This story appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Living Northside magazine.
For many neighbors, being able to leave the front porch on a warm summer night and stroll over to the dining and entertainment scene of Canton Street is about as good as it gets.
Roswell’s residential hamlet on the river — and its popular downtown setting of restaurants, live music, galleries and shops — has become the ideal that many communities seek to model themselves after.
The city receives about a call per month from planners in other communities trying to create the feel of downtown’s Canton Street, says Brad Townsend, Roswell director of planning and zoning. Not every town has the aesthetics of historic Roswell, however. Several Canton Street structures are old horse carriage houses built long before the thought of automobiles, Townsend explains.
The Canton Street vibe was born just before the 1996 Olympics in anticipation of tourists visiting Roswell. That’s when the city invested $1 million in brick sidewalks, street lighting, trees and the removal of overhead utilities. “It spurred the redevelopment of changing what was more retail to more of a mix of retail and restaurants,” Townsend says.
Like Canton Street, the Chattahoochee River is a major aspect of Roswell. “The community really wraps around the river,” says Christina DeVictor, a resident and owner of Someplace Wild photography. “The river connects everyone.”
Indeed, at the hint of a spring-like weekend, Azalea Park is filled with folks picnicking by the river and joggers navigating by pedestrians on the nearby sidewalk. Parked cars typically line one side of Azalea Drive with kayakers ready to put in the water.
Don White Memorial Park, a couple of miles east on Riverside Road, also draws boaters and fisherman to its dock.
The Roswell we see today is an extension of the vision of Roswell King, a businessman and manager of slave plantations in Darien and St. Simons. He built the cotton mills of Roswell Manufacturing Company in 1838 by utilizing the power of the Chattahoochee River and Vickery Creek.
Townsend explains: “He thought, ‘I’ve got a water source to be able to create employment, where do I want my commerce to be. Now I need to house [the workers].’”
King built a community of houses for his workers and offered land to family and friends from the coast to build homes.
Roswell was home to several Native Americans who were forcibly removed from the land by the United States Indian Removal Act of 1830.
“Although people come here because of Roswell’s charm, many do not know why we are in this spot or what happened — the forced removal of the Cherokee Indians [known as the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma] to make land available,” says Marsha Saum, a fourth generation Roswellite and Cherokee descendant. Saum is also tourism sales manager of the Roswell Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Before the area became what we know to be Roswell, it was divided into land lots and gold lots, although technically there was no gold here, Saum explains. Gold was discovered near Dahlonega.
“People won the land in a land lottery,” Saum says. “Many didn’t really want it and sold it to Roswell King, including land that had been taken from the Cherokee Indians. That’s how he was able to purchase so much of it in this area.”
Roswell officially became a city in 1854. Ten years later, the Civil War devastated the mills, which had been producing cloth for Confederate military supplies. Union troops arrested 400 workers, mainly women and children, and charged them with treason. They were banished north, and many were never heard from again. They became known as the “Lost Mill Workers of Roswell.” A monument to them was erected in 2000 in Sloan Street Park.
Roswell’s population was almost 94,000 in 2012. Median household income that year was $81,692, compared to $47,209 in the rest of Georgia, according to CityData. The largest age demographic is between the ages 45 and 64, accounting for 29.7 percent of residents. Roswell is the state’s eighth largest city.
Cyclists are a big part of the community, holding regular get-togethers and activities such as the annual Roswell Cycling Festival. Dedicated road lanes and trails abound, and Roswell is a destination point for bikers from other towns as well.
Also popular is the Georgia Ensemble Theatre, the only professional entity of its kind outside the perimeter. It stages plays, musicals and concerts, and has an active conservatory. “They’re our bread and butter,” says resources manager Michael Van Osch about Roswell’s residents. “We are very entrenched here.”
A self-guided walking tour of Roswell’s historic district showcases antebellum houses, monuments, churches, museums and cemeteries. The popular ghost tour features guide Dianna Avena, a paranormal investigator. 617 Atlanta St. 770-640-3253. visitroswellga.com
Alive After Five
A bustling street party downtown every third Thursday of the month from 5-9 p.m., starting in April and running through October, with live entertainment and masses of revelers. Shops stay open late, offering tours and refreshments. Canton Street. aliveafterfiveroswell.com
Chattahoochee Nature Center
It’s all here: wildlife, plants, a butterfly garden, trails and a 127-acre natural science center, right on the river. 9135 Willeo Road. 770-992-2055. chattnaturecenter.org
Cultural Arts Center
Plenty of year-round activity, with plays, musicals, exhibitions, and special events. 950 Forrest St. 770-594-6232. roswellgov.com
FOOD AND DRINK
Table & Main
Ryan Pernice’s Southern eatery is getting raves for its fresh ingredients obtained from local farms. It’s a bourbon bar, too. 1028 Canton St. 678-869-5178. tableandmain.com
Ceviche Taqueria & Margarita Bar
This cute, smallish joint serves authentic Mexican food. They offer a vast selection of tequila in three categories, Topshelf, Midshelf and Sipping. 963 Canton St. 678-461-4025. cevichetaqueria.com
Oak Street Cafe
It’s slightly under the radar, but gaining popularity for its take on American fare, with everything made fresh daily. 45 Oak St. 770-594-1300. oakstcafe.com
Hugo’s Oyster Bar
Come here for oysters in many guises, plus a multitude of seafood items. The Voodoo Mussels are outstanding. An annual gumbo cook-off is one of various events. 10360 Alpharetta St. 770-993-5922. hugosoysterbar.com
Foundation Social Eatery
East Roswell has an exciting new addition. “It’s for people who really like food without having to drive to Atlanta,” says chef Mel Toledo. 570 Holcomb Bridge Road, Space 810. 770-641-8877. foundationatl.com
Roux on Canton is a popular hangout with a dozen rotating craft beers on tap, the food menu offers lots of great choices too. 946 Canton St. 770-993-0007. rouxoncanton.com
Galleries in the Roswell Arts District host an Art Walk on the first Friday of the month, covering seven locations within easy strolling distance. roswellartdistrict.com