View Mobile Site

Anonymity doesn't faze Robertstown

POSTED: June 20, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Helen, the Bavarian-themed village in northern White County, is well known around the state and Southeast.

Almost unnoticed among the busyness is its next-door neighbor, Robertstown, which also is snug against the hills along the Chattahoochee River. Robertstown as a community predates Helen, which prospered first as a lumber mill town and in modern times as a tourist attraction.

Robertstown actually had a named post office before Helen, and both towns were incorporated about the same time, but Robertstown let its charter lapse for lack of interest in a town government. It also had its own school for years and a water system.

When the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad reached into the mountains to retrieve timber and haul lumber in the early 1900s, one of its stops was Robertstown, but its timetable listed it as "North Helen," a name longtime residents didn't cotton to. And while there is occasional talk about becoming a part of Helen, Robertstown residents don't exactly embrace it.

Helen wouldn't allow a helicopter business to take off from its town, so the company moved its base up the road to Robertstown, which is still unincorporated. Expressing their consternation, some residents petitioned against it without success.

Robertstown remains primarily residential on both sides of the river, though besides the helicopter business there is a convenience store, river tubing company, flea market and a couple of other small enterprises. The road to Unicoi State Park also runs through the community.

The town gets its name from Charles Roberts, but the first white settlers were the Trammells, one of several families migrating at the same time from North Carolina. One history also suggests that a Smith once lived there because "Smith Creek" bears the name. John Trammell bought more than 1,000 acres along the Chattahoochee as well as Smith Creek. He donated land for Chattahoochee Methodist Church, famous for its role in the 1950s movie "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain," and which recently marked its 150th anniversary.

Roberts, a wealthy young Englishman who came to the area to mine gold, acquired the property about 1890. Besides the gold-mining company, he also started a winery, greenhouses and general store. He built a turnpike that paralleled the old Unicoi Turnpike to Hiawassee and operated a tollgate to control traffic on his road. The road is still used as a U.S. Forest Service road.

While the Dahlonega gold rush is better known, White County historians say the first gold mined in Georgia was in White County about 1828. A state historical marker notes John Witherroods of North Carolina found a 3-ounce nugget on Duke's Creek, and a servant of Major Frank Logan also found gold there.

The house Roberts built remains occupied today in Robertstown on Ga. 356, which runs through Unicoi State Park. The park dates back to 1954 when the state acquired the property, but it was 1968 before it was fully developed and became a state park.

Previously, in the 1930s, the Unicoi Park area was a Civilian Conservation Corps camp called Camp Robertstown.

Harold McCay, 72, a lifelong Robertstown resident, remembers when the town had four grocery stores. He also remembers footlogs across the Chattahoochee River that children used in the old days to walk to their school, built in 1914 on a hill in the middle of the community. The old school was replaced by another, which later consolidated with one in Nacoochee Valley.

Robertstown's own post office operated until 1969. The little courthouse that also served as an election polling place still stands next to the river. A popular picnic park contains a marker recognizing poet Sidney Lanier, who wrote the well-known "Song of the Chattahoochee" in the 1870s.

Signs on Ga. 75, which runs along the Chattahoochee, mark the unincorporated area of Robertstown, but residents on both sides of the river consider themselves part of the community, which also includes the area along Ga. 356 approaching Unicoi Park and that along Ga. 75 alternate toward what is known as Hortonville.

Roberts' gold mining company collapsed, and he moved to Atlanta, where he died at age 44 in 1907. His grave, topped by a unique monument, sits atop a hill overlooking Robertstown in the Center Baptist Robertstown Cemetery.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.


Contents of this site are © Copyright 2010 The Times, Gainesville, GA. All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...