Southern Traveler: BLAIRSVILLE, GEORGIA
It is said that more gold has been found in Georgia than any other state in the East. In the area of Blairsville, Georgia gold mining began around the 1820s and was known to be the purest and most brilliant gold in the mountains. The gold rush in the North Georgia Mountains spread rapidly and brought thousands of prospectors, miners, and settlers to the region. This rapid expansion increased tensions with the Cherokee people who originally occupied these lands, ultimately forcing their removal as part of the Trail of Tears. Union County was carved from a piece of Cherokee territory during Georgia’s Land Lottery of 1832. In 1835 the county seat was designated as Blairsville and the city was incorporated. Blairsville today is still rooted in the history and life of the North Georgia Mountains. Treasure endures in exploration and adventure in the Chattahoochee National Forest, recreation on area lakes including Lake Chatuge, and shopping and dining in the charming downtown. Stress levels ease on off and you feel like the magic that made the gold so brilliant may be sweeping over you just a bit.
We loved Blairsville and here's some of what we discovered.
WHAT TO DO
OLD COURTHOUSE MUSEUM
Visit the Old Courthouse Museum located in the historical 1899 Union County Courthouse at the center of Blairsville's downtown. The first county courthouse in Blairsville, Georgia was constructed in 1835. After their courthouse burned down twice, once in 1859 and again in 1898, the current courthouse (pictured) was built in 1899 and served the county until 1976. It then fell into disrepair and was saved from demolition by the Union County Historical Society. The building now operates as the Old Courthouse Museum and is open to the public. See interesting artifacts from Union County history as well as the restored 1899 court room.
Brasstown Bald is as high as you can get in Georgia. At 4,784 feet, it is the highest point and at the peak divides Union County and Towns County. The Cherokee called the peak “Enotah” meaning bare or bald. The mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains.
They say that on a clear day you can see the tallest buildings in Atlanta from the summit. From the observation deck you have a 360 degree view including four states (GA, TN, NC, and SC). Owned by the US Forest Service, the Brasstown Bald Recreation Area & Visitor Center is located within the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. It is just a short drive from Blairsville and a half-mile climb to the top (alternate shuttle available) once you arrive at the visitor’s center. There are three trailheads, a mountaintop natural science and history museum, and the observation deck.
BYRON HERBERT REECE HERITAGE FARM
Byron Herbert Reece was born in 1917 to Emma and Juan Reece in a one-room log cabin to a family who had lived in the North Georgia mountains since the early 1800s. As an American author, the soul of his mountain homeland resonates through his four volumes of poetry and two novels. Reece’s life and career ended early at age forty when he committed suicide in response to illness and depression. He was found in his office at Young Harris College, Mozart on the record player, his students’ papers graded and neatly stacked. In 2003 a group of writers formed the Byron Herbert Reece Society and in 2004 constructed a museum to the write on the site of his family farm. Open to the public, the museum is a depiction of early 20th century farm life. The Reece Heritage Farm (pictured) includes exhibits telling the story of Byron Herbert Reece as a farmer, writer, and poet who lived on the farm. There is also a vegetable garden, restored barn, corn crib, chicken house, smokehouse, spring house, and petting farm with animals. See our Reverie on Byron Herbert Reece for more on this talented farmer-poet.
Lake Chatuge was created by the Chatuge Dam which was completed by the TVA in 1942. The 2,950-foot earth-and-rock dam crossed the Hiawassee River forming the lake. Surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains, Lake Chatuge stretches between Northern Georgian and Western North Carolina. It has more than 130 miles of shoreline and many finger-like projections of land which create the many beautiful coves it is known for making it ideal for fishing, swimming, and boating. Today, Lake Chatuge is loved by locals and visitors and has transformed the area into a recreational paradise continuing to boost the economy with tourism. One homesite, the Cloer family homeplace, was one of hundreds submerged by the lake. In 1987 the Cloer heirs opened a lakeside hotel on their remaining property and fortified it with a pair of cannons from a movie set. It was said that this was in defiance of the TVA. Today, that same property is the area’s only lakeside resort, Ridges Resort & Marina.
WHERE TO SHOP
Blairsville has shopping aplenty with a variety of shops and boutiques carrying antiques, local art, goods, and produce, gift items, home decor, souvenirs, and more. And, with several coffee shops in town, there's always a rest stop between shops.
Sunrise Grocery in Blairsville, Georgia opened in the early 1920s. This little country store in the Choestoe Valley is the oldest business in Union County still at its original location. You can fill up your tank with an antique gas pump and shop for local goods including pottery, honey, sorghum, handmade soaps, produce grown by local farmers, and Sunrise Grocery World Famous Boiled P-nuts. It's been in the same family for more than 35 years.
You'll see signs for Alexander's everywhere while driving around the Blairsville area. Their slogan is that they carry "everything under the sun." After visiting, we'd have to agree, the store is chock full of everything from furniture to gifts to clothing and shoes.
If you love shopping for local goods and produce, The Market at The Sawmill Place in Blairsville is the perfect destination. Continuing their “All Things Local” theme the market offers local produce, along with Georgia grown products and unique gifts created by Tri-state area artisans. While you’re shopping, grab an espresso or cappuccino at the Market Cafe.
Grandaddy Mimms Moonshine Distillery offers tastings of their moonshine recipes including the ones that date back to the 1930s when owner Tommy Townsend's grandfather was making authentic Appalachian moonshine not so legally. Tommy came across the recipes in 2012 and fired up the still himself. Grandaddy Mimms is a perfect stop for unique souvenirs or gifts from the Georgia mountains.
Other favorite shops we visited in Blairsville include:
WHAT TO EAT
There is plenty of deliciousness to be found in Blairsville and the surrounding area. We had the pleasure of sampling a few of their finest. Here's some of our favorites:
The Sawmill Place describes themselves as “A gathering place for locals; a destination for travelers.” The morning we visited both locals and travelers had come together, filling the place, to enjoy the home-cooked, farm-to-table goodness Sawmill is known for. We quickly became a fan of their "everything local" philosophy, amazing service, and delicious food!
Michaelee's is a locally owned boutique Italian restaurant with a creative menu. Their food is beautifully presented and the restaurant has a romantic and cozy atmosphere. Perfect for date night or a delightful dinner with friends and family.
Copeland's Burgers & Southern Eats is known for its laid back atmosphere and amazing burgers. A favorite in Blairsville, Copeland's delivered on our visit with excellent burgers, drinks, and smoked wings, all with homemade ingredients.
With a slogan like "Just Be Happy ...and Have Fun!" - there's no way to not love Cabin Coffee Co. in Blairsville, Georgia. The delicious lattes, bagels, cinnamon rolls, and hospitality made us a lasting fan. Saddle seating, a cozy fireplace, and the fact that Cabin Coffee sits in a renovated historic gas station make it extra fun.
WHERE TO STAY
One of the best ways to experience the Blairsville, Georgia area is to live like a local for a bit and really immerse yourself in the North Georgia Mountains. There are many excellent vacation rentals including ones near town, in the mountains, and on stunning Lake Chatuge. We had the pleasure of the latter, and can't say enough good things about lake living as a way to wind down and really get the feeling of this wonderful part of Georgia. Here's the place we'd stay again and the one we'd highly recommend. Check out our Reverie on Shady Rest - a peaceful and beautifully remodeled vacation home with a great story of love and kindness.