Volunteers await the signal from the conductor to begin boarding the passengers
All Aboard! came the familiar cry, All Aboard! For more than a month anticipation of this moment had been building. We were about to embark on a trip filled with history, scenic views and a good time for everyone whether they are eight or eighty. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad is preparing to leave from the depot in downtown Blue Ridge to make the 3-hour round trip journey to McCaysville on the Georgia-Tennessee border, then back to the depot.
Built between the 1870's and the 1890's the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad brought unparalleled growth to the towns it touched, from Woodstock and Canton to Ellijay and Blue Ridge. The railroad chose to run through Blue Ridge rather than the county seat of Morgonton a few miles to the east.
The choice of Blue Ridge sparked a feud over the location of the county court and soon the county's political infrastructure was making a one-time trek west to Blue Ridge, lock, stock and courthouse. The M&NG might have been successful if it had not been saddled with a large debt trying to construct a shorter route to Knoxville through the mountains of North Georgia.
Two pictures of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad engine. Top: Getting ready to start. Bottom: Enroute with a full load of passengers
North of Blue Ridge the railroad hung close to the Toccoa River, creating one of the most scenic rides east of the Mississippi. The railroad changed hands until it became unprofitable and closed in the 1960's. Over the next thirty years the railroad became overgrown with brush and damaged in a number of places.
Starting in 1997 volunteers working as part of the Georgia Northeastern Railroad began to clear the track not only from Blue Ridge to McCaysville but all along the route of the old Marietta and North Georgia Railroad. This portion of the line was known as the Hook and Eye Division for two unusual features, the "hook," a 180 degree loop around Tate Mountain, and the eye a complete loop used to change elevation at Hiawassee River gorge. On May 23, 1998 the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad opened for business and the rest, as they say, is history.
A foggy September morning greeted us as we left early from Whispering Winds, where we spent the night to reduce the morning travel time. While the trip from Atlanta only takes a couple of hours thanks to the Georgia Mountain Parkway, we decided to spend the night in the mountains and reduce our early morning drive time.
Arriving at the Blue Ridge Depot about a half hour before departure, the small building is packed with people. The open-air car seems intriguing, even though it is a brisk morning and the moving air will cool us even more. It is a choice we don't regret. Our conductor amplifies the presentation of the engineer, joking with the loudspeaker, pointing out small things that are overlooked in the general presentation and teaching us to wave at the two sisters. He even had carrots for the kids to throw for the mules.
As we journeyed north we learned the lore of Fannin County, the brisk moonshine business that for many farmers was their only source of income, and Dr. Thomas Hicks, whose home for wayward mothers in McCaysville was a no questions asked adoption agency for almost 3 decades. Native American and settlers fish traps were visible in the fog-shrouded Toccoa River and both the Cohutta Mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the south and east were occasionally visible.
During the 26 mile round-trip journey the train reached speeds up to 10 miles per hours and during our 45 minute stayover in McCaysville we were offered cookies thanks to local volunteers, got to grab a quick bite to eat and visited a unique gift store that specialized in copper, which was mined locally many years ago.
When the train whistle blew we knew our time was up and had to return to the station. Of course the scenery was quite a bit different on the way home, since the fog had lifted. More people were trout fishing in the Toccoa River below Lake Blue Ridge Dam and the mule wanted more carrots! On our return to Blue Ridge we stopped at a downtown cafe for lunch, then headed home.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
241 Depot Street
Blue Ridge, Georgia 30513