Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021 - 15

OUR BLUE RIDGE TOWNS

FACING PAGE: Toccoa Falls, on
the campus of Toccoa Falls College, is
one of the tallest free-falling waterfalls
east of the Mississippi River.
LEFT: Toccoa native Paul Anderson,
1956 Olympic gold medalist, is
honored in downtown Toccoa not only
for " his outer strength, but his inner
strength and faith in Christ. "

downtown Historic District (on the National Register
of Historic Places) is home to 160 small businesses and
draws 860,000 visitors annually.
It wasn't always so.
From Christian Hamilton, Main Street Manager: " In
the 1960s, Toccoa was targeted for the federal Urban
Renewal project, which would help small downtowns
compete with the growing shopping malls across the
country. So Toccoa's Main Street was converted into a
concrete-covered pedestrian mall. "
Despite a brief resurgence, the downtown began to
deteriorate.
Enter a strong City Commission and Main Street Toccoa. Down came the concrete canopies, back came the
cars, and today more than 80 storefronts have been restored to their original appearance.
In 2014, the City assumed operation of the Historic
1939 Art Deco Ritz Theatre, restoring the theatre fa├žade
and marquee as well as enlarging the stage and lobby.
With the stated goal of bringing people downtown to
experience art at an affordable price, many of the shows
cost as little as $10. And while they're there...they eat and
shop. Toccoa has figured out a win-win entertainment
scenario: some 15-20,000 attend Ritz shows each year.
Among other things you'll see in Toccoa is a statue
of " The Dixie Derrick " -Toccoa native Paul Anderson,
1956 Olympic Gold Medalist known as " The World's
Strongest Man. " In fact, Anderson has his own park,
initiated by a group of fourth-grade students in the late
1990s.
They raise 'em right and teach 'em well in Toccoa.
And if you're lucky enough to be in downtown Toccoa on a Saturday evening in the summer, you can listen
to some fine music that's part of the Ida Cox Music Series. It's free, and you can sit in the closed-off downtown
streets and hear regional talent as you eat your dinner.
(Toccoa native Ida Cox (nee Prather), composer of " Wild
Woman Don't have the Blues, " is known as " The Un-

crowned Queen of the Blues. " )
The list of Toccoa's famous folks goes on. James
Brown formed his first band-The Famous Flames-in
Toccoa with Bobbie Byrd. DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr.
Leonard McCoy, is a Toccoa native. Oral Roberts pastored a church in town. And the list goes on, including professional football players Pat Schilling and Evan
Oglesby, country music performer Kimberly Schlapman
and Rockabilly musician Tommy Schott.
More fame is sure to come its way, as Toccoa successfully courts major films to town. In the past five years,
six movies have been filmed there. " Number seven is
about to start, " says Chamber of Commerce President
Julie Payson. " It'll be the biggest yet. It's very significant
to us: 25 to 35 percent of a film's budget is spent locally
on location. We've added over a million dollars to local revenue from films alone. " (It's worth noting that all
of the films made in Stephens County premiered at the
Historic Ritz Theatre.)
Payson is clear about the power of governmental
agencies working together for the greater good.
" There's a mutual respect among all levels of government here, " she says. " If you don't have that-people
focusing on the larger needs of the area rather than selfinterest-it's not going to work. It's really important
that community-minded people with a passion for their
place run for office.
" There's a real sense of community here, " she says.
" Even in this high-tech world, it's all about connection.
This community rallies around needs-local needs, but
those in other places, too. That kind of action is grassroots and organic here. "
The southern end of the Blue Ridge chain may be just
outside Toccoa. But this Blue Ridge town understands
first things first-and while the city wears its proud history like a comfortable coat, all eyes are looking forward.
Seems to me, that's the best kind of community you
can ask for.
MAY/JUNE 2021

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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021

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