Artist unveils painting capturing the history of Lake Chatuge

Community, News

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Towns County Historical Society presented a new painting by Marty Hayden, entitled “Vanishing Heritage with Fear of the Future.” The piece focuses on a maligned time in local history – the creation of Lake Chatuge.

Hayden donated the painting and copyright to the historical society for future use. It depicts an elderly woman holding the newspaper while looking out at the construction of the Chatuge Dam. Behind her is a photograph of a Confederate soldier.

Marty Hayden

Marty Hayden

“When I started this thing, I heard conversations with people, and it really hit me hard. I envisioned someone’s mamaw, grandma, a relation, and everything’s being taken away. She just happened to get the paper. and she’s looking out her window watching everything that’s going on. I named it ‘Vanishing Heritage with Fear of the Future’ and it took me two weeks just to make the newspaper. The headlines on here are about the TVA’s dam. The second headline is ‘United States declares war on Japan,’” Hayden explained.

The painting also showcases the dam building and clearing process with time period accurate construction equipment. Viewers can see the clearcutting and burning of trees and homes to make way for Lake Chatuge.

Before the unveiling



The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built 16 hydroelectric dams between the years 1933 and 1944. 20,000 families were displaced because of dam construction and an estimated 69,000 burial plots were moved or left in place after TVA declared eminent domain and condemned their land. Part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s ambitious vision, the TVA’s goal was to bring electricity to the rural Tennessee Valley.


Herman Pritchett wrote, “Nowhere did the Authority’s program have more direct and disturbing effects than upon the hundreds of families who had to abandon their homes and farms to the waters of a TVA reservoir.” Relocation brought joy to some people and anger for others. For instance, Oma Boren was overjoyed that she no longer had to carry water from the spring because her new home came with running water. Conversely, the story of Mrs. Fannie Cotham shows a woman incredibly upset with TVA: “My friends are not the cause of me being out of a home.” Thousands of land condemnation proceedings removed people from the only homes they had ever known. As you can see, the records illustrate that the process of relocating people in the Tennessee Valley region was a very personal event which impacted each affected family in different ways.”

Hayden started the painting just before the pandemic, but he was unable to deliver it for almost a year because of the COVID-19. The historical society hasn’t met since last March, but they hope to be back in May 2021.

The frame also came from the lake. Hayden found a dogwood laying on the bank at the dam. On the back of the painting, the dates are listed. The picture will be hung at the historical society.

History - Lake Chatuge

Initial sketch of the Chatuge painting.

New Commission Business

The county renewed its agreement with ATLAS to monitor the gases at the landfill.

Raburne Wilson was reappointed to the Towns County DeFACSs board.

The county also accepted the only bid for $1,000 for an old backhoe that no longer runs at the landfill.

Local philanthropists honored for generous contributions

Betty Phillips -Historical Society

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society honored Betty Phillips and her late husband, Dr. Richard Allen Schmidtke, at its March meeting for their generous financial contributions toward the preservation of local history.

“This is a resolution in honor of Betty Phillips and in memory of Dr. Richard Allen Schmidtke by the Towns County Historical Society Executive Board, and Betty had another meeting she’s gone to, and (nephew) Kris is accepting this on her behalf,” Towns County Historical Society Vice-President Jerry Taylor said.

Towns County Historical society

Kris Phillips accepted the recognition on Betty Phillips’ behalf from historical society officers.

“And the resolution is; whereas Betty Phillips is a lifetime member of the Towns County Historical Society who has provided immeasurable support to our organization; and whereas Dr. Schmidtke held advanced degrees in mechanical engineering; and whereas he served his county with distinction in World War II, mainly as staff sergeant in the U.S. Army and the Manhatten Project as a 19-year-old who helped with the design of the ‘Fat Man’ Nagasaki bomb and other notable projects; and whereas he retired to the north Georgia mountains and adopted Towns County as his home; and whereas he married Towns County native Betty Phillips and became a life member of the Towns County Historical Society; and whereas by their anonymous generosity they supported the historical society and the Old rock jail Museum; and whereas Dr. Schmidtke passed away March the 27th, 2017. Therefore, we, the Executive Board of the Towns County Historical Society, honor Betty Phillips and the memory of Dr. Schmidtke on the anniversary of his passing by acknowledging the identity of our anonymous benefactors this 9th day of March 2020. Signed, Sandra Green, President; Jerry Taylor, Vice-President; Tyler Osborn, Secretary; Francis Shook, Treasurer; and Mary Ann Miller, Membership Secretary.”

Betty Philiips

Plaque presented in honor of Betty Phillips and Dr. Richard Allen Schmidtke.

In addition to a framed resolution, a plaque was presented in honor of the benevolent couple.

“This plaque is in recognition of Betty’s many years as a member of the historical society and all the contributions, financial contributions, that she and Dr. Schmidtke have given over the years,” President Green said. “And as everyone knows, that knows Betty Phillips, they know how devoted she is to the cause of veterans. And so the plaque will be at the Old Rock Jail Museum in front of the veterans’ display room in honor of Dr. Schmidtke and Betty in honor of her love for the veterans.”

Phillips has graciously hosted an annual program for Towns County veterans each summer since 2014.

“I know she’ll appreciate that very much,” Kris Phillips said.

Tombstones stolen from historic cemetery

Old Smyrna Cemetery

HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Headstones from the historic Old Smyrna Cemetery were discovered missing last week, reported by Steve Eller, a caretaker of the gravesites and the offspring of ancestors who were laid to rest at the remote location between Upper Hightower and Charlie’s Creek over a century ago. The gravestones are thought to have been stolen during the past five weeks, between early-February and March 7, 2020.

J.B. Goddard's headstone

J.B. Goddard’s headstone

“A family member went up there Saturday and found out that the J.B. Goddard tombstone was missing, and of course, you probably all know that J.B. Goddard was murdered by the Justice man and hung on the square here in Hiawassee,” Eller said on March 9. “But his was missing, and also was my great-grandfather’s nephew, Homer Wellborn, tombstone is missing.”

Goddard, an elderly lawyer born in 1818, was the victim of moonshiner Tilman Justice who believed that Goddard was on the brink of turning his illicit spirit operation over to revenuers in 1887. Justice was later convicted and hung in Towns County for Goddard’s murder, the only hanging in the county’s history. According to local historian Jerry Taylor, Justice was hung somewhere along River Street in Hiawassee, the precise location unknown.

Eller told FYN that Jeep clubs – with many of the vehicles bearing South Carolina license plates – were witnessed in the area of the Old Smyrna Cemetery at the time that the gravestones were thought to have been stolen.

“I talked to the Towns County sheriff and you know, we reported it and all that kind of stuff, but probably not much chance on getting anything on that, as far as that goes, because it would be so hard to find but we do have it on Facebook and pictures of the Goddard tombstone on Facebook so if anybody was to see it maybe they could realize it was stolen and maybe give it back,” Eller said.

Homer Wellborn

Homer Wellborn’s headstone

Eller launched an online fundraiser in February for “clean up, repair and maintenance of cemetery, entrance road. and memorials” at the burial site. “The property around this cemetery was sold to the Forest Service in 1933,” Eller explained. “My great grandfather (Hardy Washington Eller) lived in this area around Charlie’s Creek/Upper Hightower Community of Towns County. His home and land was referred to as ‘The Hard Eller Place.’ This cemetery has been neglected for years and needs some TLC.”

Click to view or support the Old Smyrna Cemetery fundraiser

Eller asked for anyone with information on the stolen cemetery headstones to contact the Towns County Sheriff’s Office at 706-896-4444.

Featured Image: A portion of Old Smyrna Cemetery

Artist captures the heartbreaking history of Lake Chatuge

Featured, News
History - Lake Chatuge

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Marty Hayden relocated to Towns County from Pennsylvania a decade ago, and the gifted artist discovered a way to honor the history of a community that he has grown to love. Hiawassee is coined a “lake and mountain paradise” but the construction of Lake Chatuge – a manmade reservoir commissioned by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1941 – left heartache and hardship in its wake. Approximately 3,500 acres of rich farmland and generational homesteads were eradicated by the lake’s arrival. Schools, churches, and businesses stood in the way of the project, and 532 gravesites were transferred to area cemeteries.

Marty Hayden

Marty Hayden

“The more that I dug into the history, I locked into this thing about Lake Chatuge,” Hayden said, explaining how conversations with the local community inspired the emotive, in-the-works art piece. “Working at the college, there was a lot of people that started coming up and telling me about their family history, and how they were just uprooted, and they had to move, and they only had so many months to get out…,” Hayden said. “So that really touched me. I said that must have been something.”

Hayden was employed as a night supervisor at Chic-fil-A on the Young Harris College campus for five years, prior to retiring last week. The artist explained that he conducted ample research for the sketch and that retirement will afford him the time to complete the re-creation.

“Luckily, online, I stumbled across several photographs. Some of them had to do with the Chatuge water tower, the intake tower. I got pictures of that. I got some of the pictures of the equipment, and then I started getting this vision that the best person to translate this to me was somebody’s mamaw,” Hayden said. “So if you can just imagine back in 1941, you’ve got about a 90-sum-year lady and she’s sitting in her cabin that she grew up with generations, and she’s staring out her window, and she’s watching everything disappear. Sitting in her lap she has the exact paper.”

While the nation was immersed in the news of World War II, the local population focused on the inevitable change that Lake Chatuge would surely bring.

Towns County Historical Society

The painting’s sketch.

“This is just a sketch, and I did this over the weekend because I knew the (Towns County Historical Society) meeting was coming up,” Hayden explained. “But that’s going to be the size of the painting. The painting is going to be all the way in color, it’s going to be framed, and I’m going to donate it to the historical society.”

Hayden estimated the completion of the painting in late March. The gracious artist said that he plans to frame the original sketch and auction the artwork to benefit the Towns County Historical Society.


Light Up Hiawassee ushers season of holiday cheer

Community, News
Towns County Historical Society

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Light Up Hiawassee transformed the town’s square into a winter wonderland Saturday, Dec. 7,  setting the heart of town aglow with magical illuminations for the holiday season. Children of young and old gathered to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, taking part in various activities such as cookie decorating, rock painting, ornament making, and penning wish-lists for Santa’s approval.

Children delighted in creating custom cookie designs.

Towns County Public Library hosted a storytime session while CASA, who serves as court-appointed advocates for neglected and abused youth, lit LED luminaries along the square’s pathways in representation of the many children assisted in Towns County this year. Towns County’s American Red Cross, VFW Post 4807, and Hamilton Gardens offered a sampling of delectable treats on the city’s center grounds.

Light Up Hiawassee

A rock painting station showcased creative talents.

A flaming S’mores firepit, arranged to roast self-perfected marshmallows for the chocolate-graham cracker concoctions, proved popular with guests. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales served as the Master of Ceremonies, and the holiday lights made their annual debut promptly at dusk.

Hiawassee Mayor

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales (left) greets a Towns County American Red Cross volunteer.

Festive holiday music wafted through the chilly air as the crowd awaited the arrival of Santa Claus, escorted by the Hiawassee Police Department, and riding tall upon a Towns County Fire and Rescue ladder truck. Children followed Saint Nick to the Old Rock Jail which was decked in spirited 1936 decor by the Towns County Historical Society, depicting the era that the site was constructed. Scrumptious cookies, old fashion candy, hot chocolate, and sweet apple cider were served as a long line of Santa-seekers wrapped their way through the restored museum. Vintage ornaments and toys were strewn throughout the old jail’s living quarters, transporting guests to a holiday season long ago.

Hiawassee Santa

Old Saint Nick arrived in style upon a Towns County fire truck.

Robin Webb

FYN’s reporter poses with a friendly Grinch.


Towns County Historical Society renovations completed

Towns County Historical society

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Renovations to the Towns County Historical Society’s meeting room at the former recreation center in Hiawassee have been completed. The society has been holding its monthly meetings at the Towns County Civic Center during the revitalization process.

Old Rec Cemter

The ceiling of the historical society’s meeting room was in dire need of repair due to water damage.

“After a few months of meeting in the Civic Center due to new roofing, painting, and renovation of our meeting area, we are happy to announce that the October meeting will held in our regular meeting room at 900 North Main Street, near Anderson Bridge,” Sandra Green , the society’s president, said. “We are excited for you to see the improvements and upgrades that have taken place over the last several months. We want to thank Commissioner Bradshaw for his support and cooperation during the entire process as well as Cecil Shook and his group of detainees for their hard work during the process.”

The Towns County Historical Society will hold its regular monthly meeting at 6 pm, Monday, October 14.

Towns County Historical Society

October’s program

“After our usual business session, we look forward to an interesting program ‘The Humble Beginnings of Young Harris College’ presented by Rev. John W. Kay,” Green said. “He will give an overview of how Rev. Artemas Lester was assigned to the Towns County Methodist Circuit in the late 1880s. Here, Rev. Lester saw the need for educational opportunity for the mountain boys and girls and planted the seed in 1886 that became Young Harris College.”

The public is invited to attend.

Click for map


Old Rock Jail to feature Halloween, Christmas events

Community, News
Sandra Green Towns County Historical Society

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Old Rock Jail Museum will transform into a haunted historical site this Halloween for the second year in a row. Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green made the announcement at the society’s Sept. 9 meeting.

“We’re going to have a haunted Halloween at the jail, and that’s something that Tyler (Osborn) and Mary Ann (Miller) will be working on,” Green said. “We’re going to revise it a little bit from last year, and it will be new and improved. But we’re also considering charging a dollar for admission and hope that that would be a good moneymaker for the jail. So we’ll be working on that in the weeks to come, and I’m sure as creative as they are that they will come up with some great ideas.”

Old Rock Jail

The Old Rock Jail Museum is located next to the Towns County Courthouse.

Members of the local Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) will assist the historical society officers in shaping the spooky setting. Towns County, in cooperation with the City of Hiawassee, will host its annual Halloween trick-or-treat, costume contest simultaneously.

Additionally, the Old Rock Jail Museum  will once again feature “Picking on the Porch” in early October. In the event of inclement weather, the music will be held indoors at the Towns County Civic Center.

The festivities won’t end with the close of the autumn season, however.

“We’re also doing something new, and I can thank Tyler Osborn, our secretary, for coming up with this idea,” Green shared. “We’re going to have an old-fashion Christmas open house at the jail in December, and we’re going to do that in conjunction with the lighting of the tree on the Square.”

Holiday decor depicting the 1930s and 1940s eras, a time period when the jail was operatable, will be on display.

The Old Rock Jail Museum is currently open for touring Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although donations are greatly appreciated by the Towns County Historical Society.

Old Rock Jail Archives

Towns County Historical Society presents Hiawassee’s past and future plans

Community, News

HIAWASSEE, Ga.- A large crowd of history lovers assembled at the Towns County Historical Society’s monthly meeting Aug. 12 to waltz down memory lane with local historians Mary Ann Miller and Jerry Taylor. Miller and Taylor displayed slideshow photographs of Hiawassee, past and present, describing the architectural changes that have taken place over the years. Miller shared memories of Hiawassee in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by Taylor presenting the original plans for the mountain settlement. Settled in 1820, Hiawassee became the designated seat of newly formed Towns County in 1856. Hiawassee was incorporated as a town in 1870, and as a city in 1916.

Mary Ann Miller

Membership Secretary Mary Ann Miller

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales addressed the crowd at the conclusion of the meeting, speaking on the future plans for the city. In 2018, the city of Hiawassee worked with the Carl Vinson Institute, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia which assists state and local governments in achieving their goals. Hiawassee received a $21,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2017 to assist with the funding of the strategic plan.

Steering committees were formed for the project, and seven focus groups were held to sculpt the formation of the plan. During the course of the study, community stakeholders listed what they felt was working well in Hiawassee, and what they believed could benefit from improvement. “We tried to get everyone involved as much as possible…,” Mayor Ordiales said at the meeting, assuring society members of historical preservation. “We’re tearing nothing down.”

View Hiawassee’s strategic plan

Towns County Historical Society meets on the second Monday of each month at 6 pm at the Towns County Civic Center while the society’s main site, located at the former recreation center, undergoes renovation. Meetings are open to the public.

Towns County Historical Society

Jerry Taylor entertained the crowd with stories of days gone by.

Banks County Courthouse

Based on historic blueprints, the Towns County Courthouse was intended to resemble the Banks County Courthouse, and sit upon the county-owned property of Hiawassee Town Square.


Feature Image: Hiawassee’s original Masonic Lodge, one of many historical photographs displayed at the meeting.


Hiawassee’s Old Rock Jail Museum opens for its second season

Old Rock jail Museum

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A good place to find Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green is at her home away from home, the Old Rock Jail Museum, in Hiawassee. The historical site, which celebrated its grand opening last year, sits adjacent to the Towns County Courthouse. FYN visited the museum on Friday afternoon, as Ms. Green tended to the colorful blooms bordering the former detention center. A beloved project of Green’s, the historian was instrumental in the revitalization of the site.

Old Rock Jail

A 1938 crib is the newest addition to the museum

The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 until the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The jail was renovated in 1980, and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the site Jan. 27, 2017.

The Old Rock Jail musuem contains a variety of photographs and relics, preserved and donated by local families. The museum is open for tours Fridays and Saturdays, through October, from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although donations are greatly appreciated. Vistors can roam what was once the living quarters of past Towns County sheriffs and their families before climbing a narrow set of stairs, leading to the barren cells above. The final sheriff to reside in the Old Rock Jail was Jay Vernon Chastain Sr. who was killed in the line of duty in late 1974.

Historian Green pointed out a new addition to the museum, a baby’s crib graciously donated by Maggie Oliver. Built around 1938 by Alvin Baxter “AB” Oliver for the first Oliver grandchild, the crib cradled four successive children. The last  occupant to slumber in the crib was Drew Oliver, a Hiawassee resident. The bed was moved into storage until it was rescued and refurbished by Maggie Oliver in 2019.

Old Rock Jail Hiawassee

View of an upstairs cell

Green reminded of the historical society’s monthly meeting, scheduled for Monday, May 13, at the Towns County Civic Center. The presentation will focus on Native American artifacts uncovered in the area, specifically how the Brasstown Valley area could be affected by the construction of the Young Harris bypass. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.



Towns County Historical Society features speakers on the Cherokee Nation

Community, News
Towns County Historical Society

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society welcomed Ed Reed, a retiree from Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources State Parks and Historic Sites, as June’s speaker on the history of “New Echota and the Rebirth of the Cherokee Nation.” A continuation of May’s presentation by Buzz Tatham, who cautioned of the effect that the upcoming Young Harris-Blairsville bypass construction may create in the disruption of Cherokee artifacts buried beneath the earth, Reed led listeners through a timeline of the native tribes’ events. “Today we’d probably call it rebranding, if you want you use a buzz word from the business world, rather than rebirth,” Reed began.

Towns County Historical Society

Ed Reed (left) with Buzz Tatham

Towns County Historical Society

The Cherokee Phoenix was the first newspaper published by Native Americans in the United States and the first published in a Native American language. The first issue was published in English and Cherokee on February 21, 1828, in New Echota. 

The Cherokee Nation government council began meeting in New Echota in 1819, and New Echota officially served as the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until the tribe’s forced removal in the 1830s. In 1832, following the Congressional passage of the Indian Removal Act, Georgia began allocating Cherokee territory to white settlers through its Sixth Land Lottery. The Georgia Guard evicted the Cherokee from their land over the next six years. New Echota remained abandoned for the next century until the State of Georgia authorized the reconstruction of the site into a state park in 1952. The historic site is located just north of present-day Calhoun, Georgia, in Gordon County.
Reed led guests on a journey through the settlement’s proud foundation to the removal of the native tribe on the infamous Trail of Tears. “The Cherokee were outnumbered and overwhelmed,” Reed said. “They had no other choice than to leave.”

Towns County Historical Society meets on the second Monday of each month. Due to roofing issues at the former recreation center, meeting are presently held at the Towns County Civic Center on the courthouse campus. Members voted to move the meetings to 6 p.m. beginning in August.

Hamilton Gardens, Hiawassee’s hidden gem

Community, News
Hamilton Gardens

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Historical Society hosted a full house of guests interested in learning the history of Hamilton Gardens, a botanical paradise tucked away beside the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Executive Director of Hamilton Gardens, Grace Howard, offered a lively presentation of how the gardens were in the past, and what the board of nine members hope for in the future.

Howard, a fifth generation Towns Countian, began by sharing the fascinating foundation of the legacy gardens. Founded by Fred and Hazel Hamilton, the couple were collectors of native azaleas and rhododendrons, and propagators as well. “Many of the plants located in the gardens are hybrids from their work,” Hamilton Gardens’ website reads. “The  traveled extensively and added to their collection whenever possible, and maintained two spectacular gardens, one in Atlanta and one in Towns County. As they got older and maintenance of the gardens became more challenging, Mr. Hamilton began searching in Towns County for a location large enough to house the plants from his gardens. The perfect spot was found on property donated by the Tennessee Valley Authority to Towns County to be used by the county as a park. The present location is what became known as Hamilton Gardens, and was planted in 1981 with an initial 1,091 plants, most of which were rhododendrons and native azaleas. His only request was to maintain the gardens in perpetuity and to keep them open to the public.”

Hamilton Gardens

Flame azelas in bloom

Christened official botanical gardens by state legislature in 2000, Howard said that the gardens now boasts between 1500-1800 plants. The mission of the gardens is to “restore, preserve, and enhance” the 33 acre land.

Howard deemed Feb. 2016 historic, as the non-profit assumed the management of the hidden paradise, and began immediately reaching out to the community for involvement. Clay County Master Gardener Volunteer Association redesigned the rugged entryway, Enotah Garden Club freshened overgrown beds, and repairs on bridges, paths, and a water wheel ensued. The gardens now flourish, but Howard said that it is an ongoing project of updating and maintaining the land.

Future plans include greenhouse restoration, updating the irrigation system, building a concert stage, improving trails, and advancing plant identification efforts.

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens (Photo Credit: Hamilton Gardens website)

“We want to be a year-round garden,” Howard explained, describing the beauty of each season while showing photo slides. The executive director informed of upcoming events, and touched on the strategic plan that the board recently created. Sustainable funding is a major goal, Howard said, adding that she hopes that the community will join in support. “Truth be told, it belongs to all of us.”

Additional information can be found on Hamilton Gardens’ website.




Appalachian soul music planned for “Pickin’ on the Porch”

Community, News

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Debra Lynn Rodriguez, a Hiawassee native, will be the featured performer at “Pickin’ on the Porch” of the Old Rock Jail museum this Saturday, Sept. 5,  at 6:30 pm. The event, sponsored by the Towns County Historical Society, is free to the public.

“I am a soul singer, a storyteller, and a stargazer,” Rodriguez, who currently resides in Atlanta, said. ” I am tattooed, often barefoot, and was raised singing in the hills of Appalachia. As a singer, I draw from a deep well of musical tradition. My earliest memories are of singing at my mama’s piano, tambourine in hand. I am heavily influenced by blues, gospel, folk, and rock and roll. It’s those roots along with my own experiences, life in community, and chasing the Big Mystery which most inspire my songwriting.”

Rodriguez released a full-length album of original songs in 2015, followed by a second live album in 2016. The Atlanta-based musician said that a “brand new batch of Appalachian Soul tunes” are due to hit the recording studio later this year.

Wild Goose Festival

Photo Credit:

Rodriguez strives to inspire others beyond her musical talent, however.

“As a worship leader, I care deeply that worship is about more than a routine visit to temple or synagogue or church, but is a lifestyle which employs and influences every aspect of our human experience,” the singer-song writer continued. “I intentionally engage diverse communities to explore how faith and worship intersect everyday life. I love to witness as people discover faith and spirituality through authentic and personal experiences and I work to help facilitate the opportunity for those discoveries.

“Since 2011, I’ve served as Pastor of Worship and Director of Arts at The Gathering Place Atlanta ( and you can find me leading worship in all kinds of places – people’s homes, on a sidewalk, in the woods, even live on Facebook! In 2016, I started a little project called Glory Tribe, a rag-tag gathering of Mystery-seekers from all over the world. We gather weekly to consider and re-envision our ideas and approaches to worship and community. We’ve embarked on a journey together to learn and teach the art of living worship. I think it’s going pretty well.”

Click to sample Rodriguez’s music

The Towns County Historical Society encourages the community to bring a lawn chair to enjoy the show on the Towns County courthouse campus. In the event of rain, the performance will be held at the Towns County Civic Center.

Historian sheds light on Cherokee location names

Community, News
Towns County Cherokee Indians

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County historian and newly-elected vice president of the historical society, Jerry Taylor, dispensed a presentation on the correlation between the names of local areas and their Cherokee origins on Monday, Jan. 14.  “They are gone like the buffalo and the elk which once roamed the mountain valleys…,” Taylor began.

Hiawassee, derived from the Cherokee word “Ayuhwasi” which means meadow, savannah, or pretty, green place, was once known as Watson Crossroads prior to 1856.

Jerry Taylor, historian

Towns County Historical Society Vice President Jerry Taylor (Photo by Blue Ridge Country)

Taylor explained that many of the roads in Towns County were named according to their function. Hog Creek, for example, was where the hogs freely roamed. Fodder Creek harbored stacks of corn fodder which was used to feed livestock during the cold, mountain winters. Tallulah translates to terrible. Talking Rock converts to echo. Choestoe transcribes to land of the dancing rabbits. “It means more rabbits than you can shake a stick at,” the friendly historian said with a chuckle. Taylor listed a host of locations interpreted from the Cherokee dialect.

Taylor provided the history from an early-1800s census, telling the tale of a Cherokee elder named “Sweetwater” who resided along the Hiwassee River. The household consisted of 13 Cherokee tribe members, one of whom was a weaver, another a farmer, and five were cited as spinners. Five could read English, and seven could read Cherokee.

“Everytime we use these words we’re acknowledging whose land this really is,” Taylor informed the intrigued group that had gathered to listen to the well-informed historian’s stories.

The Towns County Historical Society convenes monthly at 9oo N. Main St. in Hiawassee. The upcoming meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 11, at 5:30 p.m.


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Haunted Jail a huge hit at Hiawassee Halloween

Community, News
Hiawassee Haunted Jail

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hundreds of trick-or-treaters arrived at the Towns County Courthouse on Halloween evening to join in the fun-filled celebration. Candy booths sponsored by local businesses and government agencies lined the courthouse porch as children of all ages wrapped their way around the building, collecting sweets.

Towns County Historical Society

A ghostly “inmate” at the Old Rock Jail

This year’s event featured a “haunted jail” attraction at the Old Rock Jail Museum, and the line to tour the 1939 historic site stretched beneath the maple tree on the courthouse grounds. Towns County Historical Society accomplished a spooktacular feat by supplying themed props, adding startling strobe and sound effects, and casting a set of skilled actors to play the part of tour guides, inmates, and other creepy characters.

Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green estimated that over a hundred visitors toured the spooky site on Halloween night.

Mayor Liz Ordiales

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales visits with a tiny trick-or-treater in front of the courthouse (Photo by City of Hiawassee)

Halloween in Hiawassee included a street performance by North Georgia Dance Studio, a “Thriller” flash mob, and a children’s costume contest.  The first place winner in the birth-to-age-two category was awarded to Kylyn Keyes. Romina Solorio was chosen for first prize in the 3-to-7 year range, and Anna Hamby was judged the winner in the 8-and-older category.

Hiawassee Halloween

A little ladybug took first prize in the birth-to-2 year old costume contest

Old Rock Jail celebrates grand opening of museum

Community, News
Old Rock Jail

HIAWASEE, Ga. – A long-awaited, highly anticipated ceremony took place on the grounds of the Towns County Courthouse Saturday, May 20, 2018, memorializing the completion of renovation of the Old Rock Jail. The historic site sits just east of the county courthouse, adjacent to the Towns County Library. Deeded to the Towns County Historical Society Oct. 20, 2016, by former Towns County Commissioner Bill Kendall, efforts to transform the site into a museum proved to be a success.

The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 until the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The jail was renovated in 1980, and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the site Jan. 27, 2017.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony began with words of welcome from Towns County Historian and Master of Ceremonies Jerry Taylor. An invocation was offered by Towns County Historical Society Member Doug Nicholson, followed by the Pledge of Alligence lead by Cub Scouts Pack 407, with the National Anthem sung by Karli Cheeks. Towns County Historical Society officers were announced, with President Sandra Green, Vice President Nancy Cody, Secretary Betty Phillips, Treasurer Frances Shook, and Membership Secretary Mary Ann McCall Miller in attendance.

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, former Towns County Commissioner Bill Kendall, and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales spoke at the ceremony, expressing appreciation to the historical society for their dedicated work toward the project. Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton attended the event.

Jay “Junior” Chastain and Trey Chastain, the son and grandson of former Sheriff Jay Chastain were recognized. Sheriff Chastain lost his life in the line of duty in 1974, and Chastain was the the last sheriff to live in the Old Rock Jail.

Towns County Historical Society Deputy Historian Jason Edwards presented the history of the Old Rock Jail to the sizable crowd.

Towns County Chamber of Commerce President Candace Lee orchestrated the ribbon-cutting.

The museum features artifacts from Towns County’s past, with some items donated and others on loan. Photographs from days gone by grace the vine-roped stone of the interior, with the downstairs living quarters revived to its former glory. The upper-level of the museum contains the cells where inmates were once housed, as well as the former sheriffs’ office, and the area is available for public viewing.

Towns County Historical Society meets on the second Monday of each month, at 5:30 p.m. at the former Senior Center, located at 900 North Main St. in Hiawassee.

Information on becoming a member of the society can be found at

Historical Society presents 1929 tax digest to city of Hiawassee

Community, News
Hiawassee tax

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society presented the city of Hiawassee with an artifact Monday, March 26, at the council’s monthly work session: the original 1929 tax digest for the city.

“This is very appropriate since you were just talking about your budget,” Towns County Historian Sandra Green told Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. “This is the 1929 tax digest for the city of Hiawassee. This is the original and we’re presenting it to the city. You’ll love some of these numbers. The Bank of Hiawassee, their city tax was $21.70, but they only paid $20.30, and we aren’t sure why.”

The crowd erupted in laughter.

Penciled beside the typewritten taxes due from the Bank of Hiawassee, the amount paid is scribbled.

Hiawassee tax digest from 1929

The aged list contains the names of citizens and businesses that operated in Hiawassee nearly nine decades ago.

The tax calculations were based on 40 cents per $100 worth of property.

The total amount of taxed property amounted to $46,977, with $187.60 due to Hiawassee.

The highest amount in taxes owed by a citizen was $16.40.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales expressed appreciation to the Towns County Historical Society for the framed document.

The Towns County Historical Society reminded that restoration of the Old Rock Jail will soon be completed with the museum scheduled to open May 19.


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