Just south of the North Carolina/Georgia border is Blairsville, a small town of around 600 people. Blairsville and the rest of Union County fold right into the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. The winding roads that lead there are straight off a postcard.
My song pick for this blog is the first episode of The Wolf Sisters, a three-part subseries of my favourite horror podcast, Old Gods of Appalachia. We listened to this series as we drove through the mountains from North Carolina to Georgia. Listen closely for a mention of Blairsville.
There are many reasons to visit Blairsville and this blog will not cover all of them, but let’s start here.
1. Historic Downtown
Driving south along Highway 19/129, you can not miss this beauty. The Union County Historical Courthouse sits in the center of a roundabout that anyone passing through Blairsville must drive around.
The courthouse was built in 1899 by renowned architect J.W. Golucke but later condemned in 1970s after decades of neglect and disrepair. Fortunately the Union County Historical Society formed and its members garnered enough support to restore it.
Visit the Old Courthouse Museum inside to learn more about the town’s history and how people like us end up there each day.
Some of the original courthouse bells, clocks, and a monument to honour fallen soldiers from Union County are also on the courthouse lawn.
The Union County Historical Society also preserves and manages two historic homes from the early 1900s. Visitors can see the Grapelle Butt Mock House and the John Payne Cabin at the Mountain Life Museum, just a few blocks from the Courthouse.
Downtown Blairsville and its many small businesses include the Village Square Mall, the 1930s Hole in the Wall diner, Cabin Coffee, Abide Coffee, Tin Roof Country Store & Creamery, the Skillet Cafe, Sawmill Place Restaurant, the Herb Crib, and many others.
Our first visit to Blairsville was during a rainstorm and our second was on a Sunday, when most of downtown takes the day off.
We still found things to do and took advantage of having the town mostly to ourselves, window shopping and listening to some buskers outside the Village Square Mall.
2. Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest
Over 800 miles of trails weave through 800,000 acres of parks, camping grounds, mountain ridges, and other natural landmarks in the combined Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests around Blairsville.
Three ranger districts of Conasauga, Blue Ridge, and Chattooga River collectively manage ten different National Wilderness Preservation systems. The Forest connects to the famous Appalachian Trail and is close to both Brasstown Bald and Anna Ruby Falls, which we were able to visit all of during the same day.
Europeans settled into this Cherokee/Creek land and named it after James Blair, a beloved Revolutionary War veteran. Blairsville had earned a reputation for its abundance of gold in the Catoosa Mines, and for having the purest unique yellow gold that set it apart from gold mined elsewhere in the country.
We will revisit again during warmer months, but the mist and fog of winter presented an eerie and dreamlike cold surrealism that made us feel like we were on another planet.
3. Brasstown Bald
Georgia’s highest mountain can be hiked in just a little over half a mile from the parking lot, but be warned, it is STEEP! Alternately you can take a shuttle up and hike down, or take the shuttle both ways.
Admission is just three dollars and leashed dogs are welcome on the trail, though open hours are not always predictable and they have strict protocols for visiting. Check the website first, and pay close attention to signs.
There are a few webcams set up at the top that you can watch here.
At the observation tower, there is also a gift shop, some exhibitions, and a theater. Before Covid-19 (and hopefully after), visitors can watch historical films and other videos inside.
4. Vogel State Park / Lake Trahlyta
Despite the luck of the goldmining industry before the Great Depression, this area of North Georgia remained rather primitive until the Tennessee Valley Authority built a dam against the Nottely River and other bodies nearby.
This dam brought hydroelectric power, electricity, economic growth, and tourism with the newly created Lake Trahlyta, the serene centerpiece of Vogel State Park.
Legends of the Native American Nunnehi spirits haunt the area, as countless battles took place between the Cherokee and Creek tribes on these ancient grounds between Blood Mountain and Slaughter Mountain.
Vogel State Park is the second oldest state park in Georgia. The park is situated at the foothills of Blood Mountain, marked as the highest summit of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. An onsite Civilian Conservation Corps museum tells about the park’s history and the CCC members that helped create it during the Great Depression era.
Visitors can hike several miles of trails connecting to the Appalachian Trail, swim, bike, kayak, fish, play mini golf, relax on the sandy beach, utilize the picnic areas, campgrounds, and playgrounds, shop the General Store, or rent cabins and paddle boats. Fellow Geocachers will be pleased to find several sites also.
5. Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site
Between Thuderstruck Mountain and Buzzard Roost Ridge is an obscure bit of land called Track Rock Gap Archaeological Area, where hundreds of ancient petroglyphs were discovered to be carved into massive soapstone boulders. The site is currently pending status on the National Registry of Historic Places, and is Georgia’s best known petroglyph site.
Though the carvings are dated to have been around since 1,000 BC, it was not until 2009 that a team of archaeologists learned they could apply halogen lights to view the petroglyphs with advanced clarity.
Images of animals, human figures, circles and others symbols cover the boulders. The photo below was found on Pinterest via Google Image Search, but the link to the original author was broken:
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