The City of Helen is also known as the Alpine Village of Helen. With a total land area of 2.1 square miles and a population of only 420 residents in the U.S. Census of 2000, Helen is renowned throughout the South for its Bavarian Alpine style architecture and its picturesque cobblestone streets. Tourism is the primary industry in Helen and the local economy thrives on thousands of weekend visitors from the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.
Prior to the 19th century, Native American Cherokee Indians lived peacefully with European settlers in North Georgia. But after gold was discovered near Dahlonega in 1828, the Cherokee Indians were expelled from their homes on the infamous Trail of Tears in 1839 and the State of Georgia distributed parcels of their land in a series of land lotteries. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Byrd-Matthews Lumber Company purchased most of the land in the area because it was heavily forested, and the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad constructed railroad tracks along the Chattahoochee River. A small community was named Helen in honor of the daughter of one of the railroad surveyors and it was incorporated as a city in 1913. The City of Helen prospered until the lumber company exhausted its supply of trees during the 1950’s.
In 1968, a group of local business people decided to improve business in Helen by redesigning buildings and turning it into a tourist attraction. They contacted a local artist named John Kollock from Clarkesville who suggested the idea for a Bavarian Alpine architectural theme because he had been stationed in Germany when he was in the Army. John Kollock photographed the business section of Helen and one week later presented the group with a series of sketches of what Helen could look like if it were redesigned with a Bavarian Alpine style. In January of 1969, construction work began and by 1970 when Helen introduced its first Oktoberfest festival, John Kollock’s design concept had succeeded and large numbers of tourists were coming to both Helen and Unicoi State Park.
Located on Highway 356 about two miles from Helen, Unicoi State Park is one of the most popular parks in North Georgia. It contains 1,050 acres of protected land and the 53 acre Lake Unicoi. Outdoor activities in Unicoi State Park include boating, swimming, fishing, camping, hiking and backpacking through 16 miles of nature trails. One of the most popular hiking trails in Unicoi State Park leads to the famous twin waterfalls at Anna Ruby Falls and the Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area. The 1,600 acre scenic area around Anna Ruby Falls is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest and the only access to it is through Unicoi State Park.
Real estate in Helen
The estimated median home value in Helen was $249,812 in 2007, having appreciated from $139,800 in 2000. The cost of living index in Helen is relatively low at 91.8 and the average population density is only 375 people per square mile. Helen features upscale homes because it is a tourist destination and many of the homes were designed to match the city’s Bavarian Alpine theme.
Home prices in Helen typically range from $300,000 to over a million dollars and available properties usually sell quickly. In the outlying countryside, modern log cabin style homes with mountain views on 1 or more acres of land range in price from $250,000 to $500,000. The demand for commercial real estate is also strong in Helen because the large number of tourists creates profitable economic potential for businesses that are located in the cities.
Helen contains many excellent hotels, romantic bed and breakfast inns, shopping boutiques, gift stores, and more than 40 restaurants. Rustic vacation cabins, mountain cottages and private homes in Helen can be rented by the week or by the month through local real estate agents or directly from owners who advertise their properties in local newspapers and on the Internet. For those who desire luxurious accommodations, the Alpine Crest Resort offers private 1 or 2-bedroom villas with fully equipped kitchens, whirlpool tubs, fireplaces and exterior balconies. Guests can enjoy the use of the resort’s heated indoor swimming pool, sauna and tennis courts.
For those who desire more rustic accommodations, Unicoi State Park contains 82 tent, trailer and RV campsites, 33 walk-in campsites and 30 fully equipped cottages. The park’s Lodge & Conference Center also has 100 luxurious guest rooms with mountain views and meeting facilities for groups of up to 500 people at a time. At the Unicoi Restaurant, buffet dining is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days per week all year round. Unicoi State Park also contains 6 large picnic shelters, 4 tennis courts, and facilities at Lake Unicoi that rent canoes and pedal boats.
Lake Unicoi is kept well stocked with catfish, bass and brim, and fishing is permitted from the shore as well as from 6 designated fishing docks. Nearby Lake Unicoi, Smith Creek is renowned for brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout fishing. Many people come to Unicoi State Park to enjoy hiking along 8 miles of nature trails or mountain biking on 8 miles of designated mountain bike trails. The hiking trails vary in difficulty from an easy 1/3-mile interpretive trail around a pond to the strenuously rated 5 mile trail to Anna Ruby Falls.
The City of Helen sponsors many different public events throughout the year including a hot air balloon race, Bavarian Nights of Summer, Winefest, Volksmarch and Oktoberfest. Helen’s annual 6-week Oktoberfest from September through November features oompah music bands and street celebrations where thousands of steins of Marzen brew are served, and it has become one of Georgia’s biggest public parties. During the Holiday season from Thanksgiving through December, Helen celebrates Alpenfest with family oriented entertainment and Christmas celebrations.