Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
the Past: The Railroad went to Blue Ridge, not
Blue Ridge, Mecca of the Mountains
when it came to the mountains, went to Blue
Ridge, Georgia and
not to Blairsville, to the disappointment of many in the 1880s. Folks
from Blairsville had to go to Blue Ridge to the train station, or to
Culberson, NC, when the tracks extended on to there, or to Murphy, NC
to catch a train or to ship their farm
Blue Ridge, Georgia was
incorporated by an Act of the Georgia Legislature on October 24, 1887.
But the history
of Blue Ridge, named after the azure peaks, part of the Southern
Appalachian Range that surround the town, had a much earlier beginning
than that October day in 1887.
Indians had a village and stronghold at the site of the future town.
They cleared fields for cultivation and grew maize and other crops. One
of the five "civilized tribes" of Native Americans, the Cherokee were advanced in agriculture, a written language
and governmental practices.
The first post
office in Blue Ridge was
established before the Indians were forced west on the Trail of Tears.
Seventeen years before Fannin County was
formed by an Act of the Georgia Legislature and the bill signed by
Governor Herschel Johnson on January 21, 1854,
William L. Buchanan was appointed first postmaster of the Blue
Ridge station on March 30, 1837. It
is likely that Mr. Buchanan was also an Indian agent, dealing in land
transactions with the Indians as white settlers moved into the area
prior to the Indian removal. Tuckahoe Post Office, which later became
Tacoah and then Morganton, was established fifteen days before the one
at Blue Ridge, on March 15, 1837,
with Benjamin Chastain as first postmaster and Indian agent.
The founder and
"father" of Blue Ridge was
Michael McKinney whose father, James Isaac McKinney, had settled at
Chestnut Gap to the west of Blue
Ridge in 1853. There the McKinney
family established a mill, a store, a stagecoach stop on the old
Ducktown to Ellijay
Road, and various other enterprises.
Because of serious damage to the McKinney
store and mill during the Civil War, the McKinneys returned to their
former home in Tennessee at
Horseshoe Bend in Roane County.
Michael McKinney joined the Confederacy and served in the Civil War,
earning the rank of Colonel. He was known as Col. Mike McKinney upon
his family's return to Chestnut Gap after the war and until his death
Colonel Michael McKinney sold out his Chestnut Gap holdings to his
eldest son, Robert McKinney, and he and his wife, Hepsey Adeline
McClure, and their younger children moved to what would become the town
of Blue Ridge.
There Michael McKinney established the first business, with a general
merchandise store, a sawmill with sale of
lumber and building materials, and a real estate business. The McKinney
residence was the first built in the newly formed town of Blue
Land for the
town of Blue Ridge had
belonged to an early settler, John Green, a farmer who raised corn and
other crops on the location where the Fannin County Courthouse now
stands. Mr. Green's son, Elisha, donated land to
establish the town of Blue Ridge and worked with Mr. McKinney to
survery and plat the town.
McKinney was the mover and shaker in getting the railroad to Blue
Ridge. McKinney and Georgia
state legislator from the county, Mr. Ben Duggar, negotiated with
officials of the Marietta and
North Georgia Railroad. Engineer C. R. Walton worked to find the best
right-of-way for laying the railroad tracks through Pickens, Gilmer and
Fannin Counties and
on into Murphy, North
Carolina. Through convict labor secured
by Representative Dugger, the grade for the tracks was finished in
1885. Col. McKinney and Col. R. L. Herbert of Cherokee
drove the ceremonial spike linking the northward bound track at Ellijay
1, 1886 amidst much festivity and
celebration. The engine named "Little Mary" roared into Blue
Ridge in 1886, pulling the train into
the depot. The railroad shops were located at Blue
Ridge from 1886 through 1906,
providing jobs for repairmen and other railroad workers. The railroad
was a boon to population growth and commercial and residential
Blue Ridge soon
became a tourist attraction. Mineral Springs, with health-giving
chaleate water, was touted as a place where health could be restored.
Hotels sprang up in the new town along the twin main streets east and
west of the railroad tracks. Homes were opened as boarding houses. Blue
Ridge quickly became a bustling town.
Horses, buggies, carts and farm wagons crowded the streets. Railroad
whistles, the sound of cars switching on the tracks, the sights and
smells of steam and smoke combined to produce an atmosphere of
prosperity and productivity.
A problem arose
concerning county government and judicial business. Lawyers, judges and
others coming to the county for "court weeks" traveled by train and
lodged at Blue Ridge
hotels. They had to hire buggies or other conveyances to travel the
dirt road to Morganton, the county seat, to conduct court. This seemed
a waste of time and was a great inconvenience to them.
A proposal came
to move the county seat from Morganton to Blue
Ridge. The vote was taken on August 13, 1895.
Two-thirds of those voting favored the referendum. However, those who
had long cherished having Morganton as the county seat town did not
easily give in to the vote. The dispute was settled by the Georgia
Legislature and the vote upheld.
A stately brick
courthouse with two stories and a clock tower was completed in Blue
Ridge in 1901 at a cost of $14,000.
That building burned July 3, 1936. The
replacement was completed in 1937. The present new court house was
entered in January, 2004.
article published in 1887 in The Ellijay Courier described the rapid
growth of Blue Ridge. stating that people were moving "from Atlanta, Marietta, Michigan and
other places." The climate, land, healthy environment and future
prospects of prosperity hailed Blue
Ridge as the "mecca of the
mountains." The writer further stated that "Messrs. McKinney and
Walton, who own the real estate, intend to make a town of that place
whether fate so decrees or not."
heyday of the railroad subsided when passenger trains ceased to pull
into the depot in 1951, and freight transportation ceased in the
1980's, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway short run between Blue
Ridge and McCaysville draws thousands
of sightseers each season. Downtown Blue
Ridge has undergone massive
renovation and could well be renamed the "mecca of the mountains" for
antiques and specialty shops.
each generation since the town's founding in 1887 to the present have
left a legacy of hard work, entrepreneurship, and determination. "Mecca of the Mountains"? The
torch of hope and determination is still flaming, ready to be
transferred to those, who like Colonel Michael McKinney, are yet to
dream of what Blue Ridge can
And it's still
a pretty good place for folks at Blairsville to travel to, even though
the only train operative there now is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
c2008 by Ethelene
Dyer Jones; published July 17, 2008 in The Union
Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail email@example.com;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708
Updated October 18, 2008
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