History of the Sutallee Trace and the Etowah Hiking Trails Trail System

The first inhabitants of the area known as the Sutallee Trace were the Cherokee and Creek Indians.  Artifacts indicate the Native American tribes lived on the land for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of European immigrants.  The Native Americans' first known contact with non-native people occurred in 1542, when the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, explored the area the would become North Georgia.

 

The Sutallee Trace was the first area settled by Euro-Americans in north Georgia.  Once a hub of commerce centered around a riverfront road, the Trace community slowly declined after a flood on the Etowah River washed away the road.  When the road was relocated to higher ground, the community relocated, as well.

During Georgia's early development, most land was distributed to settlers under the heads-rights system.  The land grant system gave 200 acres of land to the head of the family and 50 additional acres for each dependent, up to 1000 acres.  Some land was granted as payment for services in the American Revolution.  As settlers pushed their way into the western portions of the state, a new system of land grants was enacted.  All new land and subsequent lands acquired from the native inhabitants were surveyed and divided into small lots of uniform size.  Each lot was given a number and registered at the Surveyor-General's offices.  Slips of paper with the land lot numbers were placed in a box along with slips of blank paper, for a drawing, or land lottery.  All free white males over the age of 21 who had been citizens of Georgia for at least twelve months were allowed to draw once. If the drawer: 1) had a wife and at least one child, or 2) was a widow with children, or 3) was part of a family with orphans, a second drawing was allowed.  After twelve months, four dollars per acre was due (an 1800 dollar would be comparable to a 2021 twenty dollar bill).  The discover of gold in north Georgia changed the land lottery method. With the assumption that lots in the "gold belt" were more valuable, the lots contained fewer acres. Instead of the typical 160 acre lot, the lots were only 40 acres in size.

Today the land encompassing the Trace is largely owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Cherokee County Water and Sewer Association (CCWSA).  The Sutallee Trace is a mixed-use wilderness.  The Corp's primary purpose is to ensure the watershed along the Etowah River provides a clean source of water for Lake Allatoona.  The Corps property is also deemed a Wildlife Management Area, meaning hunting is allowed on Corps property during the respective hunting seasons.

CCWSA's vision is to set aside property for future water treatment plant development.  In the interim, CCWSA occasionally conducts logging operations on lthe property CCWSA owns.  Clear cut Logging operations conducted in 2018-2020 impacted hundreds of acres of forest.

Native Americans

The first inhabitants of the area known as the Sutallee Trace were the Cherokee and Creek Indians.  Artifacts indicate the Native American tribes lived on the land for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of European immigrants.

Initially, the Native Americans and European immigrants coexisted peaceably.  Native Americans became key trading partners with settlers in Carolina and Georgia.  The Cherokee, in particular, supported the British in their various battles and wars.

The alliance between the Cherokee and the Creek began to unravel in the early 18th century.  Allied with other anti-Carolina tribes, the Creek began skirmishing with the British.  Supporting the British side, the Cherokee helped stave off the attacks.  Hostilities grew between the tribes, ultimately unleashing a 40-year war that culminated in the Cherokee driving the Creek out of North Georgia in the Battle of Taliwa (near the current day town of Ball Ground, Georgia), in 1755.

Through various treaties made by the British with the Cherokee, by the mid-18th century the lands occupied by the Cherokee were recognized as Native American sovereign territory.  By 1827, the Cherokee had formed a constitutional government that included the adoption of a written constitution, a written language, a newspaper published in both Cherokee and English, and a police force, among many other Western-influenced institutions. 

The continued encroachment of Euro-American settlers spelled trouble, however.  As the immigrant population increased, so did the desire to expel the Cherokee from their homeland.  Further fueling the settlers' greed, gold was discovered in North Georgia in the late 1820's.  With the election of Andrew Jackson (who had long favored removal of Native Americans) as president, the Cherokee's fate was essentially sealed.  In May 1830, Congress endorsed Jackson's policy of removal by passing the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to set aside lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for the lands of Indian nations in the east.

In 1838 the US military enforced the removal order. Thousands of Cherokees were expelled from their homeland and forced to migrate west, ultimately to Oklahoma. Because of harsh weather conditions, more than 4,000 Cherokees died during the 1838-39 winter, on what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Much of this information was obtained from the sites below.  Please visit them for more information.

Georgia Encyclopedia - Cherokee Indians

Cherokee Nation History

Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

 

Moonshine Industry

In its heyday, the Trace supported a large and profitable moonshine industry.  During prohibition and later, the depression, moonshining was a preferred occupation.  The pay was good and fringe benefits better. Remnants of stills can be found throughout the Trace.

Moonshine Industry in Cherokee County

 
 

Farming

Some farmers maintained a presence in the Trace until Lake Allatoona was constructed in 1965. Although nature is quickly reclaiming the forest, glimpses of the farms can still be seen, in the form of decaying stone walls and fences, and fruit trees that were once cultivated but now grow wild.

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Figure 1. Remnant of barbed wire fence

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Figure 2. Remnant of stone wall

 

Frank Stone Bridge

Commonly known as the "Big Bridge" or the "Boy Scout Bridge", the Frank Stone memorial bridge is one of the more iconic man-made structures in the Etowah Hiking Trails system.  Built in 1997, the bridge is a living tribute to the original MacGyver, Frank Stone.  Using a small tractor, an extensive pulley system, and an ingenious mind, Frank led the Boy Scout Troop 241 project that constructed this engineering marvel.

Frank began by the dragging the telephone poles that would serve as the bridge's underlying structure to the work site behind his old John Deere tractor.  With no means to move the poles to the far side of the creek, heavy rains that caused the Etowah River to rise beyond flood stage, proved inspirational.  Frank hustled down to the work site with his canoe, tied the poles to the stern of the canoe, and then, one at a time, floated them across the swollen creek.

Work began in earnest when the river level dropped.  Climbing trees growing in close proximity to the bridge site, Frank installed a pulley system that was used to raise the massive poles to a vertical position.  After the piles were strengthened and stabilized, the same pulley system was used to raise and put in place the large poles that serve as the bridge's truss, and the pole that serves as the platform for the deck that crosses the creek.  Once the underlying structure was in place the scouts completed the project by constructing the decking and guard rails.

Thanks to the ingenuity and resolve of Frank Stone, thousands of people have been able to enjoy the Etowah Hiking Trails and the Sutallee Trace pocket wilderness.

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Figure 1. Frank Stone Bridge approach

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Figure 2. Frank Stone Bridge across Puckett Creek

 

Hightower Church

Hightower Church, and its accompanying cemetery, reside at the terminus of Old Shoal Creek Road. According to a monument at the front of the church, "New Hightower Baptist Church [was} constituted in 1880 as a school, church, and for the burial of the dead."

 

The land for the church was donated in 1885, by a local landowner named Allen Keith.  The original building, a small log cabin, sat next to the creek that winds behind the church.  The first "official" church was built adjacent to the cemetery in the late 1880's.  Destroyed by vandals in 1991, it was rebuilt in 1992, across the road from the cemetery.

 

According to church records the first burial in the cemetery occurred in 1890.

Although the church doesn't host services every Sunday, it is still served by an active congregation.  

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Figure 1. Hightower Church Monument

Over the years, the church received the undeserved name, "Hell's Church", because of the vandalism that occurred in 1990, in addition to unsubstantiated and unproven stories of other violent acts, or "hauntings", on the grounds.  Variously attributed to a homeless man who lived in the area for a period, and the active imaginations of local high school students who frequent the vicinity on nighttime weekend forays, Hightower Church is, nevertheless, a beautiful little church in a peaceful woodland setting.

For trail enthusiasts, Hightower Church is a landmark for multiple trails.  The Orange trail ends at the Church.  The Church sits at the two mile mark of the White (Trace) trail.  The Green (loop) trail begins and ends at the Church.

If you decide to visit the Church and/or the cemetery while at the Sutallee Trace, please be respectful of the surroundings.  All of the Trace is hallowed ground.

Thanks to the Cherokee County Historical Society for their help in compiling facts about the Church.

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Figure 2. Hightower Church

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Figure 3. Hightower Church Cemetery

 

The Meadow

The Meadow is the site of an old homestead about a half mile from Hightower Church, just off the White trail.  The Meadow is a short walk down an old logging road from the point where the road crosses the White trail.

The Meadow features the Osage Orange, a tree native to areas of central and east Texas.  Also known as the horse apple, the tree is not related to the orange; rather it is a member of the Mulberry family.  The fruit, while not poisonous, is not a preferred food item for humans and most animals due to its latex secretions and woody pulp,

 

For Native Americans and early settlers alike the Osage Orange was a valued commodity.  Because of its strength, flexibility, and durability, Comanches used the wood to make their bows.  The bows were highly valued by other Native American tribes, as well, and were featured items when conducting trades with Comanches.

Settlers used the tree in many ways.  Because of the prevalence of thorns it was often used as a fence row.  It was one of the primary trees used in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Great Plains Shelterbelt" WPA project.  Similar to Native Americans, settlers found the strength and durability valuable for tool handles and fence posts.

For more information about the Osage Orange, please visit the Wikipedia page from which the above was obtained:  Osage Orange

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Figure 1. The Meadow

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Figure 2. Locust Trees