"A town reinvents itself" Top 5 Page for this destination Helen by rexvaughan
Helen Travel Guide: 162 reviews and 343 photos
The history of Helen is quite varied and interesting. The Nacoochee Valley where Helen is nestled was home to mound builders a century ago and then center of Cherokee Indian culture until they were sent west on the Trail of Tears. They left behind a trail which is now the main highway through the town. In the early 19th Century gold was discovered nearby and there was something of a gold rush which brought thousands of miners for the next 6 or 7 decades. Next came timber and sawmill operations which virtually denuded some of the surrounding mountains. Timber also brought the railroad and the town was in fact named after the daughter of one of the railroad surveyors.
Evidently the timber industry reached a point where they had cut virtually all the trees and by the 1960's many people had moved away leaving not much but some ugly structures and a small population. Local businessmen, concerned to improve the town and its economy somehow hooked up with a local artist who had been stationed in Germany during WWII. He evidently loved Bavaria and sketched out a picture of Helen as a Bavarian village with gingerbread trimmed buildings, frescoed walls, etc. By about 1970 Helen had reinvented itself once more into Alpine Helen, its current promotional designation. Virtually all of the downtown stores now had a Bavarian look with many painted with scenes of the area or Bavaria. Little alleyways were added as well as cobblestones and a nice central fountain
When I first visited Helen about 30 years ago I thought it would have a brief heyday and fade away. However, there seems to be more businesses than ever now. There are several dozen hotels, motels, lodges, b & b's and mountain cabins for rent and eating establishments of all kinds. I was amazed to learn that after Atlanta and Savannah, Helen is the third most popular tourist destination in Georgia. While it is true that there are tons of retail shops selling lots of schlock, there is an attractiveness to the town and some very enjoyable sights, activities, etc. We recently took our 7 year old grandson there for a couple of days and he thought it extremely cool.
- Pros:Beautiful area with a variety of things to do
- Cons:More than a little touristy
This is as much a local custom or cultural encounter as a shopping tip. Roadside produce stands are a dying phenomenon... more travel advice
I would not have been surprised to see someone panning for gold here as this area had a minor gold rush in the 19th... more travel advice
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