The City of Cornelia is a pleasant, picturesque small town at the gateway to the North Georgia mountains, surrounded by rich history. The city, originally founded as a settlement around 1860, was situated near the boundary line between the Cherokee and the Creek Native American tribes. The area was a typical mountain forest and was so secluded, that a moonshine still was operated in what is now the center of downtown Cornelia.

Although the area wasn’t officially settled until 1860, there is still a great deal of history that dates back before the area was settled. Hernando De Soto, the Spanish explorer and conquistador, is believed to be the first European to explore Cornelia and the rest of Habersham County. De Soto is credited with being the leader of the first European expedition deep into the United States. This key figure in our country’s history explored this area we now call Habersham County.

The City of Cornelia would be nothing like it is today if it weren’t for the railroad. Trains have been passing through Cornelia for almost all its history. In 1872, the Charlotte-Airline Railroad company, later named the Southern Railway, came into the area and laid track from Gainesville to Toccoa. This track still operates today and is run from New Orleans, all the way to Washington D.C. In 1882, the Blue Ridge and Atlantic Railroad started a line that ran from Cornelia, northward, to Clarkesville and Tallulah Falls. This Railroad would eventually become known as the Tallulah Falls Railroad and would travel from Cornelia, north to Franklin, North Carolina, later being shut down in 1961.

Cornelia is home to one of the world’s largest apple structures, which is displayed in the heart of downtown, right next to the historic train depot. The Big Red Apple was donated by the Southern Railway and built in Winchester, Virginia in 1925. This apple is 7 feet high, 22 feet in circumference, and weighs around 5,200 pounds.

Just after World War One, “Extension Agents,” began traveling to different communities in North Georgia, supporting the end of the one-crop economy. These agents promoted crop diversification so that if one crop failed, these communities would have something to fall back on. Habersham County increased the production of Apples and Peaches. These agents appeared to have a sixth sense, because in 1922, the boll weevil began systematically destroying the production of Cotton, and by 1924, cotton output had dropped to 50% of its earlier levels. The people of Cornelia realized that the apple had saved their community, which gave birth to the idea of the Big Red Apple.

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