The sun rises strong most mornings on the Piedmont Plateau, and the skyscrapers of Atlanta cast shadows westward toward Sweetwater Creek State Park. More than 2,000 acres of land owned by the State of Georgia, adjacent to East Point's George H. Sparks Reservoir, offer an excellent opportunity for historians, geologists and environmentalists to study their crafts and catch a fish or two on the side.
Today the park houses the remnants of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, the largest employer of Campbell County, Georgia according to the 1860 Census which was destroyed by George Stoneman's cavalry on July_9, 1864. Although there was no fighting at Sweetwater a brief skirmish occurred at Alexander's Mill, also in the park. A third mill, just outside the park boundary, was also destroyed. The New Manchester Mill and Old Roswell Mill were major targets of William Tecumseh Sherman's forces because the products from these mills were used to outfit and house the Confederate Army. While Sweetwater Mill produced cloth for tents and sheets, Roswell Mill produced the famous "Roswell Gray" used in the uniforms. Other mills in the area handled grist.
Sweetwater State Park ruins
The Brevard Fault line, which bisects the park, was an excellent location for many of the mills. Beginning in northeast Georgia(it is a major structural feature of the entire southern Appalachians and defines the boundary between the Blue Ridge and Piedmont belts) this line traverses the state near the high eastern ridge of the Appalachian Mountains before turning south around Jasper and running through Marietta. Moving to the southwest the line turns more westerly and crosses into Alabama south of I-20. Local geologists believe the fault is more active than the San Andreas, but less well known because the plate movement does not produce earthquakes.
Mills were an important part of the North Georgia culture and business. As north Georgia began rapid growth in the 1830's, a community existed either because it was near a navigation route(a river, or to a lesser extent, a road) or near falls, one of the few available power sources of the day. Mills became a gathering place for locals and a stopping point for travelers. Frequently small supporting businesses would build near grist mills such as dry goods stores, inns and taverns.
Labor intensive cotton mills, such as the one at Sweetwater, would create entire communities. When the town became large enough the federal government would add a post office. Although railroads added additional "navigation routes" beginning in the late 1830's, location near a power source would remain a key factor until the advent of electricity later in the century. In 1849 former Georgia governor and Cobb County resident Charles J. McDonald along with a friend and associate, James Rogers, built The Sweetwater Manufacturing Company near the falls to take advantage of the available power.
By 1857 a significant community had developed. The town was named, and the mill renamed New Manchester, probably after of the English manufacturing town of Manchester. In the center of the community was the mill, reportedly the tallest building in the Atlanta area, a company store, inn and post office, which was added that year. Plans to build a rail line to the town were delayed by the Civil War.
Stoneman's destruction of the community created many enigmas about the area and the people. How large was the community? What happened to the populace of the destroyed town? Were the workers slave or free? The town covered much of the entrance to the area, and most of the workers were probably free, however, some slaves may have been present, as in other mill towns of the day. Estimates of the size range from 200 to 500 people and the answer is probably somewhere in between. As recently as the 1980's some researchers believed that the community had been massacred in spite of the lack of supporting evidence. Today most historians agree that the women mill workers were moved to Marietta where they were combined with workers from Roswell. There, after documented communication between General George Henry Thomas and William Tecumseh Sherman, the residents were herded in railcars and slowly transported through Nashville to Louisville and dispersed across the river in Ohio and Indiana. Oral family history and depositions tell a story of confinement in large, filthy rooms for some time and eventual agreement to release in a hostile environment. Workers were expected to get mill jobs in the northern cities. Some northern papers objected to the treatment of these workers.
After World War I a private company proposed developing the area around the mill. Although never initiated, the plans are surprisingly similar to the current usage of the area.
Today the area around the park is being threatened by the rapid development of Atlanta. The park has 4 trails which offer a broad range of hiking adventure. The first is the historic trail, which journeys to the mill and beyond to the falls a few hundred yards further. Second is the blue non-game wildlife trail, which follows the bluff above the river and meets the historic trail and the new white non-game wildlife trail at the falls. The white trail completes a loop that runs 6 miles and is an energetic hike. Finally, the recently added yellow trail crosses Sweetwater Creek and follows the river south before looping deep into the watershed.