to be worked out and the gold rush for the county subsided. There was still more excitement to come, but now it was in the form of a war instead of a gold rush.
  • The war had its effects on the newly formed county, and many of the men lost their lives. Mr. Riley Kenimer was one of the ninety men and boys who met and organized a company of soldiers at Denton Spring in August, 1861. They marched from Mossy Creek campground on the third Monday in August. It was during this period that the small amount of iron was mined in White County for the purpose of making Joe Brown bayonets. These were also made in the county.
  • While the war was going on the county must survive. Some gold mining was still being carried on. Stores had gold scales and weighed gold dust. The people of the county made there living by farming, cattle raising, spinning, weaving, corn mills, leather tanneries, and other similar occupations. About this time there were eight distilleries three jug factories, thirty grist mills, one flour mill, twenty sawmills and three gold mines. Women wove jeans, blankets and saddle cloths. These met with ready sales. Most of the people were willing to work and toiled many hours at these trades. When the Pacolet Mills came to New Holland, White County in 1890 was 6,151 and in 1910 it was 5,110. In a span of twenty years the county lost over 1,000 people.
  • By the end of the century, summer boarders were coming into the county staying at Cleveland, Nacoochee, and in various homes throughout the county. This meant that our livery stables were especially busy during the vacation months. These visitors also created a more active social life for the county's younger set. Many years later White County again thrived on summer visitors. The Mitchell Mountain Ranch Hotel in Helen was for years one of Georgia's best known resorts.
  • The county took on new life when lumber mill were erected in the northern part of the county and lumbering began in earnest. Banks and other new businesses were established. The Byrd-Matthews lumber mills were responsible for bringing the railroad to White County. Helen and Robertstown grew into good sized towns almost overnight. For a few years the county enjoyed a season of prosperity.
  • World War I started in Europe in 1914. We didn't enter until 1917, yet the demands for food and goods brought an increase in business. The formal entrance of the United States into the war brought bleak years to White County. She furnished her full quota of solder in this and all other wars. The first Georgia boy to be killed in action in World War I was a White County boy, Roy Head. The bridge located one mile north of Cleveland on Highway 129 is named in his honor.
  • White County enjoyed the prosperity of the roaring twenties and survived the depression of the thirties. Most of us who read this history are of an age to remember the haunting days of World War II and the Korean War. We also remember the good days when the surviving lads came marching home to join the oldster in helping bring White County into the front as it is today.
  • To conclude this brief history, let us note some interesting facts concerning White County's past and present:
  • The late Andrew Cain, Historian for Lumpkin County, says that the Indian Sequoyah, who devised the Cherokee alphabet, was born in White County.
  • Daniel Brown, one of the first white men to enter this section of Georgia, is credited with having bought 2000 acres of land from the Indians in the Nacoochee Valley area. He paid $200.00 for the entire acreage. He was buried in Nacoochee in 1852.
  • The largest single gold nugget ever found in the United states east of the Mississippi River, was found in the Hamby mines in White County. It was found by Mr. John Thurmond, who lived to be over ninety years of age and who was married three times. The gold nugget weighed 504 pennyweights and four grams. This would be about 25 1/2 ounces and at $35.00 per ounce it would be worth approximately $882.00.
  • Sidney Lanier was in White County when he wrote "The song of the Chattahoochee".
  • Lundy Harris , whose wife Cora wrote "The Circuit Rider's Wife ", was visiting the preacher for Loudsville campmeeting about sixty years ago. This book was the theme for the motion picture, "I'd climb the Highest Mountain" which was filmed in this county.
  • A baby boy, son of Mr. and Mrs. William B. Bell, was born in the Courthouse.
  • George Truett spent the night in Cleveland with Judge J.J. Kinsey and accompanied him to Marietta to a Convention. It was at this meeting where attracted the attention of Baptist leaders.
  • In 1830 there were only 75 itinerant preachers in all of Georgia and Florida. Nine-tenths of the were in Georgia. One of the these seventy-five preachers was James Quillian, who is buried at Mossy Creek. He was the father of William F. Quillian, one time president of Wesleyan College.
  • One June 16, 1838, some of the Cherokee Indians of this section camped at Camp Hazel near Cleveland just prior to their removal to the west.
  • The first Sheriff was Isaac Bowen - 2 years 1857 - 9.
  • Mr. Bill Allison was Sheriff in the early part of 1955 when an addition was added to the back of the Jail. This addition was used as a kitchen , bedroom and the first indoor bathroom.
  • At this time the prisoners were fed from tin pie pans. These pans were filled from the family breakfast. A typical breakfast when Mollie Anderson was in charge was "Country ham, grits, gravy, eggs, and three biscuits".

 

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Linda Blum-Barton
, State Coordinator
Liz Nash, Regional Assistant
 

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Copyright 2004
Vicki Shaffer

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