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Unicoi Turnpike
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Names and Origins

Prior to the existence of a toll road from the Tellico Block House to the Tugaloo River known as the Unicoi Turnpike a path existed over the entire route of the turnpike. In general, this was known as a Cherokee Trading Path. The Cherokee had a number of names for this path, and some of these names were used to describe other paths in the same area as well.

The Cherokee Indians established a network of "trading paths" throughout the present-day South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The earliest written mention of this network of paths was in the 1682. In 1721 the term "Overhill" was introduced by South Carolina to describe the Cherokee who were not a part of the South Carolinians called the Lower Towns and Upper Towns.

What became the Unicoi Turnpike was known by a number of names and a number of spellings including Unicoy, Unaka, or Unega, all of which appear to be variations of spelling of the Cherokee word for white. According to James Mooney the Cherokee also referred to this path a Wachesa Trail. One of the Cherokee towns one the trail in Tennessee was known as Wachissa.

Until the Unicoi Turnpike was complete settlers in north Georgia simply referred to the road as the "old trading path" or the "Unicoi Road." When the road was completed and tolls were charged, settlers continued to call it Unicoi Road or Unicoi Pike.


Generally, the Trading Path that became the Unicoi Turnpike began at Tellico Block House on the Federal Road between Ramhurst and Knoxville, entered the Tennessee mountains at Unicoi Gap and traveled east to the area of present-day Murphy, North Carolina. From here the path turned south, followed the Hiawassee River to its headwaters just below the northern entrance to Georgia's Unicoi Gap.

Once through Unicoi Gap the path generally followed Spoilcane Creek to the Chattahoochee River. As it dropped some 800 feet from Unicoi Gap towards Sautee, the road crossed Spoilcane Creek and Chattahoochee River 11 times, basically creating switchbacks for people who used the trail.

Once it was in the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley the road continued east as the Chattahoochee turned south. The Sautee Store is built on the site where a road from The Crossings (present-day Clayton, Georgia) met the Unicoi Turnpike. This road was also part of the Cherokee Trading Path network and joined roads to present-day Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

From Sautee-Nacoochee to Toccoa the road passed through the northeast Georgia Mountains and reached Travelers Rest Historic Site. In the 1700's the Cherokee village of Tugaloo (Tugaloo Old Town) sat on the river (now Lake Tugaloo) and Indians from the Overhill Trading Path could cross and meet another network of paths that joined the Lower Towns and Upper Towns villages.

Historic figures

Colonel George Chicken mentioned the Cherokee Trading Path in writing in 1702. In 1716 he wrote that he had to "walk more than I rode" on the path. Alfred Cumming used a portion of the Cherokee Trading Path to reach the Overhill towns in 1730. Christian Priber may have used the path to reach the Cherokee. While surveying the Hawkins Line in 1797 Benjamin Hawkins followed the Hiawassee Trail, which was part of the Unicoi Turnpike in places.

Building the Road

Unicoi Turnpike in the Sautee Nacoochee Valley
In 1805 the Cherokee agreed to permit the building of the Old Federal Road from Vann's Ferry to Nashville. A second Federal Road was added from Ramhurst (Georgia) to Knoxville. In March, 1813, the Cherokee agreed on a road between the two Unicoi Gaps, then following Cane Creek (Spoilcane or Spoil Cane Creek) to the Chota River (Chattahoochee) but required that some Cherokee be allowed to own, run and manage portions of the road, just as they had done on the Old Federal Road.

In many place it is noted that the Unicoi Turnpike was chartered by the state of Georgia, however, a search of Georgia legislative documents from 1799 until 1850 shows no charter.

James Wylys Inn at Nacoochee along the Unicoi Turnpike
As the Unicoi Turnpike descended along the Chota River it crossed the river 11 times. Continuing south along Georgia Highway 75. At the Indian Mound south of the city the road turned east and continued to the Tugaloo River, where Wyly ran the toll. At this point the river becomes a highway and passengers traveled by boat to Augusta or Savannah.

James Wyly built the road, completing it in 1819. Many structures on the Unicoi Turnpike, including the Nachoochee Inn and at least 2 other inns were also built by Wyly. Depending on the terrain, these inns were 13 to 20 miles apart (a days travel). In 1820 he built a brick home along the road north of Unicoi Gap. In this area of Towns County the road was also known as Wyly Road.

Portions of the Unicoi Turnpike were used as boundary lines in the Cherokee land cession of 1817 and by 1819 the land under entire turnpike had been ceded to the state of Georgia. Wyly moved west with the boundary, selling his land near the Tugaloo River (Travelers Rest Historic Site). He owned boarding houses and inns along the road he built.

Economic Development

Trading posts appeared almost immediately along the route in every Cherokee town from the Georgia border to Tellico Block House. In Georgia, the Indians no longer lived along the road, so economic development was slower. One of the first businesses along the road was Nora Mills. The Mill was owned by Daniel Brown and should not be confused with today's Nora Mill, which was built in 1876.

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