Since I’d opted to extend my stay in Toccoa, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit Traveler’s Rest State Historic Site, located in the Tugaloo Valley just five miles east of town. This 1815 stagecoach inn and plantation house has been completely restored, providing visitors with a glimpse of what it was like to undertake long-distance travel in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Following Cherokee trading trails that later became wagon roads, Traveler’s Rest was built to accommodate travelers on the Unicoi Turnpike, a busy thoroughfare connecting the Tugaloo and the Little Tennessee River on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although an imposing structure for its day, the inn was anything but luxurious. A common joke was oft repeated about such inns:
During his stay at a crowded inn, a traveler complained to the innkeeper about a dirty rag on the washstand in his room. The innkeeper replied: “Sir, more than a hundred people have used that rag today, but you are the first to complain about it!”
The Joe Brown room, the nicest in the inn, was available for $1 per night – which would equate to about $100 per night today. It was named for Joseph E. Brown, Georgia’s Governor from 1857-1865 and a U.S. Senator from 1880-1891. In 1847, Brown and his new bride spent their honeymoon night in this room. Vice-president John C. Calhoun also probably slept in this room on occasion. Despite their status, the renowned guests endured much the same rough conditions as the common travelers. The only heat in winter cam from fireplaces and the inn had no running water, so guests had to use the pitcher and basin on the washstand to clean up. A chamber pot in the Joe Brown room was available if nature called in the middle of the night, but guests in the other rooms had to trek to the outhouses.
Most travelers who stayed at Traveler’s Rest were men; they spent the night in the common room, which was furnished with four beds. Here, for 25 cents, they could have half a bed! Visitors often had to share a bed with a complete stranger and hope for a good night’s sleep. Among the authentic furnishings found in this room is a bootjack – a device that helped men take off their high leather boots, since lying in bed with boots on was prohibited. Visitors are encouraged to touch the straw and feather-filled mattresses on display. Most Georgians of the time preferred to sleep on straw in the summer and feathers in the winter, although if the straw was not been replaced regularly, they ran the risk of being bit by bedbugs.
Unlike most nineteenth century kitchens, which were located outdoors in order to minimize the risk of fire burning down the house, the Traveler’s Rest kitchen was in the basement. Slaves who did the cooking climbed up and down an outside staircase to serve guests. The bathtub was also located in the basement, as it was the only place hot water could be provided, but this was rarely a problem since most people only took a bath once a month. Puts the whole idea of sharing a bed with a stranger in a whole new light!
Traveler’s Rest was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Nearly 90% of the heart pine used in the original construction is still in place and a good portion of the furnishings on display are the original pieces from the 1800’s, many of which were hand-crafted by Caleb T. Shaw, a renowned furniture maker from Massachusetts.
The inn lies in the center of the Tugaloo Corridor, a recreation area extending from Tallulah Gorge in the north, down along Panther Creek, the Tugaloo River, and upper Lake Hartwell, all the way to the bridge at U.S. 123. Plans call for a Heritage Center to be built nearby on the site of the old Estatoe Indian Village that, in the 1700’s, had a population of more than 600 Native Americans. Artifacts found on site have been dated back 2500 years, and the area has been explored by both the University of Georgia and the Smithsonian Institution.
A number of special events are held at Traveler’s Rest each year. During “A Day With A Dulcimer” (Saturday, June 27 and Saturday, August 22, 2009 from 1 to 5 p.m.) visitors can experience a part of Appalachian folk history and learn to play the mountain dulcimer with help from two north Georgia dulcimer guilds. At Traveler’s Rest Pioneer Days, scheduled for Saturday, September 26, 2009, skills of the early 1800s pioneers are brought back to life with special demonstrations of spinning, weaving, blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and doll making, and live performances of period music and dancing. On Sunday, December 13, 2009, from 1 to 5 p.m., Christmas for Travelers will feature live music and period dances of the 1860s Civilian Society, and craft demonstrators will show their skills in knitting, crocheting, and spinning.
Hours of operation appear to vary seasonally; so it may be wise to call 706-886-2256 to check the current schedule. According to the website, starting July 1, 2009, Traveler’s Rest Historic Site will only be open the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults. $3.50 for seniors (62+), and $2.50 for youths under aged 6-18 (children under 6 free).
As a frequent traveler I sometimes grouse when I am forced to stay in a hotel or motel that is not as clean as I think it should be or doesn’t quite have the amenities I prefer. Just this week I was irritated by the lack of a plug next to the bed at one motel. Spending the better part of a day investigating the building and grounds at Traveler’s Rest reminded me how lucky we are to have modern facilities available at nearly every crossroads around the U.S. Yes, hotels have come a long way, baby!