About 90 minutes north of Gwinnett County, GA, is the gateway to the North GA Mountains. Unofficially, Cleveland, GA, is probably the gateway for those coming from the eastern suburbs of Atlanta.
And only 20 minutes north of Cleveland (and Babyland General, its most famous business) is Helen, GA. It is a Bavarian-styled village, most known for its OktoberFest and tubing on the Chattahoochee River.
Of course, we visited during one of the coldest Januarys on record... no Oktoberfest and certainly no tubing on the river.
But that doesn't mean the town rolls up and closes... No, there is still plenty to see in Helen. It is a lovely little town. There are some great "Bavarian-themed" shops. There is also a really cool model railroad that captures apline style.
Helen was on the eastern edge of the first gold rush. Nearby Dahlonega was the western edge of the rush in 1828. There are still businesses in both areas that allow tourists to pan for gold. After the gold mining slowed, the next boom was timber. In 1913, the valley was named 'Helen' after the daughter of a railroad surveyor as the railroad built into the valley. By 1931, the virgin timber was all but gone and operation ceased.
By the 1960s, Helen was suffering. Despite the natural beauty of the area and the nearby Anna Ruby Falls, tourism wasn't making it. By 1970, the buildings had been re-styled into the Bavarian Apline village there now.
Whether you are there for Oktoberfest or to grab a German dinner, to tube the 'Hooch or hike to Anna Ruby Falls, Helen is a great day trip or weekend for those of us from Atlanta or Gwinnett County, GA.
And just before you get to Helen on GA75 sits the Nora Mill Granary, established in 1876.
It is certainly fun to see the buildings... knowing that they have been in operation for most of the last 134 years. The thick sawn lumber in the post and beam construction has a rough beauty to it. This is a building built for a purpose. But that isn't the only thing...
There are the grains. The Cornmeal, Grits, Pancake Mix, Wheat and Porridge are excellent. They also stock lots of regional specialties like sorghum, jellies, jam and honey. they also carry cast iron cookware and a few other items. For the milled items, they are truly stone ground.
During the summer it is a great stop to make. Watching the fish below the dam and taking in the beautiful views makes for a great break from the car.
And the stone ground grits make for a great reminder of the trip.. and an excellent excuse to go back.