Topography, Trails, and Standing Peachtree

War Roads, Squatters, and the 1821 Land Survey

Wagon Roads, Railroads, and Atlanta

The Air Line Railroad

Formalizing the Peachtrees

Looking for the Road to Standing Peachtree

Sources of Information







With the influx of white settlers in the early 1820s, a few of them with African American slaves, new wagon roads were opened, many in an ad hoc way to satisfy purely local needs. Other roads, between more important destinations, were officially sanctioned by the county, which ordered that the route of a new road be "marked out" by three to five, court-appointed individuals living on or standing to benefit from a proposed route. At its first meeting, in May 1823, DeKalb County's Inferior Court (which handled the duties of modern county commissioners) ordered "that the road leading from the Standing Peachtree to Gwinnett County known by the Hog Mountain Road be a public road and that the same be put and kept in repair." That road was Peachtree Road. The commissioners also authorized a new River Road to replace the old war road from "the Peachtree" to Sand Town. [1]

Two months later, the court ordered construction of a public road from Decatur to Standing Peachtree, where the county's first post office was established in February 1825. As with many other early roads, a large part of what was soon known as Montgomery Ferry Road was in existence well before it was officially authorized and appears to have incorporated much of the western end of the ancient trail between Stone Mountain and Standing Peachtree. Roads from Decatur to surrounding county seats at Lawrenceville, Covington, McDonough, Fayetteville, and Newnan were also authorized by the court, but such was the clamor for other roads, the court empaneled private citizens to review requests for new roads and present them to the court for approval. For its part, the court found that "good roads tend greatly to facilitate the community at large and promote the interest of the public generally," and the court stated its intent to grant petitions for new roads "so far as appears reasonable [and] found to be of public utility." Without the imprimatur of the county court, a road would be designated a "settlement road," maintained, if at all, by those who used it, with no help from the county.

Figure 4-1. USGS map annotated to delineate county boundaries, the most important roads, post offices, and other landmarks in and around what is now the City of Atlanta at the time the city's precursor Terminus was established in 1837. Dashed black lines delineate county boundaries prior to the creation of Fulton County in 1853 and Clayton County in 1857; dashed red lines delineate the modern city limits of Atlanta. (Annotations by Tommy H Jones, 2014)

Figure 4-2. Detail from Union Army map, 1864, showing Buckhead at lower left and dual routes of Peachtree Road in the vicinity of what is now the northeast side of Brookhaven, annotated with an arrow to indicate the section of the road mentioned in the Inferior Court minutes of March 1850. (Library of Congress)

Figure 4-3. Detail from Breese and Morse's map of Georgia, published in 1842. Standing Peachtree remained on the map; Terminus, the railroad camp that would become Atlanta, did not appear. (Library of Congress)

Figure 4-4. Detail from Bonner's map of Georgia, published in Milledgeville in 1847, one of the first maps to show newly christened Atlanta. Note the absence of any road that might correspond to Peachtree Road crossing Peachtree Creek. (Library of Congress)


Peachtree Road and all of the other roads in the area were rudimentary at best in the 1820s. James Stuart, traveling the Federal Road in north Georgia in the early 1830s, noted that "[a] great part of the road for some days past has been a mere track in the forest, in which many of the stumps of the trees still remain." Another traveler observed that the road on which he had just traveled was "the worst we had ever yet travelled over, it being formed apparently by the mere removal of the requisite number of trees to open a path through the forest, and then left without any kind of labour being employed, either to make the road solid in the first instance, or to keep it in repair." Complaints about the poor condition of rural roads remained common in DeKalb County Inferior Court records throughout the antebellum period.[2]

As the area became more settled, the county court dealt with efforts to improve the rather casual routes of the old trails that had been haphazardly turned into wagon roads. In March 1850, in response to the court's order to "review and make an alteration in the old Peachtree Road near Harris Goodwins, the commissioners reported their belief "that alteration in said road will be as good as where the road now runs and something nearer." The court ordered the change in the road "commencing at H. Goodwins House say about one fourth of mile towards Cross Keys." How the road was changed in this area, which is now part of Brookhaven, is not clear, but the present Apple Valley Road and Caldwell Road, which parallel Peachtree Road on the east side of the railroad corridor, may be an echo of that alteration to the original road.

There were many private efforts to bridge the area's numerous rivers and streams throughout the 1820s and 1830s, and the success or failure of those efforts determined the course of many area roads. Peachtree Creek west of its forks, six miles east of Standing Peachtree, was an especially important stream to bridge. In May 1825, the county ordered a road opened from Montgomery Ferry Road (the old Stone Mountain Trail) through Land Lots 56 and 57, "crossing Peachtree Creek in Land Lot 102," which would have been a few hundred yards downstream from the present Piedmont Road bridge. This bridge appears to have been the first over Peachtree Creek

In the fall of 1826, the county took possession of the bridge that James Montgomery had built across the creek at Standing Peachtree, thereby relieving him of the responsibility for upkeep of what was then the most important bridge over Peachtree Creek. These would remain the only bridges over the creek downstream from its forks until the rise of Atlanta in the 1840s. [3]


Railroads and Atlanta

Atlanta is located where it is because of decisions made by engineers and surveyors working for the state. In December 1836, the State of Georgia chartered the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which would run from the Tennessee River at what is now Chattanooga, "in the most direct practicable route to some point on the southeastern bank of the Chattahoochee River and which shall be most eligible for the extension of branch railroads." The following year, surveyors staked out that eastern terminus for the railroad, eight miles southeast of Standing Peachtree. One of the surveyors described the place in September 1837:

The result of the levels [from the river] to the ridge near Decatur, DeKalb County, which you authorized me to run, proved altogether flattering; the ascent to the main ridge, where we left a bench mark is only two hundred eighty-five feet above the level of the Chattahoochee, which is to be reached with a distance of eight miles ─ which at our assumed grades is attainable with ease.[4]

Standing Peachtree would soon fade, but as the surveyors were driving their stakes, Adiel Sherwood included it in the 1837 edition of his Gazetteer of the State of Georgia. It was, he wrote, a "crossing place over the Chattahoochee in DeKalb County" and that there were "a few houses and P.O. on the great road to Cobb County."

By January 1838, contracts had been let for construction of over fifty miles of the new railroad, and a small settlement began to emerge around its southern terminus in Land Lot 78, Fourteenth District, encompassing what is today the heart of downtown. It was, the Western & Atlantic's chief engineer Stephen Long wrote, "a good location for one tavern, a blacksmith shop, a grocery store, and nothing else."

Figure 4-5. USGS map annotated to depict the major roads and the railroads that were built prior to the Civil War, showing something of the effect on the local road system of Atlanta's growth during that period. Atlanta's city limits was defined by a circle with a radius of one mile from the railroad depot. (Annotations by Tommy H Jones, 2014)

Figure 6. George Barnard's photograph looking northeast along the lower blocks of Peachtree Street in October 1864. The wagon train is turning onto Marietta Street. (Library of Congress)

Figure 4-7. One of the earliest maps to show the route of Peachtree Road south of Buckhead and through modern Midtown in 1864, annotated here with arrows to identify the road's route into town. (Plate 88, Map 1, Atlas to Accompany Records of the War of the Rebellion, Library of Congress)

Contrary to those expectations, the settlement that began to grow in Land Lot 78, Fourteenth District was known first as Terminus, then Marthasville, and after 1847, Atlanta. In the 1850s, it emerged as one of the most important railroad junctions in the South, and its population quadrupled to nearly ten thousand over the course of that decade. As the city grew, the area's network of roads changed, with some roads falling into disuse, others drawing new traffic, and some being created to serve new destinations such as Roswell, twenty miles to the north, where one of the state's largest textile mills began operations in 1838.

The nascent settlement at Terminus quickly precipitated changes in the network of county roads as new roads were created and old roads fell into disuse. In late summer 1838, for example, Hardy Ivy, the first white settler in what is now downtown Atlanta, and several of his neighbors marked out a route for a new county road that was accepted by the county court at their September term. Commencing "at the Sand Town Road near the southern Terminus of the Western & Atlantic Rail road and intersecting the Nelson's Ferry Road near Reid Shantee," that early county road was probably the origin of Marietta Street between Five Points and Magnolia Street.[5]

Nelson Ferry Road, which ran westward from Decatur to the eponymous ferry on the Chattahoochee and passed through downtown in the vicinity of Baker Street, was established in the early 1820s. Twenty years later the ferry no longer existed and large sections of the road were falling into disuse as Atlanta grew and patterns of travel changed. In March 1847, the Inferior Court commissioners stated their belief that it was "entirely nugatory and idle to keep up such road" and so discontinued county maintenance of Nelson Ferry Road. Sections of Montgomery Ferry Road, too, were falling into disuse, and by the 1860s, when the area was accurately mapped for the first time, its route could no longer be identified in its entirety.

Colliers, Walkers, and Peters

Major factors in the development of most roads were the needs and expectations of the landowners through whose property a road might pass. As Atlanta grew, many of the old pioneers, their children and grandchildren, profitted considerably by the simple happenstance of having a city grow up around them. For a history of the Peachtrees within the city limits, the Colliers, the Walkers, and the Peters were especially important and had a tremendous influence on the face of the city as their individual family sagas played out in the disposition of their property as they lived, married, and died.

Meredith Collier (1782-1864), his wife Elizabeth Gray (1786-1876), and their large family were among the flood of settlers that entered the newly opened land in the early 1820s. Many of those settlers were, like the Colliers, from Gwinnett, Walton, and other counties of northeast Georgia, and most of them, also like the Colliers, were farmers searching for good agricultural land, especially if it were located on a major road or trail. Collier found both in 1822 or 1823 when he built his house on a small rise just west of where the old trail between Stone Mountain and Standing Peachtree crossed Clear Creek. In May 1823, he was also one of the commissioners charged with laying out a road from Decature to Standing Peachtree, which would incorporate much of the old Stone Mountain Trail into its route. In 1831 the Clear Creek Post Office was established, operating out of Collier's house.

There may have been an old trail that left the Stone Mountain Trail just west of Collier's house, although the main cut-off was two miles to the east. Running south, it would have connected to the Sand Town Trail near Five Points in Downtown Atlanta. After 1821, it became part of a network of wagon roads connecting the Colliers with their neighbors, including Hardy Ivy (1779–1842), the first of the new settlers in what would become downtown Atlanta. [6]

As Terminus began to rise in the late 1830s, Collier's saw mill on Clear Creek provided lumber, and in 1845, his son George Washington Collier became the new postmaster in Marthasville and opened a store at the northeast corner of Peachtree and Decatur Streets. Some semblance of today's Peachtree Street began to take shape between the Colliers' house on Clear Creek and the railroad terminus during that time, but if it was more than a "settlement road," documentation for that has not been found. In addition, by 1850 Peachree Road was a more or less continuous thoroughfare from downtown Atlanta to Henry Irby's tavern at Buckhead, although it would sometimes be called the Atlanta Road by travelers from the north and northeast until after the Civil War.

As Collier's children came of age and married in the 1830s and 1840s, he gave them property and some of them acquired additional acreage. By the 1850s, the Collier family owned most of today's Peachtree Road frontage between what are now Fifteenth Street in Midtown and West Wesley Road in Buckhead.

The Collier's oldest son Edwin (1807-1872) owned property on the south side of Peachtree Creek, and it may have been the marriage of son Wesley Collier (1824-1906) in October 1847 and the elder Colliers' gift to the newlyweds of three hundred acres north of Peachtree Creek that precipitated construction of the first bridge over the creek more or less where Peachtree Road crosses today. Built by public subscription, probably early in 1848, it was a critical factor in making Peachtree Road a major thoroughfare. Probably around the same time, Wesley Collier aligned the road as it presently runs along the east line of Land Lot 112, one of several minor alterations that brought the road to its present configuration. [7]

Figure 4-8. Peachtree Creek between Northside Drive and Howell Mill Road. (Photograph by Tommy H Jones, 2014)

Figure 4-9. One of dozens of maps made during the Atlanta campaign in 1864. Note that Peachtree is designated "Peachtree Street Road" on this map. (Sherman #98, Library of Congress)

Figure 4-10. "Confederate palisades, on north side of city," Barnard photograph taken somewhere between Howell Mill and Peachtree roads, looking east. (Library of Congress)

Figure 4-11. "View from Confederate fort, east of Peachtree street, looking east, Atlanta, Georgia," Barnard photograph taken somewhere between Peachtree Street and Boulevard. Note the chimneys from a burned house at center and at upper left, in the distance, another residence stripped to its frame. (Library of Congress)

Figure 4-12. View of Atlanta published in 1866, looking north along Peachtree from the rail road, illustrating something of the rapidity with which the town was rebuilt. (Library of Congress)

Just south of the Colliers were Samuel Walker (1791-1864), his wife Sarah Oliver (1792-1847), and their several children. They owned several hundred acres north of today's Eighth Street, including much of what are now Piedmont Park and the heart of the midtown business district. Their house was in Land Lot 54 on what became Plaster Bridge Road but which may have originally been the Sand Town Path noted crossing the southeast side of the lot in the 1821 survey. Sarah Walker and three of their children died within days of one another in November 1847, probably from typhoid and were buried in the nearby family cemetery.

Samuel Walker soon remarried and built a new house on Peachtree Road near present-day Twelfth Street, since Plaster Bridge Road (now Piedmont Avenue) was shifted to a new alignment, leaving his residence well off the beaten path. Meredith Collier also built a new house on Peachtree Road near today's Beverly Road as parts of Montgomery Ferry Road were abandoned and as the course of Peachtree Road itself shifted to a route along higher ground a half mile southwest of the Collier house.

While the Colliers and Walkers were, at least originally, farmers, not so Richard Peters, who bought four hundred acres of land along Peachtree Road north of the city in 1848, a tract that stretched from today's North Avenue to Eighth Street and encompassed much of modern Midtown as well as the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology. A Pennsylvania native, Peters came to Georgia to work as superintendent of the Georgia Railroad. He stayed and was an important figure in the growth of the city, both before and after the war. He bought the property on Peachtree Road primarily for its timber, which he intended to burn to power the first steam-powered mill in the city.

By the early 1860s, the mill had failed and the timber had been cut, and in anticipation of the city's continued expansion in all directions, particularly to the north, Peters began to subdivide his land on Peachtree Road. What are now Third, Fourth, and Fifth Streets between Peachtree and Argonne Avenue were laid out running perpindicular to Peachtree, which meant they ran 4° south of a due-east line. When he developed the property on the west side of Peachtree in the 1870s, streets were laid out to the cardinal points.

Civil War

For most of the war, Atlanta was out of the line of fire and remained a critical part of the Confederacy's supply chain. On 12 April 1862, Andrews' raiders hijacked a locomotive with the intent of destroying the W&A rail line between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Captured along with some of the other raiders, Andrews was court-martialed and brought back to Atlanta. On 7 June 1862, he was taken out Peachtree Road, hung, and buried near what is now the interesection of Juniper and Third Streets.

By the fall of 1863, the prospects of a Union invasion appeared more and more likely, and construction began on a series of forts ringing Atlanta just beyond the city limits. One of those forts was on Peters' property on Peachtree Road, near where the Fox Theater is now located. Photographs from the period provide one of the few images of rural Peachtree Road as it meandered through a more-or-less treeless landscape.

Historic photographs and other sources document the destruction of many buildings for lumber to construct the Confederate defenses, while others were stripped to the frames to fuel the thousands of camp fires around the city in the summer and fall of 1864, and it is likely that all of the residences out Peachtree Road in what is now Midtown were destroyed during this period.

The Walkers' house on Peachtree near today's Twelfth Street was burned, but old Samuel Walker did not live to see it, having died in February 1864. The fate of the Colliers' house can only be guessed, but if it suffered the same fate, as seems likely, Meredith Collier was spared that ordeal, too, having himself died in February 1863.

John and Sara Medlock's farm encompassed what is now the intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Monroe Drive. Many white people shared the experiences she described in a bleak letter to her sister in Texas in 1866:

We left home in July '64 the 12th day. We left our furniture. We took a few chairs and bedding, the best or the most of our clothes - our cattle we sold to the government except three cows and calves. We have one cow and calf is all the stock except two mules. We lost our hogs and horses. We refugeed at Washington County, stayed there September '64 until November '65. The fighting was mostly from Peachtree Road around to Decatur. Our houses burned, our timber cut down on the home lot, our shade trees and pretty well all of our fruit trees. There has been thousands of pounds of lead picked up on our land. People supported their family picking up lead. They got 50 cents a pound before the surrender. The bomb-shells is plenty, many with the load in them. [8]


Figure 14. George Barnard's photograph of Peachtree Road in 1864, looking south from the Confederate fort on the present site of the Fox Theater. This is the earliest image that has been located of rural Peachtree Road in the nineteenth century. (Library of Congress)



1. DeKalb County Inferior Court Minutes, 1823-1853, 1, microfilm, Georgia Archives.

2. Mills B. Lane, The Rambler in Georgia (Savannah, GA: Beehive Press, 1973), 90, 148.

3. The interpretation of the Inferior Court minutes here is contrary to that of Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. 1, 53, where he appears to assume the land lots referenced were in the Eighteenth District and not the Seventeenth.

4. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. 1, 149.

5. Ibid., 159-160. A few blocks of Nelson Ferry Road remain on the west side of downtown Decatur.

6. The newspaper reporter who interviewed Collier in 1897 appeared to believe the road to Collier's house that left Peachtree Street near Fifteenth Street was an ancient Indian trail.

7. DeKalb County Inferior Court Minutes, March 1850, notes a road running "to Buckhead or where the Atlanta Road intersects the Peachtree Road," indicating that the road between Buckhead and Atlanta was not yet known as Peachtree Road. DeKalb County, Inferior Court Minutes, September 1847, and DeKalb County Inferior Court Minutes, 6 Dec 1847, registered 29 June 1848, document that first bridge. The DeKalb County grand jury of October 1857 found that "Collier's bridge is in bad order," suggesting that the first bridge may not have been a covered bridge. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. 1, 661–2.

8. Alice Smythe McCabe, editor, Gwinnett County, Georgia, Families, 1818–1968, (Lawrenceville, GA: Gwinnett Historical Society, Inc., 1988), 342.


This and associated web pages are an expanded version of a paper presented at the Preserving Historic Roads Conference 2014 in Savannah, Georgia. They are presented here for your amusement and edification and not for commercial use.

Tommy H. Jones, Atlanta Georgia, December 2020.

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The Air Line Railroad