Sunday, June 29, 2008
Fort Mountain State Park and the Mysterious Wall
Overlooking the town of Chatsworth in the northwestern area of the north Georgia mountains, Fort Mountain stands like sentinel guarding the mountains to it's east. Perhaps that explains the remains of the old "fort" at the top of the mountain..or maybe it doesn't. More on that in a bit. Fort Mountain State Park covers 3712 acres at the top of the mountain, a good portion of the land donated to the state by a former Atlanta mayor, Ivan Allen Jr. I've been camping at the park since I was a teenager-and to provide a frame of reference, back then I-75 leaving Atlanta to the north ended in Marietta!
Fort Mountain State Park is a popular destination for just about every type of outdoor activity. Within the park is a 17 acre lake with a swimming beach and 14 miles of hiking trails for daytrippers. Over 80 campsites and 15 cabins are available for overnight stays. 27 miles of mountain biking trails make the park one of the best in the state for bike riding. Horseback riding is offered and encouraged on 25 miles of trails with rentals and stables available. I would advise that you plan ahead during the summer months for any of these activities that operate on a first come, first serve basis. This is especially true on the weekends.
Fort Mountain is easily accessible from Atlanta or Chattanooga via I-75 to US 76 in Dalton. A good approach from the east can be had by taking GA Hwy 52 from Ellijay. Some other attractions in the area include the Cohutta Wilderness Area, The New Echota State Historic Site (Capitol of the Cherokee Nation) and the Chief Vann House State Historic Site. Carters Lake with all of it's recreational opportunities is just south of Chatsworth off US Hwy 411. Click Here for more information from the Georgia State Parks website.
Now about that wall.....
The wall on top of Fort Mountain is one of the great archaeological mysteries in north Georgia. The mountain gets it's name from the "fort", which consists of an ancient 855 foot long stacked stone wall with 29 pits scattered in some semblance of order along it. But is it really a fort?
There are numerous local legends concerning the origin of the wall. The most widely believed seems to be that it was not a fort at all, but was a structure with religious significance built by Woodland Period Indians who were believed to have occupied the area around 500 A.D. Some of the backing evidence for this theory are the orientation of the wall and the fact that no artifacts have ever been discovered. The Indians of that period are believed to have worshiped the Sun-and the wall extends from a point on the east side of the mountain due west-so the sun rises almost precisely in line with the eastern end and sets at the western terminus. Indians of that period were also believed to always carry their religious artifacts with them when they moved on, unlike their everyday implements which have been found in good quantity near their forts and settlements.
The most interesting theory has to do with Cherokee legend. The Cherokees believed the wall was built by a group of fair skinned, blue eyed people they referred to as "Moon Eyes" because it was believed they could not see well in daylight and had excellent night vision. This strange race of people was said to occupy this and other areas of the mountains until they were eventually dispatched by the Cherokee.
One legend about the wall points to it being a honeymoon resort of sorts for newlywed Cherokee. Another claims it to be a fortification built by a Welsh Prince who landed on the gulf coast of Alabama around the year 1200 and was pushed into the Georgia mountains by the Indians..where a fort was constructed for defense. The least plausible theory is that the structure was built by Hernando DeSoto as a defense against the Indians during his time in Georgia around 1540. The problem with that theory arises from the historical fact that DeSoto and his men were only in the area for around 2 weeks...hardly long enough to construct the wall. The only truth seems to be that no one really has a clue where the wall came from.
It is a fairly easy hike to the ruins of the wall. There are signs within the park directing you to the parking area, and from the parking area it is about a half mile or so hike to the summit observation tower. The wall starts appearing about halfway through the hike. It is certainly interesting-and the view from the top would be worth the hike if the wall didn't exist.