Habersham County History

Habersham County History



Miss Addie Bass

Habersham county was formed from a part of a land grant ceded from the Cherokee Indians in 1817. The county was organized in 1818 and named for the famous Revolutionary leader and later Postmaster General, Joseph Habersham.

The county site was chartered in 1823 and named for the Revolutionary General Elijah Clarke. Gen. Clarke spelled his name in the old way with the final E, and for this reason the E is retained in Clarkesville. This little city has the distinction of being the only one of the nineteen Clarkesvilles in the United States.

Originally Habersham comprised the present county, a large part of White and Stephens counties and a small part of Banks county. (White county was formed from Habersham and Hall in 1837, and Stephens county from Habersham and Franklin in 1905).

Soon after and even during the Revolutionary war white men came to the Indian lands from the Carolinas and lived along the banks of Tugalo river and also on the Georgia side. Among these was James Jarrett, whose descendants still own farms in Stephens county--whole original deeds came from the Indians. A man named Van Diverre or Vandiver lived near Tallulah Falls, and Gen. James Wofford came farther into the county and lived with the Indians.

The white people who bought land before the county was ceded to the government bought it from the Indians through their chefs. But any Indians who wanted to could clear and improve land and give it to his children. As long as he or his children remained on the land it was his, but if he moved away the land and improvements became the property of any Indian who took possession of it.

There were many well to do Indians, and half-breeds in the county at the time it was organized who had good farms and owned slaves. Among these Indians we find the James Stan Waitee, Black Watt Adair, Red Watt Adair, Jim Vann and Lynch. By the beginning of the nineteenth century quite a number of whites had ventured into this section and rented or bought land from the Indians. Among these English settlers we find many names of citizens of the county at the present day. By the time the county was organized settlements had been established in several places along the banks of the Soque River near and where Clarkesville now is, on the Tugalo at the Jarrett settlement, in the Nacoochee Valley the Williams settlement and in the Batesville District near Providence church, which were the largest settlements.

Among the names of the English inhabitants are Jarrett, Devereau, Van Diverre, Wofford, Hill, Sutton, Williams, Free, Crow, Sisk, McClure, Burton, Dover, Cooley, Chastain, Fry, Trotter, Bowen, Tatum, Davis, Deal, Ivester, Stewart, Hames, Harshaw, Brookshire, Waldrep, Kimsey and Gabrels.

The "Covered Wagon" settlers who came to Habersham before and after its organization were substantial, God-fearing citizens and became the backbone of the county. Soon after the county was organized gold was discovered and many settlers attracted by the gold came. Among them we find the names of Elibu Barclay, the Lambert brothers, A. J. Nichols, William Hackett, John Fuller, Alex Mauldin, William Hiers, S. H. (?) Alley, Jesse Norris, John S. Dobbins and Elijah Starr. Many of these were the first settlers of Clarkesville.

There was a wealthy class of people also attracted by the gold and the wonderful climate from Savannah, Charleston and parts of North Carolina and Virginia, bought large tracts of land and put their slaves to digging for gold. These people built homes -- either permanent or for summer use -- and brought an air of refinement and culture to this section that is usually found only in old communities. Among these we find the names of Dr. George Duval Phillips, General B. F. Patton, S. A. Wales, John A. Stanford, William Smith, Alex Erwin, Judge William Laws, Governor Alsten, of South Carolina, Richard Habersham, Richard Ownes, General B. R. Wyley and John B. Ward.

Judge J. W. H. Underwood, the noted wit of the Georgia bar, presided over the court of Habersham many years. Among the lawyers of Habersham were Col. Stamper, a brother-in-law of Judge Underwood, also noted for his wit and peculiarities, Elibu Barclay, John H. Jones, M. J. Walker, Calvin Hanks, S. A. Wales, J. H. Trippe, Phillip Martin and Thomas Rush.[**See Note Below**]

Some of the early representatives of the county to the legislature were General Wofford, Col. Cleveland, Dr. John Bailey, Dr. George D. Phillips, Thos. M. Kimsey, William Grant and James C. Jarrard. Dr. Phillips introduced and put through a bill known as the "Poor School Fund", providing for a fund for the education of children of parents too poor to pay their tuition. This was the first school law passed after that one in the Constitution providing wild lands for the establishment of academies in the different counties.

Mr. Chastain was Representative to Congress and Hon. Richard Habersham was also Congressional Representative. His home is now owned by Mr. J. A. Erwin. It is about four miles from Clarkesville on the Tallulah Falls Highway and is a quaint building of the old architecture.

In every settlement there was a church. Most of these were of Baptist denomination. Bethlehem Church, one mile from Clarkesville, was the first church in the county, and Providence Church, near Lake Burton, was the second. The Methodist had a campground at Mossy Creek, now in White County.

Among the early ministers of the Gospel in Habersham were Singleton Sisk, Thomas M. Kimsey, James C. Jarrard, Frederic Canup, Benjamin Jones, Grover Trotter and Jesse Morrison of the Baptist denomination, and Jack and William Deavors, Wilkes Leonard and Andrew Robertson of the Methodists.

In 1838 the Episcopalians built a little church, which is still standing in Clarkesville. In this church the convention was held which nominated Rev. Stephen Elliott as the first Bishop of Georgia. A few years later a Presbyterian church was built also in Clarkesville. It was dedicated by Dr. Nathan Hoyt, grandfather of the first Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

The first bank in Habersham was a branch of the Georgia R. R. Bank of Augusta, with William Frederick Dugas as the cashier. The first newspaper was "The Angus," which was soon followed by "The Northeast Georgian" published by J. J. Patton.

There was an iron mill established on the site of the Habersham Cotton Mills, four miles from Clarkesville, and a cousin of President Van Buren, Jarvis Van Buren, came out of New York to take charge of the work. Later the mill was used by the Confederacy during the War Between the States.

Short session schools of usually three months were held in most of the settlements, the church being used for a school house. Singing lessons and penmanship were taught by some traveling teachers in courses of about two weeks duration. Clarkesville prepared for college. Rev. Stanhope Erwin was one of the very earliest teachers. Mr. Blair, of Pennsylvania, Mr. Round and Mr. William Rogers were also early teachers. In 1850 there was built a school for girls known as Tallulah Female Institute, Rev. R. C. Ketchum being principal. During the war this school was closed and never afterwards opened. The wealthy persons in the county too far away to patronize the Clarkesville schools usually had governesses in their homes.

The delightful climate of Habersham has attracted health and pleasure seekers since its earliest days, and for many years Clarkesville was one of the most popular summer resorts in the state. The old stage coach running between Clarkesville and Athens brought many visitors to its hotels and private homes.

The first hotel was the Fuller House, which stood on the east side of the square. A hotel stood where the Mountain View is and was kept by Lewis Levy, of Augusta. It was later bought and improved by Mr. Reuben Nash and was called the Habersham House. The Allegheny House on Washington Street was kept by Mrs. Collier. Many persons from the coast owned summer homes in Habersham. These made the village and community very gay in summer.

When the Indians were removed from Georgia, Gen. Scott was sent from Washington to take care of the removal. He called upon Georgia to furnish militia companies to do the work. General Benjamin Patton, of Clarkesville, had charge of the removal from northeast Georgia, and a company of Habersham militia were among those under him.

Habersham played an active part during the War Between the States. Rev. Singleton Sisk was her delegate at the Secession Convention and voted for secession. Habersham county had eight hundred voters in 1861 and had one thousand soldiers in the army. Habersham county men were in nearly all of the great battles in the east and many in Johnson's and Hood's divisions.

Company K of the 24th Georgia Division was a Habersham company with Capt. Robert McMillan, its first captain. Capt. John G. Porter succeeded him and was mortally wounded, and Capt. Ezekiel Fuller succeeded Captain Porter.

Dr. James Philips equipped a company but refused to accept an office. Company E of the 16th Georgia Division was largely composed of Habersham men and Capt. Styles was its captain. E. S. Brasley commanded a company from Clarkesville which went in Phillip's Legion. All of these companies belonged to Cobb's afterwards Wofford's Brigade, McLaws Division, Longstreets Corps, Lee's Army. Solomon Van Devierre was the first captain of a company made up at Clarkesville that served in the 52nd Georgia Regiment. Col. Charles Phillips was Colonel and after his capture, Capt. Rufus Asbury was acting Colonel until the close of the war.

After the war Habersham suffered the depression of the reconstruction period, that other parts of the state went through, but as there were not as large a proportion of the wealthy class, the change was not as noticeable as in some other parts of the state.

In 1875 the Southern Railroad, then called "The Air Line", was built and the town of Toccoa came into existence and was soon a flourishing little city. In 1881-82 the Tallulah Falls Railroad was built and Cornelia was formed at the junction, which also grew rapidly. Mount Airy, Baldwin and Alto, on the Southern Railway also came into existence. Mount Airy, Turnerville and Tallulah Falls became popular summer resorts.

Toccoa having grown larger than Clarkesville aspired to become the county site of Habersham and in 1898 made a move for this purpose. The fight was hard and at times bitter. Mr. William Crane, an old lawyer and Charles L. Bass, a very young one, stumped the county for Clarkesville. Clarkesville won. During that time the Court House which was situated in the center of the square was blown up. And when it was rebuilt it was placed opposite the square in its present situation. But Toccoa felt she must be a county seat, so she started a campaign for a new county and Clarkesville bid her God speed, and in 1905 the legislature created the county of Stephens with Toccoa as the county seat.

Soon after the Southern Railroad was built there was a colony of German Swiss came to the county and started New Switzerland. They planted grape vines to make wine on a large scale, but before the vines were large enough to make the business profitable, Habersham became dry by reason of local option and many of the Swiss moved away. Some took up farming or trades and later took out papers of citizenship.

After Habersham became dry a company of prohibitionists from the north and west established a town on the Tallulah Falls Railroad and named it Demorest for the well known prohibitionist, Jennings Demorest. Demorest is the seat of Piedmont College -- a splendid school, a college which was founded by Rev. C. C. Spence in 1897 as J. S. Green Collegiate Institute.

In 1905 when the Legislature, at the earnest desire of Governor Terrell, determined to establish an Agricultural and Mechanical High School in each Congressional District, Clarkesville bid for the Ninth District school. Other towns in the district were working for it and promised more money than Habersham could possibly raise. But because of the many small donations and large number of signers to the petition, the committee realized that though poor, the people wanted and felt the need of the school. So it was given to Habersham and built two miles north of Clarkesville. The results of the work of the school have shown the wisdom of the founders of the institution in establishing the school "In The Hills of Habersham".



Miss Addie Bass

The county of Habersham, as originally organized in 1818, was bounded on the north by Rabun, east by the Tugalo river, south by Franklin and Hall counties. It was thirty-one miles long and twenty-three miles wide, containing 713 square miles. This territory was originally owned by the Cherokee Indians. Six miles southeast of Clarkesville stood for many years the Chopped Oak, a favorite meeting place of the Indians where they planned their raids upon the whites and to quote Lucien Knight, "judging from the appearance of the tree when last seen, the Indians must have made life in this region a nightmare to the settlers."

The county was named in honor of Joseph Habersham, of Savannah, whose father, James Habersham, accompanied the Rev. George Whitfield to Georgia from England. The town of Clarkesville dates its beginning from 1821. It was named for Gen. Elisah Clarke, soldier of the Revolution and twice governor of our state.

My grandmother said that when she came here a bride in 1838, the U. S. Troops were encamped here for the purpose of removing the Indians. The young Lieutenant in command was J. B. Magruder, who afterwards became a famous Confederate General.

The discovery of gold in the Nacoochee Valley soon brought to this hitherto unknown section many seekers after the precious metal, but from the first the settlers were of a very superior class. The attitude is such that it has almost unrivaled advantages as a summer climate, and before the railroad system was opened, when it was necessary to reach these mountain resorts by private conveyance, the people from the low country began to come here for the summer. The population, however, was made up largely of the sturdy stock before-mentioned. In 1830 the population was 10,000 in the county.

The first Court House, erected in 1821, was the little wooden building occupied for many years by John Jones, and adjacent to his livery stable. Here the famous Judge Dooly held Habersham's first court. The first bank was established in the little building, still standing, known for years after it ceased to be a bank as Mr. Sam Lambert's tailor shop. The second Court House was built in 1832 and stood on an elevation in the center of the public square. This elevation, known as the Court House wall, was the gathering place for the men of the town. The jail at this time stood on the corner just above Mr. Frank Asbury's present home. It was a very ordinary wooden building and badly arranged.

Dr. George D. Phillips, a Virginian, came from North Carolina and settled at Farm Hill where his son, the beloved Dr. Jas. P. Phillips, lived for so long. Dr. George Phillips was also the father of Col. Chas. D. Phillips and Gen. Wm. Phillips, and these three sons were all gallant officers in the Confederate army.

My great uncle, Col. Samuel A. Wales, just graduated from the law school at Yale, built the house afterwards owned successively by General Toombs and Judge Bleckley, and burned while the home of the latter. It was here that Col. Wales' sister, Catherine, whose home was in Mt. Zion, where she was a graduate of Dr. Beman's famous school, visited her brother and met the man she afterward married, Alexander Erwin. Col. Wales' brother-in-law, Col. Turner H. Trippe, built the Campbell house long the residence of Rev. A. C. Ketchum and now owned by Mrs. Walter B. Hill.

My grandfather, Alexander Erwin, a North Carolinian, son of a man who as a mere boy fought at the battle of King's Mountain, came here in 1829. He, with Gen. B. F. Patton, a brother-in-law of Dr. George Phillips, put up a store for the purpose of trading with the Indians. Their place of business was the old O'Callaghan building on the site of the present Court House. Too old for service when the War Between the States broke out, he kept the postoffice and helped to look after the affairs of the town, but he sent three gallant sons, Capt. W. S. Erwin, J. B. Erwin and Capt., afterwards Judge, Alex S. Erwin.

John R. Stanford, a man of fine family and of wealth, was for years a prominent merchant here. He built the beautiful home on the hill which he called Pomona Hall, afterwards owned by Gen. Jeremy Francis Gilmer and now in the possession of his son-in-law, J. F. Minis. This home was long the center of hospitality for the little town. Mrs. Stanford was of the distinguished Charlton family of Savannah.

Mr. Jarvis Van Buren came here from New York to take charge of the iron works at what is now the Porter Mills. He was a cousin of President Martin Van Buren and was said to resemble him greatly. He bore the distinction of having been the engineer on the first railroad train ever successfully run in the United States. It was a line about forty miles in length and ran from Albany to Schenectady, N. Y.

William Smith built the Grove House. He was the grandfather of Rev. William Beane, Thos. S. Beane and the Ansleys of Atlanta.

Judge Garnett Andrews in his "Reminiscences of an Old Georgia Lawyer" gives an amusing account of a lawyer of our town whom he called Col. Stamper. The original of this sketch was William A. Steelman, and he owned the house afterwards owned and occupied by Alexander Erwin. He was a brother-in-law of J. W. H. Underwood and was said to have been quite as original a character as Judge Andrews has depicted him.

The Grove house afterwards came into the possession of Col. Robert McMillan, who came from County Antrim, Ireland, in 1831, and settled in Elbert county, removing to Habersham in 1852. He was a fiery little Irishman. His father was a Scotchman and his mother was Jane Montgomery, a niece of the famous general who fell at the battle of Quebec. Col. McMillan went heart, soul and money into the Confederate cause. He raised and commanded the 24th Georgia Regiment, although nearly sixty years old and was noted for his bravery. When Gen. Thos. R. R. Cobb fell, mortally wounded at Fredericksburg, Col. McMillan was placed in temporary command and would have been made Brigadier-General but his health failed and he came home to die.

His son, Capt. Garnett McMillan, my father, who married Miss Julia Erwin, was a student in Emory and Henry College in Virginia when the war broke out. On the eve of graduation he came home and enlisted as a private in his father's regiment, subsequently becoming Captain of the 2nd battalion, Georgia Sharp-Shooters. In 1874 he received the Democratic nomination for Congress over the great Benjamin H. Hill and in the ensuing election he swept the field by a majority of 5,500 votes. But in January 1875, less than two months before the opening of Congress, he died at the early age of thirty-two and Mr. Hill succeeded him.

That Habersham deserves its reputation of being one of the two spots with the lowest death rate in the world is borne out by the fact that the little Methodist cemetery holds the dust of all the Clarkesville citizens who passed away during a period of seventy-five years. The present place of interment was laid off in 1893, and Capt. Wm. Stanhope Erwin was the first person buried in it. In the old cemetery rest the remains of at least two Revolutionary soldiers, Mr. McCroskey, the grandfather of Mrs. Caroline Hunt, and Matthew Rhodes.

As we have before said the delightful climate of Habersham attracted many persons from the low country who built handsome homes in the vicinity of Clarkesville. One of these was the summer home of John McPherson Berrien, Attorney General under Andrew Jackson and twice U. S. Senator. By a strange coincidence this place was brought by Amos T. Akerman, who held the same office under President Grant.

The Alston home near Clarkesville was built by Col. Alston, who was either a brother or nephew of Governor Alston of South Carolina, who married the beautiful and ill-fated Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr. The Alston place passed into the hands of the Middleton brothers, Arthur and Walter, grandsons of the signer of the Declaration of Independence. To Habersham also came John E. Ward, first U. S. minister to China. He built a handsome house on the Tallulah Falls road, but it was burned and nothing remains to mark the spot except the old well and a few charred logs on the terraces.

Judge Law lived between Clarkesville and Mt. Airy. I have heard my mother say what a pretty sight it was to see him come into church on Sunday morning with his fourteen pretty daughters, occupying two pews. I do not think I have exaggerated the number, but think of having to dress than many girls! Judge Law's home was later owned by Robert Tyler Waller, a grandson of President Tyler. Mrs. Waller and her brother George H. Johnson, long a resident of Clarkesville, were great-grandchildren of Major Gen. Nathaniel Greene.

The venerable and saintly Rev. W. E. Eppes lived at his county home, Sunnyside, and was rector of the Episcopal church. He was, if I mistake not, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson. Thos. M. Bradford, whom many will recall as postmaster, was a lineal descendent of James Madison. Mrs. Adkins and Mrs. Robert Lambert were daughters of Dr. Malthus Ward, who had charge of the old Botanical garden at Athens.

The fine old home, Anadale, was begun by Col. Robert McMillan. It was sold to Mr. Waring and later to the brothers, Edwin M. and Geo. W. Clayton of North Carolina, who lived there for some years. General Duncan L. Clinch, a noted officer of the U. S. Army, established a summer home in the same neighborhood and here, as a boy, played his grandson, ex-Governor Duncan Clinch Heyward, of South Carolina. Here also lived the Trists, Owens, Haskells and Kollocks, the latter being close relatives of Commodore Tattnall. The very quaint old home now occupied by J. A. Erwin was, I think, built by Richard Habersham, who sleeps in the old cemetery at Clarkesville.

General Toombs and Judge Bleckley were once familiar figures on our streets. The former might be seen almost any day disdaining the sidewalk and strolling down the middle of the street, an unlighted cigar in his mouth as he wended his way to his accustomed seat on the Court House wall, where he was ever the center of a circle of admirers. But after the death of his beloved wife, he sold his home to Judge Bleckley and returned to Washington.

Next in my mother's notes I find the following: Schools, hotels, churches. Memory is the only guide I have here. Col. Sam Wales had, for awhile, a small boarding school at his home and Miss Metzler taught here about the same time. The old "Academy," which has been turned over to the negroes was probably the first school house built by the town. Buy many of us who went there part of the time received also a part of our education at the "Old College" which stood on "College Hill," and was removed to give place to the beautiful home of Mr. A. N. LaRierre. This rambling old building had its beginning as a girls' boarding school, but it was never successful and was soon abandoned except as it was used from time to time as a county school.

White's statistics gives Clarkesville in its early days as having three hotels, "all of which possess the art of making travelers comfortable." One of these was the Phoenix, which stood on Main Street next to Mr. Lambert's tailor shop. Another was the Habersham House, now the Mountain View, and the third must, I think, have been the old Allegheny House. I do not know who built the latter but when I can first remember the Stanfords lived there. Dr. And Mrs. Burns set up housekeeping in the Allegheny in 1885.

I do not know which was built first the old Methodist church which stood in the center of the old cemetery, or the Episcopal church. My first recollection of the latter is hearing the sainted Bishop Beckwith preach from its high, old-fashioned pulpit. The Presbyterian church was dedicated on the first Sabbath in July, 1848, and my mother, an infant less than two years old, was baptized in it on that day. In it have preached Dr. Nathan Hoyt and Dr. Henry Hoyt, grandfather and uncle of the beloved Groves H. Cartledge and many others of distinction. Few sections of our state have more claim to history than this. It is sacred ground and no one has ever lived here but feels at times the longing to return.

**NOTE:  Paragraph 10 list several lawyers for Habersham, one being Thomas Rush. This may should be Thomas Jefferson Rusk. He was a lawyer in Clarkesville from 1825 until 1834. He left Clarkesville, in search of some men who beat him out of money. He became a famous Texan as their are many monuments in Texas honoring him and also web sites. My 3rd great grandmother was his sister. If you would, look at this web site.
Mike Williams
Habersham Co. Ga

Return to Index of  Interesting Bits of Habersham County History

Return to History Index

Return to Home Page

This page  was last updated on -07/11/2010

Compilation Copyright 2004-Present by GAGenWeb