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August 17, 2010 / Robert Ross

unrealized promise……


Middle Class Cherokee Farm Buildings

We had been looking for a historic place that might be good for a day trip with the boys. Since the Cherokee were a major topic of learning in school last year, we were delighted to discover New Echota. Located about an hour north of Atlanta, New Echota was the final capital of the Cherokee Nation east of the Mississippi. It was also one of the gathering points for the infamous “Trail of Tears”, the forced relocation of the Cherokee to Oklahoma primarily. It is now a State Historic Site and part of the Georgia State Parks system. This trip exceeded expectations, and we look forward to going back.

Originally called New Town at it’s founding, the Cherokee Council adopted a resolution making it the Cherokee Nation’s capital and renaming it on Nov. 12, 1825. By 1830, the surveyed and planned community numbered 50 residents. As described, the original layout of the town was a great example of early town planning. The plan had 100 one acre town lots organized around a 2 acre square with a grid of streets. The town had a main street 60 feet wide and side streets 50 feet wide.  At the center of town was the Cherokee Council House, the Supreme Court building and the Cherokee Phoenix Print Shop. The enthusiasm and optimism that accompanied the Capital’s founding lasted a brief 13 years, until the forced evacuation in 1838. Once the forced abandonment was accomplished, the town was allowed to revert to corn fields. The edges of these fields are still apparent in the topography of the site.

Worcester house built onsite 1828

The only remaining structure from that time period is the Worcester House. Built in 1828 by the Reverend Samuel Worcester, it was a Presbyterian Mission Station. He and his family were also forced to abandon it when it was claimed by the Georgian who won the land in the 1832 lottery dividing the Cherokee territory into new homesteads. They followed the Cherokee west. The home was occupied until 1952 and restored in 1958-1959.

The other buildings on the site are either historically accurate reproductions, or historic structures relocated from other sites.  The Vann’s Tavern at New Echota was built by  Chief James Vann in 1805 along the Chattahoochee River in what is now Forsyth County. It was relocated to the site in 1955.

There is a small museum with a fairly good orientation film, 8 buildings, 1 partially excavated house site and a mile long nature trail that goes by an active beaver pond. Our trip also coincided with demonstrations of weaving, carving, shooting and spinning, as well as the print shop that are offered on the 4th Saturday of the month by the Friends of New Echota. This was a welcome surprise since nothing was mentioned on the State Website prior to our visit.

While it is always pleasant to have the run of a place like this to yourself, the lack of other tourists at the site was a little surprising. Maybe it was because of the heat of August, but much of it probably stems from a lack of public awareness regarding the site. As part of the economic turn down, the site is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This seems odd to me, since Sunday is a prime opportunity for the proverbial  afternoon drive. The limited schedule had been an issue with us in planning the trip.

Hands on opportunity in the Phoenix Printshop

Having spent a lot of time traveling and visiting historic sites across the country, it also struck me that New Echota is a site that with the potential of being an economic generator such as Williamsburg and Jamestown have had in Virginia, granted on a smaller scale. The buildings currently on site give just the barest indication of what the town probably was at its height. The recreated structures are exceptionally well done. but the minimal deference to the street grid and lot layout combined with a lack of articulation of the main square does not help convey what is lost. What is there is enough to whet your appetite, but leaves you wanting more. There is no identifiable reference to the Fort Wool stockade that housed the Cherokee at New Echota prior to their forced march west, or indeed any plan available of the original town layout. The natural synergy between New Echota and other nearby sites such as the Etowah Indian Mounds and the Chief Vann House is also underdeveloped.

It seems that at a time when the State should be looking at ways to maximize benefit from its existing assets, it is instead overlooking the economic potential inherent in these historic sites. Nevertheless, it has certainly opened new territory for quick family trips at exceedingly reasonable cost.

Coming events at New Echota

  • Sept 25  Save My State Parks Day–   10-4  Dutch Oven cook-off, Cherokee artists and Historic demonstrations
  • October 16  Frontier Day- 10- 4 Demonstrations of life skills common at the time of the Trail of Tears
  • December 4  Christmas Candlelight Tour 6:30 – 9:30 pm

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2 Comments

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  1. Beth Shorthouse / Aug 17 2010 12:02 pm

    Please add me to your blog notifications! Beth

  2. Nora Leslie / Aug 23 2010 8:22 am

    Looks like a fun day trip! Thanks for sharing and informing.

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