History of the Helendorf
The Helendorf has been closely tied to the modern city of Helen, Georgia since the early 1970’s; in fact, the Helendorf was the brain child of Alpine Helen’s creator Pete Hodkinson and has been at the center of many of the area’s numerous events.
In 1973, the Helendorf was originally built as 30 individual condominiums in a rental pool that provided a place to stay for the growing crowds coming to Helen from throughout the Southeast.
In 1974, one of Pete Hodkinson’s high school friends and one of the condominiums owners, Barbara Gay, along with her husband Dick, took over the management of the original 30-room property. The Gays brought with them 20 years of US Army experience, which included many years of being stationed in Germany, which provided that little extra authenticity and knowledge of the Alpine experience.
Later that year, Pete came up with the concept for the Helen-to-the-Atlantic Balloon Race, and the Helendorf has been the host and headquarters ever since. This includes being a major sponsor and the responsibility of organizing the balloon race along with Head Balloons and Common Sense Conservation. The race is from Helen, Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean (I-95), or as it’s more commonly known, “From the center of the world to the edge of the earth”, a take-off of Columbus’s fateful journey. Believe it or not, world-renowned entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes won the first race from the center of the world to the edge of the earth!
Over the years, the Helen-to-the-Atlantic Balloon Race has had many notable entrants, including the race’s second winner Senator Tom Rutherford and special demonstrations by the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team. In 2003 at the conclusion of the 30th race, Barbara and Dick were honored by the Balloon Federation of America, recognizing their contributions to ballooning and for providing the pilots a home-away-from-home during the races.
The popularity of Helen and the Helendorf continued to grow and in 1975, the Helendorf completed what would be called the Bridal Tower (now called the Top of the Tower Suite, or ‘Rapunzel’s Tower’).
In 1977, the Helendorf’s Lobby building was completed, which included the Fireside Lobby and second floor Fireside Conference Room.
In 1978, the Gate Tower and entry archway was completed, adding an additional six guest rooms and with the signature archway with its painted mural.
In the late 1970s the Helendorf, along with the Wildwood shop, hosted the Helen-to-Atlanta Canoe Races which, as the name implies, started on the Chattahoochee in Helen, crossed the mighty Lake Lanier and ended in Atlanta, GA! During this same time, the Helendorf played host to the rich and famous; in 1977, during the filming of “Smokey & the Bandit,” the Helendorf provided lodging for Jackie Gleason, Hal Needham and most of the film crew. In addition, Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields were frequently seen around the property during filming.
In 1980, we hosted Diane Lane and her mother, Colleen Farrington, former Playboy Centerfold Miss October 1957, when they came to Helen for a festival and stayed at the Helendorf.
The Helendorf completed another expansion in 1980, when we added three oversized riverfront rooms to the original building. This provided for two additional balconies and one additional patio room.
In 1985, the new River building was completed and included 24 River Balcony guest rooms, 3 Large Suites, 3 Junior Suites, 6 off-River guest rooms, an elevator and the Riverside banquet facility.
In 1991, the Helendorf purchased the Towers Motel, adding another 16 guest rooms and 5 retail shops on the ground floor to our property. Later that year, after winning the Country Music Association’s (CMA) “New Horizon Award”, Travis Tritt escaped to the Helendorf on his brand new Harley for a fun and relaxing time.
In 1995, the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) National Championships came to Helen, Georgia and used much of the Helendorf property along the river for the trick and stunt competitions. Competitors and vendors from across the United States came to participate in this challenging event. Following the great success with NORBA, the Helendorf even enjoyed hosting the Argentine Olympic Rowing Team for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
Continuing the tradition of supporting the movie and music industry, the Helendorf again hosted Randy Travis and his family in 1997 during filming of “Black Dog”.
In the 2000s, the Southeastern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) came to Helen and selected the Helendorf as an event hotel for the Helen Fat Tire Festivals. (We can surely point you in the direction of some of the best trails in the area!)
The Helendorf has supported the Tour de Georgia since it first weaved its way through the North Georgia Mountains but in 2006, we added Greg Lemond and sports writer Mike Magnuson to our list of honored guests. With the rest of the bicycle race press, sponsors and teams, they enjoyed the picturesque Chattahoochee from our Riverside Special Events Terrace.
And more history is currently in the making!