Saturday, September 17, 2011

The History of Smyrna, Georgia

With the 1828 discovery of gold in the Cherokee at Dahlonega, the US Federal Government and the State of Georgia initiated a relentless series of efforts to remove the Cherokkee Indians from North Georgia. These efforts ultimately resulted in the settling of Cobb County and the subsequent founding of Smyrna.

Up until 1832, all of the land that today comprises Smyrna and Cobb County was part of theCherokee Nation. During or prior to 1832, the state of Georgia surveyed the Cherokee Nation and divided it into land lots of 160 acres and gold lots of 40 acres. Gold lots were believed to possibly contain gold. The initial expectation was that a treaty would be negotiated and finalized between the Cherokee Nation and the US Government to open the land to white settlement.

On October 22, 1832, at the then state capitol in Milledgeville, a land lottery was held and the Cherokee land 1832 Land Lotterywas allotted to the winners without a treaty being in place. Later that year, the Georgia Legislature went ahead and claimed sovereignty over all Cherokee Nation land in Georgia on December 21. The area was then renamed Cherokee County.

White settlers first arrived in the Smyrna area to claim the land they won in the lottery in the fall of 1832. Tensions were high since the original Cherokee landowners were still living in the area. It is believed that the Cherokee left the Smyrna area by 1835.

Reverend Thomas Burke established the first church of any denomination in Cobb County in present-day Smyrna in late 1832. It was named Concord Primitive Baptist Church and services were held in a log cabin schoolhouse. It was located at the present-day intersection of Concord Road and South Cobb Drive at the Crossings Shopping Center. The church moved to the Mableton area in 1833. It is now known as Concord Baptist Church and is located on Floyd Road four miles from its original cabin.

The size of the new Cherokee County proved to be unmanageable as a county governmental entity. It was subdivided into nine additional counties on December 3, 1832. Cobb County was one of the newly created counties and Marietta was named the county seat. Cobb County is Georgia's 81st county. It was named for a famed Georgia Congressman, Senator and then later, Judge, named Thomas Willis Cobb. Judge Cobb died in 1830 at the age of 46. Marietta was named for his wife Mary.

Brush Arbor (artist conception) Circa 1833In 1833, Methodist pioneers established a meeting spot near the present-day downtown Smyrna where traveling ministers would hold services. In pioneer times, this was also an important place to meet and socialize since long distances typically separated neighbors. A brush arbor, under which people would gather, was built near a fresh water spring that once ran through the area to identify the meeting place.

In 1836, the State of Georgia authorized construction of the Western and Atlantic Railroad from Chattanooga, Tennessee. The railroad ran through the heart of what is now downtown Smyrna onward to Decatur 19 miles away. The train tracks are in essentially the same location upon which they were built more than 160 years ago. Terminus, which later became Atlanta, had not yet been established.

In 1838 the Smyrna Espicopal Methodist Church is believed to have been established. The church is now known as Smyrna First United Methodist Church. In 1840, the land used as the Methodist meeting area became known as the Smyrna Camp Ground. It was available to all religious denominations for use. Within a few years the camp ground was well known as a religious center throughout Northern Georgia.

After land was donated and properly titled, the Methodists built a log cabin church in 1846. They also established Smyrna Memorial Cemetery in 1838. Title was officially granted to this land in 1848 even though the cemetery is believed to have been in use for the previous decade. The Methodists built new and larger churches in 1911 and 1968.

Both the camp ground and cemetery were on Land Lot 522, District 17, Section 2. That land was awarded to Wiley Flanigan of Campbell County, Georgia in the 1832 land lottery. He took possession of the land on July 1, 1843 and later formally donated some of it for the cemetery and camp ground. Other donors were erroneously credited with donating the land in the past. Mr. Flanigan's 10 plus year delay in establishing residency on his land after the lottery was attributed as the most likely reason why the vacant land began being used as the meeting place, camp ground and cemetery.

Cobb County's first State Senator, John Gann, built the Gann House just west of Nickajack Creek on present-day Concord Road in 1841. It is the oldest remaining building in the Smyrna area.

The Western & Atlantic railroad was completed through the area in 1842. Like many towns in North Georgia, today's Smyrna started out as series of railroad stops with nearby homes and a few large farms. The area around the current Smyrna Museum (a replica of the train station demolished in 1959) was first named Varner's Station. North along the train track in the current vicinity of Windy Hill Road existed a train stop named Ruff's Siding. A siding is a short stretch of railroad track on which a train temporarily parks to allow another to pass. A mapped location named Fulton existed in what appears to be the vicinity of present-day Campbell Road south of downtown.

The Concord Woolen Mills opened in 1847. It was one of the first industrial employers in the county and the neighborhood that grew around it was named Mill Grove. During the Civil War the mill made Confederate uniforms. The mill was burned by Sherman's troops on July 4, 1864. It was rebuilt after the war and prospered for many years. An October 1889 fire destroyed most of the facility. It was rebuilt again and eventually went out of business in 1916. The ruins are now part of Cobb Heritage Park.

The nearby covered bridge on Concord Road over Nickajack Creek was built in 1848. It too was burned on July 4, 1864Concord Covered Bridge  - Circa 1916 . It was rebuilt in 1872 using the original stone support footings shown in the photo below. The bridge was upgraded in the 1950s and renovated in 1999.

The railroad helped establish a permanent location for what became Smyrna and started it on its way from a frontier village to a growing community. Smyrna's first brick building, a school named the Smyrna Boy's Academy, was constructed on property formerly owned by the Methodist Church in 1849. It was later known as Smyrna Academy.

Telegraph service was established along the railroad track in 1851. The Ruff family purchased the existing grist mill near the covered bridge in the 1855 and renamed it Ruff's mill. They also purchased the adjacent large home.

The Civil War began at Ft. Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. On April 23, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown established an officer's training camp at Smyrna Camp Ground. It was selected because of its easy rail access. The training camp was named Camp Brown. The nearby Smyrna Academy was also designated as a training facility for Confederate soldiers. Volunteers quickly signed up after the Governor's request.

An important historical fact of the time to remember was that Americans in 1861 did not identfy themselves primarily as Americans. They were far more likely to first identify themselves by their state of birth (i.e. Georgians, New Yorkers, Texans) and secondarily as a citizen of the union of states. Today's unifying belief that we are Americans first was cemented in the public's mind later in the century.

The unit that trained at Camp Brown became known as the Fourth Brigade, First Division of Georgia Volunteers under the command of General Phillips of Marietta.

Battle of Smyrna - 1864Civil War battles in the area took place in the first week of July 1864. On July 2, Confederate General Johnston withdrew from Kennesaw Mountain south towards the Smyrna Camp Ground and to the Nickajack Creek area four miles to the west. The Battle of Smyrna Camp Ground took place on July 3 and the Battle of Ruff's Mill at Nickajack Creek occurred on July 4. Most of the buildings in the area were burned by Sherman's troops. Notable exceptions were the Smyrna Academy which served as a Confederate and Union hospital, Ruff's Mill, the Ruff family home and the Gann House.

Johnston then withdrew to the Chattahoochee River and the Smyrna area was temporarily occupied by Union troops. The Union troops moved out to Vinings Station (now Vinings) and Mableton on July 8, en route to Atlanta, and east to Sope Creek and Roswell on July 12. Click here for a listing of local Civil War markers.

Archived maps show that Varner's Station was renamed sometime before 1863 to Neal Dow. Records from the Marietta Journal show that Ruff's Siding was being called Ruff's Station in 1869.

Smyrna was incorporated as a municipality by the state legislature on August 23,1872. The boundaries extended one mile in every direction from the Smyrna Academy. Incorporating legislation named John C. Moore Mayor (Intendent). Four aldermen were also named: E.D.L. Mobley, W.R. Bell, W.L. Davenport, and G.P. Daniel. The city was incorporated a second time in 1897 reducing the city limits from 1 mile to 1/2 mile but most early records were destroyed in a city hall fire in the 1920's.

The name Smyrna was selected by the city's Founding Fathers from the Bible - a common practice in 18th century America. It was the name of one of the churches established by the Apostle Paul in present-day Turkey. The ancient Ionian seaport of Smyrna was also the birthplace of the famous Greek poet Homer in the ninth century BC.

The Baptist Church of Jesus Christ was organized on August 30, 1884. The church is now known as First Baptist Church of Smyrna. The congregation built a white wooden church in 1886 and then another church from Stone Mountain granite in 1924. The 1924 "Rock Church" is now used as a chapel. The current 1,400 seat sanctuary next door was dedicated on December 9, 1961.

Traditional history says that the jonquils, today's official city symbol, were introduced to Smyrna by Samuel Taylor and his wife who moved here from Atlanta in 1883. The Taylors purchased 80 acres of land on Atlanta Road south of its present-day intersection with Collier Road. Four other families - Crow, Ray, Eubanks and Anderson - purchased the adjacent 270 acres of land around the same time. This area became known as CREAT Wood (CREAT formed from the first letter of the families' last names). This is where the name for the Creatwood neighborhood built in the 1950s originated.

The Taylors had a son who lived in Spokane, Washington. He sent his parents a burlap sack from there with what are believed to be the area's first jonquil bulbs. The Taylors shared the bulbs with friends and neighbors. The flowers quickly multiplied and came back every year with very little care. Thus began the tradition of planting jonquils in Smyrna. The Taylors' Victorian-style home and 80-acre estate were sold to Dr. James Brawner in 1907 for $7,000 and they moved to Spokane to join their son.

The 1890 census recorded 280 Smyrna residents. In 1896, the Locust Grove School opened as a one room, 16 x 18 cabin that served all school grades. It was later renamed Fitzhugh Lee School and expanded many times over the years. It became the first high school in the Cobb County public school system.

For the first part of the 20th century, Smyrna continued to grow and the new technologies of the time, such as electricity, telephones and motor vehicles, were quickly adopted by the local citizenry. The Gautschy-Cano house, with its unique German-style architecture, was built on present day Atlanta road in 1900. The Atlanta Northern Railway established trolley service to Marietta and Atlanta in 1905. AT&T opened a phone office in 1905 to serve 21 customers. Smyrna's first bank, Smyrna Bank, was chartered in 1911. The Smyrna Academy becameSmyrna High School sometime on or before 1915.

In 1908 Dr. Brawner, a mental health visionary of his era, opened the Brawner Sanitarium on the former Taylor estate. It was a world-class treatment facility for people suffering from mental illnesses and alcohol/drug addictions. His famous 13,000 square foot hospital opened on the property in 1910. Its treatment regimens were modeled after successful European hospital programs where he had studied psychiatry. Patients were both the "rich and famous" as well as the common man. Dr. Brawner, and the later renamed Brawner Hospital, were standard setters in raising the bar of mental health care in the South. Both were also instrumental in changing the public's perceptions of mental illness and setting higher expectations as to how it could be best treated.

Atlanta Road, then US Highway 41, was paved in 1926. An Unpaved Atlanta Road - Circa 1925Electricity and phones were common in most city homes by then. The city's population passed 1,000 by the 1930s.

Smyrna's most remembered physician, Dr. W. C. Mitchell, opened his medical practice in 1933. He practiced for 48 years until he retired in 1981. For many years he was the only doctor in the area. Dr. Mitchell passed away in 1988 at the age of 81.

The Women's Club opened the city's first public library on September 15, 1936 in the former home of pioneers Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hill. In 1937, 18 local ladies established the Jonquil Garden Club and adopted the now familiar green and yellow used by the city today as the club's colors. GB's place, a popular diner downtown, also opened in 1937. It served up its last dish in 1974.

US Highway 41, which originally went through downtown Smyrna as Atlanta Road (then also known as Dixie Highway) was rerouted in Marietta to its present location on Cobb Parkway in 1939.

For the most part, Smyrna remained an agricultural area until the 1940's. The economic profile of Smyrna dramatically changed when construction began in 1942 on the Bell Bomber aircraft plant a few miles north in Marietta. Thousands of new wartime jobs were created. Production began in the spring of 1943. Employees, many of them from Smyrna, produced 663 B-29s for the Army Air Corps. The plant closed immediately after the war.

Aunt Fanny's Cabin, a famous Southern-themed restaurant, opened in 1941. By 1945 it had established itself as a place to see the famous movie stars, sports figures, politicians and other celebrities of the day. Its famous visitors not only signed the guest book, but left behind manyautographed photos. The restaurant operated until 1994. Its 1890s cabin and 1940s terrace room were moved downtown in 1999 and now serve as the Smyrna Welcome Center - with the old photos on display. The trolley service ended on January 31, 1947. A section of the original trolley track that ran down Atlanta Road is on display in the Smyrna Museum.

In 1946, Smyrnans made history when they elected a woman mayor,Lorena Pace PruittLorena Pace Pruitt. During the war, she managed the cafeteria at Bell Bomber. Mayor Pruitt served two terms and focused her administration's efforts on improving the city's infrastructure. After leaving office she was appointed chairwoman of the Cobb County Board of Zoning Appeals.

The 1950s were a period of rapid growth for Smyrna. The population mushroomed from 2005 residents in 1950 to more than 10,000 at the decade's end. The Bell Bomber plant, which closed in 1945, was reopened as Lockheed Georgia in 1951. The resumption of aircraft production created thousands of new jobs and a high demand for new housing.

Orme Campbell High School, home of the Campbell Panthers, opened in 1952 with the merger of Smyrna High School and Fitzhugh Lee High School. It opened with a total of 425 students in grades eight through eleven. In 1953, one of the first African-American, middle-class neighborhoods in Georgia was built at Rose Garden off of Spring Road.

Belmont Farms was redeveloped and opened as Belmont Hills Shopping Center on November 18, 1954. At the time, the 50-acre retail strip mall with 2500 parking spaces, was the largest shopping center in the South. A large housing Belmont Hills Grand Opening - 1954development was also built nearby off of then Cherokee Road (now Windy Hill Road) with streets named after cities in California - the home state and corporate headquarters of Lockheed.

Smyrna nearly doubled in size during the 1960s when the population grew to 19,157. A new 4,000 square foot public library opened in 1961. It was built at a cost of $54,000. It was later expanded in 1969 and 1973. Cobb Center Mall, which featured the first suburban Rich's department store, opened on South Cobb Drive in 1963.

Nash Junior High School opened on Ward Street just before the start of the 1963-1964 school year. It closed as Nash Middle School in 1989. F.T. Wills High School, home of the Wills Tigers, opened next door in 1967. For the next 22 years there was a great rivalry between Wills and Campbell high schools until Wills closed in 1989 (see below). It was not uncommon for 5,000 people to attend the annual cross-town football classic every fall. As baby boomers entered their 40s and grew wealthier towards the late 1960s, construction began on Bennett Woods, Smyrna's first large, prestige neighborhood.

Smyrna's growth slowed in the 1970s as the population increased by 1,155 to 20,312. The current main post office opened in 1970 and the city celebrated its centennial anniversary on August 23,1972. Griffin Middle School, one of the first schools specifically designed for the then newmiddle school pod concept, opened on August 28 before the 1972-1973 school year. One of the most memorable events of the decade occurred during the winter of 1973. On January 7-8 a fluke series of winter thunderstorms deposited 2 ½ inches of rain on the area that tuned to solid ice as the temperature hovered at 32 degrees. The result was The Great Ice Storm of 1973. Thousands of trees in the city were felled by the weight of tons of ice, roads were covered with four inches of solid ice and electrical power and phone service were not fully restored for almost two weeks.

The 1970s also saw the Atlanta Road business district go into decline. Nearby Cumberland Mall, which opened on August 8, 1973, lured customers from downtown and Belmont Hills as "mega-mall shopping" became the retail norm of the 1970s and 1980s. Cobb Center also declined as it was unable to compete against the three times larger Cumberland Mall. At the time, Cumberland Mall was the largest mall in the United States at 1.2 million square feet and the only mall in Georgia with four anchor stores - Davison's, Rich's, JC Penney and Sears.

On June 3, 1974, 100-bed Smyrna Hospital admitted its first patient. Adventist Health System purchased the hospital in 1976. It became known as Emory Adventist Hospital in 1995 as part of a a joint venture between Adventist Health System and the famed Emory University Medical Center.

On January 12, 1982 a rare daytime snow storm now known as Snowjam '82 struck the area. Meteorologists had forecast possible light snow for that afternoon and in typical Atlanta-area fashion the population ignored the warning. Virtually all previously documented significant winter storms had occurred after nightfall. That afternoon however, 6 to 8 inches of snow fell within a couple of hours and shut down the city as commuters fled home. Hundreds of thousands of cars were stranded on freeways around Atlanta. Spring Road, Atlanta Road and South Cobb Drive were impassible for several days until the snow melted and abandoned cars were claimed by their owners.

The Smyrna Historical & Genealogical Society was chartered on May 17 1985. Charter members were former Smyrna Mayor Harold Smith, Betty Smith and Emmett Yancey. The first meeting was held March 27, 1986 with 18 people in attendance. Its official publication, Lives & Times, was first published in March 1986.

Downtown further suffered when a Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) road-widening project resulted in the demolition of much of the area, which by then had become an eyesore. However, out of this decline emerged a plan to revitalize downtown and transition Smyrna to an upscale, high-growth area. Max Bacon, first elected mayor in 1985, was one of the key driving forces behind the revitalization plan. Mayor Bacon is now serving his sixth 4-year elected term.

The renewal plan wisely hinged on developing public service centers and green space enveloped by livable neighborhoods. This was very different from typical redevelopment plans in other cities that focused on retail centers, which usually began to fade after 10 years. By then, Smyrna was all too familiar with famed shopping centers that had begun to fizzle - Belmont Hills, Cobb Center, Cumberland Mall - and therefore properly planned for a sustainable downtown that was not dependent on retail.

The new development was named The Village Green. With a new library planned as a cornerstone of the project, The Friends of the Smyrna Library organization, also commonly known as FOSL, was founded on June 1, 1990. It has since developed into one of the largest and most active Friends chapters in Georgia and the Southeast. FOSL has made tens of thousands of dollars of donations to the Smyrna Public Library as well as implemented many celebrated literary and cultural programs since its founding.

The completion of the Village Green project in 1991 heralded the beginning of a new era for Smyrna. The The Village Greenproject included a large community center and a 28,000 square foot public library. The buildings were designed in a unique and eye-catching Williamsburg style with a modern touch. The project also included a large public green space with a lake.

The project won national awards and accolades when opened to the public. It also jump-started redevelopment in the adjacent neighborhoods. Other government additions to the Village Green complex that followed within a few years were a new City Hall, Police Headquarters and Fire Department.

The Blizzard of 1993 began late on the evening of Friday March 12, 1993. The Smyrna area experienced 50 MPH howling winds and record snowfall that drifted in some areas of town to three feet by morning. Meteorologists later called it the storm of the century.

1989 saw the closing of Wills High School and the beginning of an interesting legal controversy and school name-changing saga. During the 1980s, high school enrollment in Smyrna shrunk to the point that the Cobb County School Board decided that two high schools were no longer needed. Wills High School was closed at the end of the 1989-1990 school year. Its student population was divided between Campbell and Osborn high schools with the majority of students assigned to Campbell. The name of Campbell High School was then changed to Smyrna High School and Campbell's mascot, the Panther, became the Spartan.

The descendants of Orme Campbell, for whom Campbell High School was named, filed suit in court after the name change. They argued before the court that one of the conditions of the original land donation upon which Campbell High School was built was that it would always be named for the family's patriarch. They won the suit and the name was restored to Campbell High School. The court's ruling did not apply to the mascot however, which remained the newly namedSpartan.

By the 1997-1998 school year, Smyrna's high school population had swelled due to an unforeseen boom in Smyrna's development. Ironically, Campbell High School was then too small for all of the students in the area. The previously closed Wills High School and adjacent Nash Middle School (also closed) were renovated, merged, reopened and renamed Campbell High School. The former Campbell High School on Atlanta Road then became Campbell Middle School. Newsweek Magazine recognized Campbell High School in 2005 for having one of the largest and most successful International Baccalaureate programs in the country.

The remnants of Hurricane Opal passed through Smyrna on October 4-5, 1995. It was the first time in recorded history that sustained tropical force winds from a hurricane were measured for extended periods of time (6+ hours) in the city. Gusts were measured up to 69 MPH. 400,000 people in the western Atlanta suburbs were left without electricity, including most of Smyrna.

The Smyrna Museum had its grand opening on April 25, 1999. It was built to house the large collection of the Smyrna Historical and Genealogical Society. The building was designed as a replica of the 1910 Smyrna Train Depot which was demolished in 1959. The Smyrna Welcome Center opened next door on the same day. The welcome center is made of two rooms that were moved for the former Aunt Fanny's Cabin restaurant - the 1890s cabin and the 1940s terrace room.

In late 1999, TRC Garrow Associates conducted an archaeological survey of Smyrna Memorial Cemetery, which located 395 previously unknown graves. This brought the decedent total to 638. The Smyrna Memorial Cemetery Association has since placed numbered granite headstones on these unknown graves.

In 2001 the Silver Comet Trail opened. It was built upon a former railroad bed of a passenger trail named the Silver Comet. Seaboard Air Line Railroad operated the Silver Comet from 1947 to 1968. The paved bicycle and walking path initially extended 33 miles from Smyrna to Rockmart. It was later extended to the Alabama state line at a total length of 57 miles away. When ultimately completed, it will run from Birmingham to Downtown Atlanta.

The Twentieth Century Veterans Memorial Park at the Village Green was dedicated on October 12, 2002. It honors the memory of those Smyrna residents who both served and died in the US Armed Forces in the last century. Also that October, the acclaimed Market Village opened. This live and work development features luxury townhomes with upscale shops and dining. Click here to see a satellite photo of the Market Village when it was under construction on April 4, 2002.

In 2005, a major archeological discovery was made on Oakdale Road when the only known remaining Civil War Shoupades, aSmyrna - The Jonquil City famed style of fortification, were uncovered. They were built in July 1864. The city is working to preserve this area as a historic site.

City voters approved a historic $20 million parks expansion in 2005. Just outside the city limits, 2005 saw Cumberland Mall begin a $65 million renovation and the ground breaking for a $300 million Cobb County Arts Center three and a half miles from downtown.

In the 15 years after the opening of the Village Green, thousands of new homes were built at prices that reached up to $1 million. Older neighborhoods were renovated and once shabby apartments were converted to highly desirable condominiums. Plans were announced in 2005 to redevelop Belmont Hills as a live and work community.

Smyrna's population in early 2006 was estimated at 50,000.

It is important to note that with the rapid growth the area has enjoyed in recent years, measures are being taken to ensure that Smyrna's historical sites will not be lost.

174 years after pioneers established the log cabins and farms that became Smyrna in the early 18th century, the city today consistently ranks as one of the most desirable areas in Metro Atlanta to live and raise a family. Please check back and review this page again as we add new content and link pictures to it.

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