Assunta Fiorini and Scott Skillman wanted to buy an old home with a good bit of land in 2011. They found a gem — a historic house built around 1833 in the Crabapple area of Alpharetta, with enough property for their dogs and two horses.
This story originally appeared in the April/May edition of Living Northside Magazine.
Their home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by one of Crabapple’s first settlers, Simeon Rucker. It still has two small “preacher rooms” where traveling pastors could spend the night. One of Rucker’s sons, John, left his Confederate unit in the Civil War and returned to the house. He wrote his name on a wall, where it’s still legible. The date: Aug. 3, 1864. Somebody else carved their initials in the 1890s, while another person scrawled a poem in the 1920s.
Walk to the rear of couple’s 3.3 acres, however, and you see and hear the rush of cars zooming along Rucker Road. Suburban sprawl is everywhere. Fiorini, an attorney, has fought efforts to erect subdivisions on the still bucolic street in front of her home.
“I feel like I need to be ever vigilant about maintaining the character of the area,” she says. And yet, like many who live in Crabapple, Fiorini was attracted not only to the area’s pastoral roots, but also its proximity to shops and restaurants. “It’s a dichotomy,” she adds.
Fiorini’s conflicted feelings about Crabapple’s rustic and historic charm — and its ever-encroaching development — play out across the community. Residents like a certain amount of country living, but also want the convenience of nearby restaurants and shops. Funny thing, however — nobody agrees on just where Crabapple is. “There is no clear boundary of Crabapple,” says Melissa Morgan, who sells homes in the area for Berkshire Hathaway. This much can be said definitively: The community is mostly in the city of Milton, but also seeps into Alpharetta and Roswell.
Crabapple was once home to Cherokees Indians who lived in North Georgia. The state forced them to leave in the 1830s and auctioned their land to white settlers who established farms in the area. One of those early settlers, James Dorris, operated a store from which he traded with the Indians, and he married a Cherokee woman. He and other Crabapple pioneers, including the Rucker family, have roads named after them.
Originally in Cherokee County, Crabapple became part of Milton County, which later merged with Fulton County in 1932. By the early 20th century, several of the buildings at the Five Corners intersection had been erected, including a cotton gin next door to Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails that is now occupied by a marketing consultant, and a two-story brick building now used by a design firm. That intersection – Crabapple Road, Mayfield Road, Birmingham Highway, Mid Broadwell Road and Broadwell Road — is regarded today as downtown Crabapple and also is called Crabapple Crossing, or simply “the crossroads.”
The community got its name from the crabapple trees once grown in the area. But cotton became the dominant crop, and one 19th century settler, John B. Broadwell, developed a strain of high-yield cotton seed that was hugely successful. Cotton’s dominance waned following a boll weevil infestation in the 1920s, and later the Great Depression, which wiped out subsistence farmers, says Connie Mashburn, a local historian.
Eventually, metro Atlanta’s growth exploded northward to places like Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. That and the opening of Ga. 400 in the 1970s spurred additional growth in Milton and the Crabapple community.
With it have come struggles to preserve some of the area’s rural past while new subdivisions sprout up like cotton once did. The contrast between the old and the new is epitomized by the four silos standing along busy Crabapple Road, remnants from a large farm that once prospered there. Adjacent to them today is a strip shopping center.
Still, one need drive little more than a mile from Crabapple Crossing to see picturesque ranches with horses and donkeys grazing near the road. And remnants of Crabapple’s past still remain. Near Fiorini and Stillman’s home is a private Rucker family cemetery with several dozen graves in the midst of a subdivision.
Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails is housed in an old farmhouse that is more than 150 years old and once home to Broadwell and his family. The cotton gin next door is more than 100 years old. Nearby is a home décor business called Urban Farmhouse, located in a home that dates back more than a century.
Crabapple is in northernmost Fulton County, six miles north of Ga. 400. Many neighborhoods are within walking or bicycling distance of schools, restaurants and shops. Housing is a mix of single family and townhomes with Craftsman, cottage and farmhouse influences. There are no apartments. “That’s one of the marks of being in Crabapple,” Morgan says. “They don’t have a rental community.”
People moving to Crabapple aren’t first-time buyers, and often are moving up in price, Morgan says. Reid Casey, an associate broker with Keller Williams Realty, also sees folks downsizing from substantial homes elsewhere in North Fulton to Crabapple dwellings with low-maintenance yards. Perhaps the biggest draws, however, are highly regarded elementary, middle and high schools. Milton High School students’ 2014-15 ACT scores greatly exceeded the state average in all subject areas, and U.S. News & World Report ranked it the sixth best high school in Georgia. Good schools are critical, Morgan says, because, “everything in Crabapple is family centered.”
That’s true, says Peyton Jamison, a financial planner who serves as president of the Crabapple Community Association. Jamison grew up in Roswell, but he and his wife settled several years ago in the Crabapple section of Milton, in part because of the schools. They have three children. “You have the best schools in North Fulton,” Jamison says. “You have a community feeling.”
Amanda Quintana and her family formerly lived in East Cobb, then moved to Texas for a few years before returning to Georgia to settle in Crabapple in November 2008. The schools were one of the lures, says the mother of two, adding that she also appreciates “the rural feel.”
“I can drive three blocks and feel like I’m in the country,” Quintana says. “[Yet] I can walk 100 feet and get something to eat.”
Crabapple strives to maintain a small-town, homey atmosphere. One day a month is designated as a “walk your child to school day” at Crabapple Crossing Elementary, and many parents do just that. Christmas in Crabapple is held at the Broadwell Pavilion and features crafts for children, caroling, hot cocoa and s’mores. Kids can have their photo taken with Santa Claus. (This once being farm country, he arrived last year on a tractor, not a sleigh.)
Other wholesome activities include a pumpkin-carving event around Halloween and a walking Fourth of July parade. Every May, local restaurants and retailers set up outside for the Milton Jubilee, an event with live music that encourages residents to patronize local businesses.
Balancing Crabapple’s growth while preserving its historic appeal has been challenging, however. Traffic at the Crabapple Crossing intersection, in particular, often is a congested conga line of cars and SUVs. Still, most people have welcomed growth, Jamison says. “We know we can’t stop development, but we’re trying to shape it as best we can,” he says.
The city of Milton adopted what is called a form-based code for Crabapple as a means of doing that. It requires residential and commercial development to undergo a design review to ensure building height, architectural styles, materials and parking placement are done in ways that encourage walking and are compatible with the area’s history.
Hence, in a nod to the area’s agricultural roots, the entrance to Crabapple’s new library was built to resemble a silo. A barn on the same property is a replica of the Dinsmore barn that once stood there, and was partially built from reclaimed wood. Donated books for resale are stored there.
As for the crossroads traffic, the city hopes to ease it when it builds two roundabouts and a connecting road in the future.
Meanwhile, ground has broken in Crabapple for construction of Milton’s new city hall. It’s scheduled to open in April 2017. “Development in Crabapple is popping,” says Kathleen Field, the city’s community development director. “We’re building a village in Crabapple parcel by parcel.”
Quintana has seen a lot of growth in the seven years she has lived in Crabapple. “[Growth] is going to concern me in 15 years,” she says. “Right now, I think it’s delightful.”
Crabapple Fest, an annual outdoor antique show in October, is by far the biggest event of the year. With nearly 100 juried vendors, it drew an estimated 30,000 people in 2014, but fewer last year because of rain.
ARTS & CULTURE
A new addition to the Crabapple community is the $19.1 million, 25,000-square-foot Milton branch county library that opened last July. It was made possible by a bond referendum passed by Fulton County voters in 2008 that permitted the construction of eight new branch libraries and the expansion of two others in its first phase.
The library, which has more than 61,000 items, has been welcomed by the community, says branch manager Kimberly Snoddy-George. “We’re very busy,” she says. “Our study rooms are packed.” With its sloped and gabled roofs, clerestory windows providing a light and airy ambience, and a soaring atrium, the library is an aesthetic success. Add to that chairs surrounding a non-working fireplace, tasteful artwork, and walls of muted shades of green and orange, and it’s no wonder some patrons tell her they would be happy staying there all day.
“Everyone comes in here and says it’s very Zen and relaxing,” she says. “It’s very welcoming and comfortable.”
Events and activities at the library include yoga and genealogy classes, a couples reading program and a fiction book club. Programs are aimed at all age groups and a wide range of interests, Snoddy-George says. There is an outreach program with area senior citizens, a teen advisory board that works with local high schools, and activities for nursery school kids. A monthly program on astronomy has been a huge hit, she adds.
FOOD AND DRINK
Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails
This restaurant features contemporary cuisine with entrees such as shrimp and grits and sesame-crusted mountain trout. The restaurant’s 1-acre garden provides about 90 different varieties of heirloom fruits, vegetables and herbs for use in its dishes. 800 Mayfield Road. 770-817-0161. www.miltonscuisine.com
Olde Blind Dog
With a dark, woody ambience, stained-glass windows and cozy booths, this Irish pub has an extensive menu with standard fare such as shepherd’s pie and corned beef and cabbage, as well as diverse dishes like fish tacos and black bean veggie burgers. 12650 Crabapple Road. 678-624-1090. www.oldeblinddog.com
Mugs on Milton
A bright and cheery bakery and coffee shop, here pastries and sandwich bread are made daily from scratch with natural ingredients. There’s a wide range of coffees, including Thrive, a specialty grade in which a Roswell supplier eliminates middlemen and provides more revenue to Central American farmers who grow the beans. There also are teas and spritzers and boxed lunches consisting of a sandwich, chips and a cookie. A second Mugs is in Alpharetta. 12670 Crabapple Road. 470-545-6016. www.mugsonmilton.com
Grand Champion BBQ
Also called G.C. BBQ, this sunny eatery’s menu includes wood pit slow-cooked beef brisket and pulled pork, as well as mac and cheese and sides such as baked beans, collard greens and potato salad. With additional locations in Roswell and Atlanta’s Krog Street Market, G.C. BBQ also delivers and caters. 12635 Crabapple Road. 770-993-4227. www.gcbbq.net
A Crabapple resident living in Milton can use Alpharetta city facilities and programs — and vice versa — without having to pay non-resident fees that can add up to 75 percent to the cost of participating, thanks to a regionalized park system established by the two cities.
The Crabapple Community Association has a Facebook page where you can find news of events and happenings in the area.
The Broadwell Pavilion can be rented by individuals for events when it’s not in use for community activities such as Christmas and Halloween celebrations. The 40-by-52-foot open pavilion has a large stone fireplace, restrooms and storage facilities. A four-hour minimum rental of $100 is required.