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Clarkesville City

Clarkesville City Hall is located at 123 North Laurel Drive, Clarkesville, GA 30523; phone: 706-754-4216.

Beginnings [1]

The encroachment of white settlers into these former Indian lands apparently began some time before the founding of Clarkesville in 1823. Habersham County had been established in 1818 by a charter from the State of Georgia from former Indian lands with Clarkesville as its county seat. The Unicoi Turnpike, constructed as a wagon route in 1819, passed through Clarkesville and connected the coastal areas with the developing territories of Kentucky and Tennessee. It is probable that the Indians continued to reside in the Clarkesville vicinity until their expulsion in the 1830's.

In 1823, the village of Clarkesville was chartered by the State of Georgia. The corporate authority was extended over the lots within the original gridiron plan, five commissioners were elected, and a permanent site for a courthouse and jail was established. Many of the original owners of the lots within this rectilinear plan appear to have been land speculators. Several names appear a number of times and many are known to have owned additional tracts in the county. In the 1830's the first of the coastal visitors began to appear, possibly traveling to Clarkesville by way of the Unicoi Turnpike. These visitors built elaborate homes on large acre tracts outside the Clarkesville community but apparently traded in the community. Visitors from the north also began to come, Jarvis Van Buren from New York being the most prominent. Clarkesville was the county seat for an area which included parts of White County, encompassing the Nacoochee Valley, and portions of Stephens County, including the developing city of Toccoa. Diversified agriculture was widely practiced in and around the multiple resource area.

From the 1840s to the 1870s it appears that the coastal visitors began arriving in increasing numbers. Escaping the malaria ridden coast and seeking refuge in the cool mountain climate, they prompted the construction of two churches. Jarvis Van Buren was the architect and builder of both the Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches, unusual denominations in such a frontier area. It is apparent that the city was prospering. The town limits were expanded in 1847 and a new road to the Soque River was built in the 1850's. The fruit industry had its beginning in this period through the work of Jarvis Van Buren, who also operated a saw mill at Porter Mills, west of town.

There appears to have been little activity after the Civil War until the coming of the railroad in the early 1880's. The Blue Ridge-Atlantic Railroad was a stimulus to the Clarkesville community. From a description in the Augusta Chronicle and Constitution in 1883, "the railroad had made Clarkesville a considerable market for eggs and chickens. They reach there from North Carolina, Tennessee, and upper Georgia." The railroad brought competition in the livery business with several men in the community running routes between the depot and the square. Traveling by railroad, the less affluent tourists could now afford to visit Clarkesville. The city limits were expanded in 1883 to include the depot. Most developments in the late 1800's appear to have all been motivated by the presence of the railroad.

The prospering days of the late 1800's appear to have continued into the early twentieth century. A new courthouse was built in 1899 with other new businesses constructed on the square. Porter Mills to the west of town was renamed Habersham Mills. It changed to a textile operation with an adjoining village built for the workers. The railroad served this industry, the apple growing interests, and an asbestos mining operation at Nacoochee. Liquor stills also provide a livelihood for many residents in the area. The Blue Ridge-Atlantic Railroad became the Tallulah Falls line in 1907 and enjoyed an increase in tourist traffic. Hotels continued to encircle the square. A trolley was built down the center of Washington Street, connecting the depot and the town square, reinforcing development along that route. The Standard Telephone Company was established, with the service area gradually expanding throughout the community. Electricity came to the city in 1915. After construction of the Georgia Power Lakes starting in 1913, the tourist industry began to die. The frame hotels were no longer needed and many closed. By 1930, the only hotel remaining was the Mountain View on the west side of the square. A portion of the county was also lost in the establishment of Stephens County in 1905 with Toccoa as its county seat.

  1. Dale Jaeger and Richard Cloues, Georgia Mountains APDC, Clarksville Multiple Resource Area (MRA), nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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