West of Chatsworth, Georgia, a small town in the northwest part of the state, Georgia 225 leaves the main highway and heads south. Shortly after dipping to a stream the road rises and a dramatic brick house appears as if out of nowhere. The house has a commanding view of all land around it and a stunning view of the Cohutta Mountains, less than 10 miles to the east. This brick home is the oldest remaining structure in northern third of the state of Georgia and its owners were leaders of the Cherokee Nation.
At the start of the 19th century, one of the richest men in the Western Hemisphere lived on this land. James Vann, a member of the Cherokee Triumvirate, worked and fought hard for the money he used to build this house along the Old Federal Road at Spring Place. At the time, he owned about 200 slaves and hundreds of acres of farmland.
Vann and a number of his wives lived in the house or nearby. After his murder in 1809, the home passed to Joseph, Vann's eldest son.
When "Rich Joe" Vann was 20 years old President James Monroe paid him a visit in 1819. Through the 1820's Rich Joe proved every bit as shrewd as his father James and expanded the family wealth.
After the Georgia Gold Rush Joseph hired a white man to run the plantation. Although the man never actually worked for Vann, the Cherokee had unknowingly violated a new Georgia law forbidding whites from working for Cherokees without a permit. The infamous Georgia Guard tried to take over the house. A man, Spencer Riley, who claimed to have won the house in the Land Lottery of 1832 also tried to take over the house and Rich Joe, his wife and family were caught in the midst of the struggle between Riley and the Guard. Col. Bishop, leader of the Guard, took a smoldering log and threw it on the cantilevered steps, smoking Riley out of the house.
The Vann's were finally forced out of the house in March, 1835. In November of that year Col. Bishop imprisoned John Howard Payne for 13 days on the grounds. Payne, noted as composer of "Home, Sweet Home" had been charged with sedition for supporting the claims of the Cherokee over the state of Georgia.
The house passed through numerous hands and by the 1950's was in disrepair. The roof had come off and the elements were taking their toll. At the time, sites like Vann House were administered by the Georgia Historical Society. A restoration project began in 1951 and was completed 12 years later.
The story of James Vann and the Cherokee are told in the Vann House museum, which also houses the visitors center for the park. Displays on the house and its owners, its rich history and the Cherokee Trail of Tears help visitors understand the impact of this man and his family on North Georgia and the Cherokee Nation.