Toll roads have been in the news in Georgia lately. State officials reneged on a promise to end the toll on Ga. 400 when it was paid for. They also turned a lane of Interstate 85 that tax money had built into a High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane that you have to pay to use now. And there are plans and discussions about other toll roads in the Atlanta area.
When roads were first built in Georgia, they were mostly private enterprises, and most charged tolls to use them. They generally followed paths Indians had worn through the countryside over the years. And those trails might well have been started by herds of buffalo that trampled through the wilderness in search of water, food or shallow river crossings.
Seven groups of trails provided access to what became Hall County. One ran through the Chattahoochee River Valley, another through Rabun Gap that eventually became the route of today’s U.S. 441. One of the best known trails was the Unicoi Turnpike running north and south across Unicoi Gap, and still another was Frogtown Trail through Neel’s Gap, now U.S. 129 north.
The Old Federal Road crossed through south Hall County from Jackson County along part of what is now Ga. 53. It connected Georgia and Tennessee across Indian territory.
The late L.W. Richardson wrote about early transportation in North Georgia for Hall County Historical Society, whose files now are housed in the restored Piedmont Hotel that was operated by Gen. James Longstreet. Richardson wrote that the first wagon road in Hall County followed trails used by the Cherokees.
Federal Road was a misnomer, Richardson said, because no federal funds were used to build it. A better name would have been Cherokee Road because Indians first used it.
Tolls were charged by private landowners on early routes to make repairs or just make a profit. Likewise, tolls were charged at many river crossings.
Before bridges, ferries charged a fee to get people across streams. A rope powered by men or mules pulled a flat boat loaded with people or livestock across Vann’s Ferry, one of the first on the Chattahoochee, later becoming known as Winn’s Ferry. Other ferries simply floated people downstream to a landing area on the other side of the stream.
Obediah Light operated a state-sanctioned ferry on the Old Federal Road at Flowery Branch by Old Federal Park between Balus and Mud creeks. Others included Shadburn, which crossed into Forsyth County, Williams and Keith’s. Williams was in the area of today’s Lan-Mar Marina.
Early travel was rough, hazardous, strenuous and tiring. George William Featherstonebaugh, wrote of his journey through North Georgia in 1837. He stopped in Hall County on a stage coach trip from Athens. He described Gainesville as only a small collection of buildings with a courthouse in the middle. He walked to a public spring, which was called Town Spring, but later Gower Spring.
His trip to Dahlonega from Gainesville took more than 10 hours over 29 miles, he said. You almost could walk there and back in less time, but you don’t know what route they had to take.
With the gold rush in Lumpkin County in the 1830s, stage coaches were running more regularly from Athens through Gainesville to Auraria. By 1876, stages carried mail to Dahlonega from Gainesville daily on improved roads, though still rough. They went to Jefferson and Cleveland twice a week and to Homer, Wahoo and Dawsonville once a week.
Often coach drivers would report travelers stranded with broken wagon wheels, tired teams of overworked horses and even DUIs back then -- drivers who had too much to drink and ran their wagons or coaches off the road.
Coach travel cost about a dime a mile, and rides of 10 to 14 hours were routine.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that paved roads came to Hall County. U.S. 23, which is now the Old Cornelia Highway and Atlanta Highway, was the first in 1921. U.S. 129 came in 1923, but took four years to complete the Hall County section. Ga. 53, which goes through Hall County to Winder and Dawsonville, wasn’t paved till 1937.
Some towns, however, had hard-surface streets before state and federal routes were paved. Gainesville used bricks around the square and other nearby streets.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.