Helen’s current boast as one of the South’s most visited towns is surprising, considering its complicated history and its remote location. The area was the center of the Cherokee Indian culture before 1800; the turnpike they built in 1813 (now highways 17 and 75) helped spur development and bring white settlers, as did the discovery of gold in the Nacoochee-Helen Valley in 1828. The historic England Gold Mine, site of Helen’s current gold mine, was mined extensively, though operations ceased by the end of the century. Not long later, timber officials came into the valley and built the Matthews Lumber Company. Simultaneously, the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad came up the Chattahoochee River to Helen, named after the daughter of the railroad surveyor. By the 1960s, the lumber industry had left, as had the settlers. In 1968 local businessmen took up efforts to reinvigorate the town, starting architecturally—by 1968, business owners and local carpenters turned downtown into a mini-Bavaria based on the plans of a nearby German artist.

Modern Helen has much to show for itself by its healthy tourist industry (that brings millions of visitors each year) focused on its touch of Bavaria and its unique mountain setting. This remote mountain community has revitalized itself over and over again through the centuries, proving its staying power—it won’t disappoint. For a more extensive history, go here.