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Column: Ghost rail lines hiding in plain sight
by Thornton Kennedy
Neighbor Newspapers Columnist
July 02, 2014 12:02 AM | 2907 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy

Trains may have been the lifeblood of Atlanta but visual signs of that legacy are few and far between.

Atlanta’s early name, Terminus, referenced the end point of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. The city played a critical role for the Confederacy during the Civil War due to its burgeoning rail capacity. After the war the trains continued to play an integral part in the city and region, making Atlanta the central transportation hub in the South.

Peachtree Station in south Buckhead is little more than a handsome one-story brick building on the corner of Peachtree and Deering roads. Designed by Neel Reid and opened in 1918, it is better known for its architecture than its trains.

Trains are constantly rumbling through the heart of Vinings, causing the congested Paces Ferry Road to come to a complete halt as a seemingly infinite number of cars pass through the intersection. The Inman Yards in northwest Atlanta can be seen from space. It is that last tangible link to what our city was, but it is off in an industrial wasteland, impressive though it is.

For Buckhead resident Ruddy Ellis there are some ghosts of railroads past in places that may come as a surprise. Specifically he pointed me to the John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve in Sandy Springs. Big Trees is an occasional topic of this column. It is a 30-acre tree, plant and wildlife sanctuary on Roswell Road with 1½ miles of pristine walking trails.

At the southern end of the preserve lies a railroad grade dating back to 1902. This was the Bull Sluice Railroad and was used to transport heavy equipment from the Roswell Railroad to the Morgan Falls hydroelectric power plant on the Chattahoochee River. The railroad was a 2.7-mile line. Morgan Falls Dam supplied power to Atlanta’s streetcar system.

Some of the grade is covered by Interstate 285 between North Shallowford and Peachtree Dunwoody roads. The line crossed Roswell Road. Ellis included a drawing of an old bridge that carried cars over the top of the rail line.

The Roswell Railroad ran from Roswell, which was a textile manufacturing center, to Chamblee from 1881 to 1921.

Ellis goes further, showing there were several of these lines built to support the construction of hydroelectric dams at the beginning of the 20th century, including Tallulah, Blue Ridge and Rabun.

I find it fascinating as we look to solve our transportation issues there is a bit of a map, a ghost grid laying just beneath our development that worked carrying people to and from the country, now the suburbs, more than 100 years ago.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlanta and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at

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