Georgia’s beauty all around us — a trip to Cave Spring

By Jamil Zainaldin

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Entrance to the limestone cave in Cave Spring, Georgia. Credit: Cave Spring Historical Society

About 75 miles from downtown Atlanta and about 12 miles south of Rome is one of the most beautiful settings anywhere: Cave Spring. Taking its name from an aquifer that surfaces through a limestone cave, this town of about 1,200 sits in beautiful Vann’s Valley of Floyd County in north Georgia.

The community was settled in the late 1820s as migrants from Augusta encroached on land still occupied by the Cherokee. Drawn by the gold rush of 1829 but also by the fertile valleys, early residents showed themselves to be industrious settlers whose priorities of learning, productivity, worship, and service would shape future generations.

Historic Presbyterian church in Cave Spring, Georgia.

Historic Presbyterian church in Cave Spring, Georgia. Credit: Cave Spring Historical Society

Vann’s Valley takes its name from the Cherokee sub-chief who lived and farmed there. The Trail of Tears runs through present-day Cave Spring, and Native American artifacts, some more than a thousand years old, can be viewed in the town visitor center and museum. Diversity, in fact, is a line that runs through the town’s history and present-day life.

In the 1850s, a family of free African American settlers (the Chubbs) established a community on the border of Cave Spring, which became known as Chubbtown — a rare and remarkable event in a Deep South state. Specializing in pursuits like blacksmithing and milling, this small community of freed people, who had migrated from North Carolina, won the admiration (and protection) of white neighbors who considered their settlement as part of their own. Chubbtown’s Methodist Church (1871) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The old Fairview School, built in the 1920s, was part of the Rosenwald Schools initiative to provide schools for African American children. Credit: Northwest Georgia News

The old Fairview School, built in the 1920s, was part of the Rosenwald Schools initiative to provide schools for African American children. Credit: Northwest Georgia News

Education was a priority for all in Cave Spring, from the first moment of settlement. The town’s church congregations built schools, usually on land and with labor, implements, and supplies contributed by parishioners. The Baptists founded one of the earliest of the schools in 1838 (Hearn Academy), emphasizing “labor and industry,” themes that reflected the community’s esprit. Named after the educator who led and personally endowed the effort, that school today stands in the city’s public park.

The Presbyterians, not to be outdone, later established a school of their own and provided for its future upkeep and caretaking. (Local philanthropy is a perennial theme in this community’s journey to the present.)

In 1846 the state allocated $5,000 for the Georgia School for the Deaf, housed in a modest log cabin structure. The school’s founder was O. P. Fannin, an educator at Hearn Academy, which also shared its land with the new school.

The Hearn Academy in Cave Spring, Georgia, which was founded in 1838. Credit: Cave Spring Historical Society

The Hearn Academy in Cave Spring, Georgia, which was founded in 1838. Credit: Cave Springs Historical Society

The School for the Deaf was the eleventh residential school of its kind to be founded in the United States, and has been in continuous operation (except for a brief period during the Civil War era) ever since. Presently, Cave Spring is engaged in a major restoration of the school’s early buildings on a campus that has grown to include 480 acres of land. Many townspeople are adept at communicating in sign language, which is not surprising given the school’s importance to the local economy.

Two other recent projects highlight the community’s appreciation for its past. One is the restoration of the 1810 Vann Cherokee cabin, a site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Dianna Edwards, president of the Cave Spring Historical Society, says, “That’s an impressive honor. It literally puts that cabin on a national Trail of Tears map.” The second project is the planned restoration of the Fairview-Brown Colored School campus, a Rosenwald School. (The Fairview-Brown campus was a product of African American initiative in the 1920s, and the partnership of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and educator Booker T. Washington.)

Cave Spring is a bright presence in Georgia, an industrious, historic, and welcoming community nestled in the valley and ridge region of the state, and well worth a visit. Of special interest is a two-day symposium in November that will showcase the richness and depth of education the children received at the Fairview School in Cave Spring. In conjunction with Berry College and the Fairview-E.S. Brown Heritage Corporation, descendants of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington will be featured speakers. To learn more, visit the Fairview-Brown website: http://www.fairviewbrown.org/news-events.html

Kelly Caudle of the New Georgia Encyclopedia provides editorial assistance for the “Jamil’s Georgia” columns.

Jamil Zainaldin is president of Georgia Humanities, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that humanities and culture remain an integral part of the lives of Georgians. The organization is a cultural leader in the state as well as a pioneer nationally in innovative history and humanities programs. The New Georgia Encyclopedia is a project of Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Office of the Governor, the University of Georgia Press, and the University System of Georgia/GALILEO. The first state encyclopedia to be conceived and designed exclusively for publication on the Internet, the NGE is an important and authoritative digital resource for all Georgians.

3 replies
  1. maplover2 says:

    Jamil, did you get out on a trail while you were walking about? TRAILS and connectivity are hot topics there right now and are winning cultural highlights too.Report

    Reply
  2. Judy says:

    What a lovely piece — and thank you for having the interest, and taking the time, to acquaint others with the unique beauty of this special place.  Although I live in South Carolina, and have never had the privilege of actually living in Cave Spring, I happen to be a direct descendant of some of the city’s founders, and am an active supporter of the Cave Spring Historical Society and particularly its efforts to preserve and restore the Vann Cabin, now proven by experts to be of Cherokee vintage.  As you noted, Cave Spring is quite small, and the Historical Society and other organizations there need all the help they can get in their efforts to preserve this beautiful heritage.Report

    Reply

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