Train buff uncovers ties with history

DATE: 05-26-1994
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
SECTION: Newspapers_&_Newswires
PAGE: H/11

Riding the iron road: Michael Hitt has rediscovered the long-
forgotten path of the Roswell Railroad, which operated from 1881 to 1921.
Take a ride on the Roswell Railroad with history sleuth Michael
Hitt, who has discovered the 9.8-mile route of the city's rail line
through Chamblee and Dunwoody to Roswell's front door at the
Chattahoochee River. The train operated from 1881 to 1921.
Little remains of the original line, which has been paved over and
obliterated by development. Modern-day highways, shopping centers,
churches and motels stand on the track beds that the Roswell Railroad's
locomotive, "Buck," thundered along for four decades ferrying passengers
and freight.
Two sections of the original rail were unearthed during road
construction last month in Dunwoody, and one will be on display at
Bulloch Hall along with a miniature model of the train, station and
people on hand the day in 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt visited his
mother's girlhood home in Roswell. He arrived on the Roswell Railroad.
Hitt has written a book with detailed maps about the railroad's
history and route. Traces of the original railroad bed still remain as it
leads into the heart of Roswell. Town founders had hoped for a line into
the city to ship cotton and wool manufactured at the mills on Vickery
Creek to market and, during the Civil War, to speed up shipments for
Confederate uniforms.
A railroad bridge over the Chattahoochee proved too expensive and
the train stopped short of the city limits, just south of the river,
according to Hitt's recently published book, "History of the Roswell
Railroad." Enbankments built to support the planned bridge still exist
along Vickery Creek and parts of the rail bed that pushed into Roswell to
a location near Georgia 9 and Oxbo Road that had been set aside for a
train depot.
Though it never crossed the river, mill officials were pleased that
the train had reached Roswell's front door after 28 years of discussions
and negotiations.
The minutes of the Roswell Manufacturing Co. from Oct. 26, 1881,
said the newly opened rail line "will be of advantage of this company as
it must add much to the promptness with which the business can be
transacted and greatly decrease the expense of transportation. Formerly
this department required five wagons and ten mules to do the work which
is now done easily by one wagon and two mules."
Illustrator Chuck Brown has drawn detailed maps showing the path of
the old railroad.
It began in Chamblee about a half-mile south of the site of
Oglethorpe University on Peachtree Road. (Chamblee originally was known
as Roswell Junction.) Its path crossed Little Nancy's Creek, ran through
the present site of Chamblee First Methodist Church and continued
northward through the Ramada Inn property at Chamblee-Dunwoody and
Interstate 285, proceeded along a path now paved as Chamblee-Dunwoody
Road, then Roberts Drive and Northridge Road before crossing Georgia 400.
It traveled northward along the east side of Dunwoody Place before
reaching the Roswell Depot located at what is now the North River
shopping center on Georgia 9 on a bluff overlooking the river.
In Chamblee, the Roswell Railroad tied in with the main trunk line,
the Atlanta Charlotte Air-Line Railway. A 2.7-mile spur line called the
Bull Sluice Railroad was added in 1902 just north of the Dunwoody Station
leading to Morgan Falls to ferry materials for the construction of a
hydroelectric dam that would provide electric power to Atlanta
downstream. An engine nicknamed "Dinkey" served that line. Both lines
were later bought and operated by Southern Railway Co., which was forced
to shut down the Roswell line after years of red ink and the growing
popularity of the automobile.
Old-timers remember "Buck," the engine that pulled the combination
passenger and baggage car, two boxcars and four flatcars twice daily from
Chamblee to Roswell. With no room to turn around at the Roswell terminus,
engineer Ike Roberts ran the train backward on its return trip.
Hitt recounts in his book girlhood remembrances of Dunwoody native
Avie Donaldson Smith. "We also had exciting times like . . . when we
would all get on top of one of "Old Buck's" boxcars and move a lever for
a free ride down the railroad track."
Today railroad and history buffs can follow the line and see one of
three railroad employee houses that stood near the tracks at old Dunwoody
Station near the intersection of Chamblee-Dunwoody and Mount Vernon
roads. Engineer Roberts's house still stands on Roberts Drive, south of
the Chattahoochee. The Roswell Depot burned in the mid-1950s.
Map: Tracks from the past
The Roswell Railroad operated from 1881 to 1921 on 9.8 miles of track
carrying passengers and freight through Chamblee, Dunwoody and the Morgan
Falls area to the Chattahoochee River just outside the Roswell city
limits. Color photo: Historian Michael Hitt examines a model of the old
Roswell train station. / Erik S. Lesser / Staff