How well do you know the history of the Northside?

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How well do you know the history of the Northside?

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JASON GETZ
 Barrington Hall is shown Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Roswell, Ga. Barrington Hall, built in 1842, was the residence of Barrington King who, along with his father Roswell King, was the founder of the town of Roswell. This is for the cover story about the History of the Northside. 

Here’s a quick “Jeopardy!”-style clue on history: This man started a shoe factory in Roswell in the 1850s in what is now Mac McGee, an Irish pub on Canton Street.

No, it’s not Roswell King, for whom the city was named, but Charles Dunwody, who inspired the name of that nearby city. He is buried in the Roswell Presbyterian Church cemetery, along with many of the city’s prominent early settlers and their families.

A spelling error resulted in the Northside city becoming known as “Dunwoody.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of Living Northside Magazine.

Charles Dunwody grew up in Roswell. His father, John Dunwody, was one of several people in the late 1830s from the Georgia coast who Roswell King invited to join the new village he was laying out. John Dunwody did so, and immediately became a stockholder in King’s Roswell Manufacturing Company. He is buried in Founder’s Cemetery in Roswell, not 15 feet from the weather-worn obelisk above King’s grave.

The Dunwody family ties to Roswell don’t end there. John Dunwody’s wife – Charles’ mother — was the sister of another prominent early Roswell resident, James Stephens Bulloch. He too was persuaded by King to gather his family and slaves on the Georgia coast and move to the nascent hamlet and become a stockholder in Roswell Manufacturing. Bulloch’s daughter, Martha (or “Mittie”), married Theodore Roosevelt Sr. at her childhood home, Bulloch Hall, in 1853. She was the mother of Theodore Roosevelt, the future president, and grandmother of Eleanor Roosevelt.

The interconnectedness of Northside communities extends well beyond Kings and Dunwoodys and Bullochs. It started with white settlers’ encroachment on Indian lands throughout the area, which was further fueled by the Georgia Gold Rush and ultimately the forced relocation of thousands of Cherokees.

So while Alpharetta has been a city 148 years longer than Johns Creek, and East Cobb isn’t a city at all, their residents and others on the Northside are closely linked by people and events in the 19th century that were pivotal to the region’s settlement and growth.

“There was an overlapping of the families and the communities,” says Roswell Historical Society archivist Elaine DeNiro. “Even though they are distinct communities, there is a link there.”

Home of the Cherokees

Cherokees – and before them the Creeks — were once well established throughout the region. The Cherokees established the Hightower or Etowah Trail that wound through Northside communities and served as a pedestrian superhighway and a boundary between Cherokee and Creek lands. Segments of the trail are now traveled by motor vehicles — along upper Willeo Road near Coleman Road in Roswell, for example, and on part of the road called Hightower Trail around the Huntcliff subdivision in Sandy Springs, according to Roswell historian and author Michael Hitt.

But Georgia systematically took portions of Indian territory and conducted eight land lotteries between 1805 and 1833. White settlers acquired lots ranging from 40 to 490 acres. Some were real estate speculators selling their parcels to the highest bidders, says Connie Mashburn, an Alpharetta historian.

The Georgia Gold Rush in 1829 brought a flood of new white outsiders to the region and with them new state laws aimed at forcing Cherokees from their remaining lands.

“Gold was a key issue because Georgia said these mineral rights belong to us, not the Indians,” says Leslie Thomas, president of the Georgia chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. “It was a major issue in pushing them out.”

Many prospectors passed through the Northside on their way to the North Georgia mountains, especially Dahlonega. Some, however, looked no further for the precious metal.

The state held a “gold lottery” in 1832, which awarded 40-acre parcels of land. Winners had to pay a $10 grant fee per lot. “A smattering” of gold was discovered in Alpharetta and nearby, Mashburn says. “Not enough to make anybody rich,” he adds. Gold was mined for many years around Martin’s Landing in Roswell, but it’s unclear how much was found. It also was panned and dredged around the Shakerag community of Johns Creek.

There’s no telling what shape the town of Roswell would have taken had there been no Georgia Gold Rush. Roswell King was a banker in Darien, south of Savannah, when he went to the North Georgia mountains to establish a bank branch in “gold country.” He passed through Vickery Creek and saw the potential for using the water to power a cotton production and processing plant. This was at a time when the South was trying to become more industrialized and rely less on the North for processing its cotton, DeNiro says. But without the gold rush, perhaps Roswell King never would have visited the area.

King returned with two sons and began planning and constructing the mill complex and the town itself. “He systematically purchased the land in this area from the original land lottery owners,” DeNiro says. The mill was built in part with slave labor and was incorporated in 1839 as the Roswell Manufacturing Company. King’s son, Barrington, was president. His father died five years later. By the early 1850s, a second mill was operating, and the company had as many as 350 employees. It also operated a commissary for the workers. It’s still there, across from the town square, doing business as the Public House restaurant.

The importance of the mills extended beyond Roswell. Cotton grown and ginned in Alpharetta was sold to the Roswell Manufacturing Company, which also maintained a warehouse there for several years. Sandy Springs cotton growers also sold to Roswell. On a grander scale, the mills supplied the Confederate Army with fabric for supplies and clothing, such as the “Roswell Gray” fabric that was used in military uniforms.

The Roswell mills aside, most Northside denizens farmed in those days. Multiple generations of large families often lived on the same land. Intermarriage between them was common. Many of the early settlers’ descendants still live in the region. For example, the progeny of Valentine Coleman and his Cherokee wife, Nancy Campbell, have held annual family reunions for several decades in Roswell, where the couple settled at least 180 years ago. About 100 descendants — mostly Northside residents — attended last year’s reunion, says Phil Mathis, a lifelong Roswell resident who is among them. “It’s a source of pride,” Mathis says. “The more people move in … the bond knowing that Colemans have been here so long makes the bond stronger.”

Several governmental and judicial actions in the 1830s were pivotal to more extensive homesteading by whites in the area. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which President Andrew Jackson signed into law. It allowed Jackson to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes east of the Mississippi, which would require them to relinquish their lands in exchange for territory in the West. The Cherokee Nation filed legal challenges, however, to restrictive laws imposed on them by the state of Georgia. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its favor, saying the Cherokee Nation was subject only to federal, not Georgia laws. Jackson, however, didn’t enforce the court’s ruling.

With tensions simmering, a tiny minority of the Cherokee Nation then signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, in which the Cherokees ceded all of their land east of the Mississippi in exchange for territory in what is now Oklahoma. The Rogers family of Johns Creek was influential in the adoption of the treaty.

One of the earliest white settlers in Johns Creek was John Rogers, who married a half-Cherokee woman named Sarah Cordery. Rogers also was a good friend of Jackson, who spent the night at his family’s home, which is still lived in today by residents who are of not relation.

Two of Rogers’ sons, William and Robert, were among the 20 men from the Cherokee Nation that signed the controversial 1835 treaty. “They were Cherokees by virtue of their mother,” says Daniel Littlefield, director of the Sequoyah National Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. William Rogers also married a daughter of Cherokee chief James Vann.

The treaty split Cherokee families and opened up more land for white settlement on the Northside and elsewhere. Cherokee treaty proponents reasoned that whites already were running roughshod over them, and the pact — which included a payment of $5 million to them — was an opportunity to start over with their own land and self-government.

A fraction of Cherokees moved west on their own accord. Some were allowed to remain with the proviso that they agree to become citizens of the state and be subject to local laws “After that, they were not looked at as members of the tribe,” Littlefield says, adding that if they decided later to join others in the West they had to reapply for membership in the Cherokee Nation.

Most Cherokees, however, were forced to relocate in 1838 in what infamously became known as the Trail of Tears. Many died. That same year, Johnson K. Rogers, brother of William and Robert and also a treaty advocate, moved to Washington, D.C., where he represented the Cherokees for the next three decades.

Will Rogers, the 20th century actor, newspaper columnist and humorist was a descendant of the Rogers clan. The family still owns land in Johns Creek. John Rogers and Sarah Cordery and others are buried in a small family cemetery tucked in a neighborhood of mansions.

New turf war

As much as Indian land issues roiled the region, nothing would be more disruptive than the Civil War. Regardless of whether they were farmers or scions of privileged families, men joined the Confederate States Army. “There wasn’t a home in the city of Roswell that their [eligible] sons didn’t go,” DeNiro says. Even the wealthy Barrington King family lost two sons to the war. Elsewhere, Charles Dunwoody was wounded in battle, and a brother, Henry, was killed at Gettysburg. At least one member of Dunwoody’s prominent Spruill family, Thomas Franklin Spruill, served, as did two of James Bulloch’s sons and Jackson Rogers, a brother of the Cherokee activist brothers of Johns Creek.

Union troops marched through East Cobb to Roswell in July 1864, en route to Atlanta. Confederate troops destroyed a covered bridge at the Chattahoochee River to thwart them, but it was to no avail. Gen. William T. Sherman approved the destruction of Roswell’s two cotton mills and a woolen mill, and the detention of about 400 mill workers who were charged with treason, but never tried. Most were women and children, and were sent north on trains. Few returned.

The rest of Roswell was spared destruction. Union soldiers used the Presbyterian church as a hospital. Most of those treated were suffering from heat exhaustion, says Hitt, the Roswell historian. Apartments known as “The Old Bricks” and built for the mill workers may have briefly been used for the same purpose. The Old Bricks remain, only now as townhomes, a short walk from Roswell King’s grave.

The Civil War also halted grading begun by Barrington King in order to build a railroad to what is now Chamblee. From there he would have been able to ship materials more quickly to Atlanta.

Union troops showed up in other Northside communities too. They foraged for food and sought blacksmith equipment in Alpharetta. They marched through Dunwoody and plundered supplies in Sandy Springs, even camping at the farm of the pioneer Burdett family in the latter city, called Oak Grove at the time.

Reconstructing communities

After the war, the mills were rebuilt. Charles Dunwody returned, became a planter and built a home in what is now his namesake city. He rebuilt the covered bridge and charged a toll to cross it. That bridge is the uncovered Roswell Road overpass at Azalea Drive. It became a concrete bridge in 1925 and was expanded to four lanes in 1965. He also started a successful petition to give Dunwoody a post office.

Barrington King died in 1866 after being kicked by a horse. His son, James Roswell King, became president of Roswell Manufacturing, and in 1875 work resumed on the railroad, Hitt says. The Roswell Railroad began operating in 1881 and was nicknamed “Buck.” It stopped in Dunwoody before reaching the end of its 9.8-mile route at the Chattahoochee River.

In addition to fabric from the Roswell mills, the train also carried produce from Dunwoody farmers, as well as lumber and catalog orders. Workers were hired in Dunwoody to maintain a section of the railroad track and were housed in three railroad section gang houses. One survived. It currently is home to a business providing music lessons.

Had it begun later, perhaps the Roswell Railroad would have been named for another Northside town. It cost too much to build a bridge to carry the train over the river to Roswell, so the track ended short of the south bank in Sandy Springs near the North River Tavern. Sandy Springs existed back then as an unincorporated area, but it didn’t extend as far as the river, Hitt says. “There was no name. That was just no man’s land.”

The Roswell Railroad had but one engineer during its entire four-decade run: Isaac Roberts. While he built an impressive home in Sandy Springs — on a ridge above the Chattahoochee River and less than a five-minute walk to work — he also was founder of Roswell Bank. (First Union National Bank acquired it in the 1980s. First Union later merged with Wachovia, which is now Wells Fargo.) Roberts and family members are buried not in Sandy Springs, but in the same Roswell cemetery as Charles Charles Dunwody.

The little train’s one moment of glamour was when a U.S. president was its passenger. President Theodore Roosevelt passed through Dunwoody to the end of the line near the Chattahoochee in 1905. He then traveled by carriage to Bulloch Hall to visit his mother’s childhood home. Roosevelt died in 1919. The train expired two years later.

The first white settlers in Dunwoody, like those elsewhere, established a community on what had been Indian land. By 1829, they had already built a church, Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church. It still conducts services today on Roberts Drive.

Spruill’s Dunwoody and Sandy Springs Connection

The Spruill (sometimes spelled Spruell) name is well-known in Dunwoody, thanks to the Spruill Center for the Performing Arts, Spruill Gallery and the Dunwoody Farmhouse, also called the Cheek/Spruill Farmhouse. The Perimeter Mall sprawls over what had been Spruill property. But the family has longstanding roots in Sandy Springs, too.

The first Spruill to settle on the Northside was Stephen Lee Spruill in the early 1800s, and his land was in Sandy Springs. His son, James, and James’ wife, Millie, also lived in Sandy Springs before moving to Dunwoody in the early 1840s to farm. The Spruill Center for the Arts is on that site now and includes a house built by James Spruill in 1867, and two outbuildings.

James Spruill’s brother, Wilson, donated five acres of land around 1851 in Sandy Springs for construction of a log cabin that served as a church and school. It replaced a temporary shelter that had been used for revivals and camp meetings that continued into the 20th century. The church grew to become the Sandy Springs Methodist Church. While the Spruill name is associated with Dunwoody, more than three dozen family members are buried in the Sandy Springs church’s cemetery. They include pioneers Stephen Lee, James and Millie Spruill.

“People from Dunwoody went there too,” says Valerie Biggerstaff, curator at Dunwoody Preservation Trust, explaining that in those early years, Dunwoody had no Methodist Church.

“There was a lot of family movement between Sandy Springs and Dunwoody,” adds Melissa Swindell, director of historic resources and education programs at Heritage Sandy Springs. “The line between Sandy Springs and Dunwoody was kind of blurred.”

Today, that’s truer than ever as a result of city incorporation throughout the Northside in recent years. Dunwoody Springs Elementary School, for example, is not in Dunwoody and DeKalb County, but rather Sandy Springs and Fulton County. Johns Creek has a subdivision called Roswell Mill. And today, the road named for Roswell King extends mile after mile, through Roswell and Sandy Springs all the way to Atlanta. Visionary though he was, even King wouldn’t have imagined that.

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