In 2008, we built this house on the property we now call “Wit’s End,” as a touchstone for our family, a place where we could make lifelong and multi-generational memories. We looked for years to find a place with views, water, a meadow and a sense of history. We finally found it in Wit’s End. We bought the property in 1996 and plotted and planned what to build and saved our pennies. However, we didn’t want to wait too long, because we wanted our children to create childhood memories there.
We use it for our nuclear family throughout the year as a place to get away from it all. We don’t have WiFi/internet on purpose. We just need to literally and figuratively unplug. We use it to host the extended family throughout the year.
Wit’s End sits on the site of the former community of Conasauga. While all that remains to the naked eye are the remnants of a subsistence farm - including a barn, a chimney and what's left of an old farm house (yes, the old white house in the meadow just 100 yards from our driveway) - this spot was at two different times the hub of community life.
For decades, it served as a resting and resupply point for weary east-west travelers before the advent of the automobile. In addition, before the white settlers moved into these mountains, Wit's End was the site of a Cherokee Indian settlement named Conasauga.
It's hard to imagine that in this tight mountain valley, an entire community could have existed. However, from the middle 1800s to the early 1900s, this mountain valley had a post office, general store, church, saw mill and a boarding house for weary travelers.
The property sits at the confluence of three streams and the verdant mountain valleys that each stream drains. Here, in a relatively broad valley, the streams join to form Conasauga Creek. What made Conasauga significant was the fact that it was located near the halfway point along the only east-west route between the civilized communities of the great valley to the west and the mountain towns to the east through the infamously rugged Cohutta mountains.
The name, Conasauga, has long ago been removed from maps, but the farm and immediately surrounding area has a rich history. The valley was originally a Cherokee settlement. The derivation of the name, Conasauga, is not clear, but it could mean "grass" or "grassy." It's possible that the name could go back to even earlier times when the Creek Indians occupied these parts.
For hundreds, if not thousands of years, indigenous people called the area around Conasauga their home. However, by the early 1800s, Gilmer County in general - and Conasauga, specifically - was at the center of a rapidly shrinking Cherokee Nation territory. By the early 1800s, the US government had negotiated a series of treaties with the Cherokee nation that provided access to lands for its citizens in the west, essentially encircling the Cherokee nation. The treaties had the effect of massively shrinking the eastern land holdings of the Cherokee and pushing them onto a fraction of their original land.
New Echota was established as the Capitol of the Cherokee Nation around 1800 near present day Calhoun, Georgia, a mere 37 miles away from Conasauga. For generations, Cherokees (and Creeks, too) lived in Conasauga and the surrounding mountains up until 1838, when the government hunted them down, rounded them up and forcibly deported them to Oklahoma. They were a bright, peaceful and civilized people who, in the decades before removal, had adopted many of the ways of white settlers, including developing their own written language and adopting the modern farming techniques of the white settlers from the east.
It has been documented that the Cherokee settlement at Conasauga, along with the one at nearby Mountaintown, were both located on the route of the "Old Ellijay Turnpike." This turnpike was established by Georgia Governor Rockingham Gilmer and the state legislature in 1834 to link Dahlonega with Dalton and, ultimately, Chattanooga. The route most likely followed an early Indian path that connected Indian settlements like Conasauga along the way. One could speculate that this road was created to hasten the forced roundup and removal of the remaining Cherokees in 1838.
The Old Turnpike was a toll road and the western toll gate was established at Mulberry Gap, just a mile and a half to the west of Conasauga.
When the time finally came in 1838, the US military forcibly removed the Cherokees from the Conasauga settlement (and surrounding Frog Mountain, now called Fort Mountain) and took them via the turnpike route 10 miles southeast to Fort Hetzel at present day Ellijay, the site of another former Cherokee settlement, where they were held until all the Cherokees were gathered from the immediately surrounding mountains. From there, the Cherokees would have been force marched right back northwest up the turnpike past the remains of the Conasauga settlement through the toll gate at Mulberry Gap (I wonder who operated the toll gate), before they made their way to Chattanooga. Therefore, Conasauga was not only one of the very last Indian settlements in the east, it was likely one of the earliest stops along the route of the Trail of Tears.
According to history recorded by the nearby Nine Mile United Methodist Church, the "Old Turnpike" also served as a route during the Civil War for General Sherman and the Union army to pass through these parts following a skirmish just over the gap in Murray County on Holly Creek in 1864. Therefore, due to its relatively flat site and access to water, it's likely that the Union army may have rested or encamped on this site while passing through.
Since this land was technically part of the last stronghold of the Cherokees, very few white people migrated into the area before 1840, making these mountains some of the last in the east to be settled. (I am curious who the first white settlers of Conasauga were.)
Eventually, John M. McClurd, or maybe his father or grandfather (from Grandfather Mountain, N.C.), moved his family, via Dalton, Georgia, to the site. In 1895, Mr. McClurd petitioned the US Postmaster General in Washington DC to designate Conasauga with a US post office. While originally that petition was declined because of confusion of other communities and landmarks with the same name, it was eventually granted and the Conasauga post office was officially opened in 1897. It, along with a small store, operated out of the little white Farm house in the meadow.
The Old Ellijay Turnpike, being an important east-west route, was served by a stage coach company. The nearby Nine Mile United Church gets its name from being located at the halfway point between Ellijay, nine miles to the east, and the hamlet of Pleasant Valley (present day, Eton) nine miles to the west. It is believed that there was a house that took in travelers along the route in Conasauga. However, at some point it developed the reputation of being a "house of ill repute." Ironically, it was located on the road directly between the church and the post office. It is remembered as a large house with a wraparound porch. It sat up above the road with a nice line of black walnut trees that stretched between the house and the road. Three out of four of the black walnut trees still stand, marking the spot of the former house today.
In 1900 and later in 1912, the US Geologic Surveyors sunk a bronze marker into sandstone 75 feet from a fork in the road and 40 feet directly across the road from John McClurd's store and post office in Conasauga. They listed the elevation there at 1,518 feet above sea level.
The community of Conasauga (with its epicenter at the little white farm house) started showing up on maps and atlases produced by Rand McNally in 1883 and remained on most of those maps until at least 1915. Conasauga was the very last outpost before travelers made the hairy journey through the mountains to civilization on the northwest side of the Appalachians in Murray County. Of course, it also served as the first point of civilization for those making their way east toward Ellijay.
The Old Turnpike was the only route across the mountains until the road over Fort Mountain connecting Chatsworth with Ellijay was completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934.
Today, Conasauga is located in extreme northwestern Gilmer County, where the paved section of the "Old Ellijay Turnpike-CCC Road-Holly Creek Road" ends and the gravel road begins as one makes his or her way up into the Cohutta mountains and wilderness areas.
To follow the journey of Wit’s End, visit its Facebook page (@witsendconasauga) and Instagram account (@wits_end_life).