Thursday, March 25, 2010

Two Trips to Toccoa

That title is a tongue twister, don't you think? It seems like a good one because I have visited Toccoa Georgia twice, March 7 and March 21, 2010. I will describe the trips in order.

On the first trip, I am actually on my way to Helen Georgia to see what is there. I bundle up, as the temperature is only thirty-five degrees, stoke up the heated grips, slide my hands into my fleece-lined Hippo Hands, and take off.

The most direct route to Helen is via. US-123 almost all the way. I start out from home and go west on the road also known as Calhoun Memorial Highway. It is a four lane divided highway from Easley to Westminster with almost no traffic except on Clemson University game days when it becomes bumper to bumper. Today is normal for a non-game day: There is no traffic to speak of.

A historical marker along the way tells who the highway is named after.

The route passes through Clemson, Seneca, and Westminster in South Carolina, and through Toccoa Georgia. When I get to Toccoa, I look around a bit, as I am not familiar with the town. I spot the railroad depot -- you know I like trains and old buildings -- so I decide to take a look inside.

It turns out that the depot does function as an Amtrak station, but there are only two passenger trains a day through here, so there is almost no activity. A guy opens the station just before the train arrives to sell tickets. Seems to me that it would be more efficient to sell the tickets on the train itself when a station is not heavily used, like this one. Oh, wait a minute. That might be too efficient for a government-run system. Silly me.

I park my bike and walk into the entrance. A woman greets me who works for the Chamber of Commerce. She tells me a bit about the depot and the Currahee Military Museum that occupies most of the building. The name Currahee comes from a Cherokee Indian word and refers to a nearby mountain adjacent to which was a World War II paratrooper training facility known as Camp Toccoa. About 17,000 soldiers trained there, members of the 501st, 506th, 511th, and 517th Paratrooper Infantry Regiments.

The 506th, along with the camp, were featured in the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers. Camp Toccoa is also associated with the movies Saving Private Ryan, and The Dirty Dozen.

Here is a picture inside the museum. The wooden building is a stable the Able and Easy Companies (the Band of Brothers) occupied, that was originally located in Aldbourne England.

The stable was disassembled by Keith Sowerby and a team of workers, palletized by the Royal Air Force, and transported to Dobbins Air Base in Marietta Georgia on a C-17 Globemaster III by the Mississippi Air National Guard, 172nd Airlift Wing at Allen C. Thompson Field, Mississippi. It was reassembled here in 2005.

A further description of Camp Toccoa where the paratroopers trained:

Most of the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa came in through this railroad depot. The troops had to walk the six miles to Camp Toccoa. The camp was still a work in progress when it opened in 1940, and it had no firing range, but there was an ROTC range in Clemson South Carolina. Whenever the men needed training with their weapons, they marched 40 miles east along the roads, camping along the way, and would spend several days on the firing range before marching back to Toccoa.

This is a photograph of the 506th Parachute Regiment, Easy Company marching to Atlanta, which is about 95 miles from Toccoa, another long walk.

[From the Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.]

Can you imagine marching from camp to camp as they did?

Here are many more historic photographs of the paratroopers from the Kenan Research Center in the Atlanta History Center in Atlanta Georgia.

We will visit the site of Camp Toccoa during my second trip.

The depot museum also houses lots of artifacts from the surrounding area. One display describes George Hitt, who was handicapped by rheumatoid arthritis, but who became a well-known creator of silhouettes. Those are the paper cutouts made with tiny scissors showing just the outline of an object. Mr. Hitt was one of the best, and spoke often of his having overcome his handicap and of his leading a productive life.

The museum also honors an Olympian weight lifter from Toccoa, Paul Edward Anderson. That is him in the center at the 1956 Olympics.

There is a display showing the Wells Viaduct, a railroad trestle near here finished in 1919. My appetite is whetted to see this, which we will, later on during my second trip.

I make my way out of Toccoa and head west again. I divert a little south to Cornelia Georgia. They have a big apple here, and I want to see it.

Here it is:

Cornelia's Big Red Apple is located at the old train depot in downtown and pays homage to the apple and apple growers of the county. Built of steel and concrete in 1925, the statue weighs 5,200 pounds and is seven feet high above its pedestal.

Nearby are these statues of kids playing.

Simpler days of youth, eh?

As I travel further towards Helen, I see a peculiar mound in a field to my left. It is the Nacoochie Indian Mound.

A past owner of the land must have erected the gazebo on the mound.

Just around the corner from the mound is a crossing of the Unicoi Turnpike. We will hear more about that later, too.

I finally reach Helen, and find that it is a blatant tourist town. Apparently, the town was dying back in 1968, so they decided to turn it into a pseudo-Alpine Village.

[From The Grady Journal]

There are plenty of tourist shops and attractions, and the streets are clogged with traffic and people. The buildings look contrived to me, as they probably are, many having been made over in a different style than when originally built. I make one pass and leave out the other side of town.

I stop there to rest, hydrate, and eat a snack. While I do, I see another motorcyclist who has stopped for gas. I walk over and strike up a conversation. His name is J.C., and he is from Shooting Creek North Carolina, riding a Buell 1300cc sport-touring bike. He is about to head for home going north on GA-356 and GA-197, then US-76/GA-2. I have tentative plans to go that way, but don't know the roads, so I ask to tag along.

As is usually the case, I tell him I am not a very fast rider, and he says he will take it easy because of the road condition -- salt and sand scattered about. Well, I am able to keep up with him except for the tight turns on the last few miles of Warwoman Road just before GA-28.

Interestingly, GA-197 is twisty, but relatively flat as it skirts Lake Burton.

J.C. says that he normally wicks it up much more. If he had today, he would easily have lost me. Oh well, ride your own ride is the best policy. Even so, there were a couple of curves where I was beyond my comfort zone, but I trusted the bike, looked where I wanted to go, and got through fine.

Here is the route I have taken on March 7:

View Larger Map

I have ridden 225 miles. The temperature has risen to a balmy fifty-seven degrees by the time I reach home.


Now on to the second trip to Toccoa:

This time, I made some plans based on my previous trip into town. I hope to view the Wells Viaduct, see the Airborne Memorial Monument, climb the Currahee Mountain road, and see Toccoa Falls.

I start out and travel US-123 again, the same way I went two weeks before. As I near Toccoa, I note that there is sign for a fishing pier to my left on this far-northwest arm of Lake Hartwell. I turn in to see it. It is actually the old US-123 bridge, or to be more precise, part of it. The center span has been removed, I suppose so that it does not pose a threat to boat navigation. The Google map shows the old road, called out as Stephens County Park Road (pushpin "A" on this map), going right across the old bridge, but in reality you would be very surprised if you counted on that. They have set large rocks in the road to prevent vehicles from entering. Here you can see the discontinuous spans, the rocks, and the newer US-123 bridge in the background.

I walk out to the end of the nearer span, look down, and see the following spray painted on the top of the concrete pier:

I wonder who painted it there, and why. Perhaps it was a shy lad who directed his prospective date to the bridge and bid her look down, thereby popping the prom question to her without the usual stammering and redness of face.

After a little rest and relief, I continue on my way a little bit. Just over the Georgia line, I see a sign for Traveler's Rest Historic Site. I live not far from Traveler's Rest South Carolina, but I am unfamiliar with this one. I turn down the road and find it, at Pushpin "B" on the map.

It is a large wooden building with several out buildings.

Remember my mention of the Unicoi Turnpike when I went to Helen a couple of weeks ago? This is another stop on that road. Here is the story:

The main building is of sawn timber and board, not log. Here is a cutaway of an exterior wall in which you will note the substantial diagonal shear member that has been exposed. This prevents the structure from racking in high winds, and under heavy loading.

Traveler's Rest was a stagecoach stop for about twenty years before the railroad came through nearby, forcing the stagecoaches out of business.

From the Waymarking website:
"[The] Old Unicoi Turnpike [was the] first vehicular route to link Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Northern Georgia with the head of navigation on the Savannah River System. Beginning on the Tugalo River, to the east of Toccoa, the road led this way, thence through Unicoi Gap and via Murphy, N.C. to Nine Mile Creek near Maryville, Tenn."
I walk the grounds, and talk with the ranger for a little while. He seems to enjoy the company, as he says he gets little traffic here. I am the only visitor so far today. He considers a day when twenty-five people visit to be a good one. It sounds as though this is another drain on taxpayer dollars -- interesting and historic, but is it really necessary for the government to preserve every remnant of our past?

I prepare to leave, check my map, and go on about six and a half miles to Toccoa. Do you remember that when I visited the Toccoa depot, there was a display about the Wells Viaduct? Today, I have come to see it for myself.

The viaduct, also known as the North Broad Trestle, spans 1500 feet and is 202 feet above North Broad River. That is a very significant structure. Here it is.

And a shot from beneath it.

It is viewable from the Trestle Falls housing development, about six miles from downtown. That is where I am headed. Here is a Google Earth view of the viaduct vicinity.

(The Google Earth view of the trestle itself is distorted, possibly because of a skewed satellite image. It does not actually hump upward at it appears. There is a map link below in this post, in the "Reference" section, where you can see my entire route for the day. )

I first try to get close to the west (left) end of the trestle to get a view similar to the one in this postcard.

[From RailGA website.]

Note that the postcard shows a heavy cut at the far end of the trestle. The cut had not yet grown over, indicating that the work had only recently been completed.

I try to get close by going down a road that I could see on Google earth. It is the one labeled "Dirt trail" on the map above. It starts out as well-packed gravel, but quickly deteriorates into fist-size rocks sprinkled around on moist soil. I get as far as its branch to the east (about where the upper arrowhead is on the map), and see that the trail to the right becomes even more rutted and difficult. I decide that this isn't going to turn out well, so I turn back. (Actually, I had decided a few minutes ago that this wasn't such a good idea, but there was no place to turn around then.)

Well, street tires don't grip on moist soil, especially when trying to go uphill. I repeatedly spin the rear tire, and for a few minutes think I might have to dismount and guide the bike from the side -- something I have never had to do before -- or ask for help, something no self-respecting man likes to do, you know.

Fortunately, I am able to coax my steed through the muddiest part, and gain traction enough to slither amongst the rocks and get back to the paved road again. Whew, that was not good. Maybe some day I should consider getting a dualsport bike if I am going to get into these situations.

Did I mention the dogs? As I started down the dirt trail, two fearsome-looking dogs accosted me, barking vigorously. I concentrated on riding the slick, rocky terrain, but I was also concerned that they might take a chunk out of my hide. They didn't, I am pleased to say, and they left me alone until I got back to the street again, where they barked again but left well enough alone. I guess I was not a sufficient threat to them to bother with any further.

I ride a bit further on, to a different street in the subdivision, and stop at the place called out as "My vantage point" on the map. Once I dismount, and view the surroundings, I can see where I had wanted to go on the dirt trail.

It would be a good spot if it were more accessible to me.

I can see almost the entire length of the trestle from my current location, so I decide to set up my camera and wait for a train.

A little history of the trestle, quoted from the USGenWEB Project for Stephens County, a genealogical search website:
"'Wells Viaduct' which later became known as 'North Broad Trestle' was constructed from 1915 to 1919 and was named for the chief engineer of the project W. H. Wells. It was constructed across a valley of the North Broad river, two miles west of Toccoa and one half mile west of what was known as the 'North Broad Curve,' due to a straitening and double tracking project.

"'North Broad Curve' was located at a point where the single track crossed [the] North Broad river as it turned south, on what is now known as Rock Quarry Circle, towards Currahee Mountain. The new double tracks reconnected to the original route near Ayersville. The original railroad was constructed between 1871 and 1873 and was know as 'Airline-Railway.'

"North Broad the highest trestle on the line between Washington, DC and New Orleans, La. At the time of its construction, it was the first trestle using 'The Hollow Core Concrete Pier' method. Six water barrels were located along each side of the trestle beside the double tracks. These were placed there to hold water to be used to extinguish fires caused by hot coals falling, from the steam engines, onto the wood crossties.

"During World War Two the trestle was guarded by armed guards who were stationed around the clock in guard shacks on either end. Over the years, even though it was unauthorized and highly discouraged to do so, local teenagers and young adults have been drawn to this structure to view it."
While waiting, I mill around, taking a few pictures of the surroundings. A resident who lives across the street from my viewpoint, stops near my bike and asks if I am having a good day -- and maybe to make sure I wasn't littering up his neighborhood. I say that I am having a good day and that I hope a train comes by. He says that there are plenty of them, and that I should see one soon. He wishes me a good day, and I to him, then I resume by wait.

I shed my leather jacket, windbreaker jacket, armor, and fleece shirt, leaving my UnderArmour shirt, as it is getting warm. It is a beautiful spring day. The temperature when I left home was about 45, it is supposed to get into the mid-70s later on, and it is well on the way now. I had removed my Hippo Hands from the handlebars the night before, so my hands were a little cold this morning, but not too bad.

A little while later, I am rewarded with the rumble of diesel engines. They are approaching from the west. In a few minutes, I see a tiny model-size locomotive start across the trestle.

The trestle is further away than it looks! Those are four large locomotives pulling the train.

It still looks to me more like a model railroad.

The last car passes.

I have always wondered whether it is a good idea to position a tank car to be the last car in a train. Seems as though that could be a terrible problem in a collision.

Here is a great photograph of a steam locomotive on the trestle, by Robert W. Lyndall. Mr. Lyndall takes -- and sells prints of -- superb photos of steam railroading and lighthouses.

After the train passes, I explore a gravel roadway that starts adjacent to my vantage point. It is identified on the map by the label "Steep gravel road down which I walked." It is very steep, indeed -- another job for a dualsport. (I have the presence of mind not to try this road on my Ninja.) At various places, I can see remnants of a narrow, disintegrating paved roadway. I suppose this is what is left of a road through this valley. I reach the end of the gravel, and it appears that there is nowhere else to go. I take some photographs from beneath the trestle (one of which is shown above), then start my climb back to street level.

I hear dirt bikes or ATVs in the distance, and [fervently] hope one will come along to carry me to the top again. Alas, it is not to be, so I get some aerobic, and occasionally anaerobic, exercise today.

I reach the top, regain my wind, and cool off in the breeze for a few minutes, then suit up and start out to find Currahee Mountain.

I locate the Airborne Memorial monument all right, at the former entrance to Camp Toccoa. I stop to take a few pictures. It is on the corner of Dick's Hill Parkway and Ayersville Road at the Patterson Pump sign. A Milliken plant is across the street.

[From 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment website.]

Information taken, in part, from the Camp Toccoa Driving Tour:
The parachute is cast in concrete, and leads to small monuments for the four regiments that trained here. The monument is set on a concrete base that was part of the Camp Toccoa gate. The gate had vintage WWI tanks set on slabs on either side of the road.

The left side of the monument has the end of a rifle barrel and a pair of jump boots. This represents the ever-decreasing number of parachute veterans living today.
The monument is to the memory of the four airborne regiments that trained at the camp during is existence. The 506th and 501st served with the 101st Airborne Division from D-Day until the end of the war. The 411th served in the 11th Airborne Division in the South Pacific. The 517th became the 517th Combat Team because it contained not only parachute infantry companies but also a company of engineers and a battery of artillery. They were part of the 17th Airborne Division that served in Italy and France.

Camp Toccoa was originally a training site for the state Guard and was acquired by the federal government in 1942. It was used to train a new type of solder, the Paratrooper.
There were 500 officers and 5,000 men who began their rugged training in July 1942. When the 506th left for Fort Benning on December 1st, there were only 140 officers and 1,600 men who survived the intense training. The 506th made several jumps around Currahee. Some men made enough jumps to be certified paratroopers, but the airfield here was not long enough for C-47's from which the men jumped. The jumps were discontinued until the men reached Fort Benning.

The two manufacturing plants sit on the site of the former Camp Toccoa. Only one building from the camp exists, a long white building that is the former mess hall. It is not accessible to the public. Camp Headquarters was located where Patterson Pump is now, the site of the motor pool, fire station, warehouses, bowling alley, and movie theater.
This is an aerial view of the camp. The intersection where the present monument sits is in the upper right corner of the photograph.

[From Stephens County Historical Society website.]

The paratrooper trainees were required to run up nearby Currahee Mountain for exercise. Currahee Mountain rises about 900 feet above the local topography and, with an overall elevation of 1740 feet, is the highest peak in Stephens County. The summit is "three miles up and three miles down" on the Sink Trail. This trail is named in honor of Colonel Robert F. Sink of the 506th. Sink, born in North Carolina, graduated from West Point in 1927. In 1942, the Army gave Sink command of the 405th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Sink turned down several promotions during the war so that he could stay with his regiment.

I look for the road to Currahee Mountain, and I find it, but it is dirt, so I skip it. I have had enough of that today. To get a taste of the road, here is a video of a 2008 car trip to the top. You Adventure Riders, watch for the ADV graffiti on the rocks just before the end.

I ride back to Toccoa, turn north on GA-17, and go about a mile and half to the entrance of Toccoa Falls College. This Christian College has a pretty waterfall on its campus after which the college is named.

The falls is only a short walk from the parking lot in the rear of the campus, and it is quite a pretty place. I spend a few minutes feeling the cool spray and watching the water drop its 186 feet to the small pool below. As usual, Allen Easler, the local waterfall man, has chronicled this one.

In 1977, the Kelly Barnes dam above the falls failed during heavy rains, sending a deluge through the campus, killing 39 people. Photos of the damage can be found in this video.

The story and a memorial are displayed near the falls.

I leave Toccoa Falls and start back toward home. On the way, I pass this, another dead business.


There is one more story to relate here. Camp Toccoa was initially named Camp General Robert Toombs after a Confederate Civil War General. Colonel Robert Sink, commander of one of the first units to train at Camp Toccoa, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), thought that it was bad psychology to have young men arrive at Toccoa, travel Route 13 [now US-123] past a casket factory [this one] to learn to jump at Camp "Tombs," so he persuaded the Department of the Army to change the name to Camp Toccoa.

And so it was.

The ride home is a little boring, being almost straight, and there is traffic at Walhalla, Seneca, Clemson, and Easley. I enjoyed the sights I visited over in Georgia, so it was worth it.

Here is the route I took today on this second trip to Toccoa on March 21. I traveled 154 miles.


Wells Viaduct videos on YouTube:
Driving direction to Wells Viaduct:

From Atlanta and points beyond, travel north on I-85 and bear left onto I-985, which turns into GA-365 at Gainesville. Merge with US 441 at Cornelia and continue north to the exit to Toccoa and Lavonia. Travel into Stephens County on GA highway 17/365. Immediately after crossing a bridge over railroad tracks turn left at milepost 57. Go up the mountain on Trestle Ridge Road and around the winding road to the entrance of Trestle Falls Subdivision. Continue on Trestle Ridge and bear right at the intersection of Trestle View Road. The overlook is on the left at a large sign.
From Clayton and points beyond, travel to the intersection of US 441 and Georgia highway 17/365, and follow directions above.
From South Carolina via. US-321 or I-85 and points beyond, go to intersection of Big A Road and Georgia highway 17/365 in Toccoa at Wal-Mart. Travel west on 17/365 beside Wal-Mart to milepost 57. Turn right onto Trestle Ridge Road and follow directions above.
Points of interest near Toccoa are shown on the route I took today map:
  • Downtown Toccoa is at Pushpin "B" on the map.
  • The entrance to the Trestle Falls housing development is at Pushpin "C." Wells Viaduct itself is located at 34°34'18"N 83°22'46"W in Google Earth. Neither Yahoo nor Mapquest show the housing development roads as well, and the Google Map is also incomplete.
  • The Airborne Memorial Monument is at Pushpin "E."
  • Currahee Mountain summit is at 34°31'44"N 83°22'34"W. The start of the road to the top is at Pushpin "F" on the map. This road is likely dirt and gravel. It continues as the Sink Trail. The road is in fair condition for the first 2 miles but is rough near the top. If you are in a car, please use caution. There are several places to turn around if necessary. The view from the top is breath taking.
    To reach this road from the town of Toccoa, GA, take Highway US-123 south about four miles to Jeanette Jamison Intersection, which is the intersection of US-123 with highways GA-17 and GA-365. At this intersection, do not turn right on US-123; instead, go straight across onto GA-184. After about 500 yards, GA-184 turns left, but, once again, stay straight, driving onto Dick's Hill Parkway (known locally as Old Highway US-123). Travel about two miles to get to the COL Robert F. Sink Memorial Trail roadside marker at the bottom of the road that leads to the top of the mountain. Driving another 200 yards will bring you to the monument.

If you go:
Traveler's Rest is open on the first and third Saturdays and the third Friday of the month between 9:00AM and 5:00 PM.

Please do not litter and do not make excessive noise if you view the Wells Viaduct. It is viewed from a residential development.

What is left of Camp Toccoa is now on private property, across the road from the Airborne Memorial Monument, and cannot be accessed without permission from the property owners, Milliken & Company.

If you go off paved road, make sure you have good knobby tires.

Thank you veterans and soldiers.

It is you who make it possible for us to live in freedom and amongst prosperity unparalleled in the history of the world.

May our freedoms be preserved.



Anonymous said...


My dad sent me your page. You looked at his Concours that he wants to sell. He lives off Hwy 11, N of Aunt Sues.

Awesome. Glad to see your page. You have saved me some work, since I have ridden most of these roads.

dave butt out

Anonymous said...

I live in Toccoa and came across your page trying to find information about the Trestles for a postcard I am making. I loved reading your stories and descriptions; they seemed to capture the busy, yet laid-back atmosphere of Toccoa. I love living here, and I'm glad you enjoyed your visit!