Panola road at I-20, Dekalb County, 1974
Photo: Dillon-Reynolds Aerial Photography, Inc.
Photo: Dillon-Reynolds Aerial Photography, Inc.

Actual Factual DeKalb: Where did Panola Road get its name?

This is "Actual Factual DeKalb," a regular column in which I answer reader questions about goings-on and history in DeKalb County.

Reader Cornelius asks: How did Panola Road get its name? 

Hey, Cornelius. This is a bit of a tough one. I can’t seem to find an official story of how the road got its name, but the word “Panola” is found all around that part of south DeKalb. That could be the key.

Here’s what I’ve found:

According to a research paper by Ryan D. Hurd, an area around Panola Mountain State Park, just over the DeKalb-Rockdale County line, was once known as Panola.

Panola is the Choctaw Native American word for cotton. The tribe wasn’t in the area, but their language was used by local Creeks, according to Hurd.

Still, it isn’t exactly clear why the area would be named for cotton due to one key reason, Hurd writes in “Mountain in the Shadows: A Cultural History of the Lands Around Panola Mountain State Conservation Park.”

“Cotton was not regularly grown by the historic Creek Indians nor is cotton a native plant of the area,” Hurd writes. “However, a large flowing creek called the ‘Cotton Indian River’ originates to the south of this Panola community.”

The name stuck and was eventually applied to the Panola Mountain state park, which is home to a 100-acre granite outcrop similar to Stone Mountain and was opened in 1974 by Gov. Jimmy Carter.

But the road doesn’t even go to the park!:

Yes, Cornelius, you pointed that out in your question too, didn’t you?

It’s true. The road stops at Ga. 155, roughly a mile from the park.

But that intersection is the heart of the “Panola Shoals” area, where South River crosses the highway. Panola Shoals was the hub of the Panola community, according to Hurd, whose paper is archived on the “Friends of Panola” Facebook page.

— I am a staff writer with the AJC and a proud DeKalb County resident. To submit “Actual Factual DeKalb” questions, contact me at, @JoshuaWSharpe on Twitter or via the form below.

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