Stephens County Courthouse in Toccoa
Toccoa the Beautiful
"The Heart of Northeast Georgia"
|• Total||8.3 sq mi (21.6 km2)|
|• Land||8.3 sq mi (21.5 km2)|
|• Water||0 sq mi (0.1 km2)|
|Elevation||994 ft (303 m)|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||1,118/sq mi (431.6/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-4 (EDT)|
|GNIS feature ID||0333240|
Toccoa is a city in, and the county seat of, Stephens County, Georgia, United States, located about 50 miles (80 km) from Athens and about 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Atlanta. The population was 8,491 as of the 2010 census.
- 1 History
- 2 Geography and climate
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Economy
- 5 Arts and culture
- 6 Education
- 7 Infrastructure
- 8 Historic Town Mall
- 9 Sister cities
- 10 Notable people
- 11 In literature and film
- 12 In media
- 13 Kelly Barnes Dam failure
- 14 References
- 15 External links
George Chicken, Journal (quoted in Travels in the American Colonies)
Indian agent Col. George Chicken was one of the first people to mention Toccoa in his journal from 1725. The first residents of European descent were a small number of American Revolutionary War veterans led by Col. William H. Wofford who moved to the area when the war ended. The area was referred to as Wofford's Tract, or Wofford's Settlement. Col. Wofford is buried near Toccoa Falls. His son, William T. Wofford, was born near Toccoa (then part of Habersham County), and was an officer during the Mexican–American War and a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.
The Georgia Land Lottery of 1820 spurred the migration of Scots-Irish from North Carolina and the Georgia coast. The Georgia Gold Rush, starting in 1828, and the 1838 removal of the Cherokee on the infamous "Trail of Tears" further changed settlement patterns in the area.
Toccoa means "beautiful" in the Cherokee language, and is derived from the Cherokee term for "where the Catawbas lived." The city was established in 1873 around an area formerly called Dry Pond, named for a pond that was waterless most of the time. Three investors - Dr. O.M. Doyle of Oconee County, South Carolina, B.Y. Sage of Atlanta, and Thomas Alexander of Atlanta - anticipated the construction of a new railroad through Dry Pond. They purchased 1,765 acres; had it surveyed into lots; publicized a May 27, 1873, lot sale; and brought potential buyers to the village on excursion trains. The City of Toccoa was officially chartered in 1874 and the names of downtown streets reflect the visionary trio; Sage, Doyle, and Alexander Streets still crisscross downtown Toccoa today.
According to historical accounts, the Johns House, a Victorian cottage near Prather Bridge Road, was built in 1898. Nearby, on a hill overlooking the valley of the upper Tugalo River, is Riverside, a Greek revival antebellum home that was built in 1850 by James D. Prather with slave labor and timber from his plantation. The Prather family cemetery is at the right of the house, about fifteen yards from the porch. During the Civil War, General Robert Toombs, a close friend of Prather, used the house as a refuge from northern troops. The soldiers pursued him to Riverside, where he was able to hide in a double closet and escape capture. The first Prather's Bridge was a swinging bridge built in 1804 by James Jeremiah Prather. Until then, travelers crossed the Tugalo River at fords and later by ferries. The first bridge was washed away during a freshet (an overflow caused by heavy rain). A more substantial bridge was built in 1850, but was burned in 1863 during the Civil War to keep the enemy from crossing. James Jeremiah and his son, James Devereaux, rebuilt the bridge in 1868. This bridge was also washed away in 1918, and was rebuilt in 1920 by James D. Prather. It was afterwards replaced by a concrete bridge, but was kept as a landmark until burned by vandals in 1978.
The Georgia General Assembly created Stephens County in 1905, and Toccoa was established as the county seat.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Toccoa on March 23, 1938. Roosevelt's train made a brief stop in Toccoa, where he made remarks from the rear platform of the presidential train before moving on to Gainesville to deliver a major speech, then on to Warm Springs for a vacation.
Camp Toccoa, a World War II paratrooper training base, was located nearby. It was the first training base for the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, whose Easy Company was subject of the non-fiction book and subsequent HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.
Toccoa is home to Travelers Rest, known locally as Jarrett Manor. Toccoa is also home of Toccoa Falls College. On November 6, 1977, the Kelly Barnes Dam, located above the college, failed. The resulting flood killed 39. First Lady Rosalynn Carter visited Toccoa the next day. Toccoa Falls is located on the campus of Toccoa Falls College.
Geography and climate
Toccoa is located at (34.574725, −83.319865).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.4 square miles (22 km2), of which 8.3 square miles (21 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) (0.60%) is water.
Altitude is 313 m (1,027 ft).
|Climate data for Toccoa, Georgia, normals 1981–2010, extremes 1891-present|
|Record high °F (°C)||82
|Average high °F (°C)||51.1
|Average low °F (°C)||31.4
|Record low °F (°C)||−5
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||5.37
|Average snowfall inches (cm)||0.8
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the census of 2010, Toccoa had a total population of 8,491. The 2014 population estimate (as of July 1, 2014) was 8,257. The median age of a Toccoa resident is 35.4. The number of companies in Toccoa is 1,135. In educational attainment, high school graduate or higher percentage was 84.1%. The total housing units in Toccoa is 4,009. The median household income was $34,047. The foreign-born population was 213. The percentage of individuals below poverty level was 24.4%.
Stephens County Development Authority (SCDA) was established in 1965 to continue and sustain the growth of Northeast Georgia. SCDA is responsible for the recruitment of new businesses such as industrial, manufacturing, distribution, corporate and regional headquarters and customer service centers. SCDA serves the following cities: Toccoa, Eastanollee, Martin, and Avalon. Major industrial parks in the area are Toccoa Industrial Park, Meadowbrook Industrial Park, and Hayestone Brady Business Park.
The top Stephens County employers in descending order are the Stephens County School System, Caterpillar, Patterson Pump, ASI (GEM Industries), American Woodmark Corp., Standard Register, Sage Automotive Interiors, Habersham Plantation, Toccoa Falls College, Coats & Clark, Eaton Corporation, and PTL Company (an elevator fixtures and parts manufacturer). Founded and headquartered in Toccoa, 1st Franklin Financial Corporation is a regional financial services company with more than 1,300 employees.
Arts and culture
Annual events include the Currahee Military Weekend, the Ida Cox Music Series, Taste of Toccoa, Summer Movies at the Ritz, Costume Parade, Harvest Festival, ChristmasFest, and Christmas Parade.
Toccoa is the center of a thriving music scene and the home of a regional orchestra. The Toccoa Symphony Orchestra is made up of volunteer musicians from the surrounding community, South Carolina, and Atlanta. The symphony exists to provide quality symphonic music to the region and to bring together musicians from throughout northeast Georgia.
The symphony was founded in 1977 by Pinkie Craft Ware and Archie Sharretts, both music educators. Since its founding, the symphony has performed at least three concerts every season. It is supported by a board of directors and an extensive network of patrons.
The orchestra collaborates with many musicians and provides a wide range of concert experiences. The ensemble has premiered works by young composers, presents a yearly Christmas concert with a one hundred voice choir, and incorporates budding performers from nearby Toccoa Falls College.
Miles Through Time Automotive Museum
The Miles Through Time Automotive Museum is a co-op style automotive museum in a restored 1939 dealership. There are over 100 years of automotive history on display. Vehicles can be stored, listed on consignment, for sale by owner or donated and everything is displayed as museum exhibits.
Currahee Military Museum
The Currahee Military Museum, located in downtown Toccoa at the original train station where arriving GIs would disembark, is dedicated to the paratroopers of World War II who trained at Camp Toccoa. Camp Toccoa was located just outside the city proper, at the foot of Currahee Mountain, and was formerly known as Camp Toombs. The museum houses the original Aldbourne stables where paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division were housed temporarily in England in 1944. Only one building remains of the original Camp Toccoa (the building is believed to be a former food supply storage facility, based on its position near the former camp's gates and the foundation's construction), and it was donated to the museum in 2011 by the Milliken company, which was using it as a machine shop. The museum intends to restore the building, along with the surrounding grounds.
Annual Currahee Challenge
On the first Saturday of every October, a six-mile race is held along the Colonel Sink Trail, the same trail used by the paratroopers as part of their training for combat. Known as one of the most daunting races in America, the common refrain is "Three Miles Up And Three Miles Down." The race is part of the Currahee Military Weekend, which features World War II military reenactments in a staged military camp, weapons demonstrations, book signings by veterans, a parade through the downtown historic district, a hangar dance at the airport, and a special banquet featuring keynote speakers and veterans.
Other points of interest
Local lore includes the Hanging Tree, located on the western side of the Stephens County Courthouse. The actual tree used for the executions is now just a stump on the courthouse lawn, the tree having been removed in 2011.
The clock at the spire of the courthouse was restored to operational condition in 2010 as part of an overall renovation of the building, and is the highlight of the historic district which features several buildings from the American Civil War period.
The Toccoa Casket Company, now out of business, was the largest supplier of caskets to the military until Vietnam. Its building, located on the main road leading into Toccoa from the south, on the route from Toccoa to Currahee Mountain, was razed in 2014.
The Georgia Baptist Conference Center is located near Toccoa.
Toccoa also has a thriving classic car culture, as evidenced by frequent car shows. In addition, classic cars from the late 1920s through the 1970s can easily be spotted on the roads and in parking lots.
Stephens County Schools
Stephens County Schools serves students in preschool through grade twelve. There are four elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. The district has 304 full-time teachers and over 4,405 students.
- Stephens County High School (SCHS) (grades 9–12)
- Stephens County Fifth Grade Academy (at SCMS) (grade 5)
- Stephens County Middle School (SCMS) (grades 6–8)
- Liberty Elementary (grades 1-2)
- Toccoa Elementary (grades 3-4)
- Big A Elementary (grades Pre K-K)
Stephens County High School finished building its new facility in the spring of 2012. It includes a four-sided gymnasium arena, better fine arts facilities, and a larger media center.
Crossroads Juvenile Academy is an alternative school in Stephens County, that gives behaviorally impaired students a second chance.
Mountain Education Center is an online night school that grants full Georgia high school diplomas. This course is designed not only for full-time students but also part-time students who are working to recover lost credits.
Amtrak's Crescent connects Toccoa with the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, Birmingham, and New Orleans. The Amtrak station is situated at 47 North Alexander Street. The picture to the left is how the station appeared prior to the extension of the Currahee Military Museum, which was built to house the Aldebourne Stables and a growing collection of artifacts. That extension was subsequently enlarged in 2009 to include a community room and gift shop. The Amtrak line is shared with the Norfolk Southern Railway. Before Amtrak, Toccoa was a stop on the Airline Belle, a regional train of the Southern Railway from 1879 to 1931.
Historic Town Mall
Downtown Toccoa is located near the courthouse and the train depot, which connects to Atlanta. From the 1950s through 1980s, business bustled in this "mall." Each day people would flood to shop in downtown Toccoa. Several national retail outlets were then located in downtown Toccoa, including the Belk Gallant department store.
In the early 1960s, around the country, local downtown businesses faced competition with large shopping malls, and many began to fail. As an answer to the depressed conditions in downtowns, Toccoa and many other towns erected concrete canopies and closed streets to create a pedestrian mall. In less than ten years it was evident that instead of enhancing businesses and creating a positive downtown image, these canopies actually accelerated the downtown's decline.
When the Belk Gallant department store announced it was going to move along a four lane road called Big A, community leaders organized Main Street Toccoa in 1990. In 1991, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs Resource Team recommended that the canopies be removed and that the street be opened once again to vehicular traffic. However, for many years the project was not supported.
During that time, Main Street Toccoa implemented many changes and improvements to the downtown mall area. Brick pavers were installed and trees were planted. However, the canopies themselves began to deteriorate, and no support was found to repair them. During this time, businesses continued to flounder and many of the buildings were empty and in disrepair.
Over time, however, with growing support, approval was given to start the canopy removal project. Efforts that helped contribute community support for the project included county-wide public surveys, a University of Georgia market study, a UGA design charrette, and renderings of individual buildings without the canopies provided by the GA Trust for Historic Preservation and UGA Community Design Planning and Preservation. To gather the necessary funds for the project, Toccoa partnered with six state agencies (Appalachian Regional Commission, Georgia Department of Community Affairs, One Georgia Authority, United States Department of Agriculture, and Georgia Department of Transportation) that provided $1.3 million, with additional local funding of $552,000.
During the canopy removal and street re-opening project, private interest in downtown increased. In 2008, downtown saw 33 storefronts renovated (under the guidance of the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center Historic Preservation Planner), 11 new business, 17 new jobs, 28 part-time jobs and 68 full-time equivalent jobs retained, and private investment of $3.5 million. Toccoa's Main Street was re-opened to vehicular traffic.
The Currahee Military Museum, featured recently in the PBS series GA Traveler, and named as one of the best museums along the East Coast by Blue Ridge Mountain Magazine, is another attraction that continues downtown's resurgence. Located in the restored historic train depot, the museum features a massive exhibit of 506's Easy Company memorabilia. This World War II paratrooper company was popularized by the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. The depot housing this museum was recently restored to its pre-1940s appearance. The depot building had previously been used as a maintenance and storage area for Norfolk Southern. Now it has been transformed to a publicly owned building that is home to the Chamber, Welcome Center, Stephens County Historical Society Museum, the Currahee Military Museum, and Amtrak. Funding for the million dollar project was received through Transportation Enhancement Activity and GDOT funds of $400,000; local funding of $100,000 and private investment funds of over $500,000 were contributed. The museum just completed its second addition, funded by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
Enhancing Toccoa as a Northeast Georgia destination is the newly restored courthouse, which anchors the downtown district. The renovation project was overseen by a governmental appointed citizen authority. Funded entirely by SPLOST dollars, the $2 million renovation project brought a historic 1907 building back to life while adding green space to the historic district and retained government offices and downtown customers in the city's square.
The following list includes notable people who were born or have lived in Toccoa.
- Paul Anderson (1932–1994) – 1955 World weightlifting champion, 1956 gold medal winner in Olympic weightlifting; resident of Toccoa
- Howard "Doc" Ayers (born 1922) - football coach at the University of Georgia
- Dan Biggers (1931–2011) – actor
- James Brown (1933–2006) – singer, songwriter, dancer, and bandleader 
- Bobby Byrd (1934–2007) – musician, songwriter, and record producer
- Dee Clark (1938–1990) – singer
- McKenzie Coan (born 1996) - swimmer and 2016 gold medal winner in the 2016 Summer Paralympics
- Ida Cox (1896–1967) – blues singer and vaudeville performer 
- Dale Davis (born 1969) – former professional basketball player
- DeForest Kelley (1920–1999) – actor
- R. G. LeTourneau (1888-1969) – inventor and Christian philanthropist
- Herb Maffett (1907-1994) - All-American football player at the University of Georgia
- Ethan Martin (born 1989) – professional baseball player
- Evan Oglesby (born 1981) – professional football player
- Tauren Poole (born 1989) - professional football player
- Ralph E. Reed, Jr. (born 1961) – political activist
- Oral Roberts (1918–2009) – pastor and televangelist
- Ramblin' Tommy Scott (1917-2013) - country and rockabilly musician 
- Billy Shaw (born 1938) – former Georgia Tech and NFL football player; Pro Football Hall of Fame member
- Aaron Shust (born 1975) – Christian singer and three time Dove Award winner
- Jerry Kenneth "Ken" Swilling (born 1970) – football player and a safety on the Georgia Tech 1990 National Championship Team
- Pat Swilling (born 1964) – professional football player and politician
- Kimberly Schlapman (born 1969) – member of the country music band Little Big Town
- William T. Wofford (1824-1884) - Civil War general
In literature and film
The novel Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff was published by St. Martin's Press and released nationwide on March 30, 2010. A day-long celebration was held in Toccoa culminating in a fireworks display at Boyd Field in the evening.
On May 7, 2000, Mary Ann Stephens of Toccoa was shot to death outside a Ramada Inn in Jacksonville, Florida while on vacation with her husband. The incident received national attention and resulted in an Academy Award-winning French documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning, on the arrest and acquittal of the original suspect.
Kelly Barnes Dam failure
On November 6, 1977, the Kelly Barnes Dam failed and released over 170 million gallons of water above the Toccoa Falls College campus. The failure killed 20 children and 19 adults.
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