Crossing the state line from North Carolina into Georgia, comfortably wide U.S. Highway 441 takes you into Dillard. In the distance toward the left, you can see the peaks of the Tennessee Valley Divide. Where the mountains close in more tightly, there are a few narrow spots along Highway 441. After that, it’s wide travel almost all the way to Athens.
It wasn’t like this in 1980. My first trip to Athens, coming from Maine in a Plymouth eaten by road salt with a suspension eaten by potholes, involved a stop in Dillard to get a state safety inspection. The little Gulf station and single service bay are now the location of a hardware shopping center. Ten minutes later, a Georgia inspection sticker graced the windshield. I marveled at the simplicity of the process. An equivalent inspection in Germany by the Technischer Überwachungsverein, ruler over all things automotive, would have taken a full hour, along with humbling comments. The Gulf station people were friendly and supportive instead.
U.S. 441 wound its narrow 2-lane way down to the town of Tallulah Falls. One still accessible section of the old road leads to the Trading Post overlook, where I joined a large crowd peering down into Tallulah Gorge. Today, the parking lot shows only a few cars, and tourists no longer compete for space in the store. But it’s still there, and the views from the balcony are as magnificent as ever.
Between Clarkesville and Cornelia, small farms were displaying big banners, advertising fresh apples and cider on both sides of the little road. Loaded with a basket of Habersham apples and a gallon of cider, I picked my way through the tight streets of Baldwin, past the ancient water tower and factory building that are still in existence today. Heading toward Homer, the terrain along the old 441 became, and still is, steep and curvy. Sharp drop-offs and multiple signs began to warn about a particularly deadly curve (smoothed over by new 441 now). Just before the curve, a religious billboard on the hillside read “Prepare Now, For Thy End Is Near.” Banks County took traffic hazards seriously.
It wasn’t the end, 40 years ago, and much of Historic 441 is still there to enjoy. Even with Dillard’s Gulf station gone, the winding old highway preserves a segment of North Georgia’s history.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.