There is a crispness to the October morning air in Georgia now that signals the seasons are finally turning the corner into fall. Leaves will shift their colors soon to the golds, oranges, and reds that lure folks to the mountains and clog the winding roads with leaf peepers out to take in the scenery.
Touring through the mountains in the fall is a great time to check out some of Georgia’s smaller state parks. One of my family’s favorites is the New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until 1838 when the U.S. government forced the Cherokee to relocate to Oklahoma in what became known as the Trail of Tears.
By the time the Cherokee Nation founded New Echota, their culture looked very similar to that of the European settlers who were their neighbors. They adopted the same dress and became farmers, businessmen, and politicians. They were also the first Native American tribe to create their own alphabet. In 1827, the Cherokee ratified the Cherokee Constitution modeled after the U.S. Constitution, and created a government that was similar to our own—an executive, a legislature with an upper and lower house, and a supreme court. The Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, published in both English and Cherokee, had a circulation that included not just the Cherokee Nation but the United States and parts of Europe as well.
Visitors to the New Echota Historic Site can see 12 original and reconstructed buildings on the site today. You can walk through the Council House and Court House, visit a reconstructed farmstead with barns and outbuildings, see Missionary Samuel Worchester’s home, and get a look inside the restored Vanns Tavern. Our favorite was the reconstructed print shop with a working printing press from that era.
The Visitors Center is not to be missed. It tells the story of the Cherokee Nation and its capital through exhibits and a 20-minute film on the history of the Cherokee at New Echota. It is a tale of progress, hope, and great betrayal. It portrays a dark time in the history of our nation and our state, and it is one we all need to know and remember.
As you head into the mountains to take in the scenery of a beautiful fall day in Georgia, take some time to learn a little about the history of the area and the people who once called it home. You will be glad you did.
Karla Jacobs is chair of the Georgia Commission on Women. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and various fish.