By David Pendered
A new book by a noted Atlanta developer places the 100-year history of Lake Rabun in the context of Atlanta’s 20th century development boom, and the men who led it.
Bob Voyles frames Lake Rabun: Georgia’s Lake Como as the story of a resort community built around a lake created to provide hydro-electricity to Atlanta’s homes and streetcars. Voyles includes a backdrop of national and global events that provide context for these years of growth in Atlanta and resort communities in the mountains north of the city.
Lake Rabun details the fierce battle to control Atlanta’s early streetcar system, and with it the riches from development to serve the city’s burgeoning population.
It tells how the company now known as Georgia Power built a turbine in 1912 at Tallulah Falls to generate electricity for a growing Atlanta. The turbine worked fine, but engineers realized it needed more water than was contained in Tallulah Lake. The answer was a series of lakes above and below the falls: Two lakes below the falls (Yonah and Tugalo), and four lakes above the falls (Tallulah, Rabun, Seed and Burton).
Lake Rabun details how the truce in the battle over Atlanta’s streetcar system reached by one-time household names in Atlanta set the stage for the development of resort communities all the way to Highlands, N.C. These towns owe their existence, in part, to the demise of the tourist attraction that was Tallulah Falls in order to build the turbine. The truce came after two teams concluded their battle for control of the streetcar business.
One team was comprised of banker and real estate developer Joel Hurt and his brother-in-law, the banker Ernest Woodruff. The two later would lead the investor group that bought the Coca-Cola Co. from the Candler family. Ernest Woodruff was father of Robert Woodruff, who built Coca Cola Co. into an international business.
The other team consisted of Henry Atkinson, head of Georgia Electric Light Co., and Preston Arkwright, who chartered Georgia Railway and Electric Co.
Of note, Atlanta civic leader Jack Spalding later headed the power company that emerged after the truce. Spalding was a co-founder of the King & Spalding law firm. King & Spalding represented Coca-Cola, Trust Co. (Hurt’s bank), which now is known as SunTrust, and other major Atlanta businesses.
Lake Rabun cites the environmental story of a Gainesville woman who futilely fought the plan to turn Tallulah Falls into a power source, rather than let its natural beauty remain the honeymoon capitol of the South. Helen Dortch would later marry Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who lost his proud wartime reputation after he endorsed Ulysses S. Grant for president.
Lake Rabun ends with a collection of photos and personal memoirs that speak to the affinity Lake Rabun’s families have for their community. As Atlanta businessman Thad Warren concludes in his vignette:
- “I don’t know what it is about Lake Rabun. I don’t know if it’s the hills or the trees. Maybe God put something in the water? But the relationships – the friendships – that are made on Rabun are unique. I don’t know how to describe it … they are just special. I hope that never changes.”
Earlier in the book, an account of a letter Warren sent to members of the Lake Rabun Association, when he served as president, begins with this simple admonition:
- “Nobody really cares how important you think you are back home. On Lake Rabun, you are just one of the folks.”
Voyles wrote Lake Rabun with help from a writing team that included Barbara Roper and Anne Pledger. Laurie Shock published the book and her husband, Billy Howard, provided photographs – including a stunning shot of geese taking flight from the lake.
Voyles has the perspective for such a project.
Voyles has developed more than 3 million square feet of Class A office and mixed use projects valued at nearly $1 billion, according to the website of his company, Seven Oaks Co. Voyles’ civic roles have included board member of GRTA, Metro Atlanta Chamber, Young Life-Africa, Livable Communities Coalition, and Perimeter Community Improvement Districts. Voyles is a former vestry member and warden at Church of the Apostles.
“For me, this was a three-year community effort to compile the history, both in written and photographic form, through oral histories and written stories, and then blending them together into a handsome coffee table book of a quality worthy of the celebration our lake’s first 100 years,” Voyles said.
Voyles added that over 150 people from the Lake Rabun community contributed to this effort, which the authors consider a love letter to their beloved “Lakemont”.
For more information about the book, including how to purchase a copy, visit lakerabun.org. All proceeds benefit the Lake Rabun Association, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization with a mission statement that says it is, “dedicated to nurturing the beauty, serenity and quality of life around Lake Rabun.”