White County, covering 242 square miles, is located on the eastern flank of the Appalachian Mountain chain approximately eighty miles northeast of Atlanta.

It encompasses most of the headwater streams of the Chattahoochee River and is thus a major source of Atlanta’s water supply. Georgia’s 123rd county, carved out of Habersham County by an act of the state legislature in 1857, was named for David White, a legislator from Newton County. He helped pass the bill that created White County.

The first white settlers who came to the area, which once belonged to the Cherokee Indians, emigrated from nearby Georgia counties and from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Most settlers engaged in subsistence farming, as the mountainous terrain made it unsuitable for large-scale agricultural enterprises. In 1828 gold was discovered in the area of Duke’s Creek (now the Nacoochee River), launching a gold rush. Nine gold mines operated in the county, and gold mining continued for more than 100 years.

Helen Mine
Helen Mine
Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

Cleveland was chosen for the county seat and named in honor of General Benjamin Cleveland, an early settler and a veteran of the War of 1812. A new courthouse of brick molded on the premises was constructed by enslaved laborers in 1859-60. Today the structure houses the White County Historical Society, a small museum, and a gift shop. The current courthouse was constructed in 1964. Truett McConnell University, a four-year liberal arts institution affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, was established in Cleveland in 1946. Cleveland is also home to Babyland General Hospital, the whimsical birthplace of the dolls known as Cabbage Patch Kids.

White County Courthouse
White County Courthouse
Image from Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Helen, White County’s second town, grew up around a lumber mill established on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in 1911. The only railroad ever to serve White County, the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad, was built to transport mill products. The railroad went out of business in the early 1930s. Following a long decline, Helen experienced a renewal in 1969 when a group of local entrepreneurs transformed it into a look-alike Bavarian village. Since that time Helen has become one of the largest tourist attractions in the state. Helen is also the site of one of the nation’s largest Oktoberfest celebrations.

Helen
Helen
Photograph by Stormtrooper WB

Other tourist sites in White County include the Chattahoochee National Forest, through which the Appalachian Trail runs; Unicoi State Park; Smithgall Woods Conservation Area, which offers educational programs and which houses the remnants of Georgia’s earliest gold mines; and the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association in Nacoochee Valley, which features an art school, an art gallery, a theater program, an environmental concerns group, and a history museum. It also sponsors the annual Echota Performing Arts Festival.

Mount Yonah
Mount Yonah
Courtesy of Explore Georgia.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of the county was 27,144, an increase from the 2000 population of 19,994. The population increased by 53 percent between 1990 and 2000, with retirees making up a large part of the increase.

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Helen Mine

Helen Mine

The Helen Mine was one of nine gold mines operating in White County after the discovery of gold in 1828 around Duke's Creek (later the Nacoochee River). This photograph was taken around 1900.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #
stp019.

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White County Courthouse

White County Courthouse

The modern-style White County courthouse was built in Cleveland in 1964. It is the county's second courthouse.

Image from Jimmy Emerson, DVM

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Helen

Helen

Helen, founded in 1911, was a thriving lumber-mill and mining town until the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad shut down in the early 1930s. In 1969 the town was revitalized by local business owners, who created a tourist destination by converting Helen into a Bavarian-style village.

Photograph by Stormtrooper WB

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Mount Yonah

Mount Yonah

Mount Yonah, known as one of the best areas for rock climbing in Georgia, is located between Cleveland and Helen in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Courtesy of Explore Georgia, Photograph by Geoff L. Johnson.

White County Family

White County Family

A family gathers for a photograph, taken around 1906, in front of their home in White County. The house on the left was used for a kitchen and was connected to the main house by a breezeway.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, # wht003.

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Young Boys on Car

Young Boys on Car

Young boys pose atop a car in White County, in 1917.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, # wht004.

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Mount Yonah

Mount Yonah

Mount Yonah, located in White County between Cleveland and Helen, is best known for its granite outcrops, formed by granite magma intruding the overlying stacks of metamorphic rocks about 375 million years ago. The outcrops are one of the favorite spots for rock climbers in the state.

Image from Andrew Partain

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