Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Visit to an Alpine Village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia ...

This is a story about a tiny village called Helen, which is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Chattahoochee River in Northeast Georgia. Before I share my personal visit to Helen, I'd like to give you a brief history of how it became the quaint Alpine Village it is today.

Helen has a rich history linked to the Cherokee Indians and Indian burial mounds, as well as early settlers who arrived to mine for gold and cut virgin timber for a thriving lumber industry in the early 1900s.

Gold was discovered in the area in 1828, and thousands of miners mined in the foothills for over a century, generating thousands of pounds of gold. The mines around Helen were mined extensively, until mining operations ceased by the end of the century, and settlers moved on.

Timber officials came into the valley, saw huge virgin timber, and built a great sawmill and lumber company in the center of Helen on the Chattahoochee River. The lumber company continued sawmill operations until 1931, shipping to Europe and the United States, until all timber was cut. Settlers again left for opportunities in other places, and by the 1960's, there was nothing left except a dreary row of concrete block structures.

In 1968, local businessmen met to discuss what could be done to improve their town. They approached a nearby artist friend, who had been stationed in Germany. He sketched the buildings, added gingerbread trim, details, and colors to the buildings, giving an Alpine look to the entire town.

In January 1969, business owners and local carpenters began turning ideas into reality. Now, all downtown stores have been renovated and many buildings and cobblestone alleyways added. Faces of buildings were painted with scenes of Bavaria and North Georgia, mirroring the migration of early settlers.

Helen has accomplished much in those 39 years: it has created a new town and industry, providing jobs for more people and boosting the economy of the entire area.

From mid-September through October, Helen hosts the longest
Oktoberfest in the South, bringing in thousands of visitors.

On Friday, August 30th, 2008, my husband and I drove from Blue Ridge, Georgia, down to Helen, which is about a 55-mile drive.

After passing through the town of Blairsville, the road starts climbing and curving around the mountains which is kind of scary to this Mississippi girl to whom the hills of Vicksburg, are quite high enough. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, though, with water cascading off the high bluffs of rock on one side of the road and picturesque vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains as far as the eye can see on the other side (as long as I didn't look straight down, I enjoyed the views).

This is a picture I took from one of the overlooks along the way ...

After much climbing and zigzagging up the mountain, we finally hit a plateau at about 3,000 feet, and arrived in the quaint little village of Helen.

I had researched the Blue Ridge area before our trip, and Helen was one of the places I really wanted to see while we were there ... and I wasn't disappointed.

My first impression was that it was so clean and pretty and looked like it had been transported from Bavaria, complete with cobblestone alleys and Old World towers.

I have to admit that one of the reasons I wanted to go to Helen, was to visit some of the shops there. The one I was most looking forward to visiting was this shop called "Windmill Dutch Imports" ...

I absolutely love windmills and have collected several paintings and pictures of them, so I was delighted with this beautiful little shop filled with treasures imported from Holland. There were Delft plates, tiles, vases, teapots, clocks, spoons, lamps, and ginger jars, plus wooden shoes, Dutch dolls, and windmills.

Here are some pictures I took while I was in the shop.
(You can click on the pictures to enlarge them, if you'd like)

I bought a couple of the tiles which I plan to
have framed and a little windmill pitcher ...

After leaving the windmill shop, I joined my husband for a walking tour and we couldn't resist going into the Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen ...

I'm glad we had already eaten lunch before we visited this delectable shop, because I've never seen such beautiful and delicious looking candy all in one place.

Jelly Bellys !

We bought some peanut brittle and it was so good, we ate most of it on our trip back to Blue Ridge.

After leaving the candy shop, we drove to the edge of town and crossed the bridge over the Chattahoochee River (yes, that's the same river Alan Jackson sang about) ...

I took this picture standing on the bridge ...

It was getting late and after looking at the river, I spared my sweet husband from visiting any more of the shops and we headed back to Blue Ridge.

If I ever have the chance to go back to Helen, here are some of the shops I'd like to visit ...

The Gourd Place
(I'm really sorry I missed that one!)
The Christmas Shoppe
Southern Comfort Quilts
Scrapbook Bugz (in Sautee, Georgia)
The Willows Pottery
The Glass Mountain Gallery
Cottage Garden Furniture
Glassblowing Shop, and
The Nacoochee Village Antique Mall

Another fun place to visit which is near Helen, in Cleveland, Georgia, is the Cabbage Patch Babyland General Hospital ...

Known the world over as the birthplace of the "hand-stitched" Original Cabbage Patch Kids, BabyLand General Hospital is a very real place that offers tours Monday through Saturday.

If you'd like to see a list of all the shops in Helen and its vicinity, click here.

I have more things I want to share with you about our trip and hope you will visit me again soon.



StitchinByTheLake said...

Janie those mountains are my kind of country - I just think I could live there. I couldn't have resisted the gourd shop and I sure would have bought some chocolate covered strawberries in the candy shop. What a fun trip. blessings, marlene

nikkicrumpet said...

What a marvelous beautiful and so many fun places to visit. And I'm DYING over those chocolatey gooey covered apples....YIKES I NEED ONE OF THOSE BABIES!!! Thanks for taking us along on your trip!

Diane@A Picture is Worth.... said...

Hi Janie,
That looks like a wonderful place to visit and your photos are breathtaking!

I would love to visit the cabbage patch shop...I well remember my husband standing in line early one morning to buy Kelli one! There was a big demand for them that year and they were hard to find!

Thanks for the visit this morning and for your suggestions on the frames!

I look forward to hearing more about your trip.

Scooterblu's Whimsy said...

Hi Janie, I absolutely love the dutch pottery you have pictured! And your tole tray you found in Murphy is beautiful!

I am hosting a give-away in celebration of my 100th Post, so come by and enter if you get a chance! :) ~Rhonda

Gretchen said...


I have always wanted to go to Helen, GA and now I know what I've missed. Thanks so very much for the tour.