By Jamil Zainaldin
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 1,700 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 (it was incorporated in 1852). 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.
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.
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 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: a restoration of what some believe may be the oldest Cherokee cabin in Georgia, and 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.
Kelly Caudle of the New Georgia Encyclopedia provides editorial assistance for the “Jamil’s Georgia” columns.