The Chattahoochee River comprised the eastern border of Cobb County beginning in 1820. It was the last major physical barrier protecting the Cherokee Nation from settlers. Using established fords to cross the river, mostly the crossing at Island Ford on Hightower Road, flatboats started moving men across the river as early as 1819. By the start of the sixth Georgia Land Lottery in 1832, the Chattahoochee flatboats were a booming venture. Now called ferries, these were among the first commercially viable businesses in the northern tier of the state.
Jacob Brooks established the first Cobb County ferry at the Shallow Ford of the Chattahoochee in 1824. Settlers refer to "The Old Road" which runs from Kennesaw Town, about 5 miles north of Marietta, to Guntersville, Alabama, through the center of Cedartown, Georgia. According to the Southern Recorder(1824), only the Old Federal Road from Athens to Ringgold is a more popular route west. The paper recommended The Shallowford Ferry and The Old Road for people from Georgia's coast or North Carolina going to Alabama. It is probable that this ferry has been in operation from 1819, although the first mention in writing is five years later.
To the south was Major James Montgomery's Ferry at Standing Peachtree,a fort built on the Georgia frontier by Lt. George Gilmer. The road that crosses the river here parallels the Chattahoochee to Marietta, then continues further north to Allatoona Pass and Cassville. A second road headed west for an unknown distance.
Early ferries charged on a sliding scale, from a man or horse (5 cents each) to a loaded wagon (a dollar for wagon, horse and driver). Most travelers could not afford the few inns along the road, so they would camp on the ground, normally at nearby springs or rivers for the available sources of water.
Among the pioneer families of Cobb are the names of Hardy Pace, James Powers, and Johnson Garwood, who remain known today more for their ferries (Pace's Ferry, Powers' Ferry and Johnson's Ferry) than anything else they did. Andrew and Larkin Martin, who started another of the early ferries (listed as 1832 but was probably transporting as early as 1826) are unknown today because they sold their land on either side of the Chattahoochee to a man named Jones who ran Jones Ferry (later Jones Bridge).
James Powers was involved in the politics of Cobb County from its beginning. He was appointed to the first grand jury of the county, had businesses on both sides of his ferry, and along with Mr. Brooks was the most respected of the ferrymen. His ferry is noted as the first "authorized by act of legislature." Two years later the legislature recognized Montgomery's Ferry at Standing Peachtree.
Ferries served an even greater roll in that, like mills, they were commercial centers in the developing communities. Each of the ferries, with the exception of Martin's, had substantial commercial development along the road nearby, in part because the river could supply water for steam engines, in part because of available transportation. The commercial impact of these ferries is significant.
On December_26, 1836 the government of Georgia endorses the construction of a railroad running from the Tennessee state line to the Chattahoochee River. While the ferries of Cobb County continue to expand for the next 15 years and serve as feeder lines to the railroad for decades, this marks the beginning of the end for this means of transportation.
Ferries expand service before The Civil War
Over the next few years economic conditions worsen, and no additional ferries are added. In 1845 Cobb County's economy starts to expand. As the county grows other men, including Absalom Baker in 1847 and Allison Nelson in 1850, initiate ferry service across the still formidable Chattahoochee. Daniel Turner and James Mayson (Mayson lived in Dekalb at the time) start one about the same time. Turner's price for a man was 6 1/4 cents, yet the price for a fully loaded stagecoach had dropped to 50 cents.
Battle of Pace's Ferry
During the Civil War the ferries are a strategic objective for General William Tecumseh Sherman. Pace's Ferry is the scene of a struggle on July 16-17, 1864 when Palmer's and Hooker's corps of Sherman's Army were ordered to cross the Chattahoochee River. Choosing the crossing at Pace's Ferry, in part because of its proximity to their positions, in part because a nearby bridge had burned, the Union infantry crossed the Chattahoochee and paused for the heavy cannon to arrive. On the Fulton County side elements of General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry waiting for the federal advance. With the Union soldiers caught off-guard, Wheeler's Rebels romp the Federals, killing 300 while only losing 67 of his own.
In 1871 ferries began to be replaced by bridges for a number of reasons. Making profits became increasingly difficult. The ferries were unreliable in the late Winter and Spring, when heavy runoff after storms closed them down for days at a time. The railroads begin expanding in virtually every direction. And bridge-building techniques are advancing, making bridges cheaper to build and sturdier in the event of a flood. While some ferries continued to operate into the 20th Century, the golden era of the ferry in Cobb County was over.
Within a hundred years the ferries of Cobb County have come and gone. Today little remains to indicate they existed. At any of the crossing points only the existence of a bridge shows the approximate location of the ferry.
Austell Ferry While ferries had been on the decline since the Civil War, some continued operation well into the 20th century. Here the ferry on Campellton Road carries passengers across the Chattahoochee in 1935. The present-day road runs north of this crossing. Courtesy Marietta Museum of History