Johnny Kytle was a native of Clermont in Hall County and a pioneer daredevil pilot who carried the mail between Atlanta and Richmond, Va.
In May 1928, Kytle crash-landed his mail plane on Stone Mountain during a rainstorm. He escaped with only a split lip and a broken finger, but salvaged the mail from the destroyed plane. Living up to the mail service’s determination to deliver no matter what in that era, Kytle hitched a ride into Atlanta with the nine bags of mail.
Kytle, who started flying at age 16, previously had survived crashes into at least two other mountains. He is said to have spotted a freight train on one of his night flights, turned on his high-powered landing lights and swooped down 10 feet over the tracks directly at the train, causing the engineer to slam on his brakes and come to a complete stop.
But in February 1931, he was demonstrating a stunt plane at Candler Field in Atlanta, crashed and died at age 25.
His hometown, Clermont, once was “a happening place,” with a bank, cotton gin, numerous stores, mill and the Clermont Hotel, which still stands. The crossroads originally was known as Concord Church community, but the name “Dip” was adopted apparently because of a “dip” in the road. Residents later renamed it Clermont, which means “clear view of the mountains.”
The story of Kytle’s encounter with Stone Mountain is one among many in a four compact-disc audio travel guide produced by Habersham Electric Membership Corp. to mark its 75th anniversary. White County author Emory Jones developed it and an accompanying booklet. A Northeast Georgia treasure himself, watercolorist John Kollock of Habersham County, narrates the CD it in his authentic mountain vernacular.
Many of the stories are based on the familiar history of this area. The CD and booklet provide a tour of landmarks and attractions in Northeast Georgia, touching on the counties of Hall, Stephens, Habersham, Rabun, White, Lumpkin, Union and Towns. The producers originally considered more than 200 places to include, but narrowed the list to 75, appropriately to note the electric cooperative’s 75th year.
Some of the stories are lesser known, such as the origin of Turner’s Corner, the crossroads of U.S. 19 and U.S. 129 north of Cleveland. Old-timers remember Charlie Turner, who owned the landmark business for many years. The store was built in 1928, but it didn’t become Turner’s Corner until Charlie took it over in 1933.
He made it a popular stop for trout fisherman, who could rent cabins there for five bucks a night, buy bait and stock up on groceries. Turner and his real live black bear, Smokey, became legendary as this gateway to trout streams that preceded a climb up Neel’s Gap. Tourists could feed Coca-Colas to Smokey, but Turner limited the bear to a dozen a day. He didn’t put a limit on visitors, whom he counted on to consume as many as they wanted. The bear also was fond of chocolate milk.
A practical joker, Turner would crack an egg on a passed-out, drunk fisherman’s face and wake him up by having the bear lick it off. When Smokey died, Turner replaced him with a bear cub, which he named “Hummun” in honor of Herman Talmadge, who became Georgia’s governor and U.S. senator. Herman and his father, Eugene, as did other politicians, made Turner’s Corner a must stop on the campaign trail.
An entertainer always, Turner also had a pipe-smoking dog.
Other stories among the 75 include Union County’s Choestoe, “land of the dancing rabbit” (though nobody knows why the rabbits were so happy), the Smith House in Lumpkin County, Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Woody Gap, Lake Chatuge and Nora Mill.
The CD’s and booklet are designed as a self-guided tour that could be done in segments over several days, entertain newcomers and visitors to Northeast Georgia or re-educate longtime residents.
The CD set sells for $29.95 and is available at Habersham Electric headquarters in Clarkesville and various other locations around Northeast Georgia. It also can be ordered online at www.seenortheastgeorgia.com or by calling 706-219-4947.
While you certainly could listen to the CDs as you drive, the producers caution, “Use at your own risk. Do not attempt to read this book while driving an automobile.”
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.