Georgia’s newest state historic site, Hardman Farm, is so much more than just a weekend getaway destination. Regarded as one of the most intact historic properties in Georgia—and one of the most significant Indian mound sites in the state—Hardman Farm is an adventure in cultural history set within the mountains of Northeast Georgia.
Hardman Farm’s 173 acres are situated along the Chattahoochee River, just south of Helen, Georgia. The property includes a beautiful Italianate farmhouse and a number of historic outbuildings, most of which were built in the late 1800s.
However, it’s the red-roofed gazebo perched atop an earthen mound—the historic Nacoochee Indian Mound—that really catches the attention of visitors. This late prehistoric earthen platform and 1860s gazebo set in the midst of a cow pasture have become one of Georgia’s favorite landmarks.
Hardman Farm and its scenic landscape offer physical evidence of the region’s extensive cultural heritage, dating back to ancient times.
The farmhouse at Hardman Farm was built in 1869 by Civil War veteran Col. James H. Nichols. Nichols purchased the property from Daniel Brown, an early European settler to the area, and moved there with his wife to raise a family.
But wait—the history extends further. The farmhouse is situated among rows of giant black walnut trees that are remnant markers of an ancient footpath that became the first roadway through the former Cherokee Nation: the historic Unicoi Turnpike. Completed in 1819, the Unicoi Turnpike extended from Murphy, North Carolina, to Vonore, Tennessee, and across the Great Smoky Mountains. Along the way, the path forded the Chattahoochee River—and the Hardman Farm property—as it wound its way to Unicoi Gap.
Then there’s the Nacoochee Indian Mound, on which Nichols constructed a gazebo in 1869. The mound was excavated by the Heye Foundation, the Museum of the American Indian and the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1915; and archaeological evidence suggests that the site (and others in the area) dates back to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, known as the Lamar period (A.D. 1350–1600).
Excavations at the site uncovered 75 human burials. About a third of the burials had accompanying artifacts indicating high social status, such as hammered copper celts and sheet ornaments, stone celts and discoidals, conch shell beads and cups, and elaborate pottery. Some of the burials also contained European glass beads and sheet brass ornaments, dating them within the 17th-century contact era.
Artifacts from the Nacoochee Indian Mound and surrounding area are on permanent loan at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. Similar artifacts are on display at the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site in Cartersville, Georgia, for visitors to learn more about prehistoric cultures in the region.
It is worth noting that the gazebo’s intruding presence actually may have helped preserve the mound from demolition by early farmers.
"There were other mounds in the area that were leveled by farmers, so what likely saved this mound is that a gazebo was built on top of it, so it wasn’t plowed," Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator with Georgia State Parks, said.
In 1893, Atlanta businessman Calvin Hunnicutt bought the property to serve as his summer home.
In 1903, the property was purchased by physician, entrepreneur, farmer and former Georgia Gov. Dr. Lamartine G. Hardman, who used it as a summer retreat and for experimental farming techniques.
The Hardman family donated the property and structures to the state in 1999, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources restored the property and several outbuildings. In recent years, the farmhouse, which retains its 1870s interior finish, has been awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, and 22 solar panels have been encased within a picket fence on the property.
Hardman Farm visitors can take guided tours of the farmhouse and dairy barn, which operated from 1910 until the mid-1920s. The home features furnishings from the home’s various owners, including many that date back to Nichols. Other features include several outbuildings, such as a springhouse, kitchen, carriage house and what used to be servants' quarters.
The Indian mound on the property is fenced and off-limits to visitors but can be viewed from the farmhouse.
Hardman Farm is operated by nearby Smithgall Woods State Park in Helen, Georgia, an elegant mountain retreat featuring cottages, hiking trails and access to Dukes Creek and Dukes Creek Falls. Also nearby is Anna Ruby Falls (near Unicoi State Park), which features a double waterfall named for one of Nichols’ daughters.
"Hardman Farm is a nice weekend trip from Chattanooga," Hatcher said. "Visitors can stay at Smithgall Woods State Park, which has some of the nicest cabins in the state park system and is known for exceptional fly fishing, and visit Hardman Farm while also enjoying hiking, fishing, waterfalls and regional wineries in the area."
Hardman Farm is open for guided tours Thursday through Sunday from March to December. Reservations can be made by calling 706-878-1077. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors 62 and older, and $7 for children. Group tours are available with advance reservations.
To learn more, click here or call 706-878-1077.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal enjoys writing about family travel adventures in the southeastern United States, as well as the people and places that make this region unique. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.