Beginning more than a thousand years ago, the Cherokee culture that we recognize today spread across the landscape of all of north Georgia, leaving mounds, spear points, pottery, the names of rivers and creeks, and legends that are still told by Cherokee storytellers. Cherokee towns occupied the Chattooga, Tugaloo, and Chattahoochee Rivers in north Georgia, adjoining their Lower towns on the Keowee River. Established trading paths like the Unicoi Trail led north to the rest of the Cherokee Nation and south to the Creek Nation.

Northwestern Georgia, however, including the Coosawattee and Oostanula Rivers, was claimed by both the Creeks and the Cherokees. In 1755, the Cherokees’ victory at the Battle of Taliwa gained this land for them, just in time to serve as a new home for refugees from the Lower Towns destroyed by British forces in 1760 and 1761. Within sight of the mountains, the planned community and national capitol of New Echota became the geographical center of the Cherokee nation and the focus of its renascence. Here the Cherokee Nation reached a pinnacle of civilization only to be destroyed by Removal.

For an in-depth look at each one of the interpretive centers along the Cherokee Heritage Trails, including complete articles and quotes, detailed information on all the historical sites, amazing full color photography depicting the land and its people, stories from many of the Cherokee Elders and much more about the wonderful Cherokee culture, make the Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook a part of your personal library.

Sites in Calhoun

Supreme Court at New EchotaBuilt as prescribed by the Cherokee National Council, New Echota became the capitol of the Cherokee Nation. Near the geographical center of the Cherokee lands remaining after the Treaty of 1819, New Echota symbolized the progress of the Cherokees towards “civilization” as mandated by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the federal government. Here, with enthusiasm and idealism matching that of the young but growing United States, the Cherokees planned and built a model city that included a Council House, Supreme Court Building, newspaper office, houses, farmsteads, taverns, missionaries, a traditional ball ground, and plans for a college. These plans were located on the site of New Town, where the Cherokee council had been meeting since 1819.

Contact: New Echota State Historic Site 1211 Chatsworth Highway NE, Calhoun, GA 30701
Phone: 706 624-1321

James Vann HouseDesigned by an architect and constructed by brick masons, Moravians, Cherokees, and African-American slaves, the Vann House still stands as a landmark of Cherokee architecture. Finished in 1805, the three-story brick mansion with white pillars in the front and back incorporates Cherokee colors and details along with the federal and American Georgian styles of the period. In the wide hallway, a “floating staircase” remains the oldest cantilevered construction in Georgia. Hand-carved Cherokee rose designs decorate the staircase and appear throughout the house. A large fireplace stretches to the 12 foot high ceiling, restored to its original paint colors (found under nineteen layers of paint): sky blue, light forest green, red clay, and sunny yellow. Most of the house materials were made on the plantation: bricks formed from local clay, nails and hinges forged in the blacksmith shops, and boards cut at one of Vann’s sawmills.

Contact: Chief Vann House State Historic Site, 82 Georgia Highway 225 North, Chatsworth, GA 30705
Phone: 706 695-2598

Sites Near Calhoun

Chieftains MuseumIn 1835 Major Ridge and his son John, Elias Boudinot, and seventeen others, designated as representatives of the tribe, signed the Treaty of New Echota, believing it the best course for their people, even though the majority of the Cherokee people opposed Removal. As he made his mark, the Ridge said, “I have signed my death warrant.” (He and his son John had participated in creating the law requiring capital punishment for any Cherokee who sold tribal land.) Major Ridge, John Ridge and their extended families, along with a party of nearly 500 Cherokees, left for Indian Territory in 1837 and established homes, stores, and a school there. Major Ridge was ambushed and fatally shot while riding horseback near the Arkansas state line the same day that his son John and Elias Boudinot were executed for their part in the Treaty of New Echota, on June 22, 1839.

The Ridge house has been restored and now operates as the Chieftains Museum, a non-profit organization. Exhibits tell the story of the Ridge family and extend through the Civil War. Artifacts unearthed in the area also are on display, and archaeology continues on the grounds.

Contact: Chieftains’ Museum 501 Riverside Rd., Rome, GA 30162
Phone: 706 291-9494
Hours: Tues.- Sat. 10-4.  Small admission charge.

Etowah MoundsBuilt a thousand years ago or more, these mounds were the center of a palisaded town where three thousand or more American Indians lived from 1000 AD-1500 AD. Often they are called “The Moundbuilders” and “The Mississippian Indians” but these terms more accurately refer to architectural traditions and to a specific time period, respectively, than to people. The people who built and lived at these mounds were the ancestors of the Cherokee, the Creek, and other tribes who spoke their languages and practiced their unique traditions from more than a thousand years ago through the present day. In addition to being the focal point of a town, the Etowah Mounds supported the temples where priests practiced the ceremonies that made this an important religious center of its time, visited by many people from the surrounding region.

A museum displays artifacts excavated from the site and provides information and interpretation of the site. A self-guided trail takes you around the three largest mounds, the village, plaza, borrow pit (which provided some of the dirt for mound construction), and fish weir. The park occasionally schedules programs by Cherokee storytellers and craftspeople.

Contact: Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site 813 Indian Mounds Rd. S.E., Cartersville, GA 30120
Phone: 770 387-3747.
Hours: Closed Monday except legal holidays. Closed Tuesday when open Monday.

Side Trips

East of Chatsworth, the road ascends in winding curves, climbing up the southern end of the Appalachians to the top of Cohutta Mountain . There, just below the ridge of the mountain, a stone wall of mysterious origin stretches 855 feet from east to west. Every thirty feet along the wall, round stone enclosures about six feet across protrude on the southern side. From this wall, one has an unobstructed view of sunrises and sunsets across the piedmont to the south.

From the upper parking lot of Fort Mountain State Park, one hundred and ninety stone steps and short terraces (constructed in the twentieth century) lead up to one end of the wall and a round enclosure. A further climb up to the tower enables visitors to see a longer stretch of the wall, especially in winter when the trees are bare. (Located in the Chattahoochee Forest near the Cohutta Wilderness Area, the wall is protected not only by U.S. Forest Service regulations but also by the Antiquities Act of 1906. Do not remove rocks from the wall. Please leave this site as you find it, as with all sites on the Cherokee Heritage Trails.)

Contact: Fort Mountain State Park 181 Fort Mountain Rd., Chatsworth GA, 30705
Phone: 706 695-2621 park
Phone: 706 517-8555 stables

Scenic Drives

Dahlonega Gold MuseumThe Dahlonega Gold Museum tells the story of the gold rush, the founding of the towns of Auraria and Dahlonega, and the Georgia land lottery that gave away Cherokee territory. Located in the old Lumpkin County courthouse in the town square, the museum displays include artifacts, gold coins, gold nuggets, and mining tools along with a video on the first gold rush in America. Nearby, one of the North Georgia College buildings stands on the site of the former U.S. Mint, which was burned during the Civil War. Visitors can shop for gold nuggets and jewelry in stores around the square, or learn to pan for gold at several locations just out of town. Gold from Dahlonega covers the dome of the Georgia state house in Atlanta.

The southern Appalachians have their rugged ending near Dahlonega. Mount Yonah, (or “bear” in Cherokee) can be seen on the horizon if one approaches Dahlonega from the east. North of town, the Appalachian Trail has its southern terminus in the Chattahoochee National Forest near Amicalola Falls. From here, the AT covers some of the most rugged terrain in its entire length before crossing into North Carolina near Franklin.

Contact: Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site, #1 Public Square, Dahlonega, GA
Phone: 706 864-2257

Anna Ruby FallsUnicoi State Park, located on State Rd. 75 not far from the Nacoochee Mound, stands on the original Unicoi Trail, the trading path that connected Cherokee Overhill towns and Lower towns, reaching to Augusta, Georgia. At the park, some interpretive materials discuss the trail. The Unicoi Trail reaches this point in Georgia after turning south from the vicinity of Hayesville, N.C.

Unicoi State Park has more than a thousand acres of woods, streams, and mountains for hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, boating, and picnicking. A double waterfall, Anna Ruby Falls, is located near the entrance to the park. A lodge includes a restaurant, gift shop, and conference facilities, and the staff offers programs on natural history.

Contact: Unicoi State Park, P.O. Box 997, Helen, GA 30545
Phone: 706 878 3982 (park office) 706 878- 3983. For rates call 1 800-864-7275.

Another route north from Dahlonega along Rt. 19 and 129 leads to DeSoto Falls, the Walasi-Yi Center and its trail to Blood Mountain, and Vogel State Park, finally connecting with Blairsville and with Rt. 64 west of Murphy in North Carolina. About fourteen miles north of Dahlonega, the DeSoto Falls recreation area includes five waterfalls on a three-mile stretch of the DeSoto Trail. From here the road rises to cross Neel’s Gap, named for the engineer who brought the road through here in the 1930’s.

Contact: Walasi-Yi Center, US 129 Rt. 1 Box 1240, Blairsville, GA 30512
Phone: 706 745-6095

In northeast Georgia, the trail from Clayton leads to Warwoman Dell, to Tallulah Falls, to Travelers Rest, and to the Tugaloo village site at Tugaloo State Park. Coming from the west into Clayton on Rt. 76, one intersects Rt. 441, a four-lane highway. These roads approximate the old trails, and the Cherokees called the Clayton area “The Dividings” because of the intersection of trails here. From Clayton one can also travel north on Rt. 441 to connect with Macon County and the Middle Towns area along the Little Tennessee Rivers, whose headwaters rise a few miles north of Clayton.

This scenic drive through northeast Georgia bridges the area between the old Middle and Lower Cherokee towns. Warwoman Dell is located on an old trading path and on Warwoman Creek, a tributary of the Chattooga River. This English name was used as early as 1775, but the story of its origin is unknown. Cherokee women were free to participate in war, and some did, although “warwoman” is not a Cherokee word. The Cherokee did have “Beloved Women” who were acclaimed for their service to the tribe, and who made decisions of life and death over prisoners. The Warwoman Dell Recreation Area includes a nature trail and picnic tables. The Bartram Trail passes through the dell, leading to Becky Branch Falls and several other waterfalls.

Contact: Warwoman Dell – Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests, Gainesville, GA
Phone: 706 536-0541

About twelve miles south of Clayton, Tallulah Falls thunders through a gorge nearly one thousand feet deep and two miles long, home to rare plants and diverse animal species. Known in Cherokee stories as a gateway to other worlds and home of little people, Tallulah Falls was called Ugv-yi, a word whose meaning is lost. Talulu was the name of the ancient town on the river above the falls, and also the name of a town in present-day Graham County, on Tallulah Creek east of Robbinsville.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Power created this three-thousand acre state park, which includes hiking trails, climbing areas, a lake, a beach for swimming, campsites, tennis courts, facilities for fishing and picnicking. The new Jane Hurt Yarn Visitors Center offers an award-winning video, an exhibit area on the Cherokee, an exhibit on the natural history and geology of the gorge, a three-story-high natural history diorama, and gift-shop.

Contact: Tallulah Gorge State Park, P.O. Box 248, Tallulah Falls, GA 30573
Phone: 706-754-7970

Traveler’s Rest State Historic Site is located on the old Unicoi Trail. The Cherokee Nation made an agreement for the development of this ancient trail into a modern turnpike in 1813, and the beginning of those improvements in the east started near the entrance of Toccoa Creek into the Tugaloo River (a tributary of the Savannah.) This site was near the old Tugaloo village site, and also near Traveler’s Rest, which became a stagecoach inn on the new turnpike.

This area, along with upper South Carolina, was some of the first land ceded by the Cherokees in the colonial period. This specific area near Toccoa, where another village was located, passed out of Cherokee ownership in 1738.

Contact: Travelers Rest State Historic Site, 8162 Riverdale Road, Toccoa, GA 30577
Phone: 706 886-2256

Tugaloo, or Dugilu-yi was an important Cherokee town, part of the Lower Towns, located at the junction of Tugaloo Creek and the Toccoa River. This town site was inundated in 1962 by the creation of Lake Hartwell, but is commemorated with a historic marker on the Georgia side of the lake. Along with Kituhwa in the Middle Towns and Echota in the Overhill Towns, Tugaloo was one of the towns important in Cherokee religion and ceremony because priests kept the sacred fire burning here.

Contact: Tugaloo State Park, 1763 Tugaloo State Rd., Lavonia, GA 30553
Phone: 706-356-4362

Nacoochee MoundThe Nacoochee Mound, at the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River, marks the village site of Itsati, or Echota, located on Sautee Creek, on the Unicoi Trail. (The name of Sautee Creek reflects the Kituhwa dialect pronunciation of the village name It sa ti.) This village differs from and should not be confused with Old Echota on the Tennessee River in the Overhill Towns, or with New Echota in north Georgia. The town of Nacoochee, or Nagutsi, stood farther south, at the junction of Sautee Creek and Soquee River .

Contact: The Hardman family, the Trust for Public Land, and the state of Georgia are negotiating the ownership of the mound. Their goal is to make it part of the Georgia State Parks system, with an interpretive center to be created in the old farmhouse.