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'Ghost Town' health resort in Lumpkin County drew crowds

POSTED: August 16, 2009 1:00 a.m.

In the 1950s and perhaps later, a favorite pastime for some high school and college students was to explore what they called "Ghost Town" in Lumpkin County.

Actually it was the ruins of a once-thriving health hideaway in the era of mineral springs resorts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was known as Porter Springs near the intersection of what is now Ga. 60 and U.S. 19 between Dahlonega and Turner's Corner.

The resort prospered into the 1920s, but what fascinated those later young explorers was its remnants three decades later.

There still stood a former grand piano in the midst of the ruins of a recreation hall, its hardwood floors still intact. Other buildings included cabins with cabinets containing old wooden medicine boxes. It was as if the springs had dried up, and people just evacuated all of a sudden.

The Porter name came from the property owner, Basil S. Porter. But the Rev. Joseph McKee, a Methodist minister from Dawson County who loved to walk the countryside, is credited with rediscovering the springs in 1868 at the foot of Cedar Mountain, according to "The History of Lumpkin County." He is said to have tested the waters, and they "appear to be invested with extraordinary power by a beneficent Creator, adapted to ameliorate and heal nearly all the diseases incident to mankind, especially chronic maladies which defy the skills of physicians."

When he cleared it out, McKee found the spring protected by a rock wall, indicating it might have been used by others perhaps hundreds of years ago.

Porter allowed the ailing to use lots around the springs. But in 1874, H.P. Farrow, who was Georgia's district attorney, leased the property. He became interested, the story goes, because a wound he suffered in the Civil War didn't heal until the wonder waters of Porter Springs worked their magic.

Farrow developed the resort, adding a hotel, other cabins, a ball room, dining room, tennis courts, croquet fields and billiard parlor. At one time Porter Springs had its own post office.

Stories of the healing powers of the mystical springs spread. A man who suffered a sore leg for seven years was cured within a few weeks. The Georgia Cracker newspaper reported in 1899 that Dr. F.W. McRae of Gainesville chose Porter Springs to recuperate from an appendectomy. "(Dr. McRae) is now up there with his family rapidly improving and will probably be able to resume his practice fully restored to health," the paper wrote.

"Hacks," hired horses and buggies, would bring people to the resort by the scores, for $2 usually from the Hunt House in Gainesville after train trips from Atlanta or beyond. You could stay at Porter Springs for $1.50 a day or $22.50 a month. That included sumptuous meals usually accompanied by orchestra music.

Porter Springs actually was advertised as "Queen of the Mountains."

Mrs. Farrow operated the resort with her husband, who also was postmaster in Gainesville for five years beginning in 1898. She died at Porter Springs in 1904, and her husband died three years later at age 73, his health having gone downhill following the death of his wife, friends said.

In Dahlonegan Anne Amerson's "I Remember Dahlonega" series, Joseph Whitner, great-great-grandson of H.P. Farrow, said Porter Springs fizzled out after that. By the 1920s, he said, it was mostly used as a summer home for family members.

The David family owns the property, and it remains undeveloped. The Rev. McKee, who stumbled upon the springs, was George David's great-great-grandfather. McKee's Chapel United Methodist Church on Ga. 183 in Dawson County is named after the minister.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays. Read past columns on gainesvilletimes.com.



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