At the close of the Civil War in 1865, the area where Cornelia is located was a typical mountain forest. The spot was so well secluded that a moonshine still was operated without interference at the site of what is now the center of downtown. Cornelia was first a settlement around 1860. It was situated near the old boundary line between the Cherokee and Creek Indian tribes.
In 1872, workers of the Charlotte-Airline Railroad (later Southern Railway) invaded the virgin forest. A roadbed was cleared and graded, and tracks were laid from Gainesville to Toccoa. In 1882, the Blue Ridge and Atlantic Railroad opened a line that extended northward from the Charlotte-Airline to Clarkesville and Tallulah Falls. The Tallulah Railway, as it came to be called, carried passengers and freight from Cornelia to Franklin, North Carolina. Many of the passengers rode to view Tallulah Gorge, which was one of the most scenic spots in northeast Georgia. Later, the railway served a more utilitarian purpose until after World War II when the line was discontinued.
Big Red Apple
The Big Red Apple stands on the railway depot grounds in downtown Cornelia. The replica of the North Georgia apple is 7 feet high and 22 feet in circumference. It weighs 5,200 pounds and is painted in natural colors. The apple is constructed of steel and concrete and was molded in Winchester, Virginia, in 1925. It is erected on a concrete pedestal 8 feet high and 6 feet square at the base. The monument was donated by Southern Railway, and for many years a festival was held in celebration of the apples grown in the area. Cornelia has since been touted as “The Home of the Big Red Apple.”
Today, Cornelia is a pleasant, picturesque small town at the gateway to the North Georgia mountains. It is located at the juncture of US 441 and GA 365. The 2000 census shows its population to be near four thousand. During the 1980-1990s, Cornelia became a more diverse community with the addition of Laotian and Hispanic residents. Several thriving retail centers and a rebirth of downtown business development has placed Cornelia in the position of retain business leadership in northeast Georgia.
Cornelia is adjacent to Lake Russell in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Within the city limits, visitors will find numerous attractions, such as the historic Cornelia Community House. It is a restored stone and wood WPA structure from the 1930s with all modern conveniences and is available for weddings, reunions, meetings and other gatherings of all kinds. The restored railroad depot in the center of town is available also for public and private events.
The Chenocetah Tower is the last rock-constructed, working fire lookout tower in the east and has been preserved through a cooperative effort between the US Forest Service and local citizens’ groups.
The Main Street Hometown Program sponsors festivals and summer concerts. In September, Cornelia hosts the Big Red Apple Festival, featuring crafts, specialty foods, entertainment of all kinds, and an antique car show. Every year ends with a “Christmas in the Park” light display drive through City Park that is free and open nightly throughout the month of December.