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City of Cornelia History

The City of Cornelia was established as a settlement called "Tom Paine's Post Office" around 1870 near the old boundary line of the Cherokee and Creek Indian tribes. Part of the old Indian War Trail passes through the city. Founded on the slopes of seven hills, it forms part of the Blue Ridge Mountains and sits atop the Eastern Continental Divide.

The Eastern Continental Divide channels streams, rivers and other waters to flow into either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, depending on which side of the divide they fall on. In Cornelia, water falling on the north side of South Main Street winds up eventually in the Gulf of Mexico, whereas water falling on the south side ends up in the Atlantic Ocean.

Progress began shortly after Cornelia was settled. Railroad tracks were laid in 1872 to connect Gainesville to Toccoa. In 1882 an extension to the original railroad wound past Clarkesville and Tallulah Falls to end in Franklin, N.C. That extension carried many sightseers to Tallulah Falls before it was discontinued after World War II.

With the railroad came growth and building activity. Two local property owners divided their land in a grid pattern, selling some of the lots, thus forming the original city that can now be seen in the square blocks east and northeast of the central business district. Around this time the area was also known as "Blaine" (the name of the railroad depot) and "Rabun Gap Junction" (the name given to the cluster of houses), but on October 22, 1887, the city was incorporated as "Cornelia" in honor of the wife of the attorney who represented the railroad, Pope Barrow.

Even before the city was founded, the area was the site of a tanyard, where travelers, bound for Athens, would stop and sell or exchange their goods. Later on, around 1880, German and Swiss immigrants used their wine-making skills to create an industry that flourished until a prohibition law stopped it. Cotton, timber and lumber products, and the apple and peach industries were also important to the success of the area. As with any city, there were a number of businesses, but hotels contributed greatly to the growth and development of the city in its early history.

Cornelia is the home of the "Big Red Apple," a monument which forms the basis of the annual "Big Red Apple Festival." This large red apple (seven feet tall, 22 feet in circumference, and 5,200 pounds), constructed of steel and concrete in 1925, stands on a concrete pedestal eight feet tall and six feet square (at the base).

Information taken from "Cornelia -- The First 100 Years," published by the City of Cornelia.)


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