By Kimberly Brigance and Clark Otten
The roads and strip malls that define the character of modern Sandy Springs bear little resemblance to the pastures and farmhouses that once made up the heart of our community. The three crossroads that shaped the growth of Sandy Springs are now at the center of a debate about its future.
The property where some city officials propose building a new Sandy Springs City Hall, acreage now commonly called the “Target site,” is bounded by two of the oldest roads in the area.
Mount Vernon Highway, to the south, didn’t get its name by being a busy thoroughfare. It was once the highway from Gwinnett County into the newly opened Creek Indian lands. The high ridge that became known as Mount Vernon Highway kept those early settlers traveling by foot and wagon out of the soggy bottom lands and creek crossings; it literally was the high way. The original route of Roswell Road once lay slightly west of the Target property, but now runs east of it.
To the north of the site, Johnson Ferry Road was founded by William Marion Johnston (1840s), and connected the settlements of Decatur and Marietta before the city of Atlanta was founded. Where this country road was once lined with pecan trees and native hardwoods, it is now bordered by parking lots and sidewalks. A remnant of the old pecan grove can still be seen at Johnson Ferry and Sandy Springs Circle. A few of the old trees still offer shade to an otherwise paved landscape.
An 1890s photograph taken at the southwest corner of the Target site at Mt. Vernon and Sandy Springs Circle shows members of the Owen family in front of their large home. The house itself is many years older and likely dated to before the Civil War.
Sandy Springs United Methodist Church, also near the crossroad, was an anchor for growth. Founded in the 1840s, the church’s yearly camp meetings were interdenominational and attracted thousands of people from across the region. For 10 days in late August, families came together to worship, visit, have family reunions and marry off the next generation. The meeting ground acted as a city center that hosted large public events like political gatherings and veterans’ reunions.
Sandy Springs Circle was originally a mini-perimeter, routing traffic around the campgrounds on both sides of Mount Vernon Highway during meeting time. Starting somewhere behind the old Target and rejoining Mount Vernon just west of the water tower, the arc of the Sandy Springs Circle is now reversed from its original path, but still performs the same function of alleviating some traffic from Mount Vernon Highway. At Sandy Springs Circle and Johnson Ferry Road, Fire Station Number Two is on the site of the old Bratton farm house. Jacob Hilderbrand lived and farmed nearby, leaving the legacy of Hildebrand Drive.
To the east of the site, several buildings along Roswell Road still hearken back to some of the earliest businesses in the area. Burdett’s Grocery store also housed the post office. Loudermilk’s, which was Sandy Springs first office complex, held at different times a doctor’s office, a dentist office and a hotel. The buildings still stand at in the triangle formed by Roswell Road, Mount Vernon, and Johnson Ferry. The building has been covered in pink stucco but its bones are still intact, just waiting for restoration.
At one time, the west side of Roswell Road boasted the Hardeman-Echols grocery store and the Roy Lewis and Ed Macky barbershop, a grist mill run by W. O. Hardeman and the Bill Talent General Merchandise, which sold everything from a well windlass to clothes pins. The Hardeman-Echols Hardware, which was built after the closing of the grocery, now houses Psycho Tattoo. The old, little Mellow Mushroom building, which is several generations newer, was once the Char House. Many still fondly remember their famous strawberry pie.
After World War I, a little neighborhood grew up around these crossroads and many stories are told that the wood for these early homes came from Camp Gordon when it was dismantled. A few of the homes can still be seen among the stores and businesses.
While the close proximity of these three early crossroads created a focal point for the early community, then known as Oak Grove, and were the sites of the first church, school, and retail businesses in the community, it has now become the a focal point of traffic congestion where the same three cross-through routes still intersect.
Kimberly Brigance is the curator of the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum, 6075 Sandy Springs Circle. This article is based, in part, on materials from the museum’s collection. To contact her, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clarke Otten, a resident of Sandy Springs since 1953, is writing a book on the history of Sandy Springs.