Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Unicoi Turnpike

The Unicoi Turnpike was an old road that played prominently in the early days of settlement of Union and Towns Counties, and, indeed, as a trade route in parts of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia prior to the settling of the mountain region by whites. The historical marker that designates the road is at GPS reading N 34° 41.209` W 083° 42.616` in White County, Georgia. The message on the marker states:
The Unicoi Turnpike

This road is the Old Unicoi Turnpike, first vehicular route to link East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and North Georgia with the head of navigation on the Savannah River system. Beginning on the Tugalo River, to the east of Toccoa, the road led this way, thence through Unicoi Gap and via Murphy, N. C. to Nine Mile Creek near Maryville, Tenn.

Permission to open the way as a toll road was given by the Cherokees in 1813 to a Company of Indians and white men. Tennessee and Georgia granted charters to the concern. Georgia Historical Marker

Marker @ GHM 154-1R Date: 2003

In recent correspondence with Mr. Carey Waldrip, a history buff (as am I) and member of the Towns County Historical Society, he announced that Saturday, November 12, 2011 has been designated as Unicoi Turnpike Day in Towns County. Plans are to meet at any time between 9:00 and 12:00 noon on that date at the Unicoi Gap Parking Lot (GA Hwy 17/75). Hiking directions will be given for those who wish to walk the remnant of the old Unicoi Turnpike, a rough, sunken road from the Gap that leads for two miles northward into Towns County. Mr. Waldrip warns that people should come prepared for a rugged hike, with good walking shoes, and bright hat and jacket, “because it is hunting season.” Another feature of the Unicoi Turnpike Day will be a lecture beginning at 9:00 a. m. by Dr. Paul Arnold of Young Harris College who will speak on the subject of “Geocaching.” Those who have a hand-held GPS instrument should bring it for the lecture session.

Now to more history on the Unicoi Turnpike: In the September-October, 2008 issue of the Sautee-Nacoochee Community Association Newsletter, some of the history of the Unicoi Turnpike was given. Dr. Tom Lumsden, a resident of the Nacoochee Valley and one who strongly works to preserve history, stated that the Unicoi Turnpike Trail was originated by “engineers with four feet.” Even prior to the Indians’ use of the trail as a footpath, large mammals went from eastern Tennessee to the piedmont and coastal plains of North and South Carolina as they migrated for the winter months and returned along the same route in the spring. Since the trail was already there, cut through the forest by migrating animals, the Indians began to use it as a trade and migratory route as well. The route was seen as useful for trade, and from 1813 through 1817 a company headed by a Mr. Russell Wiley began at Mullin’s Ford on the Tugalo River and began to improve the trail across the top of North Georgia, into western North Carolina proceeding to Murphy, and then northwestward to Vonore, Tennessee on the Little Tennessee River.

With improvements on the turnpike, it was turned into a toll road for freight wagons. From Augusta in Georgia to Knoxville in Tennessee the toll road continued to operate until after the Civil War. Drovers went over the road with hogs, cattle, turkeys and other livestock along the trail. I have heard my grandfather, Francis Jasper Collins, tell of taking a “drove of turkeys” along the Turnpike from Choestoe near Blairsville all the way to Augusta. I could not envision how the drovers managed to keep the turkeys on trail and on task, and often wish I had been old enough when I heard him tell his stories of the turkey drives (and sometimes live cattle and sheep) to ask about particulars. I do remember his saying that the turkeys roosted in trees at night as the horses and men camped beneath them. Then early in the morning the turkeys would be fed from corn in the wagons and started on the next trek of the long journey. Also, at places along the Unicoi Turnpike were inns and rest stops, places where the men could get cooked meals and spend the night. These were sometimes at about fifteen-mile intervals. But not all the trail from Tennessee through North Carolina and Georgia had the convenience of inns for rest stops.

The Unicoi Turnpike Trail was more than just a path. It became the thoroughfare over which our ancestors moved from South or North Carolina into North Georgia, many arriving before the Cherokee were ousted from the mountain lands. People, events, and places along the ancient trail are a part of our history.

If you should plan to attend the Unicoi Turnpike Day on November 12, 2011, and walk a portion of the still discernible trail, you will be treading on ground almost sacred to the memory of a hardy people seeking a better way of life. Next week we will examine some more history of the Unicoi Turnpike—a “trail through time.”

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 13, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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