Thursday, December 5, 2013

Through the Mountains

Over Thanksgiving, I went down to visit my father in Suches, Union County, Georgia.  This is the area where his maternal family has lived since about 1860.  Suches is a hanging valley, so the only access to the area is over a mountain pass.  These aren't hard to traverse today with good roads and a car, but they must have been terribly difficult on foot or with a wagon.  A heavy snowstorm, which used to be very common, leaves the area completely cut off.   Woody Gap is at 3160 feet and the Appalachian trail passes there.   Wolf Pen Gap is 3260 feet and the road over the mountain there is even today known as the curviest road in Georgia.   Suches itself is at about 2800 feet and describes itself as "the Valley in the Clouds".   Some of the early settlers (after the Cherokee were kicked out) came there for free land, always a powerful incentive, but that was not what brought my family.   The Gooches had lived in the mountains for more than a generation, but over in the gentler terrain in Rabun county, then in Lumpkin County.  In the early 1860s, James Gooch crossed over Woody Gap, purchasing land in Gaddistown, near Suches, and moving his family there.  With land available in the West, one has to wonder what attracted him to the very difficult and inaccessible land around Suches.  Did he like the isolation of the mountains - or even the beauty?   The fact that deeds were often not recorded, or recorded in Dahlonega (Lumpkin County) rather than Blairsville (Union County), tends to verify that transport over the mountains was not easy.  From Gaddistown, the transit over Woody Gap to Dahlonega was an easier and shorter route than going over Wolf Pen Gap to Blairsville, but in this case "easy" is definitely a relative term.  This probably also accounts for the fact that some of the marriages are registered in Lumpkin County, even when the bride, groom and officiant were in Union.

There's no way to know why the family secluded themselves in the mountains or how it affected what they eventually became, but it's easy to believe that much of their strength and self-reliance stem from learning to survive there.

View from Woody Gap