I learned about Fort Mountain through one of my neighbors, Jim Murphy. After reading these columns, he invited me over to his home to talk about Atlanta history. Murphy spent many years as an executive with the Ivan Allen Co., a time and a family he recalled fondly. As we parted he handed me a book about Ivan Allen Sr., the patriarch, state senator and successful businessman, who spent much of his time and energy shaping Atlanta. Murphy told me specifically I would enjoy learning about Fort Mountain.
It doesn’t take long in reading “Ivan Allen: A Resourceful Citizen” by Eleanor Williams to happen upon it. It is in the second chapter, right after a young Allen comes to Atlanta from Dalton to sell typewriters and eventually establish his eponymous office supply store.
There were stories from his north Georgia youth about a blue peak in the distance, on top of which were stone ruins. It was said the ruins were not built by pioneer settlers nor were they Native American in nature, but something older and stranger. There was one tale that they had been built by “moon people.” Allen fantasized about their origin through his childhood, though he never climbed the mountain to see them. Few did. There was only one way up and it was a perilous journey. This was Fort Mountain, which took its name from the old stone fortifications.
As he continued to succeed in business and gain favor with Atlanta’s powerfully connected, he never forgot staring out of the school window at the distant peak. According to Williams’ book, in 1926 Allen purchased a significant piece of Fort Mountain and in 1934 donated the land to the state Forest Service. With a little work it became a state park and was opened to the public two years later. At more than 3,000 acres with a 2,000-foot peak at its center, Fort Mountain State Park is located in Murray County between Chatsworth and Ellijay. It is part of the Cohutta Wilderness Area.
As for those ruins, which are still there, the origin has never been definitively determined, though the late state senator had his own idea. Saying he had read everything to do with them, Allen theorized the fortifications had been erected by Spanish explorers, when the Spanish capital in the new world was in St. Augustine, Fla., during the 16th century. If true, the ruins could be among the oldest manmade structures in the state.
The story of the mysterious mountain and the gift to the state of Georgia is one among many about one of Atlanta’s visionary leaders. Perhaps obscured in the politics and the business and civic successes is the young boy dreaming about the top of Fort Mountain.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at email@example.com.