In March, 1813, 21 Cherokee leaders agreed to the idea of laying out and opening the road that would become the Unicoi Turnpike. Russell Goodrich became one of the white partners in the project.
“They agreed to operate the road for 20 years, erect public houses, cultivate the land alongside it and use the timber, and operate ferries,” he said. The Cherokees would be paid $160 every year for 20 years.
Taverns or inns were erected that served as kind of “the Best Western hotels of the day, and places of entertainment,” he said.
The state of Georgia established the Unicoi Turnpike by law in 1813, and Tennessee followed suit three years later, in 1816.
Turnpike tolls were 12 ½ cents for a man and his horse, 6 ¼ cents for a horse being led, 2 cents per head of cattle, and 1 cent per head of sheep, goats, or hogs. A coach, “chariot, or four-wheel pleasure carriage” was $1.25. “A dollar was a lot of money, in those days,” Wynn said.
Gold mining began around the area of the lodge sometime after 1830. A ditch to supply water for hydraulic mining, dug after The Civil War, ran through the area of today’s Unicoi State Park.
In his first 100 days in office, President Roosevelt approved several measures as part of his “New Deal,” including the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW), better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). With that action, he brought together the nation’s young men and the land in an effort to save them both. Roosevelt proposed to recruit thousands of unemployed young men, enlist them in a peacetime army, and send them to battle the erosion and destruction of the nation’s natural resources.
During the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a camp along Smith Creek, north of the site of the present lodge at what today is the bottom of Lake Unicoi. About the same time local businessman and politician Charlie Maloof got the state to build a new highway to Hiawassee (State Road 75) to replace the aging Unicoi Turnpike.
Over the years the park has grown dramatically. Renamed in the 1960’s to the unlikely name of Unicoi Outdoor Recreation Experiment Station, when the lodge was completed in 1973 it was called Unicoi Lodge in honor of the turnpike that ran near the park. In 1974 the state renamed the park itself to Unicoi State Park, which was already the widely used name for the park. The Cherokee word “unega” means “white,” thus the meaning of Unicoi is “Place of the White Man,” “White Man’s Way,” “The New Way,” or “The New Beginning
Today Unicoi encompasses more than 2,000 acres of land and is adjacent to the federally-owned 1600 acre Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area. The hike to Anna Ruby Falls is one of the most popular (and prettiest) in Georgia. From 1813 to today, the trail has been rerouted many times but there are still places where the original trail can be walked. Unicoi Gap is listed at an elevation of 2,949 feet today, “but it may have been a little bit higher in those days,” before eroding, Wynn said. A crossing for the Appalachian Trail is located here.
“There’s a spot where you can park and walk out into the woods and see the remains of the Unicoi Turnpike,” he said. The road then passed through what is now Towns County, into the Hiwassee River Valley.
The river flows north into the town of Hiawassee, which is a beautiful area,” Wynn said. “The Turnpike followed along the river.” Modern roads stay out of the floodplain, he said, but the old roads stayed closer to the waterways.
Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee marks the northernmost end of the old Unicoi Turnpike in Georgia.
Living in an area that honors such a grand and varied past is indeed a pleasure. The nature around our cities and our lakes is valued and respected. We may be growing but we have not forgotten our past. All our sources are with our links.
As always, thank you for spending a little time with us today and WELCOME TO THE MOUNTAINS
PS stayed tuned… an independent state becomes a reality in the middle of our great country!