Situated near old boundary lines between the Cherokee and Creek Indian tribes the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains once had beautiful virgin forestlands at the end of the Civil War. As settlers came to the area, Habersham County was officially chartered in 1818 and named for Joseph Habersham, a Revolutionary War hero and the first Postmaster General under President John Quincy Adams. His summer home, which is one of the oldest homes in the county; can still be seen on Highway 441 just north of Clarkesville.
Habersham County encompasses many communities within it’s broad 270 plus miles of pastureland, mountains, river and streams that include the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Although the most two prominent towns that are rich with history are Clarkesville and Cornelia that still attracts visitors today.
Clarkesville was named after General John C. Clarke, governor of Georgia in 1819 – 1821, or his father, General Elijah Clarke, a revolutionary war hero. It was chartered in 1823 as the county seat of Habersham County and was the first of the major resort towns with wealthy families escaping the heat of the coasts of South Carolina & Georgia.
Cornelia and was first a settled around 1860 and as transportation was building along the East Coast, there was a settlement at the junction of railroads that was known as Tom Paine’s Post Office. The two railroads moved, subdivided lots and formed the central business district of the town. Blaine Station was the original name of the railroad depot and was named for the Republican presidential candidate James Gillespie Blaine. When the attorney representing the railroad, Pope Barrow, secured the first charter of the town in 1887 the name was changed to Cornelia in honor of his wife.
Historical sites in downtown Clarkesville usually start with the Mauldin House, at the corner of E. Waters & Jefferson St. It services as the Clarkesville’s Welcome Center and is the beginning of the towns walking tour of the Greek, Gothic, Victorian, and Plantation style homes in this beautiful historical district.
Visitors often enjoy the Grace Calvary Episcopal Church built in 1842 and features over forty two historical hand-blown glass windows, straight-backed box pews, and a pipe organ which is the oldest working church instrument in Georgia.
The Gloaming Cottage was built Jarvis Van Buren, first cousin of President Martin Van Buren, in 1840 as his personal residence. Included in his projects he also built the First Presbyterian Church on N. Washington St. in 1848. This Greek Revival style church is just one of the many significant preserved properties that are featured on tour.
Today, visitors walk through the downtown to eat, shop for antiques or stroll through the neighboring Sam Pitts Park located by the beautiful Soque River. Travel off the beaten path and drive Scenic 197 where you will often see trout fishing and the small community of Batesville that feature many regional handmade arts and crafts.
Festivals in Clarkesville include The Mountain Laurel Festival in May and The Taste of Clarkesville every September that feature the area’s restaurants cuisine.
Visitors can step back in time to downtown Cornelia and see the beautifully restored Train Depot as the original terminal was damaged in a fire, and rebuilt in 1914 to it’s current appearance. Inside the terminal is a museum of early railroad memorabilia, model of the Talullah Falls train, and two restored cabooses by the depot. The nearby City Park also offers a Splash Pad and Club Canine for family fun.
The “Big Red Apple,” stands near the train depot as a monument that is seven feet tall, 22 ft. in circumference and weighs 5200 lbs. It was shipped from Virginia in 1926 to celebrate the apple industry. The monument was donated by the Southern Railway, and for many years a festival was held in celebration of the apples grown in the area. Cornelia has since been known as the “The Home of the Big Red Apple.
The Loudermilk Boarding House on Foreacre St. in Cornelia was built in 1908 and is listed on The National Register. Visitors enjoy the Joni Mabe’s Panoramic Encyclopedia of Everything Elvis that contains over 30,000 Elvis items and is listed in Guinness’ World Book of Records for being the most unique. There is also a Big E Festival held first Saturday in August for Elvis fans.
The Habersham County Historical Society and Telephone Museum is on North Main Street. It houses an extensive collection of telephone equipment and information as well as historical maps of the county and surrounding areas. The equipment is from Standard Telephone and encompasses special items including a telephone receiver that was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876.
The Community House on Wyly Street is a handsome stone & log structure built by the CCC in 1936 and listed on the National Register. Also on the property is a memorial honoring Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Captain Hilliard A Wilbanks. The adjoining park features picnic areas, playground equipment and walking trails.
The Chenocetah Fire Tower is the last rock-constructed, working fire lookout tower in the east and has been preserved through a cooperative effort and the U.S. Foresty Service. The Historic 40 ft high stone tower is open to visitors one day a year during the “Big Red Apple Festival.” The city of Cornelia provides hayrides and guests can climb to the top for the tower for a spectacular panoramic view.
Cornelia is also adjacent to the Lake Russell Recreational Area in the Chattahoochee National Forest. It has hiking trails available year-round and a 4.6 mile loop that goes around the shore of this beautiful 100 acre lake. Lake Russell has a large grass-covered beach and swimming area plus; easy access to camping, picnicking, hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, and non-motorized boating.
Today, visitors stroll through the downtown area with shops, restaurants that uphold the small town atmosphere that takes pride in the community by preserving history and natural resources.
Whether you decide to stay in Clarkesville or Cornelia, there are a variety of lodging including hotels, cabins, B&B’s, campgrounds, and retreats. You can experience fine dining, country cooking, fresh local produce to savor or bring home. Many special Festivals, County Fairs, and events throughout the year provide craft exhibits, music, parades, car shows, and great food for all.
Come relax as you enjoy friendly people and experience great outdoor adventures in Clarkesville and Cornelia, the gateway of the Northeast Georgia Mountains.
For more information on Habersham County, visit www.habershamchamber.com