A News-Times story last year reported on U.S. Census figures that show the dominant country of ancestral origin for Columbia County residents is Germany.
Yet we don't have one German restaurant here.
Oh, we've got the other nationalities covered. The only reason we don't have a Mexican restaurant on every corner is that the other corners are occupied by Chinese restaurants. We've got Japanese, we've got Thai, we've got Italian. But no German.
Perhaps that explains why we hopped in the car Sunday and drove to Helen, the faux-Bavarian town in north Georgia.
For some reason, though, it really didn't hit me that the otherwise tiny town would be in the throes of Octoberfest until about two miles outside of town. That's when we hit the endless line of traffic crawling north from Atlanta.
Other than satisfying my craving for German food, the trip north along Georgia 17 gave me an opportunity to get a car-window view of a good chunk of the 10th District and notice a few things:
- Georgia 17 is the route favored for expansion by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun as a substitute for the proposed Interstate 3 from Savannah to Augusta to Tennessee. Broun opposes I-3 - and apparently a lot of people in north Georgia do, too.
A humorous, um, sign of that opposition is a series of red, Burma Shave-style roadside placards. For example: "Proclaim it from/ The mountaintop/ This freeway is/ A thing to stop/ Stop I-3."
- There are at least three small-town museums along the Highway 17 route. We didn't have time to stop on our whirlwind trip to wurst-land, but we passed through Royston with its Ty Cobb Museum, through Elberton with its Granite Museum, and through Toccoa which advertises the Currahee Military Museum.
The committee studying the concept of a Columbia County museum is planning a daytrip soon to visit the Currahee Museum, which chronicles the nearby World War II Currahee paratrooper training camp. More people probably know the camp it by its association with the drama series, "Band of Brothers."
- The towns along Highway 17 sure seem to have their struggles. I was surprised at the number of vacant stores, starting with Lincoln County where the Ace Hardware has a "store closing" banner out front. Just about every town has boarded-up fronts with a Dollar General nearby - a sure sign of death for traditional mom-and-pop stores.
One town in particular that looked like it's seen better days nonetheless has an optimistic motto: "I'd Rather Be in Tignall."
The little town, just north of Washington, is getting ready for its fall festival Nov. 3, featuring (of course) crafts, games, music and all sorts of other festival fare. And they're selling souvenirs with their town's sunny slogan. They look like they could use a few visitors, so if you are free that day, it would make a nice trip through the countryside.
- Signs of Americana are everywhere along the route, whether it's crafters with their wares on the roadside in Bowman, or the quaint main streets of Martin and Dewy Rose.
But the best example had to have been the lone campaigner, dressed in a neat candidate T-shirt, a stack of political flyers in hand, strolling door to door in Lavonia. Old-time politics is alive and well, even if some of the old-time towns are struggling.
Helen's struggles, meanwhile, seem to only be with having enough parking space for all the people flooding in. Perhaps the secret for the recovery of those little towns is to serve ethnic food.
And while they're at it, could someone bring a German restaurant to Columbia County? Your ancestry is begging you.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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