Toasting the Holidays in the North Georgia Mountains

Cold weather, a roaring fire and a great wine are some of the things that instantly bring up thoughts of loved ones and the holidays. The quaint North Georgia town of Dahlonega not only offers the ability to sample fine wines, but also the ability to our the various vineyards. The “wine country” of Dahlonega has quickly gained the reputation for hosting several vineyards that offer a variety of fine wines and much more.

Currently, there are five established vineyards within a few miles of the Dahlonega town square. Visiting any, or all of these vineyards will prove to be a most enjoyable and unique experience. Many of these properties are located on vast acreage overlooking the North Georgia Mountains, providing scenic views that will surely please.

Each vineyard produces its own speciality wines and offer a variety of white and red labels that will satisfy even the most discriminating palate. The choices range from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot, and more. Each winery houses a tasting room, which offers complimentary samples to those “of age.”

Wolf Mountain Winery, at 180 Wolf Mountain Trail, offers educational tours, wine tasting, and Sunday brunch. The winery is also available for weddings. It is a charming location, nestled in the mountains, with great views. For hours of operation and events schedule, contact 706-867-9862 or http://www.wolfmountainvineyards.com

The oldest winery in the Dahlonega area is Three Sisters Vineyards.  Starting their wine production in August, 2000.  The winery encompasses an 184 acre site,  at an elevation of 1800 feet.  Along with the commanding views of the mountains, they offer wine tasting for visitors.   The winery is located at 439 Vineyard Way.  Food is available for picnic lunches on th property.  An outdoor gazebo area is often used for weddings.  For more information, call 706-865-0687; http://www.threesistersvineyards.com

The newest vineyard to the area is Montaluce.  This facility is part of a new concept community near Dahlonega.  They offer “Tuscan-style” homes and has a 25,000 square-foot winery with sweeping views of the vineyards and mountains.  The main building houses a tasting room and a restaurant called, LaVigne.  Many of the vegetables that are grown in their own “sustainable garden” are used to prepare a menu of new and old world Italian dishes.  The vineyard offers a range of wines in th e restaurant and for sale.  They are located at 501 Hightower Church Road.  Call 706-867-4061, or visit their website http://www.montaluce.com for more information.

Another wine producer that has been in operation for many years is the Blackstone Vineyards, and is located at the intersection of Town Creek Church Road and Damascus Church Road, north of Dahlonega.  In addition to their own wines, they provide grapes to other wineries.  Blackstone,s public tasting room has been open since 2006.  For more information, contact the winery at 706-219-2789, or http://www.bsvw.com

A visit to Frogtown Cellars will  also be enjoyable to the wine connoisseur.  Bistro lunches and dinners are offered  on their 57 acre estate located at 3300 Damascus Church Road.  For tour, tasting and dinner events, call 706-865-0687, or http://www.frogtownwine.com

For those who prefer to not travel to each vineyard but enjoy sampling wines, visit the Habersham Winery Tasting Room, 16 North Park Street on the Dahlonega public square.  They provide complimentary samples of its wines that are grown north of Clarksville, Georgia.  Contact the Habersham Room at 706-754-7295

A note of caution:  after sampling wines from all five vineyards in the same day, you might want to spend the night in Dahlonega.  Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Henry Zuckerman is a licensed architect and Georgia licensed residential and light commercial contractor.  His company, StoneyBrooke Homes, Inc. has designed and built many homes in and around the North Georgia “Wine Country.”  Please visit our new website http://www.henryzuckerman.com for more information.

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Dahlonega Hosts U.S. Capital Christmas Tree

On November 24 – 26, 2010, the quaint North Georgia town of Dahlonega will host a 67 – foot tall Englemann spruce Christmas tree.  This tree was chosen as the “National Tree” for this year’s holiday celebration.  It will arrive at its final destination, the U.S. Capital lawn, after nearly a month of travel from its origin, the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

The Dahlonega Chamber of Commerce is planning a fun-filled afternoon.  Children of all ages can visit with Santa from 1 to 3 p.m.   Country music star, Freddie Way, will be in concert in the historic town of Dahlonega on Wednesday, November 24.  Way, who is a North Georgia native, has become famous for his music and style after producing his hit song, “There She Goes.”  The concert starts at 3 p.m., and the tree is expected to arrive around 5 p.m.   The North Georgia Ensemble will perform from 5 to 6 p.m., and the formal tree ceremony will be at 6 p.m.   Finally, there will be a Live Nativity at 6:30 p.m.  A large turn-out is anticipated for these activities.  It is a very special honor  for Dahlonega to host the “National Tree.”

Upon the tree’s arrival  in Washington, D.C., the it will be lowered into a five-foot deep hole, and cemented in place.  It will be adorned with over 10,000 lights that will be lit by the House Speaker on December 7.

The theme of the Christmas tree this year is “Wyoming-Forever West.”  It will showcase the history, culture and beauty of the state of Wyoming.  More than 5,000 hand-made decorations will reflect this theme.  Each ornament is 9 to 12 inches tall, and will only be used for this holiday season.

If you plan top visit Dahlonega for a chance to see the tree first-hand, it is also a great opportunity to do some Christmas shopping.  The shops on the Dahlonega Square offer many unique gifts in a range of prices.

For more information contact the Dahlonega Chamber of Commerce at (706) 864-3513, or http://www.dahlonega.org

Henry Zuckerman is an architect and custom builder.  He has designed built many homes in the Dahlonega area, and the Georgia mountains.  His work can be viewed at http://www.henryzuckerman.com

When the Cold War Came to Dawsonville

In the 1950’s, Dawsonville was a day’s drive north on Highway 9 from Atlanta.  The Georgia 400 “corridor”,  as we know it today, was only a dream for a few visionaries back then.   Elvis was the rage, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, and years before President Kennedy “faced down” the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States government was quietly building a nuclear facility in Dawsonville, Georgia.

The bucolic community of Dawsonville, some 40 miles north of Atlanta, became home to the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory ( GNAL ) from the 1950’s until 1971.  In 1956, the United States government purchased 10,000 acres of open fields and woods from the Tucker family of Dawsonville. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, along with the Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission, began construction of the GNAL- also known as Air Force Plant # 67.  The site is near the intersection of Highway 9 and Dawson Forest Road in Southwest Dawson County.

It is said that the site was selected for several reasons, but mainly because of its location.  It was considered an “easy commute” from the Lockheed facility in Marietta, then known as Air Force Plant # 6.  The site also was remote and unpopulated, thereby providing a “well-shielded area” where very little existed.

The rumors circulating about the former site of the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory have become folklore and remain an interesting topic of conversation for Dawson County residents.  Tall tales of deer with three eyes or two sets of antlers are common.  Also, some claim seeing an “albino” black bear and other albino animals.  Notwithstanding these rumors, today Dawson County is anything but remote and unpopulated.  The “400 corridor” has been the impetus for increased commercial and residential developments.  Dawson County is home to many mountain, lake, and golf communities.  Tens of thousands of families now call the area home.

The initial intent of the facility was to research and develop a nuclear powered aircraft.  Remember, this was during the ” Cold War” when some in government believed we needed an aircraft that could remain in the air for weeks without having to land to refuel.  This was a top-priority project for the US. military, as they were confident that the Soviet Union had made significant advances in this area.

The 10,000 plus acre site had three main areas spread across several miles on the property.  The facilities were all connected with an internal “narrow-gauge” railway system.  The separate sites included a nuclear reactor, a cooling site and a hot-cell building.  There was also an underground “shielded site”, where employees waited when the reactor was operational.  Other buildings included an underground parking facility, miscellaneous storage / warehouse buildings, and research laboratories.

Most North Georgia residents had no idea that Lockheed was operating an “air-shielded” nuclear reactor on the Dawson Forest site.  An “air-shielded” reactor is a nuclear reactor that is physically hoisted into the open air when operational and returned to its “storage-pool” ( in this case a concrete pool built into a natural ” hollow” on the property ) when not in use.  It should be noted that each time the reactor was operational, the area surrounding the reactor was irradiated along with the intended “target.”

The development of a nuclear powered aircraft was never realized.  It is conjectured that a firewall and containment system needed to protect the flight crew, failed to be successfully developed.  Some claimed that the containment and firewall systems were too heavy for the aircraft.  Lockheed also used the reactor to test  the effects of radiation on military equipment.

The effects of irradiation on the surrounding area prompted new tests. Studies by the University of Georgia, Emory University and The Atomic Energy Commission were conducted.  These studies examined the effects to wildlife and the surrounding vegetation when exposed to massive doses of radiation.  The results of these experiments were devastating to all living things in the test area.  Thus, the rumors of mutant animals flourished.

Nuclear scientists began to understand that different materials took on new qualities once irradiated.  This new series of testing led to the formation of Lockheed Nuclear Products.  Various products were transported on rail cars to the reactor site, irradiated, then sent to the cooling site.   One such product was wood.  Ordinary pine was injected with a resin, then irradiated.  The resulting product was marketed under the name “Lockwood.”  It is said that this wood was used as flooring in the Atomic Energy Commission facility in Maryland.

The potential threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union prompted more experimentation at the Dawson Forest site.  The U. S. government was in learning how our country would or could rebound after a nuclear attack.  It was equally important to understand the effects on our renewable natural resources, such as lumber, and if the natural environment would recover from such an attack.

In June of 1959, and again in August of 1960, the forest area surrounding the reactor was subjected to lethal doses of radiation for weeks at a time.  The reactor was only shut down on weekends and during employee shift changes.  The effects of this irradiation became quite obvious to the surrounding environment.  During the two years after the tests and at a distance of one mile from the reactor, tree growth was impeded and loss of foliage, leaf and bud production occurred.  Wildlife was all but eliminated from the area.

Lockheed closed the facility at the end of 1971.  Only a few above ground remnants of the GNAL remain today.  Some of the building foundations and the hot-cell building, with its forty-eight inch thick steel and concrete walls, are still standing.  The hot cell building was sealed due to contamination concerns and is surrounded by two fences.  This building is considered one of two “hot spots” that remain on the site.  The reactor site is also sealed and fenced in due to contamination and public safety concerns.

The two bridges that connected the railway to various sites were demolished when GNAL was being dismantled.  However, the abutments remain along the river, as do the track beds.  The underground facility at the reactor area where employees remained when the reactor was operational, also remains. This area contained three levels and included a tunnel that connected the reactor facility to an underground parking garage.  The underground facilities were kept dry during all the years of operation by a series of pumps.  It is now flooded due to the high water table in the area.

In 1972, The City of Atlanta, anticipating the need for a second airport, purchased the Lockheed facility and an adjacent 10,000 from Pickens County.  The airport was never built and the property fell into disrepair. Access roads eroded, people used the site as a dumping ground for garbage, and general deterioration of the property occurred.

In 1975, the City of Atlanta asked the Georgia Forestry Commission to manage the site.  Not long afterwards, the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area and the Paulding Forest Wildlife Area were created.

These areas are still monitored every three months for radiation contamination by the Georgia Environmental Division.  Although some hot spots of Colbalt 60 and Europium 152 remain, officials conclude that there is little to no risk to the public.

Today, the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area shows little signs of its former use, except as previously mentioned.   This property is abundant wildlife and is used for recreation.  It is also used by hunters, hikers, horse back riders, and curiosity seekers.  From time to time, the stories of mutant animal sitings are repeated.  However, nobody has been able to confirm  any sitings of five-legged deer or cyclops animals wandering through the woods of Dawson Forest.

Henry A. Zuckerman is an Architect and custom home builder in the North Georgia area.  Please visit the StoneyBrooke Homes web site http://www.henryzuckerman.com

References:

Inside Dawson Forest: A History of the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft laboratory, published January 2, 2007

Georgia Environmental Surveillance Report 2000-2002

Dawson Forest City of Atlanta Tract – Then and Now by Nathan McClure, C.F.

“MOONSHINING” in NORTH GEORGIA

Long before shopping centers, fast food restaurants, and 4-lane highways, there were the quiet agricultural communities of the North Georgia mountains.  Long before rapid population and economic expansion and before communities with swimming pools and tennis courts there was the business of…MOONSHINE.  The making of moonshine is not limited to the North Georgia mountains.  However, the counties of North Georgia have a rich and somewhat checkered history of distilling and distributing untaxed and unregulated alcohol.  Counties such as Dawson, Lumpkin, Pickens and Gilmer became major suppliers of moonshine during the 1930’s and 40’s.

As far back as the colonial days, farmers in North Georgia discovered an easy way to make much-needed extra money for their families.  Farmers used part of their crops, such as apples, peaches, and corn to make whiskey and brandy, and then sold it locally.  Selling their alcohol in small glass jars was easier to handle and less bulky to transport than hauling crops by wagon over rough roads to local markets or to Atlanta.

Today, the general perception of a moonshiner is a simple person with limited means and little education.  The image of a moonshiner conjures up one who has few teeth, a long un-kept beard, a tattered hat, and someone smoking a corncob pipe.  Actually, back in the 1700’s, a moonshiner was a respected member of the community.

It was not until the late 1700’s that the Federal Government attempted to place a tax on all home-made alcohol.  This tax was repealed shortly after it was implemented.   Then in 1862, President Lincoln had to find a way to pay for the Civil War, otherwise known as “The War of Northern Aggression.”   Congress established the Internal Revenue Service to collect their newly imposed taxes on “luxuries”, which included alcohol.  Needless to say, this did not sit well with the farmers of North Georgia, and many refused to pay the new tax.   These farmers began to make their whiskey out of sight, in home-made stills that located deep in the woods.  They were known as ‘Moonshiners” because they made their product in the moonlight.  Thus, the legendary battles between moonshiners and revenue agents (revenuers) began.

In 1907, the Georgia legislature passed a law prohibiting the manufacture and consumption of alcohol.  For the most part, it had little effect on the moonshiners of North Georgia.  However, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, along with the Volstead Act  (which defined “intoxicating liquors” excluding those used for religious purposes and sales throughout the United States) established Prohibition in the United States.  Its ratification was certified on January 16, 1919.  It was the only amendment to the Constitution that has been repealed (by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933).  This changed the business of moonshining  forever.

The  Prohibition Era, as it is known, created an unprecedented demand for whiskey.  The illegal corn alcohol, sometimes called “White Lightning”, was in such high demand that  business changed from local farmers making and selling small quantities of their moonshine to help make ends meet, to big business involving ‘gangsters” of the 1920’s and 30’s.  These so-called “gangsters” created networks of farmers to operate stills just for their own use.

The moonshine could not be transported to Atlanta and other cities by normal means.  Local sheriffs and federal revenue agents scoured the countryside looking for stills and were constantly on the lookout for moonshine shipments.  This prompted a dangerous and sometimes deadly game to evade revenue agents.

During the 1940’s, high-speed cars driven by “trippers” were built to transport the illegally produced alcohol.  The “trippers developed “tanker cars” with secret compartments to hold their cargo of alcohol.  The “tanker cars” were often faster than any car used by the sheriffs or revenurers.  The “trippers” drove at high-speed over country back roads, often busting through blockades to deliver their precious cargo.  Many attribute these ‘trippers” and their powerful cars to the start of the sport of stock car racing, and eventually to NASCAR.

The history of North Georgia moonshine and “trippers” is celebrated every year at the “Moonshine Festival” in Dawsonville.  It is usually held in late October.  Also in Dawsonville, is the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.  On display are some of the early “tanker cars” and stock cars that were raced on dirt tracks throughout the North Georgia mountains.  The “Georgia Moonshine Cruz-In” will be held in Hiwassee on August 12-14.  There you can enjoy mountain music, an incredible car show, and of course, a working moonshine still.

As an architect and custom builder in North Georgia, I love learning about the history and folklore of the mountains and its people.  It is my desire to bring a bit of that mystic to every home I design and build.  Please visit my website http://www.henryzuckerman.com  I can be contacted at henry@henryzuckerman.com; 678-947-1187

BACK PORCH VISTAS

Fall in the North Georgia Mountains is a magical time of year.  Folks from all over the country come to North Georgia to share its beauty and vibrant colors.  As you approach Dahlonega ( www.dahlonega.org )  from Ga. Hwy. 400, you begin to experience one of the greatest “free shows” on earth.  The spectacular fall colors of the Southern Appalachian  mountain range are striking !  Breathtaking views and sweeping panoramic vistas  abound.

I’d say that most folks who live up here enjoy sitting on their back porch, taking in the sweet aroma of the mountains in the fall.  As the days grow shorter, a crisp chill fills the evening air.  You can smell wood burning in fireplaces and back yard pits throughout the mountains.  The aroma is distinct. It invigorates the senses.  One can feel the warm glow of lights twinkling through the trees and hear the distant rustling of the fallen multi-colored leaves as the mountain animals prepare for the winter.

Venture to the top of Brasstown Bald
( www.ngeorgia.com/ang/Brasstown-Bald ) near Young Harris and enjoy a 360-degree panorama of the mountains and valleys below.  Also near Young Harris is the Brasstown Valley Resort
( www.brasstownvalley.com).  Sit on the back porch of the Lodge and “take-in” the amazing vistas year-round.  A bit closer to metro Atlanta is Amicalola State Park ( www.amicalolafalls.com ), which is also near Dahlonega. Enjoy the vistas from the Lodge, or hike up to the top of the falls.

Even better, stay in the mountains for a weekend.  Rent a cabin and enjoy all that the mountains have to offer.  Take walks along a stream with your spouse, kids, or grandkids. Be sure to bring your canine companion.  Watch your dog chasing leaves and squirrels, while jumping in and out of the cool mountain waters.  Take your sweetheart for a romantic evening stroll down a quiet mountain road or just sit and rock on the back porch, as the moonlight dances through the half-naked trees.

As an experienced architect and north Georgia Mountain builder, I have helped many families make the mountains their home.  All it takes is the aroma of the mountains in the fall, and a vision of sitting on your back porch.  Please visit ( www.henryzuckerman.com )