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Helen:Her Story
Wood is the new Gold
About North Georgia

At the start of the 20th century the western end of the Nacoochee Valley seemed very similar to the valley during the 1820's. The Unicoi Turnpike was still the major road through the area and only occasional farms dotted the landscape. Even the population, which grew and shrunk over the years is at almost the same level as it was before the Georgia Gold Rush.

In 1910 an itinerant salesman, Charlie Maloof, began selling dry goods in Helen and nearby towns because no general store existed in the area. Maloof, a Lebanese native who moved to Atlanta two years earlier, heard that industry was about to move to this area, and he relocated. Three years later he met his wife Blanche, a Cleveland native, at a local boarding house.

Byrd-Matthews sawmill
In 1911 work began on a lumber mill and a railroad to carry the goods to market in Gainesville. Byrd-Mathews company homes were built on River St.(known as Red Row at the time) and Maloof ran the company commissary.

The following year work began on the the Gainesville & Northwestern (G&NW). Also in 1912, John Mitchell began work on the Mitchell Mountain Ranch Hotel, one of a group of world-renown hotels nestled in the north Georgia mountains. Over the next 33 years, and under a variety of names, the two-story hotel expanded to 40 rooms by adding a wing and was a showplace of Helen and the north Georgia mountains. Today the land on which the hotel was built is known as Pete's Park.

On February 1, 1913 the machinery for the Byrd-Matthews plant arrived on the first train from Gainesville. When the plant opened later that year it began harvesting lumber from the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. In addition to lumber, the Byrd-Mathews plant produced pulp and chemicals normally associated with wood production. The town that quickly came to life around the mill was named for Helen Mitchell, daughter of John Mitchell (Some sources say it was Helen McCombs, the daughter of the President of the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad.). In 1913 the G&NW was completed through Helen to Robertstown, where many of the workers lived.

The city of Helen, Georgia was created on August 13, 1913 with the following description:

"Beginning at the Middle of Chattahoochee River south of the corners of original lots of land Numbers 26 and 27; thence running north one-half mile; thence West to corporate limits of Robertstown; thence along said corporate limits to the middle of Chattahoochee River; thence down said River to a point within one-half mile of the northwest corner of the bank building of `Bank of Helen'; thence in a southerly direction within a radius of one-half mile distance at all points from said corner of said bank building of `Bank of Helen,' to a line running due north to a point one hundred and fifty (150) feet east of the end of north side of Main Street Bridge; thence west to middle of said Chattahoochee River; thence down said river to beginning point."

Populated by "wood hicks," the men who worked in the mill and harvesting the wood further north, Helen before the Great Depression could probably best described as "rough and tumble." A lone policeman and the county sheriff struggled to maintain control in the small town.

The Byrd-Matthews plant almost immediately ran into financial problems. They had used the value of their unharvested timberland to pay for building both the plant and railroad, and lumber prices had began to fall even before the first lumber from the plant reached the railhead in January, 1914. As production ramped up it became harder to find men who could work in the plant or in the field. Byrd eventually gave up his portion of the company to Matthews.

Four years later the Gainesville (Georgia) News reported on March 7, 1917 that the Byrd-Matthews plant had closed until conditions improved.

Next: End of the Wood Era

Helen:Her Story

Archaic Indians in Sautee-Nacoochee Valley
Early Cherokee Influence
Spanish Influence in Helen
First Settlers Arrive
Unicoi Turnpike
Gold Discovered in Georgia
After The Gold Rush
Captain Nichols and Anna Ruby Falls
Wood is the new Gold
End of the Wood Era
Charlie Maloof and Arthur Woody
A new road for Helen
A Park named Unicoi
Helen 1954-1969
Rebirth of Helen
Modern Helen
Helen-Her Fun
Directions to Helen


Alpine Helen
Popular tourist destination in Northeast Georgia

Article Links
A Park named Unicoi
A new road for Helen
After The Gold Rush
Archaic Indians in Sautee-Nacoochee Valley
Captain Nichols and Anna Ruby Falls
Charlie Maloof and Arthur Woody
Chattahoochee River
Directions to Helen
Early Cherokee Influence
End of the Wood Era
First Settlers Arrive
Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad
Georgia Gold Rush
Gold Discovered in Georgia
Helen 1954-1969
Helen-Her Fun
Modern Helen
Rebirth of Helen
Spanish Influence in Helen
Unicoi Turnpike
Wood is the new Gold

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