HISTORY HIGHLIGHTS – A monthly feature from the Helen Arts & Heritage Museum
White County and Helen, Georgia
One of the most notable Indian pathways in north Georgia was the Unicoi Trail. It started at the Tugaloo River east of present day Toccoa and ran through Nacoochee Valley. From there it crossed over Unicoi Gap through the present location of Hiawassee, Georgia, and on to Hayesville and Murphy, North Carolina. Continuing in a northern direction, the trail ran from Murphy to Nine Mile Creek near Maryville, Tennessee. Unicoi Trail became the most accessible route over the Blue Ridge Mountains, linking eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northern Georgia with the headwaters and tributaries of the Savannah river system.
By 1810, the Unicoi Trail had become the principal route for travel and trade in northeast Georgia and plans were underway to make it better by building an actual roadway across the mountains.
The road project began in a spirit of cooperation between a group of Cherokee Indians and white men who got together and proposed building a toll road over the trail, wide enough for wagons to travel. They formed the Unicoi Turnpike Company and applied to the state governments of Georgia and Tennessee for permission to build the road. The joint venture was the first of its kind between Cherokee Indians and white settlers in the state of Georgia. Since a major portion of the proposed roadway was located inside the Cherokee boundary, construction could not begin until the Cherokee Nation approved the project. The Cherokees agreed and signed a treaty with the company on March 8, 1813. Under the terms of the treaty, the toll road was to be run the the Unicoi Turnpike Company, which would pay the Cherokees a fee of $160 per year for 20 years, after which time the road would revert to the Indians unless other arrangements were made.
The amount of toll travelers paid depended on the method of travel used and type of livestock transported through the turnpike. The General Assembly set the toll rates for the Unicoi Turnpike in its enabling legislation in 1816. The original fee scale included the following rates:
“For every man and horse, twelve and one-half cents; for every led horse not drove, six and one-fourth cents, for every wagon and team, one dollar; for every coach or chariots, or other four wheel carriage, chaise, chair, or other carriage of pleasure, one dollar and twenty-five cents; for every two wheel carriage, chaise, chair or other carriage of pleasure, seventy five cents; for every cart and team, fifty cents; for each head of cattle, two cents; for each head of sheep,, goats, or lams, one cent; for each head of hogs, one cent.”
Work on the turnpike was finished in 1819 and the road opened for travel the same year.
This road is now GA Highway 75 / 17, also Main Street through Helen and continues north over Unicoi Gap, crossing the Appalachian Trail into Hiawassee.