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Sat., 14 Oct.00 (North Georgia)
. . . This is our three-day Fall Holiday weekend. I dug out the New Georgia Guide and an AJC article I had clipped on the “Chieftains Trail” and plotted our itinerary.
We drove for an hour or so up I-75 north to Ga. Rte. 225. About three miles or so east on Rte. 225 is the site of New Echota, the one-time capital of the Cherokee Nation. Maintained as a state historical site, New Echota is a shadow of its former self, yet quite suggestive nonetheless. The only original building still on the site is the home of missionary Samuel A. Worcester, of Worcester v. Ga. fame. Other period buildings have been moved to New Echota, however, and these show how middle-class and common Cherokee families lived on their farmsteads: a cabin, barn, corn crib, and smokehouse on the “middle-class” farm and a cabin, stable, corncrib, and smokehouse on the “common” one. Another period structure, Vann’s tavern, has been relocated to New Echota, and reconstructed versions of the tribe’s Council building, Print Shop, and Supreme Court building complete the display. As a bonus, the state Natural Resources Dept. has created a mile-long nature trail that winds around the rear of the Worcester home. The Visitors Center has a small museum featuring lots of artifacts dug up on the grounds, as well as a tiny library and movie theater.
A couple of notes on progress, sort of: 1) A one-time Cherokee farm on the other side of Rte. 225 has been transformed into a golf course. 2) The Worcester House was occupied by a series of white farmers following the missionary’s forced eviction. The last such farmer moved away in the 1950s, at which time a group of local citizens bought the property with an eye towards its renovation as a memorial to the Cherokees.
About seventeen miles farther east on Rte. 225 is the Vann House, the noblest edifice by far in the modern-day hamlet of Spring Place. It sits on a knoll overlooking the spring that gives the town its name (though we could not see it), at the intersection of routes 225 and 52A. The state Dept. of Natural Resources, which manages the house, is currently building a new visitors center, so there was a temporary parking area and a rather crowded entry hall in the house itself for books, other souvenirs, and of course a cash register.
I already knew quite a bit about Spring Place from my newspaper research. It must have been one of the earliest white settlements in Murray County, and it was certainly the headquarters of Colonel William N. Bishop, commander of the Georgia Guard and one of Governor Wilson Lumpkin’s most notorious agents in the Cherokee Territory. I had also taken copious notes on the shootout at the Vann House in 1835 between Bishop and Spencer Riley, a supporter of the anti-Lumpkin State Rights Party. But I had never actually been there before today. . . .
I was surprised, but guess I shouldn’t have been, when our feisty, 60-something tour guide regaled us with the story of the Bishop-Riley encounter first thing. She told us that, as we reached the landing halfway up to the second floor, we would be able to see the very spot where Bishop and his minions had tossed a burning log in a successful effort to “smoke Riley out”—and we did. Evidently, Bishop had arrived to claim the Vann House for the state (I believe his brother Abraham ended up running a tavern and store there eventually), only to have Riley, who was boarding there, enter his own claim on the property and refuse to leave. Thus the gunplay, in which Riley was wounded and hauled off to the jail in Cassville “through the snow,” where, in his version of events, he narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of a Bishop loyalist.
As was the case at New Echota, there are very few original items at the Vann House, but period pieces have been brought in, and they suggest something of the affluence of the last Cherokee owner, “Rich Joe” Vann, who inherited the house after his father’s murder in a tavern sixty miles away. The basement, which puts the “d” in “dank,” was divided into a wine cellar and a dungeon for unruly slaves (the “civilized” Cherokee Joseph Vann owned a couple of hundred slaves). There are guest bedrooms on the second floor and two children’s rooms on the “vertically challenged” third floor, with its low doorways, steep stairs, and six-foot ceilings.
Once again, progress has not been kind to the Vann House. There it sits, like a diamond in a dunghill, looking down on a four-way stop intersection and a mini-mart. Nevertheless, it was certainly worth the trip!
For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)