Rabun County, in northeast Georgia, is the state’s forty-seventh county. Comprising 371 square miles, the county was created by the state legislature in 1819 from land ceded by the Cherokees and was named for Georgia governor William Rabun. In 1821 the legislature established the county seat, naming it Claytonsville in honor of judge Augustin Smith Clayton. The location of the seat changed in 1823, at the citizens’ request, and the town’s name was shortened to Clayton. The current county courthouse in Clayton was built in 1967; since then a second floor and other remodeling have been completed.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, Rabun County’s population was 16,276, an increase from the 2000 population of 15,050.

Towns

In addition to Clayton, Rabun County’s incorporated communities are Dillard, Mountain City, Sky Valley, Tiger, and part of Tallulah Falls. Dillard, incorporated in 1906, was named for Revolutionary War (1775-83) veterans John and James Dillard, who were early settlers there. Mountain City, originally called Passover (as the place where travelers passed over the Blue Ridge divide), was incorporated in 1907. Bounded on its east by the Chattooga River and on its west by the Appalachian Trail, Mountain City is the northern gateway to the Tallulah Gorge. The Eastern Divide runs through Mountain City, with waters flowing on the east side to the Atlantic Ocean and on the west to the Gulf of Mexico. The Bartram Trail, named for naturalist William Bartram, provides scenic views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains along seven miles at nearby Rabun Bald, Georgia’s second highest mountain.

Rabun County Courthouse
Rabun County Courthouse

Courtesy of Don Bowman

Sky Valley was incorporated in 1978 as one of Georgia’s newest chartered towns. It was founded on former cattle ranch land in 1969 as a ski resort community. Sky Valley’s northern boundary is the Georgia-North Carolina state line, and its remaining three boundaries are formed by mountain ridges.

Tiger, located three miles from Clayton, was incorporated in 1904. Although some sources state that Tiger was named after a Cherokee chief, Tiger Tail, the story is doubtful. Another conjecture, that its name and that of nearby Tiger Mountain came from the wildcats roaming the area, seems more likely. Tiger is home to the Rabun County High School.

The town of Tallulah Falls, incorporated in 1884, straddles the border between Rabun and Habersham counties, and most of its population is concentrated on the Rabun County side.

Places of Interest

Five places in Rabun County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hambidge Center Historic District, west of Dillard, was placed on the register in 1982. It includes the internationally renowned Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences.

Moccasin Creek Waterfall
Moccasin Creek Waterfall

Image from Jeff Moore

The York House, north of Mountain City, is the state’s oldest continuously operating bed-and-breakfast inn. Founded in 1896, the inn has welcomed such guests as Joel Chandler Harris and Walt Disney. It was placed on the register in 1982. Hoojah Branch Site, near Dillard, was listed in 1987 and appears to be an Indian mound site. The Tallulah Falls Train Depot on U.S. Highway 441 at Tallulah Falls was placed on the register in 1988. It was built in 1913-14 to replace an older building that had burned down that year. Passenger service ended at Tallulah Falls in 1946, but freight hauls continued until the line was abandoned in 1961. The depot is now used as a gift shop.

York House
York House

Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

The Rabun GapNacoochee School is a private school for grades six through twelve. It formed as a consolidation between two schools, the Nacoochee Institute in Sautee, founded in 1903 by the Presbyterian minister Joel Wade, and the Rabun Gap Industrial School, founded in 1905 by Andrew Jackson Ritchie, Rabun Gap’s first college graduate. Both were farm schools, where children attended classes, grew and prepared their own food, and maintained the school buildings. In 1917 Ritchie initiated a “Farm Family Plan” by which whole families could work their way through school. A fire at the Rabun Gap school in 1926 occasioned the merging of the two schools into a larger one, for which Ritchie served as president until 1939. In the late 1960s, Eliot Wigginton created the Foxfire program at the school. Today Foxfire is no longer affiliated with any school but functions as a separate, nonprofit organization in the county.

Lillian Smith
Lillian Smith

Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

With access to the Appalachian Trail, as well as five lakes and two rivers, Rabun County features much to attract those interested in the wilderness and outdoor recreation. The county is also home to three state parks: Black Rock Mountain State Park, Tallulah Gorge State Park, and Moccasin Creek State Park.

Among notable persons who have lived in Rabun County is the writer, editor, and social critic Lillian Smith.

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Rabun County Courthouse

Rabun County Courthouse

The current Rabun County Courthouse in Clayton was built in 1967. Among the renovations completed since that time are the additions of a second floor and cupola, as well as a new entrance.

Courtesy of Don Bowman

Moccasin Creek Waterfall

Moccasin Creek Waterfall

A small waterfall along Moccasin Creek, in Rabun County, is located near the Moccasin Creek State Park.

Image from Jeff Moore

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York House

York House

The York House, located near Passover in Rabun County, is the oldest continuously operating bed-and-breakfast in Georgia. Founded in 1896, the inn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, # rab182.

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Lillian Smith

Lillian Smith

Lillian Smith, a prominent writer and opponent of segegation during the Jim Crow era, is pictured in the 1940s with workmen at Laurel Falls Girls Camp in Rabun County. Smith served as director of the camp from around 1925 until 1949.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #
rab355.

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Pine Terrace

Pine Terrace

Rufus L. Moss, cofounder of the town Tallulah Falls, built his home Pine Terrace there in 1879. The house later served as an auxiliary building for the Tallulah Falls School, founded in 1909, and then as the Tallulah Tea Room restaurant. Privately owned again by 2015, the home underwent renovations to restore its nineteenth-century character.

Courtesy of Rabun Gap Historical Society