Historic prison wagon in tug of war

City, county at odds over possession



NORTH FULTON, Ga. – One of the last remaining vestiges of North Fulton’s prison camp may be about to disappear.

Prisoners would be transported for work around the county in iron cages on wheels, one of which has sat between Alpharetta and Roswell city limits on Fulton County property on Maxwell Road for years, unknown and in disrepair, slowly rusting in the elements. The county has plans to renovate the site on which the wagon sits and has recently moved it to a South Fulton location.

But some in North Fulton want it.

The Alpharetta Correctional Institution was created in 1932 and housed some 130 prisoners until it closed in 1975. It was located where the Fulton County Schools’ bus depot now sits, off Ga. 9 and Wills Road. The facility was closed in 1991.

Until recently, the wagon sat on county property near the Roswell-Alpharetta Public Safety Training Center (RAPSTC).

Clark Otten, a local historian, has done work on local prisons, including Alpharetta’s.

“That was a farm,” Otten said of the prison. “They had crops, pigs, cattle. They provided food to the prison system.”

The prison system of the early 1900s mostly worked to improve local roads, Otten said.

“Up to that point, we didn’t really have automobiles. We had horses and buggies and railroads,” he said. “Roads were not part of our infrastructure to any great extent. They connected one farm to the next farm but were not really public roads.”

That changed as automobiles increased in popularity. The prisoners were the county’s main source of labor to make and maintain the local roads. Whenever work needed to be done, the prison would load a chain gang into the paddy wagon to haul them where they needed to go.

The prison was part of the wider system of racial abuse that abounded after the Civil War, with the majority of prisoners black, Otten said.

After World War II, the chain gang system of convict labor died out and the prison became more traditional. The North Fulton facility was shut down in 1991 and became the bus depot.

For years, the prison wagon has sat on the county’s operations yard on Maxwell Road. Now that the county is redoing that facility, the wagon had to move.

Some people in Roswell say the wagon belongs in North Fulton in a museum.

Michael Hitt, a local historian and Roswell police officer, together with Dwayne Orrick, the city’s former police chief, expressed interest in using the wagon to create a public safety museum in Roswell.

“We were going to move it to the police station and create an area history exhibit,” he said. “This was used for law enforcement in the local area.”

Roswell already has a fire museum, with an antique fire engine housed inside one of the fire stations. Hitt had hoped Roswell could create a museum geared for the police.

The trick was getting the county to release the wagon to Roswell, which it turns out the county was not willing to do.

“Fulton County decided they were going to keep it and move it downtown to one of our training facilities,” Hitt said.

The fate of the wagon is uncertain.

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