It’s summertime, and we think about vacations, getting away for a week or more, or having short one-day trips to enjoy a picnic or relaxation by a lake.
Within Union County is one of the most popular get-aways in the state of Georgia. Vogel State Park, the second oldest in Georgia, is now a year-round attraction. Reservations for cottages and campsites must be made well in advance.
By way of information, the only park older than Vogel in Georgia is Indian Springs State Park near Jackson in Middle Georgia. It is believed to be the oldest state park in the nation. Acquired by Georgia in 1825, it became an official “State Forest Park” in 1927. Indian Springs, as the name indicates, has springs once used by the Creek Indians for centuries as a place of healing waters. The Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930’s helped to build some of the structures still standing within this oldest state park.
The history of Vogel State Park in Union County dates back to a gift of land by Fred Vogel, Jr. and Augustus H. Vogel who gave an initial donation of sixteen acres to the state of Georgia. The Vogels were in the tanning industry in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and owned about 65,000 acres of land in the mountain region of Georgia. They used the bark from trees in these forests for tanwood and tanbark needed for the tanning of leather in their factory back in Wisconsin. How the bark was shipped out from the mountains is another story, hauled by wagon along poor mountain roads to the nearest railroad station, Gainesville. When a synthetic tanning acid was developed and became more readily available, the Vogels no longer needed their vast acreages of forest lands. In addition to the first sixteen acres, the Vogels gave another 248 acres and land at the summit of Neel Gap where the Vogels entertained at what they called “The Tea Room.”.
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 during the Great Depression to give employment to young men ages 18 through 25, a camp to house the CCC boys was set up at Goose Creek. They built the rock and dirt dam on Wolf Creek. The resulting beautiful Lake Trahlyta, centerpiece of Vogel State Park, was named for a Cherokee Indian maiden whose grave is believed to be at Stonepile Gap.
At the top of Neel Gap, the old Vogel Tea Room was incorporated into a lovely rock building called for many years the Wal-i-si-yi (in Cherokee, “place of the frogs”) Inn. The CCC men erected the stone building which, in itself, is an architectural delight using native rocks and ceiled with chestnut wood, used just prior to the terrible blight that erased the American chestnut tree from the mountain landscape. The building is now a stop on the famed Appalachian Trail. Many of us can remember when a delightful restaurant operated at Walisiyi Inn and was a popular local as well as a tourist destination.
Blood Mountain towers above Vogel State Park’s present 233 acres where walking trails abound. Legend holds that a war between Cherokee and Creek Indians on the mountain before the white man came caused such bloodshed that the ground of the mountain was red with blood, hence the name.
Vogel State Park was named for the leather manufacturers who first gave the land. In the Chattahoochee National Forest, this second oldest state park in Georgia is a tribute to the hard work of the CCC “boys” and of a president who was a conservationist at heart. One historian, Harry Rossoll, stated that the CCC was “a massive salvage operation destined to become the most popular experiment of the New Deal.” To restore America to “its former beauty” was a major aim. Reforestation, road building, erosion control, and forest fire fighting were all jobs done by “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” (the CCC).
Today when we take our summer (or fall, winter or spring) get-away to Vogel State Park, we can visit the small museum to the Civilian Conservation Corps in a room of the main building. A reunion for surviving CCC “boys” is held annually at Vogel. On July 4 at 8:30 a. m., a ceremonial flag-raising will pay tribute to our nation and the freedoms we enjoy in Independence Day services at Vogel.
As we enjoy the beauty of nature in the surrounding mountains and the cool waters of the twenty-acre Lake Trahlyta, we should pause to remember the hard work of a by-gone era when the labor was done without benefit of modern equipment, and when the boys of “the tree army” sent home $25.00 of the $30.00 a month they earned to help their families during America’s Great Depression.
c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 23, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.