Toccoa is a city in Stephens County, Georgia, United States located approximately 50 miles (80 km) from Athens and approximately 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Atlanta. The population was 9,323 at the 2000 census. The city is the seat of Stephens County.
Mississippian Indians (Mound Builders) and Cherokee Indians were the original inhabitants in the vicinity of what is now Toccoa and the surrounding area. The first residents of European descent were American Revolutionary War veterans who settled the area when the war ended. The Georgia General Assembly created Stephens County in 1905, and Toccoa was established as the county seat.
The name "Toccoa" is derived from the Cherokee word for "beautiful" or "where the Catawbas lived." The city was established in 1873 around an area formerly called Dry Pond, named for a pond that was waterless most of the time.
Camp Toccoa, a World War II paratrooper training base, was located nearby. It was the first training base for the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, whose Easy Company was subject of the non-fiction book and subsequent HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.
Toccoa is also home to the Travelers Rest Inn, known locally as Jarrett Manor, and Toccoa Falls College. On November 6, 1977, the Kelly Barnes Dam, located above the college, failed. The resulting flood killed 39. Toccoa Falls is located on the campus of Toccoa Falls College.
Toccoa is the birthplace of singer Ida Cox, philanthropist Paul Edward Anderson, former 100 Black Men of America President Thomas W.Dortch Jr., former Clemson and NBA basketball player Dale Davis, former Georgia Tech and NFL football player Pat Swilling, and All-American (Georgia Tech) football player Ken Swilling. James Brown, nicknamed the "King of Soul," lived in Toccoa a short time before his big break as a singer, and worked as a janitor at Toccoa High School. Bobby Byrd was a gospel musician and songwriter, and a sideman to James Brown. Paul Anderson, Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting known as "the world's strongest man," was born in Toccoa. His world record for the heaviest weight ever lifted by a human (6,270 lbs. in the back lift) still stands. A 16-ton granite marker is located at his birthplace. Ramblin' "Doc" Tommy Scott, composer of "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms", was born and lives here,
Internationally noted civil rights and social justice activist The Reverend Douglas Demetrius Prather, a native of Atlanta, also has family ties to the city of Toccoa. Rev. Prather is a direct descendant of the original Prather family for which Prather Bridge Road is named. According to historical accounts, The Johns House, a Victorian cottage near Prather Bridge Road, was built in 1898. Further down on the right, on a hill overlooking the valley of the upper Tugalo River, is Riverside, a Greek revival antebellum home that was built in 1850 by James D. Prather with slave labor and timber from his plantation. The Prather family cemetery is at the right of the house, about fifteen yards from the porch. During the Civil War, General Robert Tombs, a close friend of Mr. Prather, used the house as a refuge from northern troops. The soldiers pursued him to Riverside, where he was able to hide in a double closet and escape capture.
The first Prather’s Bridge was a swinging bridge built in 1804 by James Jeremiah Prather. Until then, travelers crossed the Tugalo River at fords and later by ferries. The first bridge was washed away during a freshet (an overflow caused by heavy rain). A more substantial bridge was built in 1850, but was burned in 1863 during the Civil War to keep the enemy from crossing. James Jeremiah and his son, James Devereaux, rebuilt the bridge in 1868. This bridge was also washed away in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1920 by James D. Prather. It was afterwards replaced by a concrete bridge, but was kept as a landmark until burned by vandals in 1978. The pillars still stand, made from rock quarried by Mr. Prather from a nearby hillside.
Stephens County Development Authority (SCDA) was established in 1965 to continue and sustain the growth of Northeast Georgia. SCDA is responsible for the recruitment of new businesses such as industrial, manufacturing, distribution, corporate and regional headquarters and customer service centers. SCDA serves the following cities: Toccoa, Eastanollee, Martin, and Avalon. Major industrial parks in the area are: Toccoa Industrial Park, Meadowbrook Industrial Park, and Hayestone Brady Business Park.
Top employers in descending order: Patterson Pump, ITR (GEM Industries), Standard Register, Sage Automotive Interiors, Habersham Plantation, Toccoa Falls College, Coats & Clark, Eaton Corporation.
Arts and culture
Currahee Military Weekend, Taste of Toccoa, Cinema on Sage, Costume Parade, Harvest Festival, ChristmasFest, Christmas Parade, Roots Rhythm And Rails Music Fest, and many others.
Toccoa is the center of a thriving music scene and the home of a regional orchestra. The Toccoa Symphony Orchestra is made up of volunteer musicians from the surrounding community, South Carolina, and Atlanta. The symphony exists to provide quality symphonic music to the region and to bring together musicians from throughout northeast Georgia.
The symphony was founded in 1977 by Pinkie Craft Ware and Archie Sharretts, both music educators. Since its founding, the symphony has performed at least three concerts every season. The symphony is supported by a board of directors and an extensive network of patrons.
The orchestra collaborates with many musicians and provides a wide range of concert experiences. The ensemble has premiered works by young composers, presents a yearly Christmas concert with a one hundred voice choir, and incorporates budding performers from nearby Toccoa Falls College.
Museums and other points of interest
The Currahee Military Museum, located in downtown Toccoa at the original train station where arriving GIs would disembark, is dedicated to the paratroopers of World War II who trained at Camp Toccoa. Camp Toccoa was located just outside the city proper, at the foot of Currahee Mountain, and was formerly known as Camp Toombs. The museum houses the original Aldbourne stables where paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division were housed temporarily in England in 1944. Only one building remains of the original Camp Toccoa (the building is believed to be a former food supply storage facility, based on its position near the former camp's gates and the foundation's construction), and it was donated to the museum in 2011 by the Milliken company who was using it as a machine shop. The museum intends to restore the building, along with the surrounding grounds.
On the first Saturday of every October, a six-mile race is held along the Colonel Sink Trail, the same trail used by the paratroopers as part of their training for combat. The common refrain is "Three Miles Up And Three Miles Back". The race is part of the larger Currahee Military Weekend, which features World War II military reenactments in a staged military camp, weapons demonstrations, book signings by veterans, a parade through the downtown historic district, a hangar dance at the airport, and a special banquet featuring key note speakers and veterans.
Local lore includes the Hanging Tree, located on the western side of the Stephens County Courthouse. The actual tree used for the executions is now just a stump on the courthouse lawn, the tree having been removed in 2011. Facing the courthouse, the Hanging Tree was just to the viewer's left.
The clock at the spire of the courthouse was restored to operational condition in 2010 as part of an overall renovation of the building, and is the highlight of the historic district which features several buildings from the American Civil War period.
The Toccoa Casket Company, now out of business, was the largest supplier of caskets to the military until Vietnam. Its building is located on the main road leading into Toccoa from the south, on the route from Toccoa to Currahee Mountain.
Stephens County School District
The Stephens County School District serves students in pre-school through grade twelve, and has four elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. The district has 304 full-time teachers and over 4,405 students.
Stephens County High School finished building their new facility in Spring of 2012. It includes a four-sided gymnasium "arena", better fine arts facilities, and a larger media center. Crossroads Juvenile Academy is an alternative school in Stephens County, that gives behaviorally impaired students a second chance. Mountain Education Center is an online night school that gives full Georgia High School Diplomas. This course is designed not only for full-time students but also part-time students that are working to recover lost credits.
Toccoa Falls College
Amtrak's Crescent connects Toccoa with the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, Birmingham, and New Orleans. The Amtrak station is situated at 47 North Alexander St. The picture to the left is how the station appeared prior to the extension of the Currahee Military Museum, which was built to house the Aldebourne Stables and a growing collection of artifacts. That extension was subsequently enlarged in 2009 to include a community room and gift shop.
Toccoa is also home to the Toccoa Airport, a small executive airport to the northeast of town.
The nearest interstate highway is Interstate 85.
Historic Town Mall
Located near the train depot (connecting to Atlanta, etc.), is where the downtown area of Toccoa, is located. Also located nearby is the Toccoa courthouse. Around the 1950s leading up towards the 1980's, business was bustling in this "mall" as they called it. Each day people would flood to downtown Toccoa and shop. Back then there were several national retail outlets located in downtown Toccoa, one of those being the Belk Gallant department store.
In the early 1960's around the country large shopping malls began to compete with local downtown businesses and many began to fail. As an answer to the depressed conditions in downtowns, not only in Toccoa but in other towns as well, concrete canopies were erected and streets were closed to create a pedestrian mall. In less than ten years it was evident that instead of enhancing businesses and creating a positive downtown image, these canopies actually accelerated the downtown’s decline.
When the Belk Gallant department store announced it was going to move along a four lane road called Big A, community leaders organized Toccoa Main Street in 1990. In 1991, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Resource Team recommended that the canopies be removed and that the street be opened once again to vehicular traffic. However, for many years the project was not supported.
During that time, Toccoa Main Street implemented many changes and improvements to the downtown mall area. Brick pavers were installed and trees were planted. However, the canopies themselves began to deteriorate, and no support was found to repair them. During this time, businesses continued to flounder and many of the buildings were empty and in disrepair.
Over time, however, with growing support, approval was given to start the canopy removal project. Efforts that helped contribute community support for the project include: county-wide public surveys, University of Georgia (UGA) Market Study, a UGA design charrette, and renderings of individual buildings without the canopies provided by the GA Trust for Historic Preservation and UGA Community Design Planning and Preservation. To gather the necessary funds for the project, Toccoa partnered with six state agencies (Appalachian Regional Commission, Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), One Georgia Authority, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) that provided $1.3 million, with additional local funding of $552,000.
During the canopy removal and street re-opening project, private interest in downtown increased. In 2008, downtown saw 33 storefronts renovated (under the guidance of the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center (RDC) Historic Preservation Planner), 11 new business, 17 new jobs, 28 part-time jobs and 68 full-time equivalent jobs retained, and private investment of $3.5 million. Toccoa’s Main Street was re-opened to vehicular traffic. “The change in downtown is stunning,” said (then) Mayor Ron Seib. “Tourists and locals alike are visiting downtown, and parking is now at a premium, especially at lunch.”
The Currahee Military Museum, featured recently in the PBS Series, GA Traveler, and named as one of the best museums along the East Coast by Blue Ridge Mountain Magazine, is another attraction that continues downtown’s resurgence. Located in the restored historic train depot, the museum features a massive exhibit of 506’s Easy Company memorabilia. This World War II paratrooper company was popularized by the HBO Miniseries Band of Brothers. The depot housing this museum was recently restored to its pre-1940’s appearance. The depot building had previously been used as a maintenance and storage area for Norfolk Southern. Now it has been transformed to a publicly owned building that is home to the Chamber, Welcome Center, Stephens County Historical Society Museum, the Currahee Military Museum, and Amtrak. Funding for the million dollar project was received through Transportation Enhancement Activity (TEA) and GDOT funds of $400,000; local funding of $100,000 and private investment funds of over $500,000 were contributed. The museum just completed its second addition, funded by SPLOST.
Enhancing Toccoa “as a Northeast Georgia destination” is the newly restored Courthouse which anchors the downtown district. The renovation project was overseen by a governmental appointed citizen authority. Funded entirely by SPLOST dollars, the $2 million renovation project brought a historic 1907 building back to life while adding green space to the historic district and retained government offices and downtown customers in the city’s square.
The following list includes notable people who were born or have lived in Toccoa, Georgia.
In literature and film
The novel "Fireworks Over Toccoa" by author Jeffrey Stepakoff, was published by St. Martin's Press and released nation-wide on March 30, 2010. A day-long celebration was held in Toccoa culminating in a fireworks display at Boyd Field in the evening.
The documentary Southern Comfort was filmed in Toccoa about resident transman Robert Eads.
On May 7, 2000, Mary Ann Stephens of Toccoa was shot to death outside a Ramada Inn in Jacksonville, Florida while on vacation with her husband. The incident received national attention and resulted in an Academy Award–winning French documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning, on the arrest and acquittal of the original suspect.
Kelly Barnes Dam failure
On November 6, 1977, the Kelly Barnes Dam failed and released over 170 million gallons of water above the Toccoa Falls College campus. The failure killed 20 children and 19 adults.