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North of Atlanta
Chattahoochee River, Part 3
About North Georgia

by Randy Golden exclusively for About North Georgia

Fishing on a foggy morning at Bowmans Island
Leaving Buford Dam, the Chattahoochee River flows into the pristine Bowman's Island Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, the southernmost cold water trout stream in the world and the first of the series of federal parks that define the river over the next 20 miles. The rugged environment, barely two miles long, is beloved by fishermen throughout the Southeast. Two hiking trails explore the northern portion of the Chattahoochee River here, the Buford Dam Trail and the Laurel Ridge Trail. Over the next 13 miles only two crossings of the Chattahoochee exist today, GA Highway 20 and McGinnis Ferry Road.

Highway 20 crosses the river at Fish Weir Shoals, where Cherokee Indians built a wattle dam to help them catch fish. The Cherokee were plentiful in today's Forsyth County. The Chattahoochee served as a dividing line of sorts between the Cherokee and Creek Nations, especially in this section of the river. Following battles in Slaughter Gap (west of Blood Mountain) and Taliwa, near present-day Ballground, the Indian Nations established a border defined as the first ridge south of the Chattahoochee. Here the border was closely enforced -- either Nation crossing it could start a war. Further on, where the Cherokee did not have many towns, a trading zone grew where both Cherokee and Creek could transact business.

In addition to McGinnis Ferry, there were other crossings, most notably Orr's Ferry, Settles Bridge and Rogers Bridge. The Rogers brothers, George and William, were a notable historic family. These two wealthy, mixed-blood Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota. Once in Oklahoma, George decided to return to Georgia and sued the state of Georgia for the right to purchase his home from the settlers who won it in the 1832 Georgia lottery. In 1839 his suit resulted in the overturning of Georgia's removal law, but by that time it was too late for the Cherokee Indians - they had already been forced west on the Cherokee Trail of Tears. George's brother William is also famous - his grandson was a homespun comedian before World War II, Will Rogers.

The Cherokee village of Suwanee (Cherokee for "echo") grew at the confluence of Suwanee Creek and the Chattahoochee River in the 1700's. After the American Revolution, settlers in North and South Carolina encroached on Indian land and the Cherokee from those areas moved to west Georgia, past the village of Suwanee. At that point the town became known to the Cherokee as Suwanee Old Town and existed until 1820, when land ceded to Georgia was given to settlers in the Land Lottery of 1820 Today Suwanee, Georgia is the first major city near the river south of Buford Dam.

Suwanee Creek was once a major point source of pollution of the Chattahoochee River. Flowing south from Buford, the river was the dumping grounds of the Bona Allen Tannery (now Tannery Row). For many decades, Bona Allen Tannery was the largest tannery in the world and chemicals and dyes from the plant were dumped into Suwanee Creek. From here they made the journey to the Chattahoochee. When the plant closed in the 1970's, environmentalists thought it would take a hundred years for the land to become fertile, but only 30 years later the creek is the centerpiece of the Suwanee Greenway.

From Abbotts Bridge Road north, only 3 small parcels of land are unprotected by the state and federal government. Both park, state and city officials consider this land "undeveloped" and intend to use them for various purposes as Atlanta expands north. South of Abbotts Bridge housing is frequently visible from the riverbank, in some cases illegally encroaching on the 50-foot easement from the 100-year flood plain. The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Areas south of this point have at least some development and many are completely developed. Abbotts Bridge and Medlock Bridge have boat ramps, and Jones Bridge has a nice take-outs near either parking lot.

Jones Bridge
At Jones Bridge (on Barnwell Road north of Holcomb Bridge Rd.) are the remains of an antiquated vehicular bridge, abandoned in 1922, but used until the wooden floor boards rotted. In 1940 workmen dismantled half the bridge, probably to sell the scrap metal in the open market. They never returned for the second half, which remains as a historic reminder of a by-gone era. Jones Bridge features some 5.0 miles of hiking trails, including a loop near the Chattahoochee River Environmental Education Center, a facility used to instruct classes on the importance of the river.

Located in Island Ford (GA 400, exit 6, turn left at the stop sign, then right on Dunwoody Place and Roberts Drive) are the headquarters of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, in the rustic home of Judge Samuel Hewlett, who served on Georgia's Supreme Court. The land was purchased by the federal government from his estate. Island Ford, which later became a ferry, never progressed to a bridge because of lack of traffic and competition from nearby Jones Bridge and Roswell Bridge. Today it is hard to imagine fording the river at this point because of Buford Dam, 28 miles upstream. The water level is kept high by the continuous flow requirement for the dam set by the Corps of Engineers. Before the dam the water level would drop a few days after the rain and expose Island Ford Shoals.

Bull Sluice Lake from the
Chattahoochee Nature Center
Past Island Ford on the opposite bank of the river, the city of Roswell, Georgia has developed a series of small parks connected by a multi-use trail that gives bike riders and walking enthusiasts a 3-mile long Riverwalk to practice their sports. The path presently begins at Don White Park and runs to the intersection of Azalea Drive and Willeo Road, according to Jeff Pruitt, Administrator of Park Services for Roswell. Pruitt told us of plans to connect Don White with the Big Creek Greenway in Alpharetta. The path passes through the Vickery Creek Unit of the Chattahoochee River NRA, which affords more than 5 miles of hiking opportunity, and in September, 2004, Roswell built Georgia's newest covered bridge connecting the unit to Roswell Mill Trail. Also along the bike trail is the Chattahoochee Nature Center, which features an interpretive center including raptors as well a three miles of hiking trails.

During the Atlanta Campaign, Cavalry General Kenner Garrard captured Roswell Mill (hike to Roswell Mill) just north of the Chattahoochee on Vickery Creek/Big Creek on July 5, 1864. General George Thomas's troops crossed the river for the first time in this area on July 16. From here they moved south and engaged the Army of Tennessee in the Battle of Peachtree Creek on July 22.

The last of the Chattahoochee River National Parks above Morgan Fall Dam is Gold Branch, whose 5 miles of hiking trails attracts experienced hikers (there are some hiking areas that are dangerous) and includes a significant portion of the original Roswell Road. We could not find any information on successful gold mining in the area, so the creek may have been named by a hopeful settler. At Gold Branch the park is no longer bound by river bank, but by lake shore. Bull Sluice Lake is the impoundment of Morgan Falls dam. Completed in 1904, the dam was purchased by Georgia Power in 1912 and is still used to generate electricity for Atlanta.


North Georgia Naturally
North Georgia -- it's a natural! From outdoor adventure to our natural history, About North Georgia covers the area with in-depth articles, photos, and insights into those great, little-known "secrets" of the area.
Rivers of North Georgia
The Chattahoochee River, both Chattooga Rivers, The Etowah River, which Sherman believed to be Georgia's Rubicon ...

Article Links
1832 Georgia lottery
American Revolution
Bona Allen Tannery
Buford Dam Trail
Chattahoochee Nature Center
Chattahoochee River
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
Cherokee Trail of Tears
Creek Nation
Forsyth County
Jones Bridge
Land Lottery of 1820
Laurel Ridge Trail
Suwanee Greenway
Treaty of New Echota
Will Rogers

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