Helen is one of the most remarkable places in the South. Offering the style and flavor of an authentic Bavarian village, it stands in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia.
The upper reaches of the Chattahoochee River flow through the community and the sight of people tubing past is not uncommon to diners and shoppers as the roam Helen’s shops and restaurants. Its life giving waters created the rich valley bottoms where the Cherokee once lived and farms. This was part of their territory for centuries and their ancient ancestors built the ceremonial complex marked today by the nearby Nacoochee Mound.
There was gold in “them there hills” and its discovery on Dukes Creek by white prospectors in 1828 brought a flood of miners into the mountains. The site of Helen produced impressive amounts of gold, as did the surrounding streams and valleys. A U.S. Branch Mint was opened in Dahlonega to turn it into coins. The Great Georgia Gold Rush paled when news came in 1849 of a new gold strike in California, but the mountain country continues to produce gold to this day.
Mining gave way to the timber industry and a massive sawmill complex was built at today’s Helen to turn the virgin forests into lumber. A railroad was built into the valley to carry away the lumber and a community was founded for the employees of the mill. It became a place on the map in 1913 when it was named “Helen” after the daughter of a mill executive.
The timber industry thrived until the 1930s and then slowly faded away. The mountains were stripped of their old growth timber and Helen declined as mill profits disappeared. The Great Depression hit the area hard, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC stepped to provide jobs and undertake the restoration of the forests. The former timber tracts became today’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and the efforts of the CCC workers returned the mountain country to its natural glory.
Helen was a fading town by 1968 but a group of local residents met to discuss what they could do to save their town. They agreed to approach an artist for ideas and he took one look at the beautiful valley and was reminded of Bavaria and its charming villages. And thus Bavarian Helen was born.
The community completely remade itself in the image of the Bavarian villages of Europe. Facades were rebuilt, towers added, cobblestone streets created and a dream realized. The project worked and Helen, with a population of fewer than 500 people, is now one of the most visited cities in Georgia.
Points of interest near Helen include Georgia’s highest point at Brasstown Bald and High Shoals Falls. Both are along the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway which begins on the outskirts of town.
This short tour from our sister channel TwoEgg.TV will give you a look at picturesque Helen from the seats of a horse drawn carriage:
Learn more in the videos below, also from our sister channel TwoEgg.TV: