The Story of Helen

Living on the Unicoi Road
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The Story of Helen Georgia
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From Helen Georgia, an epic account of the Georgia Frontier and Great Georgia Gold Rush

Helen Valley, Circa 1840

Take a glimpse at some illustrations and excerpts from Living on the Unicoi Road, which begins at a long-abandoned and all-but-forgotten pioneer cemetery in the Alpine Village of Helen Georgia, and from there sets off on a three-centuries-long odyssey through the Helen and Nacoochee valleys and across much of North Georgia. The region was the wild domain of panthers, Indians, traders, and soldiers for a hundred years until the Unicoi Road was begun in 1813. The next century belonged to the pioneers and gold miners whose story is told for the first time in Unicoi Road. The tale does not end there, though, for Unicoi Road follows the threads of the past to find them still woven into the evolving tapestry of modern life in the beautiful northeast Georgia mountains.



When the Helen/Nacoochee area was acquired from the Cherokees in 1819, the first settlers were not far behind. The wealthiest came with wagons and slaves to set up plantation-style farms in the rich bottom lands along the Chattahoochee River. Those of lesser means came as well, some on foot with perhaps a mule in tow to help carry their worldly goods and usually to settle in the smaller valleys and further back in the mountain hollows. For nearly 20 years after the first pioneers arrived, the frontier was delayed in its westward rush by the Cherokees, who clung to their remaining lands just across the Blue Ridge and the Chestatee River until the Removal in 1838.

Daniel England circa 1850 The families who came to the Helen valley brought children and had more even as they struggled to reclaim the abandoned fields of Indians and wrest new clearings from a vast mountain wilderness. The last Cherokees likely had spinning wheels and looms, to which the settlers added a grist mill, a blacksmith's forge, a tanyard and a sash sawmill. Over 30 youngsters -- white and black -- ran along the banks of the Chattahoochee in the Helen valley. These pioneers were still laboring to build churches, and to establish stores, a post office, and a small school when word came that gold had been discovered on nearby Dukes Creek in about 1828, likely the first of several finds which triggered the great Georgia Gold Rush.

During the frenzy which followed, thousands of outsiders from all walks of life swarmed over the Dahlonega Gold Belt, which runs from the Helen area about 30 miles southwest to the Etowah River valley below the abandoned town of Auraria. Although the fevered Gold Rush literally "panned out" in the 1830s, gold mining continued in some fashion for another century. The residents of the Helen valley dabbled in gold, which lay beneath their fields and laced the surrounding hills. At least one made a fortune from the sale of his farm, and an accidental and unlikely arrival from Massachusetts became the area's most successful miner (see the " J.R. Dean Hydraulic Mine Tour " below).

Old England Mine These pioneer families and the Georgia Gold Rush are the focus of Unicoi Road. We are fortunate that one resident, Sam Conley, left diaries detailing his years in the Helen valley. Previously unknown, these afford a rare first-hand look into mountain farm life and the romantic adventures of the first generation to be raised in the remote Appalachian valley.

As the years passed, pioneer children moved away. The last of the pioneer settlers to live in the Helen valley died in 1890. By the time the city of Helen was founded 21 years later, even the memory of the original settlers had vanished almost without a trace, leaving only a small abandoned cemetery and a few placenames attached to local creeks as faint reminders of the hardy souls who once occupied this small stretch of valley on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee.

Although few material signs were left, there were enough clues scattered about elsewhere to reconstruct this close and detailed story of the Georgia frontier and pioneer life in the Helen valley.

Unicoi Road is a virtual front porch where one can sit and watch a long-lost story of the Georgia mountains unfold. Here are the contents of Unicoi Road (along with illustrations and links to excerpts from the book):

Reynolds Vein about 1895


Gedney weaves a captivating tale.... a most refreshing approach which blends the best of fact-based history with the charm of good old-fashioned Southern storytelling.... a beautifully done work -- I read it twice within a few days!

-D. Michael Allison, National Allison (Allanson) Family Association

A virtually unknown segment of history comes alive in this extremely interesting chronicle. From the England family who settled in the Helen valley in the early 1800s through the great gold mining era, this portion of Helen's history is re-lived through the very capable pen of Matt Gedney. The vivaciousness of his characters and the tales of the Gold Rush make this story as appealing as any book on the market today.

-Helen Fincher, Executive Director, Helen-White County C&VB

I was struck by the deep characterizations of ordinary historical figures that migrated into and out of the area along the Unicoi Road. Gedney provides a unique and compelling view of the events and circumstances that led to the settlement and development of the areas along and around the old Unicoi Road. Stories in the book provide fresh insight to the significant events in the area, and identify the people that propelled them into the headlines and histories. The depth and detail provided is supported by narrative and pictures that paint a remarkable picture. Matt Gedney obviously knows his subject and the people, and he successfully transfers his knowledge to the reader. Living on the Unicoi Road provides a good testament of the type of otherwise ordinary people who overcome hardship and unforeseen obstacles to accomplish extraordinary events.

-Gary Elliott, review

An excellent historical narrative about northeastern Georgia and the men and women that lived, worked and mined in the Helen Valley and along the Unicoi Road. Very interesting and well researched. The voices of the men and women who traveled and settled along this major corridor are heard clearly in this closely written book; replete with maps, old photos and copies of written documents. If you are interested in the native history of the Georgia and Carolina colonies, you will enjoy this book.

-Trudge, review


Living on the Unicoi Road is available at:


Betty's Country store, Classics, Main Street Emporium, Red Door, Randy's Helen Pharmacy, and ZuZu’s Petals.


White County Historical Society in old Cleveland Courthouse, Yonah Treasures, Gourdcraft Originals, Old Sautee Store, Mt. Yonah Book Exchange, Anna Ruby Falls Gift Shop, Northeast Georgia History Center on in Gainesville, and Sautee Nacoochee Community Association Museum in Sautee.

Unicoi Road is also available from in both print and e-book formats.



© 2014 Littlestar Press