North Georgia’s lakes, rivers, and streams are more than just places to fish, pitch camp, or spend the day boating. They are part of the culture and history of the mountains and each has a story to tell. Whether the story is fact, fiction, or something in between, all contribute to the local culture and strong sense of place typical of the region.
The burning desire for a new invention called electricity was the driving force behind six small hydro-power reservoirs that make up Georgia Power Company’s North Georgia Hydro Group. Each of the six reservoirs is a testament to man’s desire to harness Mother Nature, and each has a unique story.
Home on Lake Burton
Created in 1919 Lake Burton is small as Georgia reservoirs go, but its impacts were felt in many ways, not all of which were looked upon as positive. The village of Burton, Georgia and 65 surrounding homesteads had to be purchased before the reservoir could be built. Many area residents, including the widow of Confederate General James Longstreet, were not happy to see the modern age coming to their small corner of the mountains if it meant losing the land and river to the lake’s rising waters. Although for the good of the many prevailed over the wishes of a few, the controversy did result in much of the area’s history being saved or documented that might have otherwise passed into oblivion.
The lake’s shoreline dotted with cabins, summer homes, and fish camps has served as a vacation destination for generations of Georgians. Of particular note is LaPrade’s on the west side of the lake. Built as a camp for dam construction workers in the 1910s, LaPrade’s has been in continuous operation as a fish camp since the 1920s. The camp offers meals, lodging, and marina service.
Heading on down the Tallulah River, Lake Seed impounds water for Georgia Power’s Nacoochee Hydroelectric Plant. The name “Nacoochee” comes from the Cherokee language and means “evening star.” The Nacoochee Plant was completed in 1926 by the Georgia Railway and Power Company. Shortly after construction was completed, the company consolidated with several others to form the modern-day Georgia Power Company.
Next on the list, Lake Rabun was completed in 1915. When the dam was completed, the expectation was the generating units would soon be added. Builders abandoned this plan when they realized constructing the powerhouse farther downstream at the head of Tallulah Falls Lake would enable the use of an additional 190 foot drop in elevation between the two points. The force of the untamed river’s drop was so furious in this short distance that Native Americans had called the area "Talula" or “Taruri” meaning "the terrible." From this native language, the word "Terrora" was used to name the new powerhouse. To capture the water’s stored energy, a tunnel had to be built through a large mountain. In the fall of 1923 two crews began blasting on opposite sides of the mountain. On the Fourth of July the following year, the two crews met. In an amazing feat of engineering and construction given the primitive technology of the time, upon meeting, the exact centers of the tunnels missed each other by only a fraction of an inch. Once the generators and other equipment were in place, the Terrora Hydroelectric Plant went on-line in 1925.
The smallest of the Georgia Power lakes at only 63 acres, Tallulah Lake lies just upstream of Tallulah Falls across what is basically the very upper end of Tallulah Gorge, a chasm two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. Tallulah Lake is the oldest of Georgia Power’s hydro-power developments. The project was considered one of the top engineering marvels of the time. When it first became operational in 1913, the facility was the third-largest hydro-power plant in the country in terms of kilowatts produced. The layout of the dam and generating plant is unique. The dam directs water to an intake structure on the river’s right bank and into a horseshoe-shaped tunnel. From there the water flows through another massive tunnel approximately 11 feet wide and 14 feet high. The tunnel is 6,666 feet long and cuts through solid rock. The tunnel ends at the forebay on the side of Tallulah Gorge State Park above the powerhouse. From there, water flows down the steep sides of the gorge to the powerhouse through six massive steel penstocks, each five feet in diameter and 1,200 feet long. The Tallulah Falls Plant drew nationwide attention during its construction because of its unique design and an awesome hydraulic head of 608 feet.
Tugalo Lake is formed by Georgia Power's 155-foot high Tugalo Dam on the Tugaloo River. Interestingly, commonly accepted spellings for the river and the lake are different, but how this came to be has been lost to history. In the Cherokee language "Tugalo" means "fork of a stream." The dam is just downstream of where the Tallulah and Chattooga Rivers join to form the Tugaloo River. Construction began in 1917 but adverse economic conditions resulting from the advent of world war halted the project. Work resumed in 1922 and the plant first began producing electricity in 1923.
The lake is remote and nearly inaccessible. All access points require a steep and winding drive on unpaved roads. Kayakers and white water rafters use the boat ramp on the lake’s Chattooga River arm as a take-out after braving the Class V rapids found upstream of the lake. The Yonah Hydroelectric Plant was completed and placed in operation in 1925. An impoundment of the Tugaloo River, 325-acre Lake Yonah is the downstream terminus of chain of Georgia Power lakes. Like most of the other Georgia Power hydro projects in northeast Georgia, the name of the lake comes from Native American language. "Yonah" is a Cherokee word meaning "big black bear."
The hydro-power projects of the turn of the century invite wonder about how something so monumental was ever achieved using the most basic technology and equipment. That all six projects are still in use today leads one to the conclusion that the engineers and builders of the time certainly knew their trade, and had the audacity to attempt taming and harnessing the wild rivers. Then and today the dams do their part to satisfy a small portion of Georgia’s incessant demand for electricity.
Just downstream of the Georgia Power hydro-power lakes is sprawling Lake Hartwell. During Revolutionary War times, the area was a hotbed of anti-British sentiment. Hart County, the town of Hartwell, and the lake are all named after Nancy Hart, a heroine of the era famous for her brave exploits on behalf of the upstart new nation.
The region is also full of lore from the Cherokee people who once inhabited the area. Indian names are evident, including some of the creeks that feed the lake. Creeks like Six-Mile, Twelve-Mile, and others were supposedly named by Issaqueena, a young maiden who rode to Fort Ninety-Six in what is today South Carolina to warn them of an impending attack. According to legend, Issaqueena marked her journey by naming the streams she crossed for the number of miles she had traveled on her mission of mercy.
Arising high in the North Carolina Appalachians, the Chattooga River travels a rugged 50 miles before ending in Lake Tugalo’s still waters. For much of its journey, the Chattooga forms the state line between South Carolina and Georgia.
The Chattooga River near Dicks Creek Falls
On May_10, 1974, Congress designated the Chattooga be protected as a National Wild and Scenic River. The protection was awarded because of the river’s outstanding scenery and recreation, and its wildlife, geologic, and cultural values. The river is famous with white water thrill seekers, and is well known among trout anglers. The Chattooga has taken many lives; not just white water daredevils, but hikers and others walking and playing in and around the river. Mother Nature should never be taken lightly, and one misstep or overly bold action can lead to tragedy in the Chattooga’s unforgiving rapids.
Of particular historical and political significance is Ellicott Rock. The rock marks the point where the borders of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina all meet. The boulder is named for Andrew Ellicott, an early 18th century surveyor commissioned with the daunting task of surveying this rugged parcel of Southern Appalachia. Upon fixing this point, Ellicott carved his initials into the rock, and they can still be seen today.
Movie buffs may have seen the Chattooga River and not even realized it. The film Deliverance was filmed on the lower Chattooga, and the river remains as rough today as in the early 1970s when film crews were forced to use rafts to get them and their gear on location. In fact, one Class 4 rapid is named “Deliverance Rock,” purportedly because thousands of dollars worth of equipment went to the bottom there when a raft carrying crew and equipment capsized. Desoto Falls Campground on Frogtown Creek north of Cleveland is named after very interesting local legend. According to the story, early settlers in the area found a strange piece of armor at the base of the falls. They believed the armor must have been left behind by Hernando de Soto himself as he explored the area looking for gold. If the story is true, the Spanish explorer may have been closer than he realized to the precious metal. NearbyDahlonega was the site of America’s first gold rush in the 1830s and is the source of the gold foil on the Georgia Capitol Building dome.
Lake Trahlyta, named for a Cherokee maiden buried nearby, is a small recreational lake found within Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s oldest and most popular parks. The beautiful mountain scenery and cool climate makes Vogel State Park a favorite summer getaway for Georgia families. The park takes its name from a German family named Vogel. The family came to the United States in 1848, settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they became partners in leather tanning company. As part of their tanning operations, the company acquired large sections of land in the north Georgia mountains to provide raw materials. The forests included large stands of chestnut, oak, and hemlock trees; the tannin from their bark was used to treat calf hide turning it into leather. With the development of a synthetic tanning process, the trees were no longer needed. In 1917 Fred and August Vogel donated land to the State of Georgia for a state park. Appropriately, since Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers built the park’s lake during the Great Depression, the park contains a small museum chronicling the CCC’s history and accomplishments in the area.
At the confluence of Curtis and York creeks in the Chattahoochee National Forest, travelers will find Anna Ruby Falls Trail. Twin falls of 150 feet and 50 feet drop spectacularly together to form Smith Creek The falls received their name from a one-time owner who wished to honor the name of his beloved daughter. After the War Between the States, Colonel John Nichols purchased the land surrounding and including the falls. Colonel Nichols had faced many tragedies in his life including the death of his wife and two infant sons. He adored his only surviving family member, a daughter named Anna Ruby, and named the falls after her. Today, the falls and surrounding area are included in the U.S. Forest Service’s 1,600-acre Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area.
The sites listed above are only a brief sampling of North Georgia’s rich history. Next time you travel through the area, mentally drift out of now and back into then and wonder about the stories the mountains could tell about the sights they have seen if only they could talk.
Many thanks to noted Georgia Fisherman Kevin Dallmier, who wrote Fishing Georgia
North Georgia Naturally North Georgia -- it's a natural! From outdoor adventure to our natural history, About North Georgia covers the area with in-depth articles, photos, and insights into those great, little-known "secrets" of the area.