Town of Mt. Airy History
The Town of Mt. Airy, incorporated on March 3, 1874, was founded and developed by Colonel M.C. Wilcox, a railroad promoter who moved here from Knoxville, Tenn. Although it is possible that it was named for Mount Airy in North Carolina, which was settled around 1850, the name is a description of the area's healthy climate.
Known for years as an exclusive resort town, summer homes, tourist cottages, and hotels were built during the late 1800s and early 1900s to provide lodging for visitors. Two of the hotels that served tourists were the Mt. Airy Hotel, built by Colonel Wilcox in 1886, and the Monterey Hotel, built by the Gresham brothers of Virginia in 1902. The three-story, 150-room, 50-bath Monterey Hotel was destroyed by fire, rebuilt in 1907, then destroyed by fire again several years later. The City Hall and post office are now located on the site where the hotel stood.
The town also boasted thriving businesses. Besides the general mercantile stores, Parker's Soda and Sundry, and the Bank of Mt. Airy, commercial peach orchards were introduced by Colonel John P. Fort. Colonel Fort, who moved to Mt. Airy from Macon, Ga., in 1885, also cultivated apples. In 1905, he won recognition for the area's orchards when he took First Prize for his fruit in the Washington State Fair. (Fort also bought "Forest Lodge," a sanitarium run by Dr. Sidney J. Lanier [cousin of the famous poet], and converted it into a residence called "Mountain Hall.")
1877 saw the establishment of a Swiss colony under the leadership of Mr. J. Staub, and 1878, the first school. At least one of the schools, the Sibley Institute, taught children from all over the country.
Due to the decrease in train travel and the burning of the Monterey Hotel, tourism began to decline in the 1920s. Today the echoes of its past may be found in the residences and other buildings that remain from its heyday as an exclusive resort town.
Information taken from "Town of Mount Airy Comprehensive Plan 1992-2015"; Georgia Place Names by Kenneth Krakow; and Once Upon A Time: Schools of Habersham County Georgia by Betty Sisk and Ellene Gowder.