Helen is the most popular destination in North Georgia, and third in the state behind Atlanta and Savannah. The rugged beauty of this high mountain watershed known today as the Helen Valley attracts hundreds of thousand people to events such as Oktoberfest and the Alpine Lights. Yet today's Helen is vastly different than the rough and tumble days not so long ago.
At first the area was a productive part of the Georgia Gold Rush centered around Dukes Creek, where the first alluvial (loose in soil or sediments) gold was found in 1828. Mining replaced panning in the area within a year, but by that time more productive belts of the mineral had been found further west and south by 1831.
First introduced in 1857, miners returned after the Civil War to scar the land with hydraulic mining, but when Georgia outlawed the practice in the 1880's the area returned to its agricultural roots.
As early as 1898 the area began attracting travelers to the North Georgia Mountains when the Nacoochee Hotel (Alley House) opened. Mitchell's Mountain Ranch Hotel opened in 1911 upstream from the GA 75 bridge (it was a ford back then). John Mitchell also offered homes for sale.
Helen itself was born in 1913 around the new Byrd-Mathews Saw Mill, the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad that Byrd-Mathews built to haul lumber, and the Mountain Ranch. The city was named for the teenage daughter of a sawmill manager who also sat on the board of the G&N.
Byrd-Mathews sold the saw mill and railroad to the Morse Brothers before the end of World War I. The railroad ceased operations to Robertson in 1928 and the line was abandoned in 1934. When the Mountain Ranch burned to the ground in 1945 the state created Unicoi State Park. In the 1960's tourism blossomed into Helen's major business.
Helen:Her Story follows the development of Helen, Georgia from the days when Archaic Indians roamed the fertile Sautee-Nacoochee Valley until today. It is a unique view of the popular travel destination.
Helen:Her Fun is About North Georgia's Editors picks for fun things to do in and near the city.