Rabun County is host to four houses on the National Register of Historic Places. Two became inns, or boardinghouses as they once were called, as a direct result of the Tallulah Falls Railroad. One is a farmhouse, serving as a vivid reminder of how poor, subsistence farmers lived in the Georgia mountains in the late nineteenth century. Another is a vacation home harkening back to the time when Rabun County was becoming a summer retreat for wealthy city dwellers, again due to the railroad. Each property is unique, but all four share a common element: they tell important stories about the history of Rabun County.
The York House
The York House, located off U.S. 23/441 in Mountain City, was listed on the National Register in 1992. Dating from the 1880s and steadily enlarged over the years, it is an example of a log cabin evolving into a Victorian inn. The York House also is important as an inn that benefited from the tourist boom generated by the Tallulah Falls Railroad.
The York House was once part of a 1,000-acre farm owned by Hiram Gibson, a South Carolina plantation owner. He purchased the land in 1851 and moved his family and slaves to the site, making him one of the few slave owners in Rabun County. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed his 14 slaves, but most chose to stay with Gibson.
He deeded a 40-acre tract to his 14-year-old granddaughter Mollie in 1873. In the 1880s, she married William Terrell York, a former Confederate soldier and Clayton’s sheriff at one time. For their home, the couple lived in a log cabin. It is not known if they built the cabin or if it already existed on the property. Over time, they operated a 400-acre farm on additional land purchased from Hiram Gibson. The log cabin was enlarged, the façade was covered with pine plank siding, and tenant cottages and various outbuildings were constructed.
Surveyors for the Tallulah Falls Railroad, which eventually would be extended northward from Tallulah Falls, began staying at the York home in 1896. This marked the beginning of the home as an inn, the York House. The inn flourished once the railroad reached Mountain City in 1906. A stop, called the York Siding, was built near the York House, giving passengers convenient access to the inn. In 1907, an L-shaped addition to the house was built to accommodate more guests.
Literature from the York House around this time described the inn as “the large, ideal country home with a farm run in connection with the house…” Amenities included “tennis courts, mountain spring water, large verandas…and a new system of hot and cold waterworks on each floor.”
The Yorks, who had become known as “Little Mamma” and “Papa Bill,” operated the inn during the summers until 1916 when their daughter, Fannie York Weatherly, and her husband, George, took over. Following the Weatherlys, the York House remained open under the third generation of the York family and later by other owners. The York House currently is undergoing renovations by its new owner, the Old Edwards Hospitality Group.
The Henry and Rosie Kilby House
Located on Tumbling Waters Lane in Rabun County’s Persimmon community, the Henry and Rosie Kilby House was built in 1898. Listed on the National Register in 2005, the house and barn are fully intact examples of a subsistence family farm that is emblematic of the way people once lived in the Georgia mountains. The I-house architecture of the Kilby home also is noteworthy since that type seldom is found in this state.
Henry Kilby’s grandparents moved from North Carolina to settle in Persimmon in the 1860s. Henry married Rachel Rosetta (Rosie) Justus in 1895. In 1898, they built their house and barn on 50 acres. The couple acquired additional land over time, eventually expanding the farm to more than 160 acres. Corn was the principal crop, both as food for the family and their livestock.
A capable and industrious man, Kilby earned badly needed cash from a variety of activities. He built a blacksmith shop; castrated livestock, cats and dogs for his neighbors; tanned leather from the cattle he butchered; and sold shoes made from his own leather. Kilby also built and operated a gristmill on Persimmon Creek. The Depression ‘30s had little impact on the family since the Kilbys were relatively self-sufficient. They produced most of what they needed and bartered for the rest.
Henry Kilby died in 1937. Rosie and her children continued to run the farm and gristmill. She lived much as she did when the house was first built in 1898. The home never had indoor plumbing, electricity or a telephone. Wood was the only fuel for heating and cooking. Rosie Kilby died in 1950 in her nineties.
The Kilby’s heirs sold the home, whose new owners electrified the house. However, they eventually moved out and used the house to store hay. Without occupants, the house fell into disrepair.
Catherine Sale and Susan Rogers bought the Kilby house in 1961. It is currently owned by Camp Ramah Darom.
The William E. and Sarah Dillard Powell House
Built in stages between 1882 and 1940, the Powell House is located on Boxwood Terrace in Dillard. Listed on the National Register in 2008, it is one of Rabun County’s early boardinghouses from the summer vacation era ushered in by the Tallulah Falls Railroad. The architecture of the house reflects its transformation from a single-family farmhouse into a much larger structure to accommodate summer tourists. The house also is associated with two prominent local families.
James Dillard, son of John Dillard, one of Rabun County’s earliest white settlers, is the first recorded owner of the property. He began deeding parcels of his land to his children in 1856. W.F. Dillard, his son, received a significant share before marching off to war in 1861 as part of Stonewall Jackson’s brigade. He left behind two sons and an expectant wife. Killed in action in Virginia, Dillard previously had instructed his wife to name a daughter Sarah Catherine. As it turned out, a daughter was born, and she was known as Sallie her entire life.
Sallie’s mother inherited all of W.F. Dillard’s holdings, but upon her death, the land passed to trustees of the local Methodist church. To receive her share of the inheritance, Sallie had to wait until she was 18. In the meantime, Sallie married William E. Powell in 1880, a third generation Rabun County farmer from the area around Burton, which now lies under Lake Burton. In 1881, she finally received 135 acres from her father’s estate.
The Powells built their home in 1882 about a half-mile south of a cluster of buildings that constituted the town of Dillard. The family’s main problem was the absence of cash, since the Southeast was still gripped by a post-Civil War economic depression. To augment the family’s meager farm income, Sallie decided to take in boarders. She took her plan a step farther by capitalizing upon the tourism boom generated by the Tallulah Falls Railroad. Having been extended to Tallulah Falls in 1882, the railroad provided tourists from Atlanta and other cities with a much faster and more convenient way to visit the north Georgia mountains. Sallie would make the 40-mile round trip by horse and surrey to the Tallulah Falls train depot to pick up summer tourists and carry them back to her home. As tourism continued to grow, the Powell’s had built a two-story addition to their house by 1890 to increase its occupancy.
The railroad reached Dillard in 1906. Sallie’s guests could now disembark nearby, avoiding the long surrey ride from Tallulah Falls. By 1915, business was so good that the house was enlarged further, including a one-story addition able to seat 40 diners. Plumbing was added to the house around 1925. Sallie continued operating the boardinghouse after the death of her husband in 1932 and built one final addition in 1940.
At Sallie’s death in 1962, the house passed to her eldest daughter, Francis (Fannie) Powell, who operated the boardinghouse for the next decade until ill health forced her to close the operation. It was Fannie who called the house Boxwood Terrace due to the boxwood landscaping around the house. After Fanny’s death, the house was deeded to a granddaughter of Sarah Powell, who lived in the home until 1997. During this time, the house fell into disrepair. It was sold in 1998 and then again in 2008. The current owners have renovated the house, using it to host guests and special events.
Asbury and Sallie Hodgson House
Listed on the National Register in 2011, the Asbury and Sallie Hodgson House is located on White Street in Dillard. Built in 1908, the Hodgson house is an early summer home dating back to the time when Rabun County was becoming a popular resort area for city families throughout the Southeast. A one and one-half story Georgian-plan house, it is virtually unchanged since the time it was built. The home retains its original materials and Georgian floor plan, consisting of four first floor rooms divided by a central hallway. It has remained in continuous use by the family that built it.
Asbury Hodgson came from a prominent Athens family. Instrumental in developing railroads serving Athens, he also was president of the Southern Manufacturing Company. Asbury was mayor of Athens in the late 1880s. After his first wife died in 1872, he married Sallie Paine in 1892, which made Asbury the brother-in-law of another wealthy Athens resident, John Richards White.
Sallie and Asbury purchased a cornfield from the Dillard family and built their summer home in 1908 with views of the Dillard valley and surrounding mountains. This was typical of wealthy city families, who wanted to escape the summer heat and such diseases as yellow fever and malaria. For these reasons, Rabun County became popular with Athens and Atlanta families.
Asbury was diabetic and an infrequent visitor to the Dillard home. After he died in 1913, Sallie continued to spend summers there. She was known for hosting prominent Athens families and serving lavish meals. It was said that sellers of produce, meat and fish packed her driveway with their wagons every morning.
With Sallie’s death in 1938, the house passed to her stepdaughter and son, who would spend summers in Dillard for decades to come. They sold the house in 1970 to Malcolm and Bernice White Richardson. Bernice was Sallie Hodgson’s great-niece. At the time of the sale, the house was in severe disrepair with the woods encroaching on the front porch. The Richardsons performed extensive repair work and allowed the Hodgsons to continue spending summers there.
The property passed to Malcolm Richardson’s son in 1987. Remaining in the same family for well over a century, the house retains both the physical appearance and ambience of one of the earliest summer homes in Rabun County.
Other National Register Listings in Rabun County
The Tallulah Falls depot of the Tallulah Falls Railroad was listed on the National Register in 1988. Built in 1913-1914 to replace the earlier station that was destroyed in a fire, the depot is one of only two remnants of the railroad in Rabun County. The other consists of five concrete bridge piers in Lake Tallulah.
The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences on Betty’s Creek Road west of Dillard was listed in 1982 as rural historic district. Mary Hambidge founded the center in 1934 as a place where local women could utilize their talents at spinning and weaving. This 600-acre tract includes nine artist studios, a working grist mill, a weaving shed turned into a gallery and a modern pottery facility.
Rabun County’s seventh listing on the National Register is a Native American mound near the Little Tennessee River in Dillard. Surrounded by farm fields, the mound was built by a Mississippian tribe, probably as a burial site or platform for religious ceremonies. The location of this mound cannot be disclosed due to the risk of desecration.
This article by Society member Richard Cinquina was originally published in the Georgia Mountain Laurel magazine in February 2020.