Monday, August 19, 2013

Helen, GA

Helen is a city located on the Chattahoochee River in White County in the north of the U.S. state of Georgia. As of the 2000 census, the city's population was 430.

Motto: "Georgia alpine village"


Formerly a logging town that was in decline, the city resurrected itself by becoming a replica of a Bavarian alpine town, in the Appalachians instead of the Alps. This design is mandated through zoning first adopted in 1969, so that the classic south-German style is present on every building, even the small number of national franchisees present (such as Huddle House and Wendy's).

Because of this, tourism is the main industry in Helen, catering mostly to weekend visitors from the Atlanta area and also, motorcyclists, who enjoy riding the beautiful roads of the Helen and its surrounding areas during all seasons. Helen is extremely crowded in late October, when autumn leaves typically peak. It also hosts its own Oktoberfest during September, October and November.

 There are many events and festivals throughout the year. One of the most well-known is the annual hot-air balloon race, which is held the first weekend in June each year.

The main road through town is north/south Georgia 75. The Helen stream gauge (HELG1) is located on its bridge over the Chattahoochee in the middle of downtown. A parallel route to the west is labeled Georgia 75 Alt to identify it as a bypass route around the town, and its massive traffic jams in the fall and on some other weekends. Unicoi State Park and Lodge, spanning 1,050 acres, is located immediately northeast of Helen on Georgia 356. Unicoi State Park encompasses Unicoi Lake, a 53-acre freshwater lake, that offers numerous outdoor activities for all seasons.

Among them are a swimming beach, trout streams, wheelchair-accessible fishing docks, seasonal canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals, seven picnic shelters complete with charcoal grills, three playgrounds for children, many spots for birding, 7.5 miles of hiking within the park (with adjacent trails in the Chattahoochee National Forest), 8 miles of mountain biking trails within the park, and plenty of places to enjoy the natural beauty of the lake and park. Unicoi State Park also offers lodging in several forms. The Lodge at Unicoi State Parks boasts 100 modern guest rooms with wireless internet, a conference center, a restaurant featuring a nightly mountain trout buffet (a local favorite), a lodge gift shop featuring quilts and other locally-made crafts, four lit tennis courts. Other lodging at the park includes 30 cottages (some are dog-friendly), 82 Tent/Trailer/RV Campsites, 33 Walk-In Campsites, and 16 "Squirrel's Nest" Camping Shelters (covered shelters with a nearby bathhouse, grills, picnic tables and firepit). Access to Anna Ruby Falls, part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, is located through the park.

In 2005, significant damage occurred in parts of Helen on August 30 when Hurricane Katrina spawned a tornado in the area. The northward-moving tornado went through the edge of town, but did strike the EconoLodge motel, and brushed the Unicoi Lodge (behind building B) at the park.


Alpine Public Schools are part of the White County School District. The White County School District has four elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools.

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson is the Superintendent of Schools. The district has 233 full-time teachers and over 3,758 students.


Welcome to Helen

Welcome to Alpine Helen Nested in the Blue Ridge Mountain, Helen is one of the most beautiful sections of Northeast Georgia.  This mountain community has a wide variety of natural attractions. Whether sightseeing on the Blue Ridge Mountains, visiting the beautiful Anna Ruby Falls, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or tubing down the Chattahochee River, this Bavarian town has something for everyone.  The area also holds more than 200 specialty and import shops.

Newcomers to Helen quickly fall in love with the spectacular mountain views, mild weather, and the festive atmosphere of the area.  Helen is the natural choice for a great mountain vacation.

Helen sponsors year-round events including a Trout Tournament, canoeing and rafting, Hot Air Balloon Festival, fireworks, Oktoberfest (Sept.13th-Oct. 28th),  The Christmas lighting spectacle "Alpenlights", and Volksmarch which includes the Christmas walk "Alpine Stroll" and The spring  Walk "A Walk in the Woods".

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, Matthews 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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