As early as 1760 white men visited the area that today is known as Rabun County.
Explorer and naturalist William Bartram set foot in these mountains, passing over Rabun Bald about the time of the American Revolution.
Cherokee were so heavy in the area that these southern Appalachians were sometimes called the Cherokee Mountains, however these were not the first Native Americans in the region. One mile east of Dillard, in the Little Tennessee Valley, a mound exists similar to others across North Georgia, the most famous(and largest) being the Etowah Mounds. They are the sole remnants of a powerful Native American culture referred to as "Moundbuilders.
The Dillards were among the earliest settlers in the area. John Dillard and his son James acquired 250 acres each of land for service in the Revolution. At first settlers were tolerated, but as displaced Cherokees moved in from the east and north, whites were viewed as invaders who killed the game and had little respect for the natural world. Raids between these two clashing cultures became commonplace until a few years before the land was ceded to Georgia in 1817. Although little documentation exists, a major trading road had developed through the county before 1800. This road, which bisected much of northeast Georgia ended in Gainesville, crossing the Unicoi Turnpike in present-day Habersham County. The road was mainly used to transport slaves illegally across the borders of southern states. Development in the area was restricted by the rugged mountains, and agriculture would remain the only major industry until the 1880's, when a significant tourist industry began to form. An attempt before the Civil War to build a railroad from Cincinnati to Charleston ended in failure. Almost all of the line in Rabun had been cut and graded. The grade is still visible along Warwoman Dell and a portion of the grade may be traversed in Warwoman Dell park.
The county was untouched by the Civil War, however, much of the time during the conflict the area bordered on anarchy. During the railway boom of the 1880's and 90's, the Blue Ridge line was to pass through Clayton on the way to Franklin, North Carolina. Beleaguered by financial problems, the railroad quickly fell into bankruptcy. In 1898 The Tallulah Falls Railroad began serving customers, buying up track from the old company. Featured in the Disney movie, "The Great Locomotive Chase, the TFRR would run from Cornelia, Georgia to Franklin, North Carolina for more than 60 years, providing access to the falls and other Rabun County locations for tourists.
By the turn of the century Rabun and its neighbor to the south, Habersham were home to the largest tourist attraction in the state, Tallulah Gorge. Thousands would visit each year and the area was frequently compared to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for its' ability to attract the wealthy. Yet the area was attractive to Georgia Power as well. The hard rock gorges and dramatic drop made it the perfect place for a series of dams to generate power. In spite of the battle waged by environmentalists, the dams were built and the river became a trickle.
About the same time(1903) Andrew Jackson Ritchie, a Rabun native and direct descendant of John Dillard, returned home and founded the Rabun Gap Industrial School. Like Martha Berry had done 20 years earlier, Ritchie began to teach the children that had no place to learn. He viewed education as a family matter and would frequently include mothers and fathers in lessons. The building in the distance in the picture at the top of the page is part of the school.
During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps had a number of "camps" in Rabun County, including Company 457 (F-6) at War Woman Creek (west of Clayton) and Camp Lake Rabun (pictured, left) in Lakemont, Georgia.
More than sixty years after the founding of the school a young English teacher from Cornell, Elliot Wigginton, would come to the school and embark on a program that would gain Rabun County international renown. Foxfire, for almost 20 years, shaped the way in which young adults learn. Wigginton discovered that students can be strongly motivated by curricular connections to local culture, and he used this to stimulate an interest in both writing and history. The published works(Wigginton, Eliot (ed.) (1972)The Foxfire Book. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press.) offer a great insight into Rabun and its neighbors.
|Famed Rabun County artist Tom Landreth uses watercolors to capture the unique beauty of the county. Courtesy Tom Landreth|
Today Rabun County is a popular stop for outdoors-minded people. It's many miles of hiking trails (see list, left), lakes, rivers, and National Forest bring hundreds of thousands of people every year to this peaceful and quiet corner of heaven. The Chattooga River offers challenging whitewater and the Blue Ridge Mountains offer challenging hikes.
Source: From the editors of Roadside Georgia