This post gathers the information I’ve been able to find about the Roswell Railroad, one of the almost-completely vanished and forgotten rail lines of the Atlanta area. This was branch of Southern Railway that operated between Chamblee and Roswell from 1881 to 1921.
The town of Chamblee was originally called “Roswell Junction”.
However, feeling the name of the settlement was too similar to nearby Roswell, they randomly selected Chamblee from a list of petitioners for the new post office name.
The railroad followed very roughly the present-day Chamblee-Dunwoody Road to the center of old-town Dunwoody, where the building located at 5518 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road was a section house.
The original Dunwoody depot was later moved and used as “Thompson’s Store”, but this building no longer remains.
The line never actually reached Roswell, as the company was never able to build a bridge across the Chattahoochee. It ran along Roberts Drive and what is now Dunwoody Place, and ended near the present North River Tavern. This station was referred to as “Roswell” by the railroad. The engine house was “moved to by the river for use as a barn”.
Roberts Drive is named after Isaac “Ike” Roberts, the “only engineer of the Roswell Railroad”, whose house still stands at 9725 Roberts Drive.
The final stop was Roswell Station, on the south bank of the Chattahoochee River, just east of the current Roswell Road. There was no means to turn the locomotive around, so it simply ran backwards on its return trip. The train was powered by 0-6-0-arranged Baldwin 1878 steam locomotive named “Buck.”
The railroad famously was used by Teddy Roosevelt when he visited Bulloch Hall in 1905.
Theodore Roosevelt, who had begun his presidency on reasonably good terms for a half-northerner president, had infuriated the South by inviting Booker T. Washington to dine in the White House. Consequently, he waited a few years until the episode blew over and finally visited Bulloch Hall for the first time while touring the South in 1905. He was thought to be the first sitting President of the United States to visit the South since the end of the American Civil War, however this is incorrect as William McKinley had visited the South earlier while celebrating the victory of the Spanish–American War.
It looks like I need to be paying a visit to the Roswell Visitors Center.
When we would drive around the shore on Shell Belt Road, my Pawpaw would point out a location where the “Old Factory” used to be. There was not even a trace of anything that looked like a building remaining.
This map, dated 1918, shows a “Canning Factory” at the end of a railroad spur, located conveniently near to the “Oyster Beds”. I don’t remember anyone specifically saying that oysters were what was processed at the factory, but it would certainly make a lot of sense if it was.
The railroad here was the “Bay Shore” branch of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, which operated from approximately 1899 to 1940. There is little to show of this line today, the rails having been physically removed soon after abandonment. It is memorialized by Railroad Street in the Bayou and Bay Shore Avenue in Mobile.
This (1926) map highlights the route from Mobile to Bayou La Batre:
At the far western end of the wye at San Souci was the lead to the Alabama Canning Company, also known as the American Canning Company. Alabama Canning Company was located on the north end of Coffee Island, about a mile south of the junction at San Souci. It was on this track that the trains would head down first, then back up through the wye toward Bayou la Batre.
The 1918 map disagrees about the factory being on Coffee Island, and I’m inclined to side with the map. An island location would have required the railroad to build a mile-long trestle over the bay. This does not fit with any description of this railroad that I’ve ever heard of before, and would have been a literal “bridge to nowhere”.
It seems more reasonable that the factory was located on the mainland.
At the approximate location of where the “Old Factory” was said to be, there is still a dirt “road” off from Shell Belt Rd through the salt marsh, leading towards the shore of Portersville Bay. It goes to a point that naturally sticks out into the bay. It can clearly be seen on modern satellite images:
This is what it looks like in Google Street View (and in real life too!):
It is most consistent with the old map if this “road” is actually the railroad right-of-way. Here is the satellite image with the guessed route of the railroad tracks highlighted in yellow:
The real revelation happened when I began searching for more info on the “Alabama Canning Company”.
It turns out there are a lot of pictures of this place, located in the National Archives and the Library of Congress!
This photo shows oysters being unloaded onto the dock. It looks like they had a large pier running out into the bay, with railroad tracks utilized for wheeled oyster baskets. The factory in the background looks like a sizeable operation. It must have been the biggest industry in town at the time.
Here we see the whole thing as it looked from out on a boat in the bay:
Many of the photos show very young workers in the factory and on the boats. This was the early 20th century, the era of child labor.
These photos were taken about 1912-1913. The children would have been born in the first decade of the 20th century. This is about the age of my great-grandparents. If you are from Bayou La Batre, some of them could be your great-grandparents, if not great-great-grandparents.
The work was seasonal, with many families coming to town only during the cooler months when oysters were in season. You can see in the photos almost everyone is dressed for cooler weather. Many of the workers were also immigrants, as the captions mention some children being unable to speak English. From the Mississippi Gulf Coast Museum of Museum of Historical Photography website:
The [labor shortage] problem was resolved initially by bringing in Eastern European immigrants known as ‘Bohemians’ from the Baltimore, Maryland canneries. The Baltimore people traveled in special railroad cars from their homes in Baltimore to work the canneries during the winter oyster season along the coast. They lived in factory-owned camps near the canneries, and the children rarely attended local schools. Some of the Baltimore families stayed on after the oyster season.
We can assume the hiring practices established in Biloxi were also followed in Bayou La Batre.
It turns out the reason all of these 100-year old pictures from Bayou La Batre are part of the national historical record, is because they were part of a famous series taken by Lewis Wickes Hine. Lewis Hine is an unsung hero of American labor relations, risking his own safety to end the practice of child labor in this country.
Hine’s work for the NCLC was often dangerous. As a photographer, he was frequently threatened with violence or even death by factory police and foremen. At the time, the immorality of child labor was meant to be hidden from the public. Photography was not only prohibited but also posed a serious threat to the industry. To gain entry to the mills, mines and factories, Hine was forced to assume many guises. At times he was a fire inspector, postcard vendor, bible salesman, or even an industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery.
So here we have a connection to historical events of national importance, right there in Bayou La Batre, and all that’s left of it is a dirt path through the marsh grass and scattered recollections of an “Old Factory”.
Hine is also the photographer of a very well known series on the construction of the Empire State Building.
So when was this factory built, and whatever happened to it? The Bay Shore website says:
Below is a photograph taken before the hurricane of 1906, showing the company tracks on the west side of the building. The photographer is facing south, toward Portersville Bay.
The buildings seen in this image were either heavily damaged, or destroyed, in the 1906 hurricane, and the company either elected not to rebuild, or was financially unable to. At a later date (unknown) this location became the Dunbar & Ducate Factory. Dunbar & Ducate was later destroyed by a boiler explosion which claimed the lives of several employees.
“Dunbar & Ducate”, (or DuKate) had already taken over by the time of Hines’ photos in 1912-1913 (and indeed some of his captions refer to it as such).
The Biloxi Historical Society lists a number factories owned by several firms involving the DuKate family, including “Dunbars, Lopez, & Dukate Company“, in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It appears that it was often called the “Alabama Canning Company” even when it was owned by DuKate.
Julian Lee Rayford, writing in 1956, describes a world already long gone, including a “Big Factory” owned by “Dunn, Barr, and Ducate”.
GEORGE BRYANT told me about the factories
in Bayou la Batre.
The factories fall into two classes. First, the
factories of 1915, and a few years later. And,
second, the factories of today. There is little con-
nection between the two. True, the factories have
always canned shrimp and oysters, but there is a
distinct contrast between the periods.
Pure Food Laws have cleaned them up, and
now, everything is peaceful and quiet in the fac-
tories. Government inspectors stand on constant vi-
gil making the pickers maintain purity and quality
in the products.
After 1906, the factories lined the Bayou.
There was the Union factory, operated by the
Union. There was the finest and largest, the one
run by Daughdrille. On the coast, was the “Big Factory,” controlled by Dun, Barr and Ducate. And
there was the “Green Factory,” so called because of
the color used on the outside of the building. All
along the Bayou were the picking sheds, which sent
their products to the larger establishments to be
packed, or, canned.
An article in the New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 7 1910, mentions a factory being constructed by this company in Bayou La Batre:
The John F. Wentzell mentioned here is probably related to Wintzell’s Oyster House founder J. Oliver Wintzell, as well as the Wintzell family of Bayou La Batre.
The factory is described as packing shrimp. It is not clear if this was the same facility as the oyster plant shown in the photos, or a different plant also located in Bayou La Batre.
I cannot find any information about the existence of the Alabama Canning Company earlier than this. It is possible it operated under a different name before DuKate took it over, if it actually existed before 1910.
The plant survived and was repaired after the 1916 storm:
I can only find one other page about an explosion, the Find-A-Grave page for Robert Walter Cox who died on August 16, 1923 when an ammonia tank exploded in the ice plant of the cannery. It reads like a newspaper article, but there’s no citation and I cannot find the same story anywhere else.
EXPLOSION KILLS ONE AND INJURES TWO AT ICE PLANT
Ammonia Tank Blows Up At Bayou La Batre, Killing Robert Cox and Wrecking Plant
Death injury and heavy property damage resulted form a violent explosion at the ice pant of the Alabama Canning Company at Bayou la Batre Thursday night. Robert Cox, 40 years old, frieman at the plant was almost instantly killed and two other persons, Willie and Aime Castello, father and son, recieved serious injuries. The disaster occurred when an ammonia generator exploded, wrecking the one-story structure. The loud noise which accompanied the explosion attracted the attention of people throughout the community, many of whom hurried to the scene.
Cox was discovered in a dying condition outside the boiler room a few minutes after the generator exploded. The younger Castello was huried to the roof of the building from which he was rescued by persons who rushed to the plant. Willie Castello, the father, is an engineer at the plant according to information received in Mobile. His son is tankman at the ice plant.
Shortly after the accident a Mobile physicain was summoned to treat the injured. The small casualty list was apprently attributable to the fact that only a few employees were on duty whe the explosion occurred.
Perhaps this explosion was too much for the Big Factory to come back from, and put them out of business. Perhaps the Pure Food and Child Labor laws had made the business unprofitable. Or maybe decreasing supply due to overfishing. Or a combination of all these things.
By the time of this 1943 map, the railroad is abandoned, the spur track for the factory is already just a dirt road, and the there is no indication building where the factory would have been.
It is also gone on this aerial photograph from the 1940s, where things do not look terribly different from today:
In the 20 years from 1923 to 1943, all trace of the Old Factory has vanished into the sea and sand.
When I was a kid in the early 1980s, the public library had a children’s movie program once a week during the summer. My mom, and I think most of the other parents who took advantage of it, would drop us off at the library and go do her shopping or whatever other errands she needed to run, while we sat in a darkened wing of the library and watched movies.
I’m guessing they were legally only allowed to show things that were in the public domain. Because everything they showed was old. Some of it as old as the 1920s.
Sometimes they would show silent movies and cartoons, which was a problem because the audience included children too young to read. The older children were expected to read it out loud for the younger ones.
Many of the cartoons I saw there, I later learned were so old that they were significant in the development of animation!
Things I can remember seeing there:
Lotte Reiniger’sCinderella – 1922 silent, black and white “cartoon” where all the characters are just black silhouettes. You can imagine how this confused the hell out of a bunch of 80s kids.
Max and Dave Fleischer’sGulliver’s Travels – 1939 technicolor feature film, the first such released by a non-Disney studio. The high budgets of this and their only other feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, contributed to the Fleischer studio losing its independence and becoming part of Paramount.
Lev Atomanov’s The Snow Queen– 1957 animated feature from the USSR. The fact that this got an American dub release in 1959, with an all-star cast, seems like it must have been a triumph of Cold War diplomacy.
Some weird, silent (but color?!) thing with puppets.
Question to my librarian friends, do ya’ll still do stuff like this?
Studio One was a recording studio, located in the northern Atlanta, Georgia suburb of Doraville. The address was 3864 Oakcliff Industrial Court, Doraville Ga 30340. It is now occupied by a non related business and used as a warehouse.
Check out the list of albums recorded here, it includes not only four Lynyrd Skynyrd album but also probably the earliest recording featuring Ronnie James Dio on vocals.
In the 1970s and 1980s Doraville was a haven for blue-collar white Southerners, aka rednecks. This was gone by the early 2000s, as much of the original population was displaced by immigrants.
This is what the address on the wiki page looks like today. I almost have a hard time believing it. The red car in the center of the picture is parked next to the door of number 3864.
Sometimes I use Ronald Reagan Blvd as an alternate to GA 400 between exits 11 and 12. This road goes through mostly vaporware developments – planned subdivisions, some of which don’t seem to have even started construction, others seem to have had some grading and nothing else. Lots of places where they put it in a turn off of the main road but it just dead-ends into a field. That sort of thing. This is literally where the streets have no name.
Recently I noticed, off to the west side of the road, what appeared to be a graveyard on a hill overlooking a construction zone. I decided to try to find it.
Now, on the map, it looks like you can get there via Union Hill Road:
But, where I drew that red line across the road, that’s where you find this gate:
So, clearly I’m not driving there. It was a nice day for a walk, though. You can of see some traces (as in the next photo, on the right path) that this road was once paved, but the pavement is very much going back to nature. Maybe it will someday again be paved. I hope not.
At the end of the road is another gate. This one has a “no trespassing” sign but the sign is facing the other way from where I came. I don’t know who they are trying to keep out from that direction.
Beyond the gate is the cemetery:
Most of the graves seem to belong to a James family, and on the topographical USGS map this is in fact marked as “James Cem”. The most recent date I saw was 1978, but they are mostly 19th century dates. Confederate flags are planted next to several that are Civil War era.
This graveyard clearly is still maintained, someone cuts the grass here and those flags look pretty new.
After this, I decided as a bonus to explore some nearby old houses back on the road.
This is all that’s visible from the street, and really gives no clue:
The inside of this building has some graffiti, but even that is dated from 2001!
Dig this chair!
The adjacent buildings here are nothing but frame. Only a little bit of siding remains, someone has removed the rest of it.
Now all the remains is the “bones”, facing out over the empty field.
All those new neighborhoods being built nearby, some of those people in those houses must have kids. I hope those kids run around unsupervised in these fields and these woods and ruins, trespassing and risking injury. One can dream.
This was probably a lonely rural crossing of two dirt roads when the few local residents started to bury their dead here. Now it is jammed into a weird triangular lot surrounded by busy streets on all three sides. You may have driven past it.
I wonder at what period of history was Old Alabama Road actually the main way to get to Alabama.
Rainey is one of the names seen frequently here.
Notice above, James A. Rainey appears to have outlived his wife by nearly 50 years. Long enough for tombstone design fashions to change quite a bit. Its fun to notice stuff like this. Did Mr. Rainey ever remarry? He was a very young widower, and he lived a long time afterwards. If he did remarry, I bet his second wife and their children are buried here too.
This grave of “2 infant daus. of Mrs. & Mrs. Bud Rainey, 1909” is surrounded by a type of moss that wasn’t growing anywhere else.
Another common name is Garmon.
Most of the graves appear to be cared for, but a few are in tall grass and one headstone had fallen over off its base.
Some no longer have markings of any kind.
Lastly, I have no idea if this that looks like a rock set up in the ground is a primitive headstone for a very old grave, or just.. a rock. I also have no idea why someone left this bag next to it. I’m not sure I want to know.
On Sunday I decided to visit the recently (2014) reopened Fort Peachtree park at the mouth of Peachtree Creek on the Chattahoochee. (Google maps link)
This park had been closed since sometime after 9/11/01 (or maybe even the 1996 Olympics) due to the threat posed by terrorists to the Atlanta River Intake, where the city draws water from the river. It is also very close to the R. M. Clayton sewage treatment plant and to Georgia Power’s “Plant McDonough” coal burning power plant.
There had once been at the Fort Peachtree park a recreation of the War of 1812 fort. This was built for the 1976 US Bicentennial. I have no idea if it still exists, as wherever it was is still not accessible.
What is accessible is the ability to drive through a scary looking “authorized personnel only!” gate on Ridgeview Road which now sits open from 8am to 8pm, and park next to small picnic pavilion and follow a trail down to the river.
You can stand at the mouth of the creek and try to imagine the Indian village of Standing Peachtree, but it’s not easy. The area is now dominated by chain link fences, “no trespassing” signs, and concrete industrial structures. The smell of sewage is inescapable.
On the other side of Peachtree Creek I noticed some men fishing in the Chattahoochee and could not see a way to get to where they were. There is no bridge over the creek downstream of Ridgeview Road. I tried calling to them but they did not hear.
After leaving the park, I went and stood on the sidewalk of the Marietta Blvd/South Atlanta Rd bridge, looking at the river and the nearby rail bridges. Directly below me on the Fulton County side of the river I could see a concrete path, and lo and behold a worn footpath down the riverbank from the road to it. I hopped over the guardrail (it’s there to stop cars not people right?!) and scrambled down the bank.
What I found was a bike trail that I had memories of seeing around 2000, and which had also (I have since confirmed directly with the PATH foundation) been closed because of “terrorism”. Remaining signage called it the “Chattahoochee Trailway”. There is almost nothing about this trail on the Internet. Not on the PATH website, no newspaper articles about its closure, it is almost like it never existed.
The other end of the trail was where it had once been accessible from Marietta Road, only this part of Marietta road was no longer drivable, being gated off much further from the river. The old barriers to keep motor vehicles off the trail remained.
Now it was possible to walk around this stuff and follow the road further downriver. I decided to go ahead, since I probably could not get in any worse trouble than I was already in. Don’t try this at home kids, and all that jazz.
It lead to a view of the CSX railroad bridge, with Plant McDonough visible across the the river, that cannot be had any other way.
Returning to the trail, I followed it back under the road bridge to the old Seaboard Air Line rail bridge, and in doing so I met the men I had seen earlier fishing. They seemed concerned that I had “caught” them, as if I was someone who was supposed to be here.
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.
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.
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.
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.