This week’s #MarkerMonday examines the Tallulah Falls Railway and Depot historical marker in Rabun County. Upon its completion in 1882, the Tallulah Falls Depot was the northern terminus of the Tallulah Falls Railway short line, beginning in Cornelia, Georgia (Habersham County). The railroad created opportunities for commercial trade, jobs, and tourism in Northeast Georgia towns. The railroad was integral to supplying materials and manpower for hydroelectric dams on the Tallulah River, which gave the surrounding areas electricity.
The railroad shortened travel from Atlanta to North Georgia to hours rather than days, allowing the tourism industry to bloom as the railway towns developed. Tourists were attracted to the mountain scenery and the six waterfalls making up the Tallulah Falls and Gorge. Newspapers and travel books referred to Tallulah Falls as the “Niagara of the South” and the “Niagara of the South in the Switzerland of America.” New hotels and boarding houses opened to meet the travelers’ needs, and some advertisements show rates around two dollars per day and ten dollars per week. A one-night stay would cost about fifty-five dollars in today’s currency.
In addition to spreading local lore to increase the mysticism of the landscape, some hotel owners took promotion a step further. Colonel Frank Young saw Professor Leon, a performer, walk across tightrope over Peachtree Street and became inspired to bring Professor Leon to Tallulah Falls. On July 24, 1886, Professor Leon accomplished “the grandest feat ever accomplished in the world,” and walked across the highest point of the gorge. He was supposed to walk back across the gorge, but the spectators did not want him to risk his life for a second time. Almost ninety years later, in 1970, city officials thought they could reattract tourists to Tallulah Falls by inviting Karl Wallenda, of the Flying Wallendas group of daredevil performers, to walk across the gorge on a tightrope. At 65 years old Wallenda completed the walk and two handstands over the Tallulah Gorge within 19 minutes.
Explore the links below to learn more:
New Georgia Encyclopedia – Tallulah Falls and Gorge
Rabun County Historical Society – Tallulah Falls Railway
Memories of a Mountain Shortline – A History of the the Tallulah Falls Railroad
Georgia State Parks – Tallulah Gorge
Habersham County, Georgia – Tallulah Falls
The Georgia Historical Quarterly has published several articles relating to Tallulah Falls which can be accessed on JSTOR. If your library does not have access to JSTOR, you can go to www.jstor.org and create a free MyJSTOR Account.