Friday, July 29, 2011

Blue Ridge



Blue Ridge, Georgia, a small town nestled in a valley in the Appalachian mountains of north Georgia. The train tracks run through the center of town, flanked on each side by typical small town buildings, churches, stores, a place I where I grew up.

I ventured into downtown Blue Ridge yesterday to meet an old friend. Thinking I could just park anywhere, I was surprised at the traffic - lots of people, specifically tourists - and on a Thursday afternoon! After circling the block 3 times I finally parked and just walked the rest of the way.

Way back when I lived here all of these stores were real instead of just tourist stores, there was the Lays 5 & 10 on one corner, the Fannin County Bank on another corner, there was the hardware store and jewelry stores and dry goods and drug store. You could buy school clothes and shoes and toys, do your errands, pay bills, go to the courthouse, and even get groceries and gas all within a couple of blocks, the original one-stop shopping.

But it has all changed. Most of the old buildings are still there, they have just changed owners and changed stock, morphed into antique shops and specialty stores and caf├ęs, a lot of the traffic generated of course by the TRAIN! The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is going strong. We used to drive from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, all of about 11 miles, in about 15 minutes. Now you can ride the train to the same destination for an hour and a half. Of course like most trips it is not about the destination, but about the journey - through the north Georgia hills, following the Toccoa River. Who knew back in the 70s that folks would actually pay for this and the old depot would be the busiest place in town!

I had a great visit with Kathy Thompson today. I can't wait to start reading her latest book all about Blue Ridge. She is still the same as in high school, full of life, trying new things, she recently learned to stand-up surf paddle and later this fall she is climbing up Mt. LeConte with her son.

I asked her a question that I had always wondered about, how did she end up in Blue Ridge? From NY to GA. The story is about life and love and ultimately I think about fate. She says she was meant to be here, she is so not a Yankee - she doesn't drink or argue, is not pushy or obnoxious or have any of those other endearing characteristic Yankee traits. She has embraced this community and has given so much back. But of course (according to local tradition), since she wasn't born here, she will always be an outsider, and that is okay, because the locals and outsiders seem to mesh perfectly in this little town.

She obviously loved her time working on this latest book, traveling around the county and interviewing folks, reconnecting with old friends, making new ones. She said she was careful to include every prominent place or organization... but was colorfully reminded when she left one out, luckily it was not too late. She excitedly pointed out stories in the book, knowing exactly which page to turn, "here is your sister-in-law, Kay: There is a local resident who feeds feral cats..." and "Tilley Bend is in there - did you go up there as a teenager to drink and get stoned?" From the Cohutta mountains to Lake Blue Ridge, places like Higdon and Curtis Switch and Epworth, the people and history and culture of the area is all covered in this book.

A lot of stories, a lot of history, kind of like the Blue Ridge Ghost Tour she helps to guide. She said after learning so much about the history of the town she decided to offer history tours. She advertised and got a big group of interested folks - all of 2! So then the idea for a ghost tour was suggested, and after an ad in the paper requesting local ghost stories brought in many replies, a whole new area of Blue Ridge history was discovered and the popular Ghost Tour was born.

Check out her website for book information and to enjoy some of her stories on her blog: www.kathythompsonbooks.com, or come out and take the Ghost Tour, or just stop by to shop on Main Street - but good luck finding a place to park!


1 comment:

Eddie said...

I enjoyed that. Great post (as all of yours are).

A friend I grew up with, C.W. Connors has an art gallery in the downtown area.