Helen is one of the most romantic and charming places in the United States.
The charming Bavarian village is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains less than 2 hours north of Atlanta, Georgia. Unique architecture, great food, shopping and day trips into the surrounding waterfall and mountain country make this one of the South’s most fun destinations.
Helen has a story that is every bit as remarkable as its Bavarian look and mountain beauty. The community was faced with slowly dwindling away after its day as a logging town. Visionary local residents, however, saved their town and gave it a future that exceeded anyone’s dreams.
This story will continue below but first click play to enjoy this short video tour of Helen from TwoEgg.TV:
Helen is in the heart of what was once the Cherokee country of North Georgia. They were living here for centuries before the arrival of the first Europeans in North America and the Nacoochee Mound just outside of Helen is a major landmark of the region. The mound, now part of Hardman Farm Historic Site, dates from the late prehistoric era and was excavated during the 20th century. It is surrounded by the site of an important prehistoric village. Hardman Farm is open to the public Thursday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The mound, however, is easily visible from the intersection of Highways 75 and 17.
The Cherokee survived the Spanish intrusions of Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo during the 17th century, followed by the French & Indian War and the American Revolution. They were still clinging to their North Georgia lands when gold was discovered not far from today’s Helen and Dahlonega in 1829. Prospectors flooded in and the pressure for “removal” of the Native Americans became extreme.
The Cherokee were forced to give up their lands despite the opposition of a majority of the nation and began the long and deadly walk west on the Trail of Tears in 1836-1838.
The great Georgia Gold Rush was America’s first such mining stampede and North Georgia remained the fledgling country’s main source for gold until the California Gold Rush of 1849. A branch U.S. Mint was built in nearby Dahlonega and gold coins were minted there until the War Between the States (or Civil War). There is still gold in those hills, as the old Georgia saying goes, and gold panning remains a popular hobby the mountains around Helen.
The modern town of Helen was born as a logging and timber center. Area mills turned out untold millions of board feet of lumber. The glory days of the lumber industry had ended by 1969, however, when three local business leaders met at a downtown restaurant to decide what they could do to keep the town from dying.
They dreamed of revitalizing Helen and attracting tourists who would come to explore the surrounding mountains. One of the men at the meeting volunteered that he knew an artist named John Kollock from the church they had attended together in Clarksville, Georgia. Kollock was intrigued by the of creating a new theme for an entire town and came to Helen to take a look.
The beautiful little valley reminded him of the villages he had seen in Germany and Bavaria while serving in the U.S. military so he took photographs and set about greeting a set of drawings to present to the town’s residents. The result was the Bavarian village of Helen as known today.
The entire town was redesigned with a Bavarian theme and the results were instantaneous. Tourists flooded in for the fall leaf season that same year and Helen has continued to grow and thrive ever since!
The town features unique places to stay, places to eat and charming Bavarian-themed shopping districts. The Chattahoochee River flows through town and is a major destination for tubing. Surrounding Helen are the Blue Ridge Mountains, known for their sweeping vistas, deep valleys, waterfalls and rushing streams. Anna Ruby Falls on the outskirts of town is a 153-waterfall that is actually two falls in one. The site is managed by the U.S. Forest Service but entered through Unicoi State Park. The park also features a hotel/lodge, cabins, picnic areas, hiking trails and more.
A short drive northwest of Helen is Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. The U.S. Forest Service operates a museum, overlook, picnic areas and other facilities 4,784 feet in the sky on the top of the mountain. The recreation area offers spectacular 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
To learn more about Helen, Georgia, please visit: www.helenga.org/