Atlanta Railfan Locations: Spilling the Beans on Howell

I actually hesitated to get to specific about where I was sitting when watching trains here for a while, because I’m still not entirely sure if you are supposed to be there or not. Whatever. Only my friends read this blog (and probably not even most of them), and I’ve already admitted to creeping around on property that was closed off due to “terrorism” threats..

First, a map. To find this area on Google maps, use these directions. Click on this image here to expand this map.

Now, this map shows several ways you can observe trains in this area, which I will explain here in no particular order.

  • Marietta Street Bridge – you will need to park somewhere near the bridge, and walk to it. There are times when such parking will be difficult to find. It provides an overhead view of both railroads’ lines headed downtown.
  • Foster Street – the street crosses the NS tracks and ends. There’s not a clear indication of where the street technically ends and where the railroads’ access roads begin. The crossing of NS is marked with a crossbuck as seen on all public road crossings. I’m fairly certain once you get to the CSX tracks, it’s railroad property. The area in between, seems like it would have to be either NS or CSX property. I have sat parked here without being run off, but YMMV.
  • 10th Street – there is a parking lot at the end of the street that never has any vehicles parked in it. There are “no parking/tow away” signs, but it seems to be fine for sitting in or near the car and observing trains. You are right next to the CSX. I have no idea whose parking lot this is. There is a chainlink fence between the parking lot and the tracks, but the gate is normally open and used by the railroads.
  • King Plow Parking Lot – this provides a view of the area where the two railroads’ wyes are closest to each other. There is a guard tower in this lot and a sign saying it is for King Plow use only, but I have never been messed with while parking here and sitting in the car to watch trains. You will be watching trains through a fence though. From here you can see the NS basically right across the fence, and CSX a little ways beyond that.
  • Bim’s Liqour Store – they clearly understand that their customers want to sit out behind the store by the tracks, because there is a picnic table back there and everything.  So if you are not the kind of person who is bothered by the idea of hanging out at a liquor store, this is a good place to watch trains. Buy something from the store since you are on their property after all.
  • Ye Olde Hole in the Fence – this is “it”. This provides basically the same view as the King Plow Parking lot, only you are now on the track side of the fence. The legality of this is… uncertain, but railfans go back there all the time just judging by the amount of photos and videos you see taken from back there. To get here, walk to the northeast corner of the parking lot of the vacant building to the east of Bim’s, which I believe was once a porn shop. There is a break in the fence right at the corner, that you can go through and make your way along a dirt path worn between the tracks and the fence. There is no picnic table, but there are some cinder blocks that can be used for sitting. I suggest bringing your own portable chair.

Now, some photos.

BNSF run-powered coal train on NS, I think train 734 or maybe 732, seen from the area behind the liquor store:

Now, about that hole in the fence. Recyled from an earlier post, this is what the hole itself looks like from the “beyond the fence” side:

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These are the cinder blocks mentioned:

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From back there you can clearly see one of the diamonds where the NS crosses the CSX main line:

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Here’s a pic of a train going through that diamond:

Map of SOME roads called “Peachtree”

Not shown: West Peachtree Street, Peachtree Battle Avenue, Peachtree Corners Circle, and a million more. Boundary between Peachtree Street and Peachtree road is guesswork and probably wrong. The city makes no real distinction between them. The boundary has something to do with where the city limits were and/or where the pavement gave way to dirt, at some arbitary time in the past.

I think this might be the only map like this around; I would not have bothered to make it if I could have found one.

For Non-Atlanta people, when someone says “Peachtree” with no other qualifier, they mean Peachtree Street or Peachtree Road from downtown northward to the point where Peachtree Industrial Boulevard begins. Anything else requires more information to differentiate what you mean. (Those are also the only Peachtrees that are considered important, at least by people who live ITP. The others are just curiously named extensions)

Don’t get worked up about the blocky lines or inexactness. I made this thing in MS Paint for crying out loud.

Notice that from Norcross to the northeast, the older roads tend to follow the Eastern Continental Divide.

This is my source for information about the original Peachtree trail.

Mystery of the north Atlanta drive-in movie theaters.. SOLVED

So in the past I’ve had people tell me that the AMC movie theater on I-85 used to be a drive-in. But I’ve had other people tell me that the drive-in was at the current location of the Atlanta Silverbacks soccer park.

Thanks to the 1950s topo maps you can download from the GPS, it turns out they were both right. On the 1954 maps of “Northeast Atlanta” and “Chamblee” quadrant maps, there are two drive-in movie theaters, actually pretty close to each other. Competition must have been fierce.

drivein

Also.. checkout proto-Spaghetti Junction!

Driving Tour of the Eastern Continental Divide in Atlanta

ecd_driving

This is about as good as I can do, the part in downtown Atlanta is particularly sloppy because the ECD actually runs through the Gulch.

Click For Google Map

To future-proof it against changes in the Google Maps site, this is the text:

Start at I-75 exit 223
Head north on Jonesboro Rd
Turn right onto N Lake Dr
Turn left onto Forest Pkwy
Turn right onto Jonesboro Rd
Turn left at the 1st cross street onto Courtney Dr
Slight left onto Main St
Turn left onto Hale Rd
Turn right onto Central Ave
Continue onto Old Dixie Hwy
Continue onto Porsche Ave
Continue onto S Central Ave
Turn left onto Irene Kidd Pkwy
Turn right onto GA-14 N/US-29 N/Main St
Continue to follow GA-14 N/US-29 N
Continue straight onto Peters St SW
Peters St SW turns slightly right and becomes Trinity Ave SW
Turn left onto Forsyth St SW
Turn right onto Marietta St NW
Continue onto Decatur St SE
Continue onto DeKalb Ave NE
Continue onto W Howard Ave
Turn right onto N McDonough St
Turn left at the 1st cross street onto GA-10 E/US-278 E/E College Ave
Continue to follow GA-10 E/US-278 E
Turn left onto N Clarendon Ave
Slight right at Wells St
Slight right onto E Ponce De Leon Ave
Turn left onto Mountain Industrial Blvd
Turn left onto Hugh Howell Rd
Turn right onto GA-236 W/GA-8 E/US-29 N
Turn left onto Lavista Rd
Slight right onto Chamblee Tucker Rd
Continue straight onto Tucker Norcross Rd
Turn right to stay on Tucker Norcross Rd
Continue onto S Norcross Tucker Rd
Turn left onto Jimmy Carter Blvd
Turn right onto S Peachtree St
Slight left to stay on S Peachtree St
Turn left onto Park Dr
Turn right onto N Peachtree St
N Peachtree St turns slightly left and becomes Medlock Bridge Rd NW
Turn right onto S Old Peachtree Rd
Continue onto Industrial Park Dr NW
Turn right onto N Berkeley Lake Rd NW
Turn left onto GA-13 N/US-23 N
Turn left onto S Peachtree St
Turn left onto Hardy Industrial Blvd
Turn right onto Hill St NW
Turn right onto Abbotts Bridge Rd
Turn left onto Main St
Turn right onto Brock St
Turn right onto Old Peachtree Rd NW
End at I-85 exit 109

“53.9 mi, 1 hour 54 mins”

 

Eastern Continental Divide GPS Maps

As far as we can determine, there is no map of this dividing line in existence as of 2003. This being the case, it was decided to research the Divide in Georgia.

via Eastern Continental Divide GPS Maps.

Back in 2012 I used the information at this page to make a set a turn-by-turn directions for following the ECD through Atlanta as close as possible on current roads.

Unfortunately changes in the Google maps algorithm means that the “permalink” I saved no longer works. I will attempt to recreate it in a less-fragile format.

Peachtree Rd. -Created from a Creek Indian Trail – History and GPS Maps

A trail known as the Peachtree Trail stretched from Standing Pitch Tree along the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta to Fort Daniel located at Hog Mountain in present-day Gwinnett County. The Peachtree Road construction began in 1812. Many portions of present-day roads trace this route.

via Peachtree Road.

The page then proceeds to follow the route along those roads (which actually does not include any of Peachtree Street south of Buckhead), including portions that are no longer driveable and must be walked.

Dig the photos of the author walking them, too.

Eastern Continental Divide (probably not the last you’re going to see of it here)

Atlanta was not built at a natural seaport (like Savannah) or at the head of navigation of a major river (like Macon and Augusta). Atlanta is near the Chattahoochee river, but is not actually centered on it, and is also much too far upstream for steamship navigation.

No, Atlanta was built as a railroad junction. You probably knew that. But what you may not know is that some of the oldest railroad lines, and some of the oldest roads, were built on top of the Eastern Continental Divide. This is the boundary that divides the rivers that drain to the Gulf of Mexico from those that drain eastward to the Atlantic.

There are good reasons why roads and railroads would be built on top of a natural watershed boundary. They avoid they need for bridges over streams, since by definitions the boundary lies between all the streams. They avoid low, swampy areas where early roads would get bogged down. The ridge can provide a relatively consistent elevation at the expense of being a bit twisty. “Ridgeways” have been in use worldwide for a long time. There is a trail in England called The Ridgeway which is over 5000 years old.

The ECD is not much remarked upon in Atlanta, mostly because it is a very gentle boundary. Atlanta is not mountainous. The ECD twists around through gently rolling hills. Because so many roads were built near it, you can drive through the city on it, and you get no sense of being on top of any kind of ridge. So most people don’t actually know it even exists, much less where it runs.

It is supposed to be a common belief that Peachtree Street runs along the ECD, but this is only true of a short section which was formerly called Whitehall Street. The main portion of Peachtree Street has little to do with the ECD.

I could not resist taking the 1895 topo map and adding a red line that vaguely approximates the ECD.  The map gives a mostly unobstructed view of the contours and streams, so the divide almost jumps out on its own. Click on this thumbnail to get the whole map.

ecd_1895_thumb

So many towns are centered on this invisible line. Jonesboro, Morrow, Hapeville, East Point, Atlanta, Decatur, Clarkston, Tucker, Norcross.

As you can see on the full map, the divide is actually not that far from the Chattahoochee. In fact you can see all the way from one side of the Chattahoochee’s drainage area to the other on this map.

This image from Wikipedia shows the entire Chattahoochee, Flint, and Apalachicola river system. The yellow area is that drained by these rivers.

Notice how narrow this drainage area is upstream from Atlanta. That is our water supply. All of the city’s (and several surrounding counties’) water comes from rain that falls on that small yellow area. This is why Atlanta’s water supply is threatened by drought every few years.

1895 map of Atlanta and surrounding areas

Another gem from the USGS store.

This thumbnail shows the long-abandoned Roswell Branch of the Southern Railway where it joins the main line in Chamblee. Click to get a much larger map covering a much larger area.

Notice that most of the Chattahoochee are still ferries on this map, rather than bridges. Holcomb Ferry is located more or less where Holcomb Bridge road is now, and so are the others.

The Eastern Continental Divide is rather easier to see on this map than on a modern map, if you know where to look.

roswell_railroad