My tour of waterfalls seemingly at an end, I spread the map out on my lap and contemplated the best route between Tallulah Falls and Atlanta, Georgia. As I scanned my options I noticed a red dot on the map, not far from my current location. I squinted to make out the small print: Toccoa Falls. Another waterfall! There was no question I would divert to see it.
Upon arriving in Toccoa I stopped by the renovated train station that serves as the area’s Welcome Center to ask directions. My intention was to make a quick stop at the waterfall and then be on my way but the gracious staff convinced me there was much more to see in this tiny town nestled in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. With no schedule to adhere to, I decided to investigate what Toccoa had to offer.
I began with the Stephens County Historical Society Museum and the Currahee Military Museum, both also located within the historic railroad depot. In the Historical Society Museum I wandered from exhibit to exhibit, learning about well-known personages connected with Toccoa. I was not surprised to discover that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was among them. Roosevelt’s love affair with Georgia is well known; he often traveled to his vacation home in Warm Springs, Georgia, which became known at the “Little White House.” On one such occasion in 1938, he stopped in Toccoa. In a speech made from the rear platform of his special train, Roosevelt commented:
“I do not have to tell you that I am very interested in the State of Georgia. You go hand in hand with the rest of the nation. If anything happens to you, it hurts the rest of the nation, and if anything happens to the rest of the nation it hurts you. So we are all in the same boat; we are all plowing the same furrow.”
However, I was intrigued to read that James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, got his start in Toccoa. Brown, who in the early years was singing in the Toccoa Community Choir, hooked up with a group of young men who were performing as the Gospel Starlighters. As their unique new style emerged – what some called a combination between gospel and “loud music” – they changed their name to the Famous Flames, and the rest is history.
This sleepy hamlet was also birthplace of Paul Anderson, who won the Gold Medal for weightlifting in the 1956 Olympics. From snake oil salesmen to renowned artists, Toccoa has bred a fascinating melange of the famous and infamous. I was impressed. But the best was yet to come.
Double doors led into a separate wing housing the Currahee Military Museum, dedicated to documenting and preserving Toccoa’s military history. In 1942 the federal government acquired what at the time was a fairly remote parcel of land near Toccoa and began training a new type of soldier, the Paratrooper. Five thousand men arrived at Camp Toccoa for the rugged program that July; the 1,600 who successfully completed the training became the 506th Parachute Infantry Division of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division – the “Easy Company” featured in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning HBO series “Band Of Brothers.” The 17,000 soldiers of the 501st, 506th, 511th, and 517th PID who trained at Camp Toccoa during World War II have also been immortalized in “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Dirty Dozen.”
Though the museum contains an interesting collection of medals, photos, maps, weapons, and military uniforms, it is the old stable that most visitors come to see. Built in Aldbourne, England in 1922, it is one of the actual stables that housed both Able and Easy Companies of the 506th before and after D-Day. Many veterans who had lived in the stables returned to England to visit the site after the war. One by one the stables were torn down, until only one remained. Realizing the historical significance of the structure, the owner offered it to the town of Toccoa, which arranged for it to be disassembled, flown to the U.S., and reassembled inside the museum.
Veterans are regular visitors to both the museum and the site of Camp Toccoa. With the exception of one old building that was a bunk house, the original camp structures have long since been torn down, however camp streets are still visible and are marked by fire hydrants. Four marble pillars at the Airborne Monument mark the original entrance to the camp; each pillar is engraved with the name of one of the regiments that trained at the camp, as well as the number and location of jumps made during the war. But it is the nondescript dirt road leading up the mountain that attracts most visitors; they come to make the brutal three mile run up the steep mountain, as every paratrooper who came before had done.
From the museum I walked two blocks to Doyle Street to see the recently restored 100-year old neo-classical courthouse, crown jewel of Toccoa’s downtown historic district. The exterior boasts four large lonic columns, a detailed cupola with a four-faced clock, and a balcony from which politicians addressed the citizens, even though they had to crawl through a window to access the balcony. Although the interior had long been rumored to contain an underground tunnel that was used to transport prisoners from the train depot to the courthouse, no such tunnel was discovered during the renovation. However, a shaft running from the judge’s bench on the second floor to the basement was discovered; no one knows why that shaft from the courtroom all the way down to the boiler room exists.
Toccoa’s devotion to historic preservation is evident all along Doyle Street. The entire downtown has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and many of the buildings have been restored or are in the process of being restored to their original brick facades. Red brick paved sidewalks lead past ice cream shops, antique malls, and country diners. This city of 10,000 captured the national spotlight when its Main Street program was named one of the top ten revitaization efforts in the United States.
At the suggestion of the Welcome Center employee, I stopped at the X-Factor Grill and Cornerstone Restaurant for lunch and was pleasantly surprised – not only because I enjoyed an absolutely delicious vegetarian meal, but also because of the warm welcome I received. In fact, every single person I met in this town was friendly; one man, seeing my camera, even suggested I check out the selection of used lenses available in the antique mall.
With so much to see and do in the area, my “quick stop” turned into a two-day stay. Toccoa borders the Chattahoochee National Forest, Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area, Yonah Lake, the Tugaloo River, and Lake Hartwell. The area is rich in Cherokee Indian history as it was the center of the Cherokee Nation during the mid-1700’s. Numerous special events held throughout the year include the Toccoa Harvest Festival, the Currahee Arts Festival, Taste of Toccoa, and the Currahee Military Weekend, during which paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa and Currahee Mountain reminisce about their training experiences.
I did eventually find my way to Toccoa Falls, as well as another small waterfall in Henderson Falls Park, and although both were worth seeing, they paled in comparison to the the town’s other attractions.
14 thoughts on “Toccoa, Georgia – Go For The Waterfall, But Stay For The History”
My husband and I made our second trip to Toccoa today for my birthday. I am particularly fond of lovely small towns and Toccoa is certainly one of them. We are
exploring the history, have visited the military museum, enjoyed the restored downtown,
eaten two meals in two local restaurants (both yummy!), and shopped in your stores.
We plan on coming back and will recommend it to friends as a gentle and welcoming
place to visit or retire.
Hi Jan: Thanks so much for sharing your experience in Toccoa. I’m so glad to hear that the folks there are just as welcoming as they were when I visited. One of the best small towns I’ve ever visited!
Je suis Normand , j ai visité Toccoa en août 2007 , je garde un très bon souvenir de la montagne Currahee et du musée des troupes aéroportées , merci aux vétérans d avoir libéré mon pays le 06.06.1944
Bonjour Philippe. Nous vous remercions d’avoir conservé la mémoire de ce que nous avons fait pour aider, et vos efforts et vos souffrances courageuses pendant toute la guerre.
Hello, Nice to hear your comments. Would like to talk further.
My garmin GPS lead me thair,driving back to FL.
Great article! I just knew that the town had a lot of history and now i know.Thanks for the info.
Thank you for such a wonderful report on “our” hometown. I have been a resident of Stephens County since about 1951 and I always enjoy “showing” my hometown to visitors. And, I am very proud that you took the time to make the grand tour, although there is a some more. The Travelers Rest is just a few miles out of town and has worlds of history. It was the travelers rest and general store back in the Cherokee Indian days.
I thank you for coming by and your stay. I will mention your visit to all the “guys” at our Historical Society’s coffee and breakfast meeting Wednesday, July 1st.
As a city Commissioner let me say Thank You for your blog thoughts. Telling the world what our part of the world is like is a top priority for Toccoa.
You have helped
Ms. Weibel,, I too am a native of Toccoa-Stephens county. I am self employed,serving the public. This area is rich in natural resources that I have allways enjoyed and have never forgotten the fact how fortunate we are. But, we have the ultimate treasure, our people. By meeting and knowing a huge population of our people thru the years, I can attest that our “folks” rank GOLD !!!! Come back to see us !!
Ms. Barbara, You have put into words what I have felt ever since I first set foot in this town of Toccoa. I am a resident of Chester, Virginia, but every October, my wife, Sandra, and I travel down to the annual Military Reunion weekend. We honor Sandra’s father, Robert E. “Popeye” Wynn by running/walking the Currahee Challenge. “There Miles up, three milles down” is the quip used for this training mountain. It gives us a respect for what these men went through. We love the whole town, and quite possibly intend to settle there in retirement. We hav met a number of people from all over the country, but happen to love the citizens of Toccoa because they are all so “down home” and hard working.
Thanks again for writing such an informative atricle.
Thanks so much for visiting my hometown, and for the beautiful pictures and your excellent article. I currently serve as the Administrative Assistant for the Stephens County Development Authority (www.scda.biz) and was pleased to hear that you had such a great experience. Of course, this kind of impression is very important for us as we seek to attract business and industry.
We certainly hope that you will come again, and bring friends!
Anita G. Poole
Barbara this is by far the best article and photos I have seen. Thanks for taking time to visit our quaint part of the world and for the very informative descripton of your recent visit.
Laura, Brenda, Dan, Carlton, and Anita:
I am so glad you liked what I had to say about Toccoa. I certainly enjoyed my time there – what a wonderful little town, filled with the most amazingly friendly people!
Thank you for writing such an awesome blog about my hometown. Being from Toccoa, I sometimes forget about all the wonderful things here! =)