Established in 1837, Dade County was named for U.S. Army Major Francis Langhorne Dade, a Virginian stationed in central Florida to help enforce the treaty that ended the First Seminole War.
Angry about the treaty a group of militant Seminoles led by Chiefs Micanope and Jumper, ambushed Dade's detachment, killing Dade and all but three of his 108 men. Nationally, the attack was viewed as a massacre and resulted in the U.S. launching the Second Seminole War.
Dade County was created on Dec. 25, 1837, by an act of the General Assembly (Ga. Laws 1837, p. 65). Created entirely from Walker County, Dade County's original boundaries were specified as:
" ... That from and immediately after the passage of this act, the Inferior Court of the county of Walker, shall be authorized and required to cause to be ran and plainly marked a line as hereinafter designated, beginning at Lot one, in the ninth District of the fourth section, originally Cherokee now Walker county, thence a south west direction for its general course, so as to run as near as possible on the middle on the top of the Look Out Mountain, until it strikes the line of the State of Alabama, at or near Lot No. one hundred and forty-five (145,) in the eighteenth (18) district of the fourth section, and all that portion of said county lying west of and north west of the aforesaid line, shall constitute a new county, to be called Dade."
Dade County was unlike any other county in the state for its first 102 years of existence. It was rugged, isloated and totally disonnected from the rest of the state. In fact, visitors had to leave Georgia and go through Alabama or Tennessee to visit Dade County by road. There was no road connecting this county in the extreme northwest corner of Georgia to the rest of the state until 1939, when the state purchased Cloudland Canyon. Until that time, the only access to "the state of Dade" was from Tennessee or Alabama.
Georgia built Highway 143 (which later became Highway 136) to connect U.S. 41 to the area, and the county was subsequently discovered by tourists. For years after its creation in 1837 the sparsely populated county had virtually no development.
The legislation creating Dade County made no provision for a county seat. In an act of Dec. 21, 1839, the General Assembly designated the community of Salem as county seat and incorporated it as a town (Ga. Laws 1839, p. 212). The origin of Salem's name is unclear, but it apparently was first settled around 1830. In 1840, the legislature changed the name of Salem to Trenton (Ga. Laws 1840, p. 36).
Reportedly, the name change was requested by local leaders in response to a delegation of businessmen from Trenton, New Jersey, who came to the area interested in developing Dade County's coal and iron resources. Before the Civil War, a significant mining operation in the county and neighboring counties coke and coal for the foundries of Rome and Etowah. Among the earliest settlers of the small mining community was John B. Gordon, who would later recruit men from the area to serve under him in the Civil War.
The area today known as Dade County was home to Woodlands period American Indians who built a wall on Pigeon Mountain similar to the wall built at Fort Mountain. Wauhatchie, who fought with Andrew Jackson during the Creek War (1813-1814), was the Cherokee leader in this area, and considered himself a friend of the future president. However, Wauhatchie and his people would later be forced to leave their "Enchanted Land" by his "friend" President Jackson, confined to prison, then sent west on the Trail of Tears. Wauhatchee longed for his ancestrial home and became one of the few Cherokee Indians to return to Georgia and purchase the land he once owned from the settler who won it in the sixth Georgia Land Lottery
Dade alone among the northern tier of counties supported the secession effort in the late 1850s leading to the nickname "the state of Dade." History records that Dade County was so irritated with Georgia's delay in seceding from the union in 1861 that the county wanted to secede not only from the United States but from Georgia as well.
Contrary to an often repeated myth, Dade County did not secede from either the Union or the state of Georgia in 1860. During the war General George Thomas, under the command of William Rosecrans, moved more than 40,000 men through the area on their way to Chickamauga. The troops built a road to carry their equipment and munitions. Rosecrans briefly stayed in Trenton while advancing from Stevenson, Ala., to the Gordon Mansion. Thomas emerged from Stevens Gap into McLemore's Cove and marched on to Chickamauga.
Dade sent its own Raccoon Roughs to fight for the South, and the Battle of Chattanooga resulted in some minor skirmishes within the county. One native of Rising Fawn remembers his grandfather talking about the Union soldiers lighting so many campfires that the valley looked like daylight even at night.
One of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, The Battle of Chickamauga, was fought September 19–20, 1863, in Dade, Catoosa and Walker Counties. The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the war and had second highest number of casualties following Gettysburg.
The Battle of Chickamauga was fought between the Union Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Braxton Bragg, and was named for West Chickamauga Creek, which meanders near the battle area in northwest Georgia.
Mining operations had come to a halt by the end of the war because William T. Sherman, during the Atlanta Campaign, had destroyed the factories further south that used the output from the mines for manufacturing. By the 1880s mining resumed, aided by prison labor supplied by the state. The remote Dade County was an excellent place to dispose of the unwanted refuse of society. Coal production would peak at some 700 tons per day until the big seams ran out in 1920. Operations on smaller seams would continue until 1947.
Although largely unaffected by the boom/bust cycles that ripped the state from 1865 to 1940, Dade was "rediscovered" by Georgia in 1939 when the state bought the land that became Cloudland Canyon State Park. In 1945 the county passed a resolution officially joining the Union more than 80 years after the end of the Civil War.
Covenant College, founded in 1955 in California, needed to expand into new facilities after just one year. Several professors helped Covenant move to St. Louis, Mo., where it grew for eight years. In 1964 the institution outgrew its facilities and moved to Lookout Mountain. Nearly 900 students enrolled in the fall of 2005 at this liberal arts school, which offers twenty undergraduate majors as well as a graduate program in education. Today the college is associated with the Presbyterian Church of America.
Shortly after the Georgia State Quarter was released in July 1999, Dade County gained attention over an apparent mistake in the quarter. The outline of the state of Georgia on the quarter appears to have accidentally left out Dade County, which is in the extreme northwestern part of the state.
A tornado struck extreme southern Dade County in November 2001 tearing up infrastructure for a mile and a half. According to local officials, eight buildings were damaged or destroyed in the tornado's path near State Road 157.