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







Figure 1. The earliest map of Atlanta, "Vincent's subdivision map of the city of Atlanta, Dekalb County, state of Georgia: showing all the lots, blocks, sections, &c.," published in Savannah in 1853. (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

Figure 2. USGS map of Midtown and Downtown Atlanta, annotated with the dashed blue line to highlight the route of Peachtree Street. Solid blue lines show the other early roads and dashed black lines the railroads which, with the underlying topography, gave the city its form.

In the 1840s and 1850s, the rough wagon roads of the antebellum period, including Peachtree Road, were gradually overtaken by the growth of Atlanta. Although these roads were poorly mapped, if at all, prior to the Civil War, an echo of some of them can still be identified in later maps of the city.

In the 1840s, as city streets were being laid out, individual land-lot owners oriented their own grid of streets to the railroads and old wagon roads through the land lots, thus accounting for the odd jumble of angled intersections in downtown Atlanta. The first map of the City of Atlanta was made in 1853 and depicts the several land lots (each 202½ acres) that encompass downtown Atlanta, along with streets, railroads, and the original city limits, which were defined by a circle with a radius of one mile measured from the Western & Atlantic's Zero Milepost at the depot. In the confusing juxtaposition of street grids, some of the early roads that pre-dated the city's founding can still be identified, and one of those is Peachtree Road.

By the time the city was first mapped in 1853, Peachtree's meander across the high ground between Tanyard and Clear creeks and into the city had been regularized, with angles replacing curves where the road changed direction. Today, the topography has been flattened and filled all along Peachtree Street in Midtown and Downtown, and some of the low hill tops along Peachtree, which would have influenced the route of the original road, have been reduced by as much as twenty or thirty feet during the course of the city's development.

One of the highest points may originally have been around the street's intersection with Baker Street. Historic photographs of the David Dougherty House at the southeast corner of Peachtree and Baker streets show it on a rocky site that was eight to ten feet above the grade of Peachtree Street, even after much of it had apparently been blasted away by the time the photograph was made. [1] Natural features such as that dictated the route of the early roads around which the city grew up.

Atlanta's commercial core was located around Five Points, where the first stores and post office were located in the 1840s. Hotels developed on both sides of the railroad in the vicinity of the depot, with mills and other industry located on the railroads to the northwest, southwest, and east of downtown. Within a few blocks in any direction from Five Points, commerce quickly gave way to residences. Peachtree Street rose gradually from the railroad "Gulch" to what is now Peachtree Center, at 1073' one of the highest points in the city. There, somewhat removed from the noise and dirt of the railroad gulch, some of Atlanta's few stylish residences were built, beginning the street's decades-long history as the city's most fashionable residential thoroughfare.

Figure 3. Detail from George Barnard's photograph, "Atlanta, before being burnt, by order of Gen'l. Sherman, from the cupola of the Female Seminary," taken in October 1864. Peachtree Street runs along the horizon in this image, which is a view looking west up Ellis Street. (Library of Congress)


Figure 4. A view of the celebrated Austin Leyden House (1858), located on Peachtree Street in the block north of Ellis. It survived the Civil War to be torn down by real-estate speculators in 1913. It is visible just right of center in the previous image. (Atlanta History Center)

Figure 5. "Map of Atlanta," 1877, by Henry T. McDaniel, City Engineer, showing parts of today's Peachtree Street designated as Oak Street and, north of Ponce de Leon, Ivy Street. (Georgia Department of Archives and History)

Changing Names

The original road created during the War of 1812 was widely known as the Peachtree Road, but as the city expanded and its road system evolved, there was often disagreement over conventions in street naming, especially with the use of the term "Peachtree." Well before the Civil War, the route of the original Peachtree Road laid out in 1813 west of Buckhead had become part of Paces Ferry Road, now West Paces Ferry Road, and the rest was Moore's Mill Road. By then, the designation "Peachtree Road" applied to the 1813 road northeast of Buckhead as well as to the road running south that had evolved between Buckhead and the Atlanta city limits in the 1840s. Not until after the Civil War were generally accepted names settled for many area roads, including Peachtree. In the late 1860s, for example, deeds note a road into the city from the northeast that encompassed parts of today's Lenox Road and N. Highland Avenue and was known as East Peachtree Road.

The original route of Peachtree Street appears to have followed what was later called Alexander Street and the southern blocks of what became W. Peachtree Street, collectively known as "Old Peachtree" by the 1860s. In the late 1860s and the 1870s, Peachtree Street north of its intersection with Ivy Street (now Peachtree Center Avenue) was also designated Ivy Street. As West Peachtree Street began to develop with the houses and estates of the city's elite, there was apparently a move by some to designate that street, which continued due north along the land-lot lines north of Baker Street, as the "Peachtree Street." [2]

By the time, McDaniel drew his map of Atlanta in 1877, the situation was thoroughly confused. His map shows "Peachtree Street W." running north from Baker Street, while "Peachtree Street E." does not include the block between Baker and Ivy Streets, which was designated Oak Street. North of Ponce de Leon Avenue, East Peachtree Street disappeared entirely, with McDaniel designating that portion of the street as Ivy Street. By the 1880s, consensus was reached and the modern route of Peachtree Street downtown was established, with the old route designated West Peachtree Street. [3] <


Tight Squeeze

The end of the Civil War brought chaos as armies were discharged and millions of freed slaves struggled for life. “On the surrender and parole of Lee's and Johnston's armies," according to one contemporary source, "as the soldiers were passing through Atlanta, en route for their homes, they made free with everything that came in their way, leaving many, again, utterly destitute."[4] Law and order were difficult to maintain for several years, and there was inevitable conflict between the white civilian population and the occupying military force. The situation was fraught by the influx of thousands of freed slaves into the city, many of whom settled in shanty towns just outside the city limits. One of these was located in the bottom land northeast of downtown, just down the hill from Peachtree along what became known as Shermantown Creek, part of the headwaters of Clear Creek. In the fall of 1865, the local newspaper located many of the problems along Peachtree Road just outside the northern city limits:

Figure 6. USGS map with contour lines and modern streets, annotated with blue lines to delineate the small streams that created the ravine at Tight Squeeze and, later, Clara Meer at Piedmont Park. The red lines delineate the routes of Peachtree Road and Plaster Bridge (now Piedmont) Road prior to establishment of the modern road alignments that eliminated Tight Squeeze. (Annotations by author, 2015)

We hear complaints long and loud of the conduct of colored troops out on the Peachtree road. Country people in many instances have had their wagons stopped vi et armis and their contents pillaged. We would direct the attention of our military to the greivance, and hope steps will be taken to restore good order in that vicinity. Our information is of such an undoubted character, and the particular instances of outrage to which our attention has been called are of such a flagrant nature, that we deem it but just to specially call upon the proper officer to have such transactions discontinued. The character and well known vigilance of the officers who have in keeping the good order of this district is such as to warrant us in the belief that our appeal will not be in vain.[5]

Two years later, things were little better, and out of that disorder emerged one of Peachtree Road's most-persistent legends: Tight Squeeze. Following the natural terrain, the original route of Peachtree Road looped to the west around a steep ravine that ran from the present site of the Federal Reserve Bank in a east-northeasterly direction between Tenth and Eleventh Streets down to the vicinity of the Twelfth Street entrance to Piedmont Park. A brickyard, a blacksmith, and workmen's shanties were located along that stretch of Peachtree Road, part of which ran through dense woodland, and the area gained a reputation that prompted one wag to note that "it was a tight squeeze getting through there with your life." In February 1867, John Plaster was found murdered at Tight Squeeze and, in March, Jerome Cheshire was left permanently injured by an assault in that same area. Both were sons of prominent pioneers in the area, and these incidents provoked a large public outcry and action to clean up the area. In 1872, the congregation of First Methodist Church established a short-lived mission church at Tight Squeeze, but by then its poor reputation was already fading. [6]


"North Atlanta"

The city's population grew exponentially after the Civil War; extension of the city limits nearly to Third Street doubled the city's land area in 1866. Two years later, Atlanta was designated the state's capital city, and the governor's mansion was located on Peachtree Street in 1870. The Federal census that year recorded a population of over 21,000, up sharply from less than 10,000 before the war. By the time Federal troops were withdrawn in 1874, marking the end of Reconstruction in Georgia, the city had repaired most of its war-time damage and was the state's largest city. By 1890, Atlanta had a population over 65,000, making it the South's third-largest city; only Richmond and New Orleans were larger.

Meredith Collier died in February 1863, but his son George Washington Collier gained title to hundreds of acres encompassing modern-day Midtown north of Fifteenth Street, Ansley Park, Sherwood Forest, and Brookwood Hills. The old Collier house did not survive the war, but his son rebuilt on the same site in the late 1860s. And until his death in 1903, he sold virtually none of his hundreds of acres on both sides of Peachtree Road, temporarily thwarting development of what was being called "North Atlanta" as early as the 1870s.

Not so with the Walker family's old farm, several hundred acres between Collier's woods to the north and Peters' development to the south. As early as 1859, a street had been laid out in Land Lot 106, and pioneer Samuel Walker was selling off parts of the land lot, which encompasses the heart of the Midtown business district. He died in 1864, and by 1870, most of his property in that land lot had been sold and subdivided. East of Peachtree between Eleventh and Fourteenth streets the lots were surprisingly small, but the ad hoc subdivision and sale of the land by the Walkers in the 1860s gave rise over the next few years to a surprisingly dense neighborhood, complete with a commercial core at the intersection of Peachtree and Tenth Streets.[7]


Street Cars, Expositions, and Garden Suburbs

In 1871, George Adair and Richard Peters organized the Atlanta Street Railway Company, beginning the streetcar era in Atlanta. The first line ran out Whitehall Street to West End and began operation that fall. In January 1872, a second line opened on Marietta St, and in May a third line was completed out Decatur Street to Oakland Cemetery. In August 1872, a line was completed out Peachtree Street as far as Pine Street, and in 1874 was extended to what was then Ponce de Leon Circle and east to the popular park at Ponce de Leon Spring.

Figure 10. View looking north up Peachtree Street from the depot, 1871, with Atlanta's first streetcar in the foreground. (Atlanta History Center)

Figure 11. A view of Peachtree Street, somewhere between Ralph McGill Boulevard and North Avenue, in the 1880s. (Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, Ful-641)

Figure 12. View north of Peachtree Street between Ellis and Harris streets in 1895. The columned house left of center is the antebellum Leyden House; the tower(Georgia Archives)

Much of the work on the Peachtree line was financed by Richard Peters, since Peters was sure that it would greatly enhance development of his property along Peachtree Road, which left the north side of town through open country and had none of the grimy industrial development that characterized the railroad corridors along Marietta Street, Whitehall Street, and DeKalb Avenue. North Atlanta, with Peachtree as its spine, was already beginning to solidify its reputation as the city's most prestigious address. In 1880, W. Peachtree Street was extended to its intersection with Peachtree Road a mile and a half north of the city limits, providing a more direct route into the city from the wagon yards operated by the Wood family in that area, and bypassing the tony residences that were being built on Peachtree Street. Decades later, the much noted landscape architect William Henry Manning recalled that "Peachtree Street was a revelation," noting that "it was quite different from the residential development of most of the northern cities, where the finest homes were generally scattered out on larger estates in suburban towns and well into the country, and not centered principally on one street as they were on Peachtree in Atlanta." [8]

In 1881, with mansions going up along Peachtree Street as far as today's Midtown, Fulton County commissioners formalized Peachtree Street when it ordered chain-gang labor to work about a mile of the sometimes-meandering road north of today's Ralph McGill Boulevard to its intersection with Plasters Bridge Road, near present-day Eighth Street.[9] With fixed endpoints, the arrow-straight boulevard that resulted ran about four degrees east of true north, which created the slightly skewed street grid where Richard Peters laid out his streets perpendicular to Peachtree Street in Land Lot 49. North of Eighth Street the grid is oriented to the compass points.

Richard Peters helped facilitate the street improvements since he was also moving into a large new house on the west side of Peachtree between Fourth and Fifth Streets in 1881. Peters was well on his way to making a handsome profit by developing the acreage that he had bought for its timber thirty years earlier. Through shrewd marketing, he lured the city's wealthy citizens northward in search of suburban tranquility. His estate, which encompassed an entire city block, set the tone for development of Peachtree Street and Peachtree Road for the next fifty years and helped establish the cachet of Atlanta's northern suburbs that has remained to this day.

In the fall of 1887, the city's Piedmont Exposition opened on part of the old Walker farm just east of Peachtree but outside the city limits. Intended to showcase the city's industry and arts, the exposition had a significant impact on the development of Tight Squeeze and precipitated creation or realignment of several streets in the area. Most significantly perhaps, the ravine at TIght Squeeze was filled and, in spite of vigorous opposition by those whose property fronted the old road, the arrow-straight boulevard that begins just north of downtown was extended to Eleventh Street. [10] By 1890, the nucleus of a new business district had formed on Peachtree in the vicinity of Tenth Street, and a number of large houses had been built on Peachtree between Eleventh Street and the land-lot line north of Fourteenth Street where Collier's Woods marked the start of open countryside.

Figure 13. Detail from Saunders and Kline, Birds Eye View of Atlanta, Fulton Co., State Capital, Georgia, 1892. Peachtree Street stretches from lower left to upper right. The oval feature at extreme upper right is in Piedmont Park; the lake at extreme right is at Ponce de Leon park. (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)


The Walker family and others had already established what are now Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth streets, but as part of the improvements for the exposition a new street, christened Wilson Avenue but soon renamed Fourteenth Street, was opened from Peachtree Road to the main entrance to the exposition grounds on Piedmont Avenue. Calhoun Street, renamed Piedmont Avenue, was extended north from Seventh Street to old Plaster Bridge Road, which itself was truncated at Tenth Street so it no longer connected to Peachtree.

In February 1890, the Atlanta Constitution reported that “a splendid avenue" was opened between Peachtree Street and the two new roads being opened by the county, one called North Boulevard, now Monroe Drive, and the other Virginia Avenue. It was, the report noted, "part of the scheme of encircling the city, and . . . will be made a first class thoroughfare in every particular.” [11] More important for future development, an electric streetcar line was opened that same year along Peachtree Street to Fourteenth Street, joined in 1895 by a streetcar line along Piedmont Avenue with loops to Peachtree at Tenth and Fourteenth Streets. These streetcar lines and others that followed made possible residential development farther and farther beyond the city limits at Sixth Street.

The city's Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895 was the largest of the city's three expositions in the last quarter of the ninteenth century and helped fuel the continued development of North Atlanta in the 1890s. By 1900, the streetcar line was extended beyond Fourteenth Street through George Washington Collier's undeveloped woodland in Land Lot 105 to Brookwood, where Collier’s brother Andrew’s old farm was being subdivided for residential development. George Collier himself died in 1903, and development of Land Lot 105 for Ansley Park, one of the city's first garden suburbs, got underway the following year. For the first time, Peachtree Road between Fifteenth Street and Brookwood was opened for development.

Figure 14. A view of Peachtree Street through developing Ansley Park, ca. 1910.


If there were no signicant changes to the route of Peachtree inside today's city limits after 1887, there were significant improvements to the road itself in the early years of the twentieth century, most of it precipitated by the advent of automobiles, first introduced in Atlanta in February 1901. By 1910, the number of automobiles in the county had grown to 4,500, and the city's leading carriage maker was soon burning his inventory of carriages and buggies.[12]

Increasing automobile use went hand in hand with demands for better roads and bridges, and in the early 1900s the old wooden bridges that carried Peachtree Road over the railroad at Brookwood and over Peachtree Creek were proving inadequate to increasing traffic. In 1907, the newspaper reported that the "Brookwood Bridge" was "on the point of Collapsing,” and a massive campaign of improvement was soon commenced by the county. Both bridges were rebuilt in concrete, and by spring 1908, the county, using convict labor, had widened Peachtree Road from Brookwood to Buckhead into an 80'-wide boulevard.[13]

By the end of World War I, automobile traffic was flooding downtown, making daily shopping impossible and lending impetus to development of a series of suburban shopping districts along street-car lines all around the city. The most important of these districts was the one that had evolved around Peachtree and Tenth Streets, where there was commercial activity as far back as the 1870s. Generally known simply as "Tenth Street," where the Peachtree street car stopped at the heart of the district, the area had the largest retail trade outside of downtown in the first half of the twentieth century. During that same period, a similar, though substantially smaller, retail district developed around the intersection of Peachtree and West Paces Ferry Road at Buckhead, where Henry Irby's Buckhead Tavern had first opened its doors in 1838. In addition, there were small clusters of retail stores at most of the main streetcar stops all around town, including up and down Peachtree Road.

Along with automobiles came an enormous array of automobile-related services, including automobile dealers, electric-battery companies, and tire stores; and many of these were located on Peachtree, West Peachtree, and Spring Streets as the automobile service industry chased the rich in north Atlanta. Perhaps the first auto-related business on Peachtree came in 1910 when a residence was torn down at the corner of Peachtree Street and Currier Avenue, just north of downtown, and the city's first automobile service station opened on the site. That same year, Spring Street was extended to Peachtree Street near Brookwood, which alleviated some of the growing congestion on Peachtree and West Peachtree Streets.[14]

WPA, Georgia Writer's Project, map of Atlanta published as part of the American Guide Series, 1942. (Scanned from author's collection)


Shell Oil Company, "Map of Atlanta," 1956, showing large portions of the interstate highways through the city remaining incomplete. (Scanned from author's collection)

When the Dixie Highway Association's commissioners established the route of the Dixie Highway in the spring of 1915, the decision was made to bypass the most direct route into the city, which would have followed the old Atlanta-Marietta Road. Instead the Dixie Highway left the Atlanta-Marietta Road on Paces Ferry Road and ran through Vinings Station, where springs and a picturesque location had made it a popular railroad stop since the 1870s. The ferry itself was replaced by a single-lane, steel-truss bridge in 1904, allowing travelers from the northwest to easily bypass the confusing tangle of railroads and dirt roads at Bolton, the site of Standing Peachtree, as well as the congested industrial corridor around Inman Yards and all along Marietta Street. In addition, at a time when automobile services were far from ubiquitous, the services that were available at Buckhead and especially on Peachtree closer to downtown were reason enough to route the Dixie Highway along West Paces Ferry and Peachtree Roads.

With the explosion of automobile traffic after World War I, alternatives to the Peachtrees were sorely needed. Construction of the Spring Street viaduct over the railroad gulch in 1923 provided some relief, but north-south traffic continued to fight its way through downtown even after what was known as the state's first "dualized" (i.e., four-lane) highway extended Northside Drive across the river in 1938.

After World War II, the headlong rush to the suburbs experienced by most American cities was exacerbated in Atlanta by "white flight" from desegregation. While most of the effects of the latter were felt across the south side of the city, the entire city suffered from the general disinvestment that occurred in the third quarter of the twentieth century. Urban renewal destroyed large swaths of the city, especially south and east of downtown; and construction of the city's expressway system, which began in 1949, destroyed even more. The expressways burrowed through the Peachtree ridge twice, once just north of downtown, marring several blocks that remain un-developed today, and again at Brookwood, where the cut was some hundred feet deep.

Construction of the city's first expressways in the early 1950s included a focus on improving traffic flow on surface streets, which included wider, often one-way streets and elimination of much on-street parking, which hampered retail trade in Midtown and in Buckhead. The opening of Lenox Square mall on Peachtree Road in 1959 was only one of several factors that sent both business districts into precipitous decline.

Construction of John Portman's Peachtree Center, which began in 1965 and replaced the old automobile services from the days of the Dixie Highway, and of Colony Square on Peachtree at Fourteenth Street in 1969 signaled the beginning of another iteration of Atlanta's most-famous boulevard. By the turn of the twenty-first century, only five single-family residences remained on Peachtree and there were less than a dozen of the luxury apartments from the early twentieth century. Many of the early commercial buildings are gone, replaced by office and residential towers that now line Peachtree from Downtown to the city limits.

From Peachtree Street in Downtown and Midtown to Peachtree Road in Buckhead and beyond, Peachtree remains one of the city's enduring landmarks and still gives form to the city and direction to its growth. The name itself has not lost its luster, in spite of the proliferation of Peachtrees all over the city—Peachtree Place, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Heights, even Peachtree City. Recently the City of Atlanta, in support of efforts to spur economic development south of Five Points, rebranded most of historic Whitehall Street south of Five Points as part of Peachtree Street, continuing its evolution as the backbone of the modern city.





1. A photograph of the Doughtery House is included in Franklin Garrett, Yesterday's Atlanta, 136.

2. Numerous references in the DeKalb County Inferior Court Minutes and the Record of Deeds and Mortgages in DeKalb and Fulton Counties document the variations in naming conventions for Peachtree Road. In one instance (Fulton County Deed Book G, p. 43), the deed description does not mention a name at all but simply begins "at a post oak on the road running north from Atlanta." Fulton County Deed Books M, 453; O, 551; Z, 96; and FF, 30. See also Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. I, 523.

3. Historic Alexander Street west of West Peachtree has been renamed Ivan Allen Boulevard; the angled block to the east was mostly destroyed by construction of the Downtown Connector.

4. V. T. Barnwell, Barnwell's Atlanta City Directory and Stranger's Guide, 1867, 32.

5. Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, 24 October 1865.

6. Eugene M. Mitchell, "Queer Place Names in Old Atlanta,"  The Atlanta Historical Bulletin 1 (April 1931), 23-26; Franklin Garrett, "A Short History of Land Lot 106 . . . ," Atlanta Historical Journal 27 (Spring 1983). Murder and assualt reported in Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, 23 February 1867 and 9 March 1867.

7. Numerous real-estate transactions in connection with the sale of Samuel Walker's property in Land Lot 106 are recorded in Fulton County. The earliest, dated 1859, is recorded in Book M, 770.

8. Don Klima, "Breaking Out: Streetcars and Suburban Development, 1872-1900," in Urban Structure, Atlanta, The Atlanta Historical Journal, Vol. XXVI, Number 2-3, Summer/Fall 1982, p. 75-76; and Howard L. Preston, Automobile Age Atlanta: The Making of a Southern Metropolis, 1900-1915 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1979), 77.

9. William B. Williford, Peachtree Street Atlanta (University of Georgia Press, 1962), 37.

10. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. II, 136-38, 155-158. The original route of Peachtree Road is preserved in the block of Crescent Avenue between Tenth Street and Peachtree Place.

11. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs, Vol. II, 220.

12.  Richard Funderburke, PhD, "Bonfire Ushers in Atlanta's Motorcar Age," Gilded Age Atlanta. Blog accessed on line at bonfire-ushers-in-atlantas-motorcar-age.html, 7 July 2014.

13. Ibid., 525.

14. Preston, Automobile Age Atlanta, 83, 110.