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Pretty Town Creek predates founding of White County
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Hall County schools' teacher of the year for 2008-09, Joel Aquino, talks about his "winding path" to becoming a full-time classroom teacher.

White County is completing the celebration of its sesquicentennial year, having been created in 1857, the 125th of Georgia's 159 counties.

It has a rich history dating back to the Indians, who lived in the area centuries before the white man came, according to Garrison Baker's book "In the Shadow of Yonah," which contains considerable history of White County. Baker wrote that at least two Indian tribes made what is now White County their home.

Indeed, Indian names and legends are prominent in the history of the region, from Sautee and Nacoochee to Yonah Mountain and the Chattahoochee River.

White County isn't named for one of its prominent citizens, as are many counties. Instead it is named for David Thomas White, a state representative from Newton County and former Revolutionary War officer. It was he who shepherded the legislative act carving the county out of Lumpkin and Habersham counties.

A Habersham County representative, David Shelton, had tried twice to get the bill through, but failed. In appreciation, Shelton put White's name on the new county. Had the Habersham representative been successful, perhaps it would have been Shelton County instead of White County.

While the county is 150 years old, one of its communities is in its bicentennial year, 200 years old, according to a pioneer resident interviewed by Helen Greear a half century ago before he died. That is Town Creek just west of Cleveland and one of the most picturesque valleys in the region.

Her interview was with Will White, 81 years old at the time, apparently no relation to the founder of the county. White kept up with White County's history and particularly his community of Town Creek, naturally named for the creek that runs through it. The first two white families settling in the area were the Oxfords and Owenbys, who bought considerable land from the Indians living in a settlement known as Tesnatee. They set up a brick-making operation and planted apple trees.

White's grandfather, Luke White, and his family bought 250 acres from the Oxfords and Owenbys. Will's father David built a store, where he sold apples for 5 cents a bushel from the orchards that once grew in the valley.

Indians were forced out of the area by the white men, but Will White recalled at the time that some would return to what was known as the Tesnatee canebrake, an area dense with cane plants. The women would weave baskets from the cane, and White recalled seeing them selling their crafts. But, he told Mrs. Greear, the Indian men wouldn't venture out of the canebrake as they made arrows and blow guns.

White's grandmother spoke Cherokee, and his uncle hunted with Indians, but White said he never saw an Indian man despite hiding in the woods and trying to spy on them. White taught in one of the community's first log schools, which originated in a Baptist church.

Yonah Mountain at 3,156 feet above sea level is the most notable peak in the eastern part of the county because of its shape and history. But Pinnacle Mountain, only 21 feet shorter than Yonah, overlooks the Town Creek area, and other mountains nearby are higher.

Lumpkin County gets the credit for the big gold rush in Georgia, but some White Countians will tell you gold first was discovered on Duke's Creek. Garrison's book relates several gold discovery claims about the same time in North Georgia.

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While the gold rush was long over, the precious metal continues to be found in Lumpkin County, and traces remain present in streams around North Georgia, including White County. The story is told of James Cicero Allen, who in 1896 panned gold to buy his marriage license.

Money was hard to come by in those days, but Allen wanted to marry Charistina Ann Davidson, who had come from Scotland when she was 9 years old. Allen took a sluice box to his father's farm, where some old mines remained. He scratched out enough gold to buy his marriage license for $1.50, a French harp, some candy and had 30 cents left over to set up their household.

That apparently was enough as the couple lived a long life together, farming in the Town Creek-Tesnatee area. They became well known in the community as Aunt Tinnie and Uncle Bud.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on First published Dec. 16, 2007.