It was my privilege in 1992, while the venerable Charles Roscoe Collins, better known to family and friends as “Ros,” was still able to travel and give his historical accounts, to spend a day with him and have him personally give me a tour of the Old Logan Turnpike. His knowledge and memories provided a colorful roadmap to places and times in our history which have long since vanished.
“I rode the turnpike many times with my father, James J. Collins, in our two-horse wagon,” Collins remembered. As a lad, his major job was braking the wagon on the steep inclines. He told of cutting blocks of wood to use as “scotches” for the wheels. One time, he cut pine saplings and tied them behind the wagon to impede speed on the steep grades. In the winter, he also traveled ahead of the wagon and broke ice in the streams so the horses could cross.
When he was about seventeen, his father allowed him to take the wagon and its precious cargo on the Logan Turnpike to Gainesville to market. Collins felt that he had indeed “arrived,” being entrusted with the wagoner’s job without adult supervision. His father had a country store and the cargo for the trip to Gainesville included live chickens, farm produce, chestnuts and chinquapins in season, and cured animal pelts. These were items the country folk had brought to the Collins store to trade for “store-bought” items. Likewise, in Gainesville, Ros Collins bartered what he had hauled from Choestoe at the wholesale houses for coffee, sugar, cloth, shoes and other items which his father would sell in their store. Barter was the name of the game and adventure was par for the course. The round trip on these trading ventures took five days.
In tracing the history of the turnpike, this notation was found in the “Digest of Laws for the State of Georgia” for 1821: “John Lyon, Joel Dickerson and Company shall hereafter be a body corporate by the name and style of the Union Turnpike Company, for the purpose of constructing a turnpike road from Loudsville in Habersham County, through the Tesnatee Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains, by way of Blairsville to some eligible point on the northern boundary of this state in a direction toward the Tellico Plains in the state of Tennessee.”
Specifications called for the turnpike to be twenty feet wide with a causeway of twelve feet. No railroad or other road or canal could be built within ten miles of the turnpike for fifteen years.
Since, in 1821, Indians were still in the area, it is reasonable to assume that the turnpike followed an Indian trail. The Union Turnpike was finished the same year it was chartered. A companion road, the Old Unicoi Turnpike to the east, paralleled the Union Turnpike. Unicoi was chartered in 1813 and led from North Carolina across Unicoi Gap, through the Nacoochee Valley and into present-day Clarkesville. Clearing for the Unicoi Turnpike began in 1812.
These two roads, the Union and the Unicoi, were used by early settlers arriving in the area. Once settled, the pioneers made good use of the roads as trade routes.
The Union Turnpike became the Logan Turnpike because of the Logan family. Francis Logan migrated from Rutherford County, NC, traveling over the Unicoi Turnpike. He settled on March 10, 1822 in Nacoochee Valley. His land grant was north of Cleveland in the Loudsville Community. He married Hulda Powell on August 12, 1825.
Certain events have a way of setting off a chain reaction. In 1828 one of Francis Logan’s slaves found a gold nugget along Duke’s Creek with a weight of more than three ounces. This set off the famous North Georgia Gold Rush. More gold was found along the Chattahoochee River, at Hamby’s Ford, at Bean Creek and at Black Branch. Soon thousands of gold-hungry prospectors were digging for the precious metal. When found (and they did find gold in them hills), the ore had to be taken to the nearest mint, Bechtler’s, in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Both the Unicoi and the Union Turnpikes were used to transport the gold northward to the mint. Later, as the gold rush escalated, a U. S. Mint was established at Dahlonega, Georgia.
Francis Logan had a son named Major Willis Logan. He had extensive land holdings south of the mountains in western White County. Records show that Major Logan purchased all rights to the Union Turnpike for $3,000. The road then took the name Logan after the man who bought it. He had a charter and operated the road for thirty years. Members of his family continued to operate it until Neel Gap opened up in 1925 with US Highway 129 and the Logan Turnpike was no longer needed.
[Next week: More on the Logan Turnpike.]
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 5, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.