In January 1969, three Helen businessmen, Jim Wilkins, Pete Hodkinson, and Bob Fowler, met at a local restaurant and began discussing the idea of refurbishing the town to entice tourists to stop on their way north to the mountains. Hodkinson consulted an acquaintance for ideas, artist John Kollock from Clarkesville, whose family had deep roots in the area.
Agreeing to draw up some sketches, Kollock knew almost immediately what he would propose. When he had been stationed in the army in Germany, he had become fascinated with the similarity between the Bavarian mountains with those in North Georgia.
Kollock drew many sketches of alpine villages he saw, including detailed renderings of the trim, features, and colors used, believing the ebullient style was the perfect backdrop for tourists, “How great,” he recalled “if there could be some spot in our mountains that could reflect this image for the vacationer.”
Artist John Kollock created renderings of what Helen could look like with an Alpine motif.
Over the next 40 years, the town grew dramatically, evolving new ventures, shops, and venues, some successful, some not. Helen’s remarkable rebirth and success was wrought by the creativity and dash of its citizens, a spirit of local entrepreneurship, and a demonstration of civic cooperation that united a dying lumber town and became Georgia’s third most visited city.