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322 Academy Street NE
Gainesville, GA 30501 Map It!
770-297-5900
Tuesday - Saturday
10:00am - 4:00pm

The Land of Promise

Our main gallery, Northeast Georgia: Land of Promise, tells the story of the many people who have called our region home. Their story is told in an engaging exhibit of thousands of artifacts spanning hundreds of years and through the use of numerous videos plus an interactive tornado simulator. This exhibit highlights the fascinating and personal stories of those who have come before us.

The first people in Northeast Georgia were Paleo-Indians who arrived around 10,000 years ago. The first historic Native Americans were the Creeks. The Creeks were displaced by the Cherokees about 1500 AD. The Cherokee era lasted over 300 years. In this time they established a rich culture based on farms and village life. At their capital in New Echota, Georgia the Cherokee Nation elected an Assembly and formed a Supreme Court, based on the model of American Democracy. Using the Cherokee alphabet invented by Sequoyah, Elias Boudinot published the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper in both English and Cherokee. As settlers moved into the area, the Cherokee were pushed farther and farther westward. This was greatly hastened by the Gold Rush of 1828 when gold was discovered near Dahlonega, Georgia. The final removal of the Cherokees from Georgia came in 1838 when they were relocated to a reservation in Oklahoma on what came to be known as the “Trail of Tears’.

Land vacated by the Cherokees was given away by the State of Georgia in a series of Land Lotteries taking place between 1805 and 1836. The new settlers were predominately a mixture of German and Scotch-Irish stock and tended to be a fiercely independent group. They started small farms of about 200 acres raising crops of wheat and corn. Small towns grew up where earlier trails intersected. The town of Gainesville was chartered in 1821 at the old trading site of Mule Camp Springs. The region remained an area of small isolated farms throughout the mid 1800’s. This isolation saved Northeast Georgia from the devastation of the Civil War. The only battle fought in the area was the Battle of Currahee Mountain in 1864, a Confederate victory.

After the War came a time of prosperity. The first railroad came to Gainesville in 1871, the Atlanta and Charlotte line. Rail transportation made large scale cotton production profitable for the first time. Soon northern cotton mills relocated to the area. The first was Gainesville Mill in 1899. Pacolet Manufacturing Company built a mill at New Holland in 1901. Chicopee Mills opened in 1927. These mills and their surrounding mill villages brought a new prosperity and a new way of life to the mountain region.

The railroads also brought in many tourists seeking escape in the cool mountains from the summer heat. Former Confederate General James Longstreet moved to Gainesville in 1875, where he purchased and operated the Piedmont Hotel. White Sulpher Springs opened in the 1890’s as a luxury resort with its own railroad stop and Western Union telegraph service. The area came to be known as the “Saratoga of the South” for its many fine resorts.

Electricity came shortly after 1900 with the building of Dunlap Dam across the Chattahoochee River. The power was used for the trolley lines which brought tourists from downtown Gainesville to the park created around the lake at the dam. Extra power was sold to the city of Gainesville for streetlights, making it the first city south of Baltimore with electric street lighting. Private homes began to use the new-fangled power source. The first electric appliance store opened in 1917.

The prosperity of the early 20th century came to a halt when the boll weevil devastated the cotton crops, and the national economy was devastated by the Great Depression of 1929. Gainesville was soon to see a much greater devastation. On April 5, 1936, Gainesville truly became a “city laid waste” when it was struck by a massive tornado. Destroying much of the downtown business district and surrounding areas, the tornado took 203 lives, injured another 1,600 and damaged 750 homes. It remains the fifth most destructive tornado to ever strike in the United States. Cadets from Riverside Military Academy were the first to arrive, aiding the dazed population. Soon men from the nearby CCC Camp and rangers from the Georgia National Forest arrived with much needed two-way radios and reestablished communications with the outside world. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was on his way to his home in Warm Springs, Georgia from Washington, D.C. and stopped to address the local citizens promising Federal aid in rebuilding. He stopped again on March 23, 1938 to view the newly rebuilt court house, addressing a crowd of over 50,000 gathered citizens.

Getting the news out has long been an important part of Northeast Georgia life. The Airline Eagle newspaper began publication in 1860, and was later renamed the Gainesville Eagle. The Eagle changed hands several times and was sold to Charles Smithgall in 1946 becoming the first daily newspaper under the name Daily Times. Charles Smithgall also started the first radio station in 1941, WGGA. Shortly after World War II, John Jacobs and a group of veterans received a license to begin broadcasting with WDUN.

The 1940’s also saw the beginnings of poultry farming as a new regional industry. Under the leadership of such visionaries as Jesse Jewell, poultry production flourished throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. Jewell is credited with many of the innovations which got the industry started. He sold baby chicks to farmers on a share basis to increase production. As the industry grew a system of “vertical integration” developed in which one company operated all aspects of production from feed to baby chick to finished food product. Jewell’s introduction of “Jesse Jewell’s Frozen Chicken” meant that products could be shipped world wide. As the industry grew many support businesses developed from trade associations and pharmaceuticals to special financial and banking concerns. The innovative people of Northeast Georgia led the transformation from a farm economy to a consumer based food industry.

In 1947, Congress authorized the creation of Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee Rive to form Lake Sydney Lanier. Funding was approved in 1946 and ground was broken on March 1, 1950, with Atlanta’s Mayor Hartsfield turning the first spade of earth. When it reached “full pool,” Lake Lanier covered 38,000 acres with a shore line of over 692 miles. Today the lake supplies water and power to much of the region. It also supplies millions of people with recreational opportunities. Lake Lanier was chosen as the rowing venue for the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996. The rowing venue continues to host regional, national, and international rowing events.

As the new century begins, Northeast Georgia is ready for what lies ahead. It is a region firmly rooted in the promise of the past with its gaze fixed firmly on the promise of the future.

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