Union County, located in northeast Georgia at the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the state's eighty-third county and comprises 323 square miles. Its northern border is shared with North Carolina. In 1832 the state legislature created Union County from Cherokee County. John Thomas, a state representative for the area, suggested the name "Union." The western part of the county was annexed by Fannin County in 1854, and in 1856 the southern tip was given to Gilmer County and an eastern section went to Towns County. Most of the first white settlers of the area were Virginians who traveled to Georgia through the mountain passages of the Carolinas.
County Seat and Communities
The county seat is Blairsville, incorporated in 1835. The current courthouse, the county's fourth, was built in 1978 as an annex to the Union County Office Building, which was built in 1976.
Blairsville is the only incorporated
When it was created, Union County was one of the most remote areas of Georgia. Its land, which was available through the Georgia land lottery system, was
During the Civil War (1861-65), Union County's residents remained pro-Union, and their delegates to the 1861 secession convention voted not to secede. However, once war was declared, many county residents showed loyalty to the South by joining the ranks of the Confederate forces. (This is attested to by a modern war memorial in Blairsville that lists ninety-eight Confederate soldiers but only three Union soldiers from the county.) After the war, railroads built lines to communities close to Union County, including Gainesville and Culberson, North Carolina, enabling county farmers to expand distribution of their commodities. The first paved road in Union County was completed in 1926 and ran from Cleveland to the North Carolina border. Tourism was given a boost after the U.S. government bought 31,000 acres of forest, spread across Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, and Union counties. It was named the Chattahoochee National Forest in 1937.
The Zell Miller Mountain Parkway (Georgia State Highway 515; named for Georgia governor and U.S. senator Zell Miller), part of the Appalachian Developmental Highway, was completed in 1991 and has greatly strengthened the place of tourism in the Union County economy. The highway makes it easier for county residents to commute to metropolitan Atlanta for employment. The new highway also led to a boom in retirement housing, providing construction jobs to Union County residents and bringing in a large contingent of retirees.
People and Places
Noteworthy residents have included Joseph E. Brown, Georgia's governor during the Civil War; Byron Herbert Reece, an poet and novelist; and Arthur Woody, "the barefoot ranger." Woody was one of Georgia's first forest rangers, working as a ranger from 1918 to 1942, and is considered the state's first conservationist.
The Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center, nine miles south of Blairsville, includes the house that Reece built for his parents, his study, a barn, and the home of his sister. Three miles south of the home place is the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial Park, with hiking trails and picnic facilities.
Lake Nottely, a 4,180-acre lake built by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is used for recreation, power generation, and flood control. Vogel State Park, Georgia's second oldest state park, encompasses 233 acres south of Blairsville and is located on Lake Trahlyta.
North Georgia Technical College opened a branch in Blairsville in 1998.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Union County was 21,356, an increase from the 2000 population of 17,289.
Susan R. Boatright and Douglas C. Bachtel, eds., Georgia County Guide (Athens: Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, University of Georgia, annual).
C. R. Collins and Jan Devereaux, Sketches of Union County History: A Pictorial History of Union County ([Blairsville, Ga.]: Union County Historical Society, 1976).
Jane Hancock, Choestoe (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984).
Carroll Proctor Scruggs, Northeast Georgia, a Brief History: Habersham, Lumpkin, Rabun, Towns, Union, and White Counties (Helen, Ga.: Bay Tree Grove; Gainesville, Ga.: Georgia Print Co., 1987).
Union County Heritage Book Committee, The Heritage of Union County, Georgia, 1832-1994 (Waynesville, N.C.: Don Mills, Inc., 1994).
Elizabeth B. Cooksey, Savannah
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.