Tommy H Jones, 2017




Atlanta's Ancient Trails

Mapping Atlanta's Early Trails

Sources of Information


click images to embiggen








In vain the Creek Nation tried to define and protect its borders in the early nineteenth century, but regardless of any treaty guarantees, the invasion of their nation by a flood of white settlers continued. With little opposition from the State of Georgia, the newcomers flouted federal and tribal law by hunting, fishing, growing crops, and establishing large plantations inside the boundaries of the Creek Nation. Federal troops were sent to destroy farms, burn houses and remove the “intruders,” but as soon as the soldiers were gone, the squatters were back. Col. Hugh Montgomery, the federal government’s Indian agent, was “at a loss what to do” and bemoaned in a letter to the governor "the prevailing idea in Georgia (especially among the lower class) . . . that they are the rightful owners of the soil, and that the Indians are mere tenants at will; and indeed, Sir, there is only one point on which all parties both high and low in Georgia agree, and that is, that they all want the Indian lands." [1]

Figure 1. Detail from "State of Georgia Original and 1895 Counties and Land Lot Districts" with the 1821 Creek cession outlined in red. (Georgia Archives)

In January 1821, the first Treaty of Indian Springs gained the State some 4.3 million acres of Creek Indian territory, including the future site of Atlanta. Surveyed and platted into land districts and land lots in the summer and fall of 1821, the land was distributed by lottery by the end of the year. The influx of new settlers in 1822 precipitated creation of new counties, one of which was named DeKalb and included all of what are now central Fulton County and most of the City of Atlanta. The following year, a new county seat, Decatur, was established along the ancient Sand Town-Stone Mountain Trail near its crossing with the trail from Indian Springs to Shallow Ford. By then there were already as many as 3,000 residents in the county.

In the spring, the State began surveying the Creek cession into land districts that were about nine miles square. These districts were further subdivided into square land lots of 202½ acres which were distributed in December 1821 in the State's fourth land lottery. For each district, the state contracted with a surveyor who was instructed

to take as accurately as possible the meanders of all water courses which shall form natural boundaries to any of the surveys; to note in field books to be kept by them respectively, the names of the corner and station trees which shall be marked and numbered under the direction of the surveyor general ; also all rivers, creeks, and other water courses which may be touched upon or crossed, in running any of the lines aforesaid; transcripts of which field books, after being compared with the originals by the surveyor general, and certified and signed on every page by the surveyor returning the same, shall be deposited in the surveyor general's office.

Figure 2. A surveyor's chain, hatchets, and a nail puller, typical tools of a nineteenth-century surveyor. (Library of Congress)

Figure 3. The first page of Terrell's field notebook. (Georgia Archives)

The interpretation and the execution of those instructions varied widely, with some district and land-lot plats of survey, including those that encompass downtown Atlanta and areas south, showing no trails where it is certain that trails existed.

John Thompson Terrell (1798-1864) was hired to survey and plat the Seventeenth District of what was then Henry County, but is now part of Fulton County. He had two "chain bearers" carrying the 66-foot-long chain that was used for measurements. They were identified in Terrell's field notes as Benjamin Hyde, William McCurley, James Goodwin, and Micajah Goodwin, but it is not clear which, if any of them, might have worked the entire survey.

On 18 July 1821, Terrell commenced his survey at a "chestnut post" at the district's southeast corner, which is near the present corner of Virginia Avenue and Rosedale Road in the city's Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Over that summer and into the fall, they walked the district, which encompasses what is now the City of Atlanta north of a line along Eighth Street as well as all of Sandy Springs. [2]

Little is known about Thompson, but whatever his biography, he was meticulous. The plats that he drew for each land lot in the district noted even the most minor streams and branches, with most of the larger waterways given names that continue to be used today, including Utoy, Proctor, Peachtree, and Clear Creeks. Most importantly, in platting the land lots, Thompson went to the trouble of delineating not only a few major trails but also dozens of secondary trails, or paths as they were also called. Some of these smaller, less traveled trails may have led to individual farms, but many of them were part of the interconnecting local routes of travel common in every community. That level of detail is not found in the surveys of any of the surrounding districts, including the Fourteenth District which encompasses most of the city south of Eighth Street, and such documentation for local networks of trails anywhere is unusual.

In and around what is now the north side of the City of Atlanta, routes of travel were always limited by the necessity of crossing Peachtree Creek, which runs east and west across the city about four miles north of downtown and is a substantial stream most of the year. The Peachtree Trail's crossing was at Standing Peachtree, just above the confluence of Peachtree and Nancy Creeks, where a log foot bridge over the creek was likely maintained from an early date. In addition the creek could be forded at two or three points around and just east of what is now Howell Mill Road as well as around the confluence of the creek's two branches between Piedmont Road and Lindbergh Drive. There may have been other fords that could be used in the summer and fall when the water level of the creek was low.

The focus of most of the trails documented in the Seventeenth District survey was Standing Peachtree, but trails also converge on the fords in Peachtree Creek and the Chattahoochee River. There are obvious gaps in the mapping, although some trail fragments might have led only to an isolated farmstead. However, most of the Creek people had withdrawn further down the Chattahoochee River valley after the debacle of their civil war in 1813. That may have left trails and paths badly overgrown, and some may have been overlooked. A similar network of primary and secondary trails must have existed on the northwest side of the river, connecting the river ford and village to the Cherokee Nation in northwestern Georgia, but those trails were apparently never mapped.

Figure 4. The district plat of survey for the Seventeenth District of what was originally Henry, later DeKalb, and now Fulton County. The plat, which encompasses what is now the City of Atlanta north of Eighth Street as well as most of Sandy Springs, has been annotated to delineate the trails, paths, and roads depicted in the survey records from 1821. The solid red lines indicate the routes of Peachtree and River Roads and area trails that were delineated on the district plat. The lighter red, dashed lines are the trails or paths noted in the individual land-lot surveys. (Annotations by Tommy H Jones, 2014)

Notes to Annotated District Plat of Survey

The original surveys are in Records of the State Surveyor General, Record Group 003-03-024, District Surveys, 1821, Georgia Archives. The present study is the first effort at mapping all the trails delineated in the land-lot surveys of the Seventeenth District.

1. At the northern end of the Seventeenth District, the objective of the trails was mostly the fords in the Chattahoochee River. Terrell's plats delineate a short stretch of the Hightower Trail where it crossed the river at Shallow Ford, three quarters of a mile downstream from the present Roswell Road bridge. The trails shown on the land-lot plats indicate a second ford a little over half a mile downstream from Shallow Ford, and a third a half mile or so further downstream. One historian of the area has suggested that the Shallow Ford was suitable for people and livestock but not for wagons, and that during the historical period, wagons tended to use the downstream fords. When a covered bridge was built just upstream from the present Roswell Road bridge around 1840, Shallow Ford was mostly abandoned, but at least one of the lower fords remained in active use. Roads to all three fords were recorded by Union cartographers in 1864, but the 1895 USGS map shows only the western-most ford. All of the fords were flooded after construction of Morgan Falls Dam in 1904.

2. Terrell recorded few trails in the remainder of what is now Sandy Springs north of I-285, perhaps because there simply were no trails in that area, where the steep, hilly terrain offered fewer good river-crossings. This short trail segment probably represents a continuation of the trail discussed in Trail #4 below.

3. Crest Valley Drive may have evolved out of this trail segment, but its place in the overall trail network is not clear.

4. One of the few trails delineated in the northern half of the district followed the high ground between Long Island and Nancy Creeks for nearly five miles before disappearing in Land Lot 200. It was part of a longer trail that left Peachtree Road west of Duluth and generally followed the course of Spalding Drive, Mount Vernon Road and Highway, Glenridge Drive west of Johnson Ferry Road, Roswell Road between Glenridge and Mt. Paran Roads, and the latter to its intersection with Randall Mill Road. Terrell did not show the continuation of the trail to the southwest from there, but the remainder of Mt. Paran Road and at least part of Ridgewood Road are likely to trace much of the rest of the trail's route. Although this trail was a way to get to Standing Peachtree, it may also have led to the river fords upstream from Peachtree Creek.

5. Windsor Parkway and Peachtree-Dunwoody Road cross in this land lot and may represent the evolution of an intersection of roads out of an older intersection of trails. The route of Peachtree-Dunwoody Road has changed along with changes in the bridging of Nancy Creek.

6. The trail segments in Land Lots 158 and 160 must have been connected across Nancy Creek in Land Lot 159 and connected the trail in Trail #4 to the original Peachtree Road, now Moores Mill Road. It is not clear which, if any, existing streets or roads evolved from them.

7. What may have been a significant shortcut to Standing Peachtree from the northeast appears to have diverged in a westerly direction from Peachtree Road a short distance north of Dresden Drive in Brookhaven. No modern streets or roads in Brookhaven correspond to this trail, but Old Ivy Rd west of Ga. 400 and Habersham Road between Piedmont and W. Paces Ferry Roads closely follow its track. Where Habersham Road now takes a sharp turn to the south at Knollwood Drive, the trail apparently continued to the southwest and connected to the original Peachtree Road, now W. Paces Ferry Road, more or less in front of the Governors Mansion.

8. This trail segment appears to have left Peachtree Road near its intersection with N. Druid Hills Road and traced an arc a few hundred yards north of Peachtree Road, rejoining it just west of Lenox Square. The trail would have passed near the springhead of a small tributary to Nancy Creek which may have been useful as a watering place for man and beast. This trail segment may have been bypassed by the road builders in 1814, who built Peachtree Road on higher ground.

9. Westminster School and I-75 now cover the site of this intersection of trails, which makes difficult attempts to interpret the odd tangle of trails delineated on the annotated plat between Peachtree Road and the river. It should be noted that because land lot boundaries, which were the point of the survey, are over a half mile apart, the surveyor marked where trails crossed a boundary but could not always see the entire route. The trails delineated in the annotated district plat may also have been distorted in joining the segments shown in ten seperate land-lot plats into a single trail. As a result, the exact route of some trails is not shown, and some trails may have been drawn as if they were continuous when in fact they were not. These trails either connected with or were a continuation of Trail #4 and represent four different crossing points on Nancy Creek. Their main destination was Peachtree Trail and the village of Standing Peachtree, which was mostly on the south side of Peachtree Creek, but they also led to the river fords which were north of the creek. Parts of several modern roadways generally follow the routes of these trails, including most of Margaret Mitchell and Nancy Creek Drives, the northern half of Ridgewood Road, Old Plantation Road, W. Paces Ferry Road west of Nancy Creek, and perhaps Howell Mill Road north of Moores Mill Road.

10. The trail delineated here led to a ford in Peachtree Creek just downstream from where Howell Mill Road crosses today. It generally followed Arden Road between W. Paces Ferry Road and Northside Drive, and then Castlewood Drive and Dover Road, and Howell Mill Road to the ford. Although not shown in the 1821 survey, Arden Road west of Northside Drive led to a second ford located about a quarter mile upstream from the Howell Mill ford. There was a third ford further upstream on the east side of the creek's horseshoe bend, and it seems to correspond with the "Rocky Ford" referenced in some early deeds. All three fords are documented in maps compiled by the US Army for its Civil War atlas.

11. This intersection of two trails is more or less where Peachtree and Paces Ferry Roads intersect today. (Roswell Road was not built until the 1850s.) The trail to the southeast most likely would have led to the ford in Peachtree Creek near the Piedmont Road bridge; in the 1820s a road from Decatur to Paces Ferry used this same ford. The trail to the southwest is generally the route of the modern Peachtree Road north of St. Phillips Cathedral, where it turned west, eventually connecting with trails leading to the fords in Peachtree Creek near Howell Mill Road.

12. The route of the longer trail segment here is similar to that of Shady Valley Drive. The trail segment to the west on the north side of the branch cannot be identified in present streets.

13. Peachtree Battle and Peachtree Hills Avenues are reminiscent of this trail's route connecting north-south roads at the fords near Howell Mill Road and those upstream near the forks of the creek. This trail utilized the third ford mentioned in #10 and at least part of it had been replaced by a road by the time Army engineers drew their maps in the 1860s. Three or four short spurs suggest that there may have been connecting trails that had disappeared by 1821.

14. Historical sources document another important ford three air miles farther to the east of those at Howell Mill Road and a few hundred yards downstream from today's Piedmont Road bridge. Pioneer Benjamin Plaster (1782-1836) settled near this ford in 1822. In between, where Peachtree Road now crosses Peachtree Creek, marshy terrain, including a "lagoon" where E. D. Rivers School is now located, made for a difficult crossing. Terrell did not show any other crossing, which is not to say that there was nowhere else where the creek could be crossed, only that elsewhere would have been either more difficult or removed from any of the main directions of travel. In 1847 the Colliers and other subscribers constructed the first bridge at that location, and by then may have already established the route of Peachtree Road between West Wesley Road and the creek. Both roads run in part along surveyed land-lot lines.

15. The intersection of the trails from the fords with the Stone Mountain Trail was near the present intersection of DeFoors Ferry and Bohler Roads; the former road traces the Stone Mountain Trail, while the latter road had its beginnings in one of the trails from the fords on Peachtree Creek near Howell Mill Road.

16. Terrell delineated the intersection of these trails on the district plat of survey but not on the plat for Land Lot 231. The earthen mound on which grew the legendary peach tree stood near the center of this land lot.

17. This trail appears to lead to a ford in the river, although none has been documented in that location.

18. Leading southwest from Standing Peachtree was the River Road, which was most likely created at least in part out of an older Indian trail between Standing Peachtree and Sand Town. As noted above, Terrell's survey shows the original road following the northern part of today's Bolton Road and continuing south approximating the route of Parrott Avenue in Whittier Mill Village. By the time the River Road disappears from Terrell's district plat near the southwest corner of the Seventeenth District, it was running very close to the river. Cochran Road, which runs along the river in south Fulton County may trace an Indian trail that ran south from Sand Town. Evidence for a trail between those two segments and most of the site of Sand Town itself have been obliterated by development along Fulton Industrial Boulevard.

19. The modern intersection of Hollywood Road and Felker Ward Street mark this trail intersection. The route of the trail to the east is obscured by Inman Yards, and the route of Hollwood Road to the south varied depending where it crossed Proctor Creek.

20. None of the route of this trail can be traced in modern roads, but its destination was probably Sand Town.

21. The route of this trail is traced by Northwest Drive, which parallels a small tributary of Proctor Creek west of Hightower Rosd.

22. The intersection of this trail with Trail #19 was lost to the Western & Atlantic and Inman Yards but its route might be traced by parts of Perry Boulevard and Marietta Street as far as Ashby Street, which is where Terrell's survey ends. From there it would have continued to the southeast, probably passing through downtown Atlanta.

23. One of the trails converging on Standing Peachtree from the southeast ran across the top of a ridge in what is now the west side of Crest Lawn Cemetery. Later the route of the Old Marietta Road, it offers excellent views to the northwest to the site of Standing Peachtree and the river. To the southeast, it converged on Trail 22 as it tracked east from the River Road south of Standing Peachtree.

24. This trail became a major thoroughfare into Atlanta in the mid-nineteenth century. It would have intersected Trail #22 on the southwest side of the Georgia Tech campus a few hundred yards east of the present intersection of Howell Mill Road and Marietta Street. The northern part of the trail is marked today by DeFoors Ferry Road south of Collier Road and Howell Mill Road as it passes between the two city reservoirs at Huff Road.

25. In northeast Atlanta, Terrell's plat of Land Lot 3 suggests that Johnson Road NE, which today begins in DeKalb County just east of the county line, follows an older trail which forked north from the Stone Mountain Trail just west of the present intersection of Rock Springs Road and North Highland Avenue.

26. Terrell mapped the trail between Stone Mountain and Standing Peachtree on the district plat, and as noted earlier, much of its route can still be found in the routes of modern streets and roads. Less clear is the trail that is shown on the district plat map for the Seventeenth District leaving the Stone Mountain Trail in what is now Druid Hills and continuing southwest across the southeast side of Piedmont Park and into Midtown near what is now the intersection of Eighth Street and Argonne Avenue. In surveying the Seventeenth District, Terrell thought it important enough to delineate this trail on the district map itself, where he labeled it "Sand Town Path." Although none of the surveyors of the surrounding land districts noted any part of the Sand Town Trail, Goff took Terrell's as the trail's main route. It seems improbable, however, that the main Sand Town Trail would not have kept to the high ground through Decatur and downtown Atlanta along which MARTA's East Line runs today, a route that would avoid all creek crossings and is also the most direct route to the site of Sand Town from what is now downtown Decatur. Most likely, Terrell recorded one of a braid of roads leading to Sand Town.

27. Johnson Road NW [sic] approximates the route of this trail.

28. Part of this trail segment corresponds with Hollywood Road but there is no longer any trace of the other north-south trails crossing the creek to the west of Hollywood Road.


1.  Charles J. Kappler, "Treaty with the Creek, 1805," Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, 85-86; Angela Pulley Hudson, Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 113.

2. James D'Angelo, Ph.D., R.P.A., "'The Original Peachtree Road and Why It Was Built." History. Web. 12 September 2017; "A New Take on an Old Story: Fort Daniel, Fort Peachtree, and the Road that Connected Them," The Heritage 43, no. 1, Spring 2014 (Gwinnett Historical Society), 6-8; "Cultural Resource Management," Gwinnett Archaeology Bulletin II, no. 4 (April 1, 2013), 2.  D'Angelo has directed archaeological research on the site of Fort Daniel and has also done extensive archival research in state records to document the origins of the forts and the road between them. His conclusions challenge some of the traditional accounts of those early events. See "The Fort Daniel Foundation, Inc." accessed online at <http://www.thefortdanielfoundation .org/History.htm, 6 June 2014>. For the traditional story, see Franklin Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. 1, 13-16; and James C. Flanagan, History of Gwinnett County Georgia 1818-1943. Vol. 1. (Lawrenceville, GA: 1943, facsimile reprint by Alice Flanagan, 1995), 16-18.

3.  Sarah Blackwell Gober Temple, The First Hundred Years: A Short History of Cobb County in Georgia. (Marietta, GA: Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society, 1997, reprint of 1935 edition), 18.

4. John H. Goff, "The Sandtown Trail," The Atlanta Historical Bulletin, Vol. 11, No. 4 (December 1966), 40.


continue to

sources of information