There could have been a settlement of Seminole Indians atop Black Rock Mountain as a tourist attraction. There also could have been a bust of Franklin Roosevelt gazing down over Rabun County from the heights of the 3,640 foot mountain. Instead of these, the county became home to the highest state park in Georgia, Black Rock Mountain State Park, due largely to the tireless efforts of John V. Arrendale.
Arrendale was born in 1879 in Tiger. A member of one of the largest landowning families in Rabun, he was one of the first men from the county to receive a college degree (University of Georgia School of Agriculture in 1905). During his senior year, Arrendale was assigned to write a thesis on what he intended to do after graduating. He wrote that he would return to Rabun County and work to improve the quality of life for mountain people. And so he did.
Introduced New Crops to Area
As the county’s first Georgia Farm Agent, Arrendale introduced a variety of new crops to the area, including grapes and blueberries, while encouraging the commercialization of apples. He was instrumental in establishing the Blue Ridge Soil and Water Conservation District. He also helped establish the fish hatchery on Lake Burton near Moccasin Creek and pushed for the development of the poultry industry in northeast Georgia. Arrendale served as the Rabun County Surveyor for several decades. During his tenure, he advocated for improved roads and helped secure the right-of-way for power lines bringing electricity to rural areas of the county. However, his greatest accomplishment was the formation of a park on Black Rock Mountain.
As early as 1930, investors were interested in developing Black Rock Mountain. The Clayton Tribune reported in its October 9 edition of that year that “capitalists” from Florida wanted to develop a park atop the mountain, complete with an encampment of Seminole Indians to be imported from the Sunshine State. Their plan included the construction of lodges, lakes, a golf course and a “revolving beacon that could be seen for 200 miles.” Nothing came of this scheme. Rabun County remained Seminole-free.
Mount Rushmore East
Starting in 1934, Arrendale began acquiring land on Black Rock with the idea of creating another Mount Rushmore. He planned to have an enormous bust of President Roosevelt carved into the side of the mountain. After being dissuaded from this curious plan, Arrendale shifted gears and instead intended to preserve Black Rock in its natural state as a park to promote Rabun County tourism. Toward this end in 1938, he deeded his 70 acres on the mountain to the county, which then deeded it to the state in 1939.
Arrendale was unflagging in his effort to establish a park. He made countless pitches to civic clubs and local politicians in addition to lobbying the Georgia legislature. However, nothing came of his work over the ensuing decade, due partly to the more pressing business of World War II.
Georgia’s Governor Provided Needed Help
Then lightning struck in 1951. During a visit to Rabun County, Governor Herman Talmadge was taken to the top of Black Rock Mountain by way of a perilous, unpaved road. Captivated by the commanding 80-mile view, the governor endorsed Arrendale’s vision for a park that would stimulate tourism. Talmadge authorized the Georgia Highway Department to replace the unpaved road up the mountain with a safer, paved road.
The paving of this access road, together with the acquisition of additional land totaling 1,000 acres, led to the establishment of Black Rock Mountain State Park in 1952. The official dedication was held on September 24, 1953. Attending the event were Governor Talmadge and about 1,500 people, who were shuttled to the mountaintop in school buses. No one went hungry at the event. The crowd was served sixty hams, 100 gallons of Brunswick stew (most likely without squirrel or other local delicacies) and 1,000 loaves of bread. The park did, indeed, prove to be a significant tourist attraction. Over 60,000 people visited Black Rock Mountain State Park in 1964. It has remained a tourist destination ever since.
Four States Visible from Black Rock Mountain
Located astride the Eastern Continental Divide, the park provides spectacular vistas of the southern Appalachians. On a clear day, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and, of course, Georgia are visible from the mountaintop. In addition to Black Rock Mountain itself, the park encompasses four other peaks over 3,000 feet in elevation.
John V. Arrendale, the parks first and foremost proponent, died in 1972 at the age of 93. At his funeral, Rev. L.B. Gibbs commemorated Arrendale by stating: “Some people looked at him as a dreamer, a visionary, but it would be helpful and inspiring to look at how many of his dreams and visions became realities, which have benefitted many people.”
This article by Society member Richard Cinquina was originally published in the Laurel of Northeast Georgia in December 2022.