how the railroad running parallel to Douglasville’s central business district came to be. The railroad was an important ingredient used by town leaders to create a successful business district per the New South creed. The espousal of the New South creed reshaped villages into railroad towns, revitalized local economies and resurrected the cotton mill industry per Stephanie Aylworth, Douglasville’s Main Street Manager.
In his book, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction, Edward L. Ayers states, The New South era began in the 1880s after the biracial and reformist experiment of Reconstruction had ended and the conservative white Democrats had taken power throughout the Southern states.
Atlanta Constitution editor, Henry W. Grady is credited with the term 'New South’ which represents an ideology that emphasized a new reliance upon railroads and industrialization to modernize the south.
I quoted a Weekly Star article advising the first Georgia Pacific Railroad workers arrived in Douglasville in August, 1881 to begin preparing the graded portion of the railroad for crossties and iron. Track laying for the railroad was begun in November, 1881 starting at the outskirts of Atlanta going in a westerly direction at the rate of one mile a day.
While many of the men working on the railroad were from out of town Georgia Pacific Railroad tried to use the businesses in town for their needs when they could. A story in an October, 1881 issue of The
Weekly Star discusses how two merchants in town, Price and Duncan, were contracted to furnish one hundred thousand crossties for the railroad. Douglas County historian, Fannie Mae Davis, explains
in her book how the crossties were hauled to the line by ox wagon from the Jacks Hill–now part of Sweetwater Creek State Park–section of the county.
By January, 1882 the tracks had reached Austell and by May 10, 1882 the Atlanta Constitution announced the Georgia Pacific would begin a regular schedule to Douglasville.
The arrival of the first train in Douglasville was a grand occasion and major holiday, in April, 1882. Fannie Mae Davis advises more than 2,000 people were on hand. She also advises many had never seen a train before. Today we find that fact to be absolutely amazing but we have to remember until the Georgia Pacific line was completed there was no train in this part of the state and many of the people who had settled here had never traveled to Atlanta.
On the day the train was to arrive women brought food for picnics, and horses were tied off a block or so away to keep them from being scared by the sound of the engines, but their actions were in vain.
The horses heard the commotion when the train arrived and some broke free running for home. Davis recounts a story that someone in the crowd yelled, “Look out, they are going to turn around here!” This only added to the over charged emotions of the throng of people.
Once service to Douglasville was established many people who lived in Atlanta bought tickets to travel to Austell Bridge, a popular picnic area located where Maxham Road and Sky View Drive intersect today.
The Georgia Pacific didn’t stop in Douglasville. The tracks reached Villa Rica by July, 1882, and the last spike was driven at Cave Creek Tunnel in November, 1883 linking Atlanta and Alabama. This meant the line was connected all the way to Columbus, Mississippi where the line merged with the Texas and Pacific Railroad.
Over the years several trains connected Douglasville to Atlanta and Birmingham including passenger trains. One such train was called The Accommodation or the Heflin Hustler. It made daily round-trips to and from Atlanta leaving Douglasville at seven in the morning and returning at six in the evening. It was perfect for those folks who worked in Atlanta. Many trains were simply known by their number including No. 40 which departed Douglasville each day at 11 a.m.
According to Fannie Mae Davis one of the “in” things for young people to do in Douglasville focused on the train. They would meet the train known as No. 39 each day and watch as the mail bags were unloaded. They would follow the bags over to the post office where as Davis explained, “They crowded the small lobby and overflowed to the outside.” It was quite the social event. We know that No. 39 was a westbound train because the railroad used odd numbers for trains heading west while trains traveling east were even numbered.
The original train depot was built in 1883 and existed until January, 1899 when it was destroyed by a fire. Everything was destroyed but a few bales of cotton that had been left on the dock. J.I. Oxford, the former pastor at the had moved to Atlanta the day before the fire. He had all of his furniture stored at the depot to ship east. Unfortunately, he lost every stored item in the fire.
A second depot was built almost immediately and served Douglasville until 1916 when the third depot was built. Over the years as the roads improved, trucks began carrying more freight, and folks began to own more cars they stopped depending on the railroad so much. The last depot was closed in the 1970s long after passenger service was done away with. The building was auctioned off for $1 to the Sword family in 1974 and moved to their Chapel Hill property where it remains today.
A few years ago I stumbled upon the old depot building when I stopped at the Sword property visiting a yard sale they were having. Seeing that old depot building through the trees reminded me–you just never know when history is going to pop up in front of you!