American Heritage Society: North Fulton residents get history lesson

Elected officials tell little-known facts about their cities

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Johns Creek was the area’s first international trade center. Roswell Mayor Jere Wood compares his hometown to a television show. The Republican Party is the reason North Fulton is entirely incorporated.

These are just some of the little-known facts that came out at the American Heritage Society of Georgia’s inaugural meeting Feb. 25. As guest speakers, the American Heritage Society lined up Wood, first Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos, Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood, Johns Creek Councilman Brad Raffensperger and Alpharetta Councilman Donald Mitchell.

Organizer Vesta Smith corralled this elected talent to kick off her goal of raising North Fulton’s consciousness about its local heritage and sense of community.

The elected officials were the centerpiece of the evening, relating their thoughts on the histories of their respective communities. And most people said after the meeting that they learned a lot.

Wood said he had warm memories of growing up in Roswell in the 1950s, when the city founded on mills still had the pants factory running.

“But to know what Roswell was like you had to know Mayberry,” he said.

Yes, that mythical town with Andy Griffith as sheriff, Aunt Bee and Gomer Pyle. It must be supposed Wood was an erstwhile Opie.

His father was one of the first commuters downtown to Atlanta and shared a ride with three other intrepid commuters.

“It was just a two-lane road, and it took them an hour to drive to Atlanta, a distance of about 25 miles. Today, we have an eight-lane highway and it still takes over an hour to get there,” he said.

“We didn’t have Facebook in those days,” he said. “But we did have a party line on the telephone. Just like Facebook, people got a lot of enjoyment listening. And if you didn’t want something known all over town, you didn’t talk about it on the phone.”

He remembered as a boy running through the woods, playing organized Little League baseball – and then playing disorganized baseball the rest of the summer. Then there was “dirt clod season,” throwing clods at one another and “king of the hill” at the sawdust pile outside the sawdust mill.

“And growing from 2,500 residents to 90,000, Roswell has still has the same culture. It’s just all the farms are subdivisions now and all the roads are paved,” Wood said.

From Johns Creek, Councilman Raffensperger noted the area around Johns Creek was the seat of international commerce.

“We had McGinnis Ferry that belonged to James McGinnis, one of the influential men in the area, Autrey Mill, Rogers Ferry, Nesbit Ferry,” Raffensperger said. “All of these are roads today. But in the early 1800s, these were ferries across the Chattahoochee River.

“On the south side lived the settlers, and on the north were the Cherokees. So at these ferries were the trading posts for international trade between the Americans and the Indian nation,” he said.

Councilman Mitchell was standing in for Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. He said he would rather Marjean Birt take his place as she knew more about Alpharetta having been the longtime chairwoman of the Alpharetta Historical Society and having seen a lot of the city’s history firsthand.

He said Alpharetta was county seat to the old Milton County, and that was due in large part to a great many springs in the area. The first big commercial area was northwest of what is now Avalon rising out of the dirt. It was the grist mill at Teasley Creek.

“Each summer, Alpharetta had the old June Sing that brought people from miles around to sing from the Sacred Heart hymnal in the old shape-note style. The whole family would come and stay for days camping under the stars. It was also a great time for the ‘young people’ to get to know each other as well,” Mitchell said.

There was some drinking reported once going on around on the edges of town.

“But most people agreed they weren’t from around here,” Mitchell said.

Today, the grist mill is no longer, but Alpharetta has embraced the new technology and is home to 600 technology companies and the lowest unemployment rate in North Fulton.

Milton Mayor Lockwood said he is most proud of his town’s sense of community.

“And not just of Milton, but all of North Fulton,” he said.

He moved here 27 years ago. Lockwood explained it this way: He settled on an old dairy farm. He bought a tractor and asked if he could pay for it when it came in.

“The man told me he knew where I lived, and it would be dropped off. I could come around and pay him after it was delivered. You didn’t need a credit card in those days. You carried your credit around with you,” Lockwood said.

The unquestioned belle of the evening was former Mayor Galambos. For more than 30 years, she led the effort to create a city of Sandy Springs. That eventual success story was the direct catalyst for incorporation of Johns Creek, Milton, Dunwoody and Brookhaven.

“We fought for years to be a city, but the city of Atlanta would not allow it. Atlanta wanted to annex us instead,” she said.

Sandy Springs residents did not want to be “eaten up” by Atlanta like Buckhead had been. But Galambos said it was “better to be for something than against Atlanta.” So they fought for cityhood.

At the time, Georgia had the longest serving House speaker entrenched in the Legislature. Speaker Tom Murphy carried more political clout than anyone in the state.

“He was a Democrat, and as long as he was speaker, he was going to give Atlanta what they wanted. We never stood a chance to be a city until the Republicans won control of the House and Speaker Murphy was no longer in power,” Galambos said.

“So he retired and we got a new speaker,” she said. “So if you want to know why there are cities in North Fulton today, it is because of the Republican Party.”

More history lessons are promised each month from the American Heritage Society.

RN 03-06-14