Pickens County is named in honor of Andrew Pickens, a South Carolina hero of the American Revolution who fought at Georgia's Battle of Kettle Creek with Elijah Clark and John Dooly, surrendered at Charleston, and attacked the British stronghold in Augusta, Georgia before crossing the state and attacking the Long Swamp Cherokee and forcing their surrender. The site of the Battle of Long Swamp Creek is in present-day Pickens County.
Before the county was formed travelers were well acquainted with the area that would become Pickens County. Stretching from the southeast corner of the county and moving northwest, the Old Federal Road was the major route through the Cherokee Nation beginning in 1805. Running from James Vann's ferry across the Chattahoochee River to John Ross's ferry across the Tennessee River, the Old Federal Road had begun its demise by the time Pickens County was formed.
Notable settlements along the Old Federal Road in Pickens County are the oldest within its lines. Harnage's was a tavern west of Long Swamp Creek on the site of Tate House. A second inn known as Daniels was built east of Harnage's about 1828. East of the Cherokee village of Talking Rock was the Taloney or Carmel mission and the home of the Saunders family. In 1830 the state organized the original Cherokee County, essentially taking the entire Cherokee Nation and creating it as a political unit. Harnages Tavern became the courthouse, handling deeds and other county seat functions for what is present-day northwest Georgia.
The Carmel mission was at the epicenter of the problems with the Cherokee Nation. 11 Moravian missionaries including Samuel Austin Worcester and Elizur Butler, were seized here by the state of state of Georgia for residing in Cherokee Georgia without a permit. They were tied to a pole and forced to walk to Gwinnett County. The jury returned a guilty verdict that was later overturned by the United States Supreme Court. President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the verdict and as a result the Cherokee were forced west in 1838 on the Trail of Tears. Fort Newnan was built near the Old Federal Road to house Cherokee as they were rounded up in 1838 before the Trail of Tears.
Land that now comprises Pickens County was distributed in both the Land Lottery of 1832 and the Gold Lottery, although little gold was actually found in the county. One of the first settlers, Samuel Tate, purchased Harnage's from the winners of the property in the lottery.
Although the county did not have much gold it did have an abundance of marble, discovered by an itinerant marble cutter named Henry Fitzsimmons (some sources list the name as Fritz Simmons) in 1836. It seems that Fitzsimmons had gotten bored with the stagecoach ridge from Athens to Ross's Landing (now Chattanooga) and purchased some moonshine from a local farmer. Fitzsimmons had so much to drink that the stagecoach driver would not let him back on and he spotted an outcropping of marble as he awaited the next stage. From 1836 through today, marble has been a major money maker for companies in the county and an intricate part of its history. Fitzsimmons himself organized the first producer, Long Swamp Marble Company in 1840. In 1842 Fitzsimmons located his first mill near the Marble Hill post office and shortly thereafter started a second company near Jasper.
Sam Tate purchased Long Swamp Marble in 1844 following the murder of Fitzsimmons. Tate tried to organize a marble company the following year but failed. In 1850 Tate began a small-scale mining operation (Tate, Adkinson, and Co. that did produce marble near his Pickens County farm. The town that grew near the mine would later be known as Tate.
On December 5, 1853 the Georgia legislature passed an act carving Pickens County from the northern end of Cherokee County and the southern end of Gilmer County. The technical description of the new county was: Beginning at the north west corner of lot number one hundred and fifty-four in the twenty-third district of the second section, on the line of Cherokee and Gordon Counties, and running due east to the line of the thirteenth district of Cherokee County, thence along the line of said district south, four ranges of lots to the north west corner of lot number two hundred and seventeen in the thirteenth district; thence due east to the line of Lumpkin County, at the north east corner [Illegible Text] lot number two hundred and forty-seven in the fourth district of the second section; thence along the line which divides the counties of Cherokee and Lumpkin to the corner of Gilmer County; thence west along the line of the fifth district of the second section, to the south east corner of lot number three hundred and fourteen of said district; thence on a direct line nearly north, to the south-west corner of lot number one hundred in said district; thence west, to the line of Gordon County; thence south, along the line of Gordon and Cherokee Counties, to the starting point.
March 6, 1856 - "the line between the counties of Pickens and Lumpkin be so changed as to include lots of land Nos. 477, 478, and 479, belonging to Daniel P. Monroe ... in the county of Pickens."
December 22, 1857 - "the line between ... Pickens and Dawson be so changed as to include lots of land, Nos. 477, 478 and 479, belonging to Daniel P. Monroe ... in the county of Dawson"
Dec. 13, 1858 - "the line between ... Gilmer and Pickens be so changed, as hereafter to run round and include lots of land numbers 114, 139, 140, 185, 211 and 212, in the 12th district of the second section of originally Cherokee now Gilmer so as to include the residence of David McArther, E. McArther, *D. S. McCravey and Leroy McCravey, now of the county of Gilmer, and add the same to the county of Pickens"
December 19, 1860 - the county line between ... Gordon and Pickens be changed so as to include lot of land number twenty-seven, in the twenty-third district and third section, the residence of Sarah Bunch, in Gordon county
March 19, 1869 - the line between the counties of Cherokee and Pickens shall be changed so as to make lot of land No. 231, in the 4th district and 2d section of Cherokee county, a part of the county of Pickens, said lot No. 231 being the residence of Alfred Spence, and on which said Spence now lives.
1870 (exact date illegable) line between the counties of Cherokee and Pickens be changed so as to add lots Nos. 200 and 201, in the thirteenth district and second section, to the county of Cherokee, said lots belonging to William B. Dowday.
In 1854 the state chartered the Ellijay Railroad and designated that it run from Marietta, through Jasper and on the "copper fields" in Fannin County. The name of the railroad changed to Marietta, Canton and Ellijay Railroad Company in 1859 and finally to the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad before work began on the tracks in 1874. When completed the tracks linked Tate, Jasper and Talking Rock.
After the Civil War a number of companies that mined marble opened and closed, although Tate's company's production continued unabated.
Rural and dependent on agriculture and mining, the case of "Kate Southern" attracted the attention of the United States in 1878. Catherine Southern was at a local dance when she and Narcissa Cowart argued about the attention Cowart was paying to Southern's husband. Kate, pregnant at the time, had heard rumors of an illicit affair between Cowart and her husband Bob. Southern shot and killed Cowart and was tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Under public pressure Governor Alfred Colquitt reviewed the case and commuted her sentence to 10 years.
In 1883 the towns of Talking Rock and Jasper incorporated and the Marietta and North Georgia railroad reached those towns. The railroad gave the marble industry access to a wide variety of customers and spurred growth in the county. Tate's sons Stephen and William began leasing other mines to take advantage of known marble veins and formed Georgia Marble. They chartered Georgia Marble Company on May 11, 1884, backed by a group of northern industrialists. Stephen and William worked not only on improving marble mining techniques but on expanding markets for marble.
Learning is fun Statue at Pickens County Courthouse
Although schools existed before 1902, the first public school organization began in 1902 and a bond issue was approved that December to build the first schoolhouse. The Pickens County jail was built in 1906, and in keeping with the county's production of marble it was given a marble facade.
Colonel "Sam" Tate, son of Stephen Tate and grandson of Samuel Tate, continued to build on the success of his father. By 1917 Georgia Marble was on sound financial footing. "Colonel Sam" was interested in further expanding the marble market. Until the 1920's most customers were large northern cities. Tate decided to hire his own designer and specialized stonecutters, and once again the business increased.
When the county courthouse burned in 1947 a new structure made of marble was completed in 1948.
In 1969 the state created Picken's county water and sewer authority. When work on Interstate 575 was completed in 1985 work began on "Corridor A" which would connect the interstate into the North Georgia mountains including the cities of Jasper, Ellijay and Blue Ridge. In 1991 the road was redesignated the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway although most folks call it the Georgia Mountain Parkway or "the four-lane."
Pickens County Marble at the Lincoln Memorial
Marble in Pickens County is still an important industry, and since its rise marble quarried within the county's border was used in the Lincoln Memorial and the U. S Capitol. Each October the county celebrates the industry with the Marble Festival, featuring tours of some of the stone quarries.