The original southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail was at the summit of Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia. But that changed in 1958 when the Appalachian Trail Conservancy agreed to move the terminus to Springer Mountain because of…(wait for it)…chickens. Really. Chickens!
Clardy Schwarz is a member of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and lives in Big Canoe, Georgia at the base of Mount Oglethorpe. He’s been a trail maintainer for the past eight years and has been very involved in the creation of new monuments on the summit of the mountain.
MILLS KELLY: Hello and welcome to the Green Tunnel, a podcast about the history of the Appalachian Trail. My name is Mills Kelly and I’m your host.
KELLY: In between our main episodes we’re doing a series of short segments on iconic locations up and down the length of the Appalachian Trail. Previously we’ve looked at the Washington Monument in Maryland, McAfee Knob in Virginia, the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and the Lemon Squeezer in New York. Today we’re going so far south that we’re passing right by the Southern terminus of the trail at Springer Mountain to visit the original terminus of the trail on Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia.
KELLY: When work began on the Appalachian Trail in the 1920s, there was a fair amount of debate about just where the Southern terminus should be. Members of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club pushed for Cohutta Mountain in Georgia because it was closer to their home base in Knoxville.
KELLY: But the folks at the Appalachian Trail Conference (now Conservancy) had other ideas. ATC Chairman Myron Avery sent one of his trail scouts, the Georgia forester Roy Ozmer, to blaze a route much closer to Atlanta; in part so that the trail would be more accessible to more people. Ozmer proposed Mount Oglethorpe, which was about 20 miles closer to the city, and Avery agreed.
KELLY: Mount Oglethorpe wasn’t just closer to Atlanta. It also had a distinctive monument on its summit. One that hikers heading south could see for miles and miles as they approached the end of their hike.
CLARDY SCHWARZ: It is probably 20 or 30 or 40 feet tall. It reminds me of the Washington Monument. Just a much smaller version of it.
KELLY: That’s Clardy Schwarz, a trail maintainer for the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club who lives in Big Canoe, Georgia, right at the base of Mount Oglethorpe.
SCHWARZ: It is made from Georgia marble harvested from Marble Hill, Georgia, where there’s basically a mountain and there about three or four major marble companies that have harvested marble for many, many years.
KELLY: At first it was difficult to get to that gleaming 38 foot tall white marble obelisk except on foot. But after a few years the state of Georgia put in a gravel road to the mountain’s summit and before long the monument saw many visitors. And some of those visitors were anything but advocates of Leave No Trace. Reports at the time described multiple holes in the marble from pistol and rifle fire, piles of horse manure, and litter of all kinds. The carving of James Oglethorpe’s face on the base of the obelisk was apparently a favorite target for abuse.
KELLY: Over the years, things got worse and worse. Here’s how John Weaver, the mayor of Jasper, Georgia in 2012, described its condition when it was finally removed from the mountain in the 1990s.
JOHN WEAVER: It was absolutely falling apart. Oglethorpe’s face had been basically shot off, with hunters or vandals, or whatever. There was a lot of graffiti on the monument. According to Eno, he estimated several thousand hits of lightning over the years on this monument. Part of the outer face had been knocked off.
KELLY: Hikers might have been able to tolerate the desecration of the monument. What they couldn’t tolerate was what they found as they walked downslope and headed north toward Springer Mountain.
KELLY: Have you ever visited a Georgia chicken farm in the height of summer? If you haven’t, don’t. If you have, you have my sympathy, because when I was a child my grandfather in Atlanta used to take me fishing north of the city and then would insist on stopping at a chicken farm to buy some eggs. I had to wait in the car while he went in to talk to the famer. A car with no air conditioning. In the 95 degree heat. With the windows down. Next to a chicken house that smells worse than almost anything on earth. Let’s just say it’s a miracle I never vomited in my grandfather’s car.
KELLY: Here’s how Clardy Schwarz describes the smell.
SCHWARZ: It’s pretty horrendous. It’s a very putrid smell.
KELLY: The original route of the Appalachian Trail wound its way down the northern slope of Oglethorpe through a growing number of chicken farms, farms where the chickens ran free–including across the AT. In 1956, the Atlanta Constitution described the scene this way:
KELLY: “Even if a hiker is willing to brave the debris and odor of the resulting ground-cover and walk through a ‘chicken yard,’ the lightest rain makes such a slippery mass under foot that walking can be dangerous.”
KELLY: The smell of those farms finally convinced the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to petition the ATC to move the Southern terminus north 13 miles to Springer Mountain and in 1958, the ATC complied and moved the terminus to its current location.
KELLY: These days you can visit the Oglethorpe Monument in downtown Jasper, Georgia, where it has stood since 2012. Or you can go to the summit of Mount Oglethorpe and see where the old monument used to be. Today, the summit is crowned by radio, cell phone, and air traffic control towers. But that’s not all.
SCHWARZ: There is a marble monument carved by a local sculptor friend of mine, Steve Stone, and it’s a relief depicting the removal of the Cherokee Indians from this area.
KELLY: And you can still walk on a tiny bit of the old AT.
SCHWARZ: There is one part going up to the summit where part of the original path of the AT is still there and there’s a little sign.
KELLY: Fortunately, there aren’t any chicken.
KELLY: That’s it for today. Our next episode – the story of one of the most unique and unusual hikers to ever walk the Appalachian Trail – will be out shortly. Be sure to come back and give it a listen.
KELLY: The Green Tunnel is a production of R2 Studios at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Today’s episode was produced by me. Abby Mullen is our Executive Producer and Jeanette Patrick did the sound design for this episode. A special thanks to Clardy Schwarz of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club for his insights about the Oglethorpe Monument.
KELLY: Before you go, be sure to go to our website and sign up for our newsletter – 5 Million Steps. It contains additional material we just couldn’t fit into our episodes. On the website, greentunnel.rrchnm.org, just click the “Become a Member” link at the top right and you can sign up.
KELLY: Thanks for listening and we’ll see you again soon.