Interested in Cherokee history? Then you have to visit New Echota Historic Site near Calhoun, GA. Go explore the former Cherokee capital and learn about the tragic Trail of Tears.
New Echota is one of the most important Native American sites in Georgia. Among other things, it was the home of the first Native American language newspaper and the starting point of the Trail of Tears.
Located off I-75, about an hour north of Atlanta and an hour south of Chattanooga, New Echota Historic Site is perfect for a day trip. Whether you’re a history buff or a parent with little kids, you can find something to interest you at New Echota!
What is New Echota Historic Site?
New Echota: Cherokee Capital
Between 1825 and 1838, New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee had decided to prove to the US government that they could be just as “civilized” as white settlers. They hoped that in return they would be allowed to stay on their ancestral lands.
In the early 19th century, the Cherokee adopted a republican form of government consisting of a democratically elected Council and a Supreme Court. In 1827, the Council approved a new Cherokee constitution modeled on the US one.
New Echota was the meeting place of all the governmental branches. During most of the year it was a quiet little town, but every October there were council meetings. At these times New Echota was bursting with Cherokee from all over the south.
Most Cherokee were farmers living a Europeanized lifestyle. They had embraced the Christian faith and were determined to live peacefully with their white neighbors. Unfortunately, none of this was enough to stop their tragic eviction.
The Treaty of New Echota & the Trail of Tears
New Echota is most famous for the treaty that led to the Trail of Tears. The state of Georgia was not happy about the continued existence of Native Americans within her borders and she was determined to get possession of Cherokee land. In 1828, gold was discovered on Cherokee territory near Dahlonega, Georgia, and this was the final straw.
Under mounting pressure from state and federal governments, a small group of Cherokee signed the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835. The signing took place in the home of Elias Boudinot in New Echota, and the most famous signers were Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, and John Ridge.
The treaty ceded all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi River and obligated the Cherokee to move west to Oklahoma. Despite the fact that the Cherokee Council had not approved the treaty and the fact that most Cherokee were against it, the US government insisted it was valid and Congress ratified it.
Most Cherokee refused to leave and continued living in their homes. So in 1838, President Martin Van Buren sent 7,000 US troops to round up the Cherokee and force them to march over 5,000 miles west to Oklahoma.
Over 4,000 Cherokee died along the way. And thus the forced migration became known as the Trail of Tears.
New Echota was abandoned and fell into disrepair until the 1950s, when citizens of Calhoun purchased the site and then donated it to the state of Georgia.
Exploring New Echota: Museum + Site
Cherokee Indian Memorial
The first thing you will see as you approach the visitor center is a tall monument off to your right. This is the Cherokee Indian Memorial, erected by the US government in 1931 to honor the Cherokee Nation and recognize their loss.
The flags of the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, the United States, and the state of Georgia fly around the memorial. Take a moment to remember those who died along the Trail of Tears before you head into the visitor center.
Museum & Documentary
Inside the visitor center you purchase your tickets and receive a very helpful leaflet from the park rangers. The leaflet contains a map of the site as well as lots of historical and cultural information. I always recommend reading up on a historic site before you visit, but if you don’t, this leaflet has you covered!
The Visitor Center also houses a small museum with information about the history of New Echota, the Trail of Tears, and the Cherokee more broadly. You can watch a 17-minute documentary on the history of the Cherokee – or, if your kids won’t sit still or you’re in a hurry, you can watch it in advance on the New Echota website.
Visit the museum first, or head straight outside to explore the park. We did the latter, because we were a bit pressed for time and we wanted to make sure we got to visit all the historic buildings. Then we popped into the museum on our way out!
Historic & Reconstructed Buildings at New Echota
New Echota Historic Site is like a giant open air museum. You take a self-guided walking tour around the site and pause at various historic places. Each stop reveals a different piece of Cherokee history.
Most of the buildings are either reconstructed or have been moved to New Echota from elsewhere. But you are walking around in the actual city and seeing where the Cherokee lived and thrived. The overall effect is great!
An Overview of the Historic Route
First on the route is a middle-class Cherokee farmstead. You can peer into the barn, corncrib, smokehouse, and dwelling house. These buildings were built in the early 1800s and were moved to New Echota to demonstrate the upper middle-class Cherokee lifestyle.
Next come the reconstructed Council House and Supreme Courthouse. Go inside and learn about Cherokee government at New Echota!
After this, you pass by a common Cherokee farmstead – quite a bit smaller than the first, more affluent location. And then you come to the one surviving original building: the Worcester House.
This house was built in 1828 by Reverend Samuel Worcester, a Presbyterian missionary. The building doubled as a mission station and the Worcester family house. Worcester was dedicated to his Cherokee friends and he moved to Oklahoma with them in solidarity.
After the Worcester house, you walk to the Vann Tavern. This tavern, built in 1805, originally stood in Forsyth County, Georgia. It served as a restaurant, a store, and an inn. The historic building can give you a real idea of Cherokee life!
Next you arrive at the reconstructed Phoenix Printing Office. New Echota was home to the Cherokee Phoenix, a weekly newspaper in English and Cherokee. This was the first newspaper published in a Native American language!
The final stop on the self-guided walking tour is the ruins of Elias Boudinot’s house. It was here that Boudinot, the Ridges, and a few other Cherokee signed the fateful Treaty of New Echota in 1835. The house has been destroyed, but you can still see the original well and the cellar site. Four stones mark the corners of the house.
Take a moment to reflect on this significant event and its many consequences for the Cherokee people. The Trail of Tears originated in this house.
New Echota Nature Trails
In addition to the historic buildings, New Echota Historic Site features two nature trails. The Pond Overlook Trail is 1/3 mile long, while the New Town Creek Nature Trail is 1 mile.
Unfortunately we did not have enough time to explore these trails, but I would love to return and do so. Apparently there is a Beaver Pond along the New Town Creek Nature Trail!
New Echota Gift Shop
The gift shop is a tiny section of the visitor center, just across from the ticket counter. Honestly, it is a gift wall, not a whole shop. But you can purchase post cards, history books, toys, and – best of all – handmade artisan wares from real Cherokee craftsmen.
New Echota gets their beadwork from Qualla Arts & Crafts, a cooperative for Cherokee artists based in Cherokee, North Carolina. The Qualla tags certify that you are purchasing authentic Cherokee work . . . and thereby truly supporting the Cherokee.
The park ranger told us that he drives up to Cherokee a few times a year to restock on wares. If I hadn’t just been in Cherokee (and at the Qualla Arts & Crafts) myself a few weeks before, I would definitely have purchased some of the beautiful beaded earrings. As it is, I have quite a collection of souvenirs from Cherokee!
New Echota Historic Site: Know Before You Go
New Echota: Quick Facts
- Location: Calhoun, Georgia
- Entrance Fee: $7 (adult), $6.50 (seniors 62+), $5.50 (youth 6-17)
- Parking: free parking available onsite
- Pet-friendly: pets are allowed outside but not inside
- Website: gastateparks.org
If you are planning on visiting multiple Georgia historic sites, it may be worth it to purchase a Historic Site Annual Pass. Depending on which sites you visit, you will earn back your investment in 3-4 visits. The family pass pays for itself even more quickly!
There are picnic tables just past the visitor center, so you can bring lunch with you. My family and I brought in Zaxby’s to eat before we explored and the park rangers didn’t mind.
Time Needed & Accessibility
How much time does it take to see New Echota? I would budget 2 hours to explore the site properly. We only had 1 hour (due to scheduling issues) and we felt very rushed. We did make it around the entire self-guided walking tour, but we had to skip the nature trails and we only had a few minutes in the museum.
You will want to look inside all the buildings, read the signs, and enjoy the natural beauty of the site. Don’t rush things . . . give yourself plenty of time. I would definitely like to return one day to visit again in a less hasty manner.
And now a note about accessibility. As I have explained, most of the site is outdoors. The advantage is that visitors can feel secure even during COVID-19! But you do have to walk on dirt and grass paths to see everything.
The lack of paved routes may pose a challenge to wheelchair users. Furthermore, none of the historic buildings are wheelchair-accessible. You can admire them from outside, but the only way in is via stairs.
While you’re in Calhoun, be sure to check out the Rock Garden. Located behind the Seventh Day Adventist Church, this free garden features miniature castles and towns constructed out of pebbles, shells, and bits of glass. It’s a unique experience you won’t want to miss, and it’s only a 15-minute drive from New Echota.
And there you go. Now you know how to make the best of your trip to New Echota! Definitely go visit this significant Cherokee site.
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