Whether you are an outdoor aficionado, gourmand, love to hunt for pottery, or just enjoy good scenery, Georgia 197 offers some of the best of each as it winds for 33 miles from its start near Mount Airy, Georgia. As it meanders north to U.S. 76 east of the Appalachian Trail, Georgia 197 takes you into Clarkesville, seat of Habersham County government, past a state park, good restaurants, some fine recreational activities and two well-known local potter.
Heading north from U. S. 123/State Road 13 just east of Mount Airy, the road was poorly marked when About North Georgia first made the journey and it still is today. From the Cornelia depot travel under the tracks on Main Street and make a hard left at the first light (Wyly St.). Continue to the second BP station and turn left. We found out from the Georgia DOT that the portion of the road south of US 441 is no longer designated as State Road 197, but as Old Georgia 197. When US 441 was completed in 1988 the official start/end of SR 197 became its exit from US 441, however, we like to run the road the way we learned it early in the 1980's.
Shorts Mill on Hazel Creek
Initially Scenic 197 traverses rolling hills and open farmland, where cattle graze in front of scenic vistas. This area, Habersham County, is known for its apples and livestock. In fact, livestock production has tripled in the last 20 years. As Scenic 197 approaches GA 365/US 23/US 441 the mountains are visible less than 15 miles away. Its apple crop is celebrated with the Big Red Apple at the depot in downtown Cornelia.
Continuing north, at US 441 the highway officially gains the SR197 tag. On the right shortly after the underpass is the first historic building, Shorts Mill. If you are heading north on Scenic 197 you need to watch back and to the right to see the mill. It is plainly visible heading south. Built on Hazel Creek, Shorts Mill sports an iron millwheel. The nearby area is still referred to as Shorts Mill.
Habersham County Courthouse and Clock Tower
Scenic 197 divides the city of Clarkesville in two. The largest city on the journey, Clarkesville has been steadily increasing in population from 1,151 in the 1990 U. S. Census to 1,602 in the 2006 estimate. The center of town is marked by quaint shops and the unusual Habersham County courthouse and Clock Tower. In front of the courthouse are a gazebo and the Habersham County War Memorial at the intersection of Scenic 197 and Georgia 17. In Clarkesville Scenic 197 follows the route of Historic 441 in the downtown area before turning north. The beautiful campus of North Georgia Technical Institute is just north of downtown on the highway.
North of Clarkesville Route 197 takes on an entirely different persona. The dips and rises shorten and are more dramatic, and turns, almost 90 degrees and some unmarked are a major part of the road. The road follows the Soque River and small arts and crafts shops pop up every couple of miles.
Mark of the Potter
One of these stores is a converted grist mill called "Mark of the Potter." Owned by Jay Bucek, Mark (as he fondly called the shop) took up most of his time from 1985 until health issues forced him to retire a few years ago. Now two full-time potters and other part-timers make their "mark" on the store, which also features the work of other nearby artists. The current grist mill was built in the 1930's but a mill has existed on the site since the early 1820's, shortly after Habersham County was created. A 25-foot falls creates a beautiful setting and large trout, a hallmark of the Soque, swim underneath the back porch (no fishing allowed).
Batesville General Store at the intersection of the Old Clayton Highway and Scenic 197
At Batesville, Scenic 197 is joined by the historic Clayton Road, now designated as SR 255. Here the Batesville General Store warmly greets travelers with country flavor. Behind the General Store is the Wilson Lumpkin Hill House, a unique "bed and biscuit," where guests can visit the Batesville General Store and get their choice of biscuits. Scenic 197 takes a more northerly route, crossing and leaving the Soque and heading to the mountains of Rabun County.
It was in this area that the old Clayton Road turned left, entered the Tallulah River Valley, joining the river at the confluence of Bridge Creek. From here it followed the Tallulah River north, crossing the river to became the main street for the town of Burton, Georgia (population 203, 1910 Census), now under Lake Burton due east of Moccasin Creek State Park. The road turned east in Burton, climbing out of the valley and continuing to Clayton.
In 1917 Georgia Power Company agent John LaPrade began buying the land for the lake. He built a fishing camp and later a family-style restaurant reminiscent of the Dillard House. It was considered to be one of the finest north Georgia eating establishments. The fishing camp served as a CCC staging location in the 1930's. In 1972 the LaPrade family sold its holdings, but the new owners continued with the same name. On May 15,2005 LaPrades Restaurant burned. Today, a marina on Lake Burton bearing the same name sits across the road from the site of the restaurant. Rent a pontoon boat, fishing boat, canoe or almost anything else here on Saturday and Sunday (These are full-day rentals).
Fishermen enjoy the day at Moccasin Creek State Park
Moccasin Creek State Park is an excellent stop for travelers on Scenic 197 or US 76. The park offers camping, fishing and boating on the shores of Lake Burton, a wide, watershed lake designed to hold late winter and early spring downfalls for electric production during the hot summer. The fingers of the lake reach deep into the valleys of North Georgia, offering canoeists a remarkable opportunity to paddle down the lake.
Near Moccasin Creek along route 197 is Hemlock Falls Trail, a short(2.0 miles roundtrip) hike from the parking area. Although the path continues to a higher falls, and met the Appalachian Trail at Addis Gap at one time, the second trail has not been maintained. The Lake Burton Fish Hatchery offers tours daily. It is on the other side of Moccasin Creek from the State Park. For those who like more technical information about Lake Burton:
62 miles of shoreline
2775.4 acres of surface at normal level, which is
9 miles from bridge to dam(more if you're canoeing)
42 species of fish
And for the fishermen who are reading this, the best trout streams are:
As the road roams north, next to the only occasionally visible Lake Burton we near the end of our journey, U. S. 76, an old east-west road. Here in a quiet section our journey is almost over. To the right on 76 lays Clayton, Georgia, in the heart of Rabun County. To the left is Hiawassee, in Towns County. Shortly down the road to Hiawassee is a high spot known as Popcorn Ridge. An unusual land formation created the ridge and deposited minerals near the peak. Miners worked this area for a number of years and evidence of their activity can be seen. As you look north from this federally developed roadside stop Rabun Gap is visible as well as most of the mountains in the county.
Georgia S.R. 197 runs through Rabun and Habersham Counties. Here are some other interesting pages about the area.