How Tallulah Lost Its Falls
The series of falls, created over eons as the river cut through a half-mile circular hardrock formation to join the Tugaloo, was first discovered by white men in the late 1700's. At the time of Cooke's picture, visitors climbed a rough mountain trail to view the spectacle. The crash of the waters drowned out normal conversation and a mist rising from the falling water softened the vista of high rock walls and wind-twisted evergreens.
In 1882, after the Tallulah Falls Railroad began making a daily round trip from Cornelia, the resort era began. Large frame hotels with long, wide verandas and fires in the great rooms at night welcomed the cream of Southern society, which stopped there every summer from June 1 to the last of September.
Some inns overlooked the falls, and all were within hearing distance. The roar of the great waters was a constant backdrop everywhere in the bustling community on the rim of the gorge. Then, in 1911, Georgia Power began buying water rights and planning a series of dams and power plants to serve the city of Atlanta's growing need.
That same year, Congress passed a bill appropriating $10 million to create national parts in the Appalachian Mountains. The Atlanta Constitution predicted this would save Tallulah Falls, but instead the power company began building a dam across the river bed at the head of the gorge.
By 1914, the roaring waters had been diverted through a 6,600 foot tunnel cut through solid rock which carried the water to a surge tank from which it passed to wheels in the power house at the bottom of the gorge.
Today, springs feed into the former river bed and follow the course or the falls, providing a polite and dainty murmur where once mighty waters roared.
Many people think this relatively tiny trickle of water carved the awesome gorge. But Cooke's painting in the Georgia Museum of Art’s American Collection reminds us that is not so.