THE HISTORY OF HEAD RIVER
BY HUGH G. FORESTER
TAKEN FROM THE DADE COUNTY TIMES, 1938
Head River is situated in the southern part of Dade County, on Lookout Mountain 19 miles from Trenton. The community centers around the post office, church and school, all of which are about the center of the plateau. It is about midway between the east and west forks of the Little River, which in later years has been changed to Desoto River.
No doubt the first white men to visit this community were DeSoto’s scouting parties in June of the year 1540, Desoto landed on what is now the coast of Florida in the year 1539 with 600 Spanish soldiers, 200 horses and a number of hogs to be driven along and killed for food as needed. At first the Indians treated him with great respect, but later because of his cruelty to them, they very often either fled before his approach or resisted his invasion with their bows and arrows. He marched slowly in a northwesterly direction through what is now Georgia, and about the first of June, 1540, he reached a large town on the banks of the Coosa River called Chiaha. This town was on the exact site where Rome, Georgia now stands. The country southward had yielded but little forage for the horses, and by that time they reached Chiaha many of the horses, could no longer carry their masters because they were so poor they could hardly walk. DeSoto found that the natives had about 20 barns full of maize stored at this town and also the country around was covered with green forage, so he decided to rest and fatten the horses here.
Many Indians came from far and near to see the strangers and their mounts, and Desoto asked each one if he could tell him where there was any gold. One day a chief from a Province to the north came to Chiaha, and as usual he was asked if he knew of any of this metal. He readily replied that he had seen plenty of it in the mountains north of there, but the country was so rugged that lots of it could not be explored on horseback. This news immediately sent large parties scurrying to the mountains to the northwest. No doubt they searched this part of Lookout Mountain pretty thoroughly as evidence of their prospecting has been found on the river south of here. So far as we know this search was fruitless. After fattening his horses for a month DeSoto broke camp and moved down to the Coosa, and into what is now Alabama.
After the departure of DeSoto the Indians were left in peace for almost 200 years, or until the founding of Georgia in 1733. This was originally the Cherokee country north of the Chattahoochee River, and the founding of Georgia marked the beginning of crowding the Indians into smaller and smaller territory. As Tennessee was founded and settled they drove them eastward until instead of a vast territory reaching from the Chattahoochee to the Ohio Rivers, the Cherokees finally had only a small area in Northwest Alabama, reaching only as far as the Tennessee and that part of Georgia north of the Chattahoochee River.
The year of 1820 marked the beginning of 18 years of strife between the Cherokees and the State of Georgia. The state contended that the Cherokee lands in Georgia belonged to the state under the King of England’s grant to General Oglethorpe. The United States government finally took a hand and sided with the Indians.
So much trouble followed that the government finally decided that the Indians would have to go west of the Mississippi, with instructions to gently, but forcibly, remove the Cherokees. By December of that year General Scott pronounced the removal complete and the country was thrown open to white settlers.
Many white settlers came into the Cherokee country prior to 1838, but the majority of the people who had drawn lands in the land lottery waited until the Indians were removed before they took possession of their lands. There were few roads at that time, but many old Indian trails had been made through the valleys and over the mountains. There was a historical old trail that extended almost the length of Dade County. Its northern terminus was near the mouth of Running Water Creek not far from Whiteside and at a village called Running Water Town. It came out through Murphy’s Hollow and up Lookout Valley, passing Trenton and Rising Fawn, and crossed Lookout Creek near the old Indian Water Mill owned by John Benge who was a well-to-do Cherokee, and was one of the signers of the treaty at New Echota. After crossing Lookout Creek it passed diagonally up the side of Lookout Mountain, by Lookout Mountain Town,which was a fairly large Indian village, and about 200 yards east of the Head River post office it crossed into Walker County, continuing Southeastward to Teloga, Summerville and Rome. Gen. Andrew Jackson used this trail in his campaign against the Indians in 1814, and widened it so that it was possible to get wagons over it. By way of marking this trail so it could be distinguished from the numerous side trails that led to small Indian settlements. General Jackson cut notches in the trees at close intervals by the side of the trail. To this day it is still known as the Threenotch Trail and a few of the three notches can still be found on some of the old trees along the trail. Many of the early settlers used this old trail in getting up on the mountain to inspect their new lands.
The first settlers at Head River was Mr. James Blalock, who came in before the Indians left and built a home within three hundred yards of Head River post office. The next settler was Mr. Isaac Crow, who moved his family in just after the Indians left, and built a house about 200 yards east of the post office. At the time of the Civil War the mountains were still very thinly settled as many of the people who had drawn the land in the land lottery, either went back to their old homes or brought claims and settled in the more fertile valleys, using the mountain to graze their livestock. Just before the Civil War, Mr. H.M.C. Johnson settled just south of Head River post office and Mr. Marion Brand settled on the lot adjoining Mr. Johnson, Mr. Aleck Hawkins settled about a mile and a half northeast of the post office.
Just before the battle of Chickamauga, General McCook with his union army was hurrying across Ab\labama to join General Rosecrans in the Chattanooga area. General McCook came up the mountain at Valley Head and from there on to Stephens Gap overlooking Cassandra he had to build a road. A large derachment of McCook’s men preceded the main army and speedily opened the road. Mr. James Blalock, who was at home at the time, was pressed into service as guide by the Yankees to show them the best places to ford the streams and swamps. Trees were felled and pushed aside, boulders were rolled out of the way and swamp bogs were corduroyed with logs. As speed was imperative this stretch of road was opened and made ready for the army in less than two days although it was more than twenty miles long. This road crossed the Threenotch Trial about 100 yards northeast of the Head River post office, and just naturally seemed the logical place to center a community as it was a sort of a cross-roads, so to speak. The early settlers merely spoke to this section as the Head River and as time went by it was narrowed down to Head River, and so the name remains.
The first school was sponsored by that fine old Scotch gentleman known to a host of friends as “Uncle Sandy” Andrews. It was taught at his home about a mile east of the present school building by Miss Grace Levitt. She was the daughter of a cultured English family who settled just north of the post office. Uncle Sandy Andrews was the grandfather of one of Walker County’s distinguished sons of today. M. Neil Andrews, who is Assistant United States District Attorney. In 1879 the first regular school building was erected on the site of the present-day school building. Miss Fannie Meredith taught the first school in this building. Only five years after it was built the terrible tornado of 1884 completely demolished the first school building. It was replaced by another which remained until 1908, when it was replaced by a larger and better building which still stands.
With the completion of the A.G.S. Railroad and the building of a depot at Sulphur Springs, the people realized the need for a better road than the Three-Notch Trail. The Three-Notch Trail came out north of the depot, so Mr. R.S. Leavitt opened a trail straight to the Sulphur Springs depot. It was later Henry Smith, J.N. Hartline widened into a wagon road and was known as the Leavitt Gap. In 1882 in the month of September a petition was circulated by the late Peter Forester, C.M. Tatum, W.A. Hyde, and others. It was filed with Ordinary Hon. G.W. Crabtree on September 20, 1882, and granted a public road in his court November 4, 1882. This road changed but little until 1915. In that year the citizens of Head River raised by subscription among themselves $3,300. A survey was made by G. Gordon Green, a civil and mining engineer, and work on a new road was begun. It was opened in 1917. The county then took it over and has helped maintain this road since it was completed.
The post office at Head River was established in the store owned and operated by the late James M. Forester in 1913. He received the appointment as post master and remained in that capacity until his death in 1921. His widow, Mrs. J. M. Forester, was then appointed postmaster and holds the appointment at present.
Rock City is the main scenic attraction of Head River. It covers about 500 acres of land and with its five major divisions is one of the most unusual scenic spots to be found in the entire Appalachian mountains. It begins about one and one-half miles of the post office, with the Indian Camp Division. Here was discovered by this writer an old Indian workshop under a big rock house (overhanging rock). Hundreds of imperfect arrowheads ruined in the process of manufacture have b been found here. Next to Indian Camp is the Popular Springs division with its cool clear spring deep down in a miniature cave, its deep crevices and small canyons, and its balanced rocks, some of them almost as large as small houses which shake perceptably. Next is South Rock City with its wonderful view of McLemores and all the surrounding country as far as the eye can see, also the umbrella rock, acres of other unnamed rocks. Next is Point Rock division centered around a narrow rock which juts out of the top of a tall cliff. The rock hangs out over the Cove almost 40 feet and is only about two feet wide at its top. Next is the Chimney Rock division, and is a group of large boulders centered around the chimney rock. This rock is almost as round as factory smokestack, it is about six feet in diameter and stands about 25 feet high.
Let me say in closing this article, that we sons and daughters of the pioneers who for the last hundred years fought and toiled to make this little mountain community the wonderful place that it is, feel justly proud of those pioneer Anglo-Saxon ancestors. We also feel proud of the many sons and daughters who had educated themselves and are making their mark out in the world today as lawyers, doctors, teachers, preachers, etc. Let us strongly hope that the coming generations for the next hundred years will continue to carry the banner high and maintain the high standards that have been set for the past century.(Used by permission, History of Dade County, Georgia, Retired Senior Volunteer Program 1981)