The history of Appalachia and the beauty of Brasstown Bald

Sunrise Grocery is just one of the many unique things to see and do in Blairsville.

I’ve spent time in Blairsville camping most every year for more than 50 years. So when we visited this time, I set out to discover things about Blairsville I didn’t know. Joined by my uncle Richard Miller (who’s only 21 months older than me) and my aunt Patti Miller, Bob and I explored Blairsville from the heights of Georgia’s highest peak and the valleys below.

My family has camped at Trackrock Campground for over 50 years. My dad loved the area so much that he built a cabin just over the ridge from here. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

There’s plenty to do––boating, hiking, birding, shopping, antiquing, eating, relaxing––that you may want to consider spending two or three days. We did!

Historical Sunrise Grocery

Outside Sunrise Grocery is a rustic display and a boiling pot of peanuts. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

We began at Sunrise Grocery, which is located a few miles north of Vogel State Park on Hwy 129. Sunrise Grocery has been in business since the early 1920s, selling food and gas to those living south of Blairsville. The store is located in the Choestoe Valley and is surround by mountain peaks and valleys. Although the grocery has changed ownership several times over the years, each owner has strived to maintain the original atmosphere in the store.

Today, Sunrise Grocery sells local fresh vegetables, boiled peanuts, and various handmade, locally produced crafts, like candles and soaps, art work, and knitted products. Outside was filled with all kinds of pumpkins and gourds. The selection was unique and affordable. It’s a fun store that you won’t want to miss.

Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center

The Byron Herbert Reece Heritage Center strives to show the duality of Reece’s to two extraordinarily diverse occupations as a farmer and a poet. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

Byron Herbert Reece has been called one of the top Appalachian poets. He referred to himself though as a farmer first and a poet second. The Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center strives to show the duality of those two extraordinarily diverse occupations.

The Reece barn houses museum exhibits on farming and Reece’s poetry. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

The farm has several of the original buildings from the family farm. Even the Welcome Center is located in one of the later houses built by Reece, who was called Hub by family, and his brother. Touring the farm is a journey back in time into the process of farming during the early 1900s.

This smokehouse is part of the Appalachian farming display. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

The farm and heritage center also introduces visitors to Byron Herbert Reece, the poet. I purchased a biography and poetry volume about Reece’s life entitled Mountain Singer. The book focuses on the difficult life Hub Reece lived as a subsistence farmer as well as his poetic genius. Hub was born in 1917 and struggled much of his life with tuberculosis. His parents also suffered from the disease and Hub carried the responsibility of the farm and his parents’ livelihood as well as his own. Much of his poetic material came to him during the day as he followed the mule and plowed over the land. He often worked through the night, carefully recording the words that had come to him during work, and then reworking every word and thought into perfection.

Hub was known as a morose man, probably brought on by his illness and his virtual seclusion in the mountain foothills. He never graduated college, because he refused to waste time on math and French––subjects he thought brought nothing to him as an Appalachian farmer and poet. He did serve on faculty at Young Harris College and taught at UCLA despite lacking a degree. Hub published four volumes of poetry and ballads, two novels, and received multiple awards. Yet, he achieved only moderate success as an acknowledged poet and even less financial success.

Sadly, as Hub’s body deteriorated from the tuberculosis, so did his will to live. Hub Reece committed suicide three months before his 41st birthday in his classroom at Young Harris College.

Ralph McGill, former editor of the Atlanta Constitution, described Hub Reece as “one of the really great poets of our time, and one who stands with those of any other time.” Hub Reece’s words are simple, drawing word pictures of the beauty of creation around him. It’s hard to read his poetry and not see those perfectly created images or not feel his love for his corner of the world.

The barn’s hayloft contains a gallery of Reece’s poetry and life. (Photo from Byron Herbert Reece Historical Society)

If you haven’t met the work of Byron Herbert Reece, visit his homestead and spend time in the hayloft of the barn where his work is exhibited. A 20-minute film gives voice to his poetry. It is well worth the time.

Brasstown Bald

The Brasstown Bald Visitor Center is open to visitors. The shuttle up the mountain from the parking area is now running on a limited basis.

No visit to the Blairsville area would be complete without going up Georgia’s highest peak. Brasstown Bald holds the state record at 4,784 feet above sea level, but it is only a few feet taller that Blood Mountain, the major mountain that Hwy 129 climbs on the way to Blairsville. The mountain has its own ecosystem, which is the subject of the short film available free in the Visitor’s Center. That ecosystem means the mountain is home to several species of birds not often seen in Georgia and it is the first place to see the leaves change in the fall.

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt on the mountain as well. The area is now open with strict rules on social distancing, but the schedule for when the area is open to visitors changes regularly. Make sure to check their website for the days and times the area is open before you go. Parking space is limited to 90 cars and the entrance fee is $5.00 per person. However, National Park passes are accepted. Be aware that the shuttle to the top is not yet running full-time. The hike up the mountain is only .6 miles but it is very steep. To experience the amazing views, you have to go up to the top of the mountain.

Brasstown Bald is located off Hwy 180 which turns off Hwy 129 eight miles south of Blairsville.

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