Old summer resorts fascinate me. Their shabby remnants speak of a more innocent, romantic, whimsical time. A time when vacationers spent week after luxurious week enjoying leisure activities, robust meals and a giddy social scene. Often set in spectacular but primitive and rugged landscapes, grand hotels provided surprisingly sophisticated and up to date accommodations.
My adopted hometown in New Hampshire is one such place. At the beginning of the 1900s, no less than thirty hotels graced its main thoroughfares. The population swelled by thousands in season, when the railroad brought visitors from Boston and New York and beyond. The contrast between isolated mountain village in winter and gala resort, with bootleggers and jazz bands and Presidents and movie stars, in summer, was staggering.
I've been pining to explore our new home, so when I read about a Georgia resort ghost town, Tallulah Falls, I decided we had to go. Today was perfect: sunny with peak fall foliage.
In my research, I learned Tallulah Falls has not only lost its resort status, but the natural attraction that was its draw has been permanently changed. The Tallulah River starts in North Carolina and ends 47 miles later in Habersham County, near South Carolina. Near the end of its run, it cuts through the two-mile Tallulah Gorge, which has 1000- foot walls in places. Six waterfalls drop a total of five hundred feet through the gorge.
Called the "Niagra of the South," it drew visitors since the early 1800s. With the advent of a rail line, almost twenty hotels and boarding houses sprang up around the gorge. Visitors could ride or fish by day, dance or play cards at night.
But progress was soon to put an end to this halcyon period. In 1913, after a battle with environmentalists, the Georgia Railway and Power Company built a huge hydroelectric dam to supply Atlanta's streetcars. Confederate General Longstreet's widow, Helen Dortch Longstreet, was a leader in this, one of Georgia's first conservation movements. A member of the Progressive Party and a proponent of women's rights, Helen also ran for governor in 1950 as a write-in candidate.
Another blow was dealt to the resort when a 1921 fire wiped out hotels, stores and homes. Most were never rebuilt.
The dam diverts most of the water from the falls and they are a mere trickle but for selected "release days" each year. Unfortunately, today wasn't one of them, so we contented ourselves with an aerial view of the gorge from Tallulah Point. This little diversion from the main road hosts two quirky tourist traps, one thriving; the other for sale. Two wild and crazy fools crossed the gorge at this point on tightropes, a Professor Leon in 1883 and Karl Wallenda in 1970.
The area sees more visitors since the 1993 creation of a state park encompassing the several lakes formed by the dam. Tallulah Falls, population 164, bravely hangs on, proud of its beauty and heritage, hopeful that travelers streaming past to Asheville or Atlanta will stop and experience a sweeter time gone by.