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Georgia's Top Fall Festivals
By Kathleen Walls

Top Festivals in North Ga.

Fall in the North Georgia Mountains! Cool crisp days. Calico patchwork of scarlet, gold, russet and green as nature paints its yearly spectacle of fall foliage across the slopes and valleys of the ancient mountains. And something else. in every town and hamlet, you find fall festivals. Traditionally, these celebrate the end of harvest but, since the mountains have there own unique culture, festivals there often celebrate some historical or cultural event. Come along with me as we visit ten of the most fun festivals in North Georgia. Many of them even welcome your pet.

Prater's Mill Country Fair

In 1855, Benjamin Franklin Prater built his mill on Coahulla Creek near Dalton, Georgia. He built to last with state of the art equipment and last it did. It served surrounding farmers for over a century. It withstood encampments of both Confederate and Union troops during the Civil War.

Today, it is the site for the Praters Mill County Fair. Although the grounds are open for picnicking, fishing and canoeing, the mill and surrounding buildings, the Cotton Gin, the Old Country Store and the Westbrook Barn are open to the public only during the spring and fall festivals. The Mill is preserved in working order and during the festival, you may purchase cornmeal or flour and watch it being ground just as your ancestors might have done over a century ago.

The festival has over 200 exhibitors. Crafters and artists display quilting, tole painting, candle making and many of the old skills that were part of every family's lifestyle. There is so much going on you are pulled in all directions., "What's over there ?" "Listen. Is that bluegrass music coming from the barn?" What's going on across the road at the Old Prater's Store?"

Allow lots of time to satisfy your curiosity about all the activities. The exhibitors are all over and they are all worth seeing. . Blacksmiths Terry Snyder and Mitchell Latsch create forged iron work on a portable forge that was used in the 1800 on isolated farms to shoe horses or repair farm implements. Ralph Pressley demonstrates the workings of his old moonshine still. Numerous potters throw clay pots or vases. Rickie Ellis, from Hossing Around Carving School, will show you how his grandfather creates a beautiful carousal horse.

The entertainment is non-stop The Center Stage located on the main fairground, the Store Stage across the road and all around the festival someone is performing. the acts are top notch. Groups like Old Sounds of Bluegrass, Possum Holler Grass, Choo Choo Cloggers, Simply Blest and many others give you an idea of the style. Storytellers, jugglers and wandering bands abound.

Of course, you will want to wander through the old mill and watch the millers grind corn. Part of the charm is the "genealogical graffiti". B. F. Prater's signature is on one of the beams. Many former millers and customers scrawled their names and dates on the walls and steps of the mill.

Across the road, by the Old Prater Store, a troop of Confederate reenactors, the Nancy Hart's Home Guard, 35th Infantry Company F, has set up camp. Watch the everyday activities in a Civil War encampment. Enjoy the pageantry of a seven-gun salute with black power rifles. You can even try on some antebellum finery.

"Peacock Alley" offers a glimpse of the cottage industry that put Dalton on the map as the "Carpet Capital of The World", hand tufted chenille bed spreads hang on clothes lines as they once lined the local highways from Atlanta to Chattanooga. The local ladies way of garnering a bit of the tourist money that passed by daily. It was just one step from spreads to carpets., now the main industry of the area.

Barnyard animals are always a big draw. How can you resist the charm of horses like Little Gypsy and Flair as they invite you into their barn. Sugar, the goat, is always looking for a handout. The baby chicks and other farm animals are a treat. Wildlife is represented by the Cahutta Springs wildlife Rehab Sanctuary. You can actually touch an unusual South African Pygmy Hedgehog

The food is great and plentiful. The Old Store offers Southern Style home cooking and you will find a variety ranging from hot dogs to Sarsaparilla and Poke Salad.

You can even enjoy canoeing on the creek in one of the rental canoes or hiking the nature trail.

The combination of a great festival, historic buildings and cultural events is probably the reason this festival is ranked one of the Top Twenty Events in the Southeast.

Gold Rush Days

Twenty years before Sutter's Mill, the Appalachian foothills of Northwest Georgia rang with the excited shouts of successful prospectors. It all began in 1828 when Benjamin Parks was out deer hunting and kicked at a rock. The rock was a gold nugget and the rush was on. Before it ended, thirty three million dollars of the purest gold ever mined in the United States was taken from the ground and the city of Dahlonega was born.

Gold Rush Days is held on the square around the historic courthouse housing Dahlonega Gold Museum. Around 300 booths offering everything from crafts to fast food turn the normally peaceful streets into a carnival of non-stop fun. In addition to the great crafts and food, Gold Rush Days let you participate in contests. You can test your skill in traditional mountain activities. You can get into the Buffalo Chip Throwing Contest. Exercise your lungs in the Hog Calling Contest. Get a real work out in the Rope Jumping, Crosscut Sawing or Buck Dancing contests. Of course, don't expect anyone to believe you if you should win the Liars Contest.

Music and folk dance is offered between contests at the main stage. Just alongside of the stage you can try your hand at gold panning or watch a demonstration of speed gold panning.

For kids of all ages, Peachtree Amusement offers rides such as moonwalk, carousel, roller coaster and others.

Many of the shops and restaurants around the square are also open increasing the impact of this festival. It is also rated in the Top Twenty Events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Georgia Mountain Fall Festival at Hiawasse

The Georgia Mountain Festival is held at The Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds on the banks of Lake Chatuge. The advantage is that the authentic pioneer village is a permanent fixture. These old buildings like the old one room schoolhouse and the log cabin lend to the feeling you have stepped into another time. And that's what the festival is all about, recreating the mountain culture of the early Appalachian settlers.

There are ongoing demonstrations of Appalachian life such as the log splitting, blacksmithing, soap and candle making. An authentic water mill grinds meal you can purchase. Antique farm implements, many on loan from local families, are on display. One popular exhibit is Moonshining, presented by Mr. Cotton Hedden. He takes you through each step of the process with an expertise that makes you wonder. He explains his intimate knowledge with the phrase "or so I've been told."

In addition to a trip into yesterday, you are treated to an extensive group of artists and craftspersons, lots of food booths, a complete carnival midway. and lots of animal acts.

The adjacent Anderson Music Hall hosts two professional music shows daily. The Georgia State Fiddler's Convention is held then with their annual competition for "Georgia Mountain Fiddle King". Some of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry performers entertain you.

Oktober Fest

As you sip a German Bier and munch on Bratwurst and sauerkraut, the lights of the hall reflect on the ledenhose and colorful skirts of the Polka dancers. Herbies Keller Band blast out "Bier Her, Bier Her" . You could well be in Germany but you are not. You are in Helen Georgia.

Helen is an alpine village in the heart of Appalachia. Chalets filled with craft shops and cobblestone streets blossom with bright flowers. Unique shops and restaurants play host to millions of visitors every year. Every October, the Festhall resounds with the sights and sounds of Omaha music Batavian Polkas A German Oktoberfest turns the town into a miniature Munich.

The entertainment and setting are authentic German. The floor is alive with dancers and sometimes the band leads a march around the building with all invited to join in..

Marble Festival

Legends tell that an Irish stonecutter, Henry Fitzsimmons was evicted from a stagecoach traveling the Old Federal Road in Pickins County for imbibing too freely from his jug of locally made moonshine. He wasn't too drunk to recognize a fine marble outcropping along the road however. Thus began the marble industry in Georgia. The pink marble torn from the red clay of Pickins County became famous around the world. Jasper's Marble Festival recalls the days when "Colonel Sam", one of Georgia Marble's more colorful presidents, ruled the county with an iron hand A parade through downtown Jasper puts you in the mood Saturday morning. However, if you want to start the festivities early, you can attend the street dance on Friday night. The festival offers a huge assortment of arts and crafts, some great food and live entertainment on stage. The Marble museum is open displaying sculpture and a look at the county's history.

A highlight of the weekend is a bus tour of the marble quarry. This also takes you past Tate House, Colonel Sam's pink marble mansion now operating as a bed and breakfast. The Show of the Road Car Show provides vintage car lovers with an opportunity to gaze in adoration at some of the state's finest vintage horseless carriages. Unusual autos also are featured like Chuck Norris's stunt car from Invasion USA.

You can tote home a piece of Pickins County when you leave with a free marble slab.

Sorghum Festival

Union County perched at the highest point in Georgia, was famous for two suburb products that came in a mason jar. Only one was legal, the rich sorghum syrup that served as a sweetener for the isolated mountain folks.

Blairsville, Georgia is the site of the sweetest festival in the country, The Sorghum Festival. Sorghum making is almost a lost art today but in pioneer times, sorghum was the upland South's answer to sugar cane. In the mountains of Georgia, every village and many of the farms had a mill for producing the thick sweet syrup similar to molasses. Today, there are less than thirty.

For the last thirty years, Blairsville and Union County celebrate the unique sweetener with a no holds barred festival on the last three weekends of October. A highlight of the festival is the production of sorghum. The stripped cane is run through a grinder turned by mule power. The syrup is then cooked in a huge open trough, filtered and bottled before your eyes.

One of the favorite contests is the Biscuit Eating Contest. Each contestant must swipe the biscuit through sorghum then devour it. The winner usually shovels down forty to fifty in fifteen minutes. Other contests include pole climbing, log sawing, rock throwing and horseshoe throwing. Arts and crafts overflow from Fort Sorghum into the school auditorium. Bluegrass bands, cloggers and gospel bands provide entertainment.

Across the highway, view a large assortment of antique autos. The festival parade is held downtown on the first Saturday of the festival. The revelers and floats are decorated in "old Time' motif. Bands, horseback riders and costumed marchers add to the flavor. Everone of them are throwing candy to you as fast as they can.


Dawson County is willing to acknowledge its illegal product. They have the Moonshine Festival. Elijay honors one of its favorite crops with the Apple Festival. Blue Ridge stages its annual Mountain Harvest Sale where you can find traditional Appalachian art or craft objects. Check out Adairsville Great Locomotive Chase Festival when tthey honor the memory of that Civil War event.

Whatever the product or heritage these festivals honor, they have one end product for the visitor, bushels of fun.

Praters Mill Festival 706-694-MILL

Gold Rush Festival 706-864-7247

Georgia Mountain Fall Festival 706-896-4191

Oktoberfest 706-878-2181

Marble Festival 706-692-5600

Sorghum Festival 706-745-4745

Moonshine Festival 706-265-2792

Apple Festival 706-635-7400

Mountain Harvest Sale 800-899-MTNS

Great Locomotive Chase festival 770-773-3451

Kathleen Walls is the author of Georgia's Ghostly Getaways, Last Step, Man Hunt- The Eric Rudolph Story, Tax Sale Tactics and Kudzu, all published by Global Authors Publications (GAP) (

Her new book, Hosts with Ghosts, will be released soon. She is also a successful travel writer/photographer who has been published in numerous publications including Woodall's Publications, Family Motor Coaching, Amateur Chef, Georgia Magazine, North Georgia Journal, Georgia Backroads. London, England's Country Music People and others. She currently publishes her own online travel magazine, American Roads ( )

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