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.
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:
These are the cinder blocks mentioned:
From back there you can clearly see one of the diamonds where the NS crosses the CSX main line:
Here’s a pic of a train going through that diamond:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.