Rufus L. Moss, Sr.

by Mick Coleman

Rufus Lafayette Moss, Sr. (1825 – 1912), a founding father of Tallulah Falls, was also a driving force behind Rabun County’s early rise as a tourist and resort destination.  

Rufus L. Moss, Sr. in his later years Rufus L. Moss, Sr. in his later years
Mr. Moss’ ties to the county date back to 1880 when he completed construction of a large two-story summer home near the edge of the Tallulah Gorge.  This was one of several “cottages” built by wealthy families from Athens, Georgia, creating what one historian called “… a sort of Athens’ colony.”   The house remained in the Moss family until 1981.  Today, Dan A. Hayes owns the Moss House and is working to restore the residence to its 1880 grandeur.
The Moss House The Moss House

As a homeowner in Tallulah Falls, Mr. Moss joined with other leading citizens in his hometown of Athens to push for a railroad line to the town of Tallulah Falls, most likely because they wanted Athens to be the hub of goods coming down from and going into the Northeast Georgia Mountains.  The extension of the Tallulah Falls Railroad was finally completed in 1882.  

A sketch, looking south, of the Cliff House Hotel located directly across the railroad tracks from the Tallulah Falls Depot A sketch, looking south, of the Cliff House Hotel located directly across the railroad tracks from the Tallulah Falls Depot
Tourists quickly followed, drawn to the scenic wonders of the Gorge.  While perhaps difficult to comprehend by today’s standards, in Mr. Moss’ time the Tallulah Gorge’s 1,000 foot chasm and wild Tallulah River were, as one writer noted, “one of the greatest scenic wonders of the continent.”  Writing in a similar vein, in 1884 the Athens Banner-Watchman announced that “Tallulah is destined to be the resort of the South.”  Mr. Moss led the way in taking advantage of these proclamations by constructing the first large Victorian-style hotel in town, the Cliff House, at the edge of the Gorge.  By 1900, seventeen hotels and boarding houses dotted the area, catering to tourists’ every need.  Many tourists stayed for an entire summer season. 

Tallulah Falls after the devastating fire in December 1921 Tallulah Falls after the devastating fire in December 1921
 The end of Tallulah Falls’ heyday as a resort town came in 1921, when a devastating fire spread throughout much of the town and leveled many of its hotels.  While the Cliff House escaped that fire, in 1937 it too burned and was never rebuilt. 

Even before the 1921 fire, the tourist boom that Mr. Moss helped to launch in Tallulah Falls already had begun to extend northward with the extension of the railroad line to Clayton in 1904 and, in 1907, its terminus in Franklin, N.C.  Clayton in particular benefitted from its own tourist and accompanying boarding house boom. The extension of the railroad also transformed the county’s labor and economic trajectories in other ways.  Now that logging companies could more easily move their timber products, they began ramping up their logging activities.  This meant that more and more men were hired to work on timber crews.  At the same time, traditional subsistence farming declined as farmers began to use the railroad to ship their produce to outside markets.  The railroad also led to a social transformation, bringing in “outsiders” and allowing local residents to travel well beyond county boundaries. 

An early photograph of the dam at Tallulah Falls An early photograph of the dam at Tallulah Falls
 Mr. Moss’ final contribution to the history of Rabun County came when, in the early 1900s, the Georgia Railway and Power Company chose the mighty Tallulah River as the power source for its street cars.  In 1909 the Moss family sold its considerable land holdings in Tallulah Falls to the Georgia Railway and Power Company for $108,960.  It was this purchase which allowed for the completion of the Tallulah Falls Dam in 1913.  Five additional dams followed, forming what is known today as the Georgia Power North Georgia Hydro Group. 

In Rabun County, the North Georgia Hydro Group includes Lakes Burton, Seed, Rabun, and Tallulah, all of which provide tourists with outdoor recreation and serve as popular draws for those building vacation and second homes.  It is these lakes and their ties to Rabun’s economy which remain a testament to the foresight and entrepreneurial spirit of Rufus L. Moss, Sr.

Help us plan for
Rabun County’s Bicentennial Celebration

Special Exhibit:
Rabun’s Twentieth Century in Review

At the turn of the twentieth century, Rabun County remained largely isolated from the outside world. This would change dramatically with the coming of a railroad which also brought tourism, logging and dam building.
View this exhibit

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