Category Archives: –STEPHENS COUNTY GA–

Martin, Georgia

Martin was settled by Henry C. Black, the agent for the Atlanta & Charlotte Air Line Railroad when the station was established in 1877. It was incorporated in 1891 and named for early governor John Martin, a native of Rhode Island who was elected in 1782.

Martin Historic District, National Register of Historic Places




House & Storefronts, Martin

Martin Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Architectural Details, Martin

This side street view reveals bricked-in fanlights on an old store.

Martin Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

T. R. Yow House, Circa 1895, Martin

Martin Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Elberton Air Line Railroad Depot, 1877, Martin

The Elberton Air Line was opened in December 1878 with the assistance of the Atlanta & Charlotte Air-Line Railway. This soon merged with the Southern Railway and this depot served the line until the middle of the 20th century. According to the National Register nomination form, the depot was constructed in 1877. Siding has obviously been added.

Martin Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Doyle Street, Toccoa

Sometimes called Toccoa’s Main Street, Doyle Street was once closed to vehicular traffic and covered with concrete canopies. The removal of these monstrosities was the beginning of a long-time revitalization plan which culminated in Toccoa being named one of the top 10 “Main Streets” in the nation. It’s an ongoing process and is very inspiring. [Travel Note: If you’re in Toccoa, don’t miss a breakfast or lunch at BJ’s Family Restaurant, seen on the far right above. I had the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten there, and the staff treats everyone like they’re locals].

This large block is best remembered as the Belk-Gallant Department Store, which was the 10th Belk franchise to open in the region, in 1937. It remained at this downtown location until 1995. It was a bank before it was Belk-Gallant.

The building at far left, bearing the sign of a bookseller, was built circa 1920. It served as Grooh’s Department Store for many years, and later, as the Gem Jewelry Company and Mullinax Jewelers.

The large building in this photo was built circa 1910. It is best remembered as home to Harper’s 5 & 10 Cent Store. It is now used as office space and a great example of commercial restoration.

Toccoa’s downtown really is amazingly busy, and if you’d like more information about its historic commercial architecture, they’ve produced a wonderful booklet, available here as a PDF. I’ve used it for research, and my apologies if I’ve misidentified anything.

Downtown Toccoa Historic District, National Register of Historic Places


Ritz Theater, 1939, Toccoa

Now known as the Schaefer Center, the old Ritz Theatre operated from 1939 until 1985.

I made this series of photographs for the Fox Theatre Institute in 2011 and 2012 when restoration was in progress.

The community was very involved in the restoration and provided local funding to complete the work.

A replacement of the old marquee on the front of the structure was done after the interior was renovated.

I truly enjoyed my visit with the Fox folks, and the people of Toccoa were very welcoming.

Downtown Toccoa Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Toccoa Casket Company

The mold seen above is about all that remains to indicate that this was once home to one of the biggest industries in town and the state’s leading manufacturer of caskets, which also held the distinction of being the largest supplier to the U. S. military until the Vietnam War. It is also suggested that the company supplied the specially-made casket for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s burial.

R. W. McNeely came to Toccoa as a young man, bringing his skills as a pattern carver to the Simmons Furniture Company. When James B. Simmons closed the business, Mr. McNeely purchased it and like many in the furniture trade at the time embraced a “cradle to grave” philosophy in his enterprise. This meant families could buy cradles for their infants as well as caskets for their dead, all in one place.

McNeely was very successful with this concept and served as director of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, on the city council, and as mayor of Toccoa several times. He eventually renamed McNeely and Company the Toccoa Casket Company and he expanded from his downtown location to this more modern factory on the edge of town. These photographs represent a very small part of the campus.

The Display Room, where different models of caskets were shown to potential buyers.

The Toccoa Casket Company was an iconic local business throughout most of the 20th century and when I was in town photographing the Schaefer Center for the Fox Theatre Institute last year, local officials suggested I go out and make a few shots, as the place was on the market and facing possible demolition.

There was a good deal of vandalism at the site and I must admit it was a bit creepy wandering around the abandoned buildings.

The work spaces of the old factory  are just a cluttered mess today.

Lifelong friends of mine in the funeral business always spoke highly of the quality of Toccoa Caskets. Charles Caldwell echoed the sentiment, noting: This is most sad for me. After using Toccoa Caskets for many years and appreciating the product, they are no longer available. I’m sad for the workers and economy of Toccoa, where so many worked. But most of all, I’m sad for all of the funeral directors, like me, that cannot purchase one of these fine caskets for their loved ones and client families.

Mark Slaughter notes that the factory buildings were all gone by the mid-2010s.


WNEG, Toccoa

WNEG is a rarity these days. Founded by brothers Roy and Chuck Gaines in 1956, it’s an independent local broadcaster which dominates its community. Most radio today is generically syndicated with little or no connection to the community it serves, but not so with WNEG. The NEG in the call letters stands for North East Georgia, of course.

Downtown Toccoa Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Southern Railway Depot, 1915, Toccoa

This colorful depot, restored in 2005, is an Amtrak stop on the Crescent line. It’s also home to the Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce, the Currahee Military Museum, and the Stephens County Historical Society. In regards to its multiple uses, it’s one of the best depot restorations in Georgia.

Beyond the tracks, which were originally laid by the Atlanta & Richmond Air Line, is a view of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the depot in 1936 and President George H. W. Bush was a visitor in 1992.

Downtown Toccoa Historic District, National Register of Historic Places