From The North Buckhead Bulletin, October 22, 1983, a publication of
the 8th Ward Civic Association, the former name of the North Buckhead Civic
This is the first in a continuing series on the history of features on the history of the Eighth Ward. -- the editors
by S. J. Cook
From the dawn of history it seems, the Chattahoochee has been the dividing line between rival interests; on the southwest [sic] side were the Creek Indians, a highly civilized nation of farmers and traders; to the northwest lived the Cherokee, an even more sophisticated nation of fierce warriors and cunning hunters. The Cherokee idea of neighborly behavior was to plunder the grain stores of the Creek settlements, two of which sat on opposite sides of Nancy Creek in what is now Chastain Park. The Creeks responded by marshalling the forces of their empire, which extended across most of the southeastern United States, and would march up the "War Path" to bully the Cherokee into respecting their rights.
Eventually, the War Path became a well-traveled road and the Creek village of Standing Peachtree by the mouth of Peachtree Creek became the Geneva of early America, the parlay ground and trading post for these uneasy neighbors. Indeed, the Creeks became so proficient in the art of appeasement that it proved their undoing in dealing with the white man. In strips and parcels, they traded away their land in exchange for peace, so that by 1821, they had conceded themselves right out of the state of Georgia.
But before the advent of the European invaders, the Creeks had carved from the forest primeval an extensive network of trails. The Peachtree Trail ran west to east from Standing Peachtree along what is now Moores Mill and Paces Ferry Roads. It joined the north-south branch that ran along the current route of Peachtree Rd., at the future heart of Buckhead. To the north, the Peachtree Trail connected with the Sandtown Trail at what is now Five Points. These two major centers of the future city of Atlanta were extablished [sic] long before the first white men arrived.
In The Official History of Fulton County, Walter G. Cooper interviewed Mr. J. S. Heard who had been born "a mile or so north of Sandy Springs" in 1835. Mr. Heard recalled seeing Cherokee Indians during his childhood who waded across the Chattahoochee and crossed the upper corner of North Fulton then crossed back to "their side of the river" at Hightower Road. he remembered their being friendly to small boys. An Indian woman named Nancy ran a village where Vinings is now located. "They had cattle, made cheese and traded with the white people... Nancy's Creek was named for her."
The hordes of eager settlers barely waited for the Creeks to retreat before
pressing into Cherokee territory on the north banks of the river. A
popular song of the time went like this:
"All I ask in this creation
Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation
Way up yonder in the Cherokee Nation."
Roswell King may well have sung this ditty as he rode north on the future course of Roswell Road to visit the new U. S. Mint in Dehonega and was stunned by the beauty of the bluffs overlooking the Chattahoochee. He wasted no time in organizing a hardy group of friends to form a township and wrest ownership from the less than willing Cherokee.
While the town of Roswell was settling in the north and Decatur was the flourishing county seat in the east, down south the railroads were outpacing the covered wagons. In 1836, the Western & Atlantic Railroads hired Chief Engineer Stephen H. Long to survey the region for a "Terminus" site. He noticed that the granite ridges which were good for laying track all seemed to converge on a relatively unpopulated rise on the Piedmont and marked the future site of Union Station with an iron spike.
In 1838, most of the Cherokee Nation was sent packing by Andrew Jackson on the infamous Trail of Tears, and on Dec. 18, Daniel Johnson sold 203 acres of what would become prime Buckhead real estate to Henry Irby of South Carolina for [a] mere $605. Not long after that, Irby took advantage of his location at a major crossroads and constructed a combination grocery store and barroom to cash in on the passing traffic.
Some time later, a man killed a large buck at a spring a few hundred feet west of Irby's store. The unknown hunter nailed the head of the buck to a tree near the store, and it stayed there for quite a while. The name "Buck Head" became a good-natured slander of Irby's drinking establishment.
More than 100 years later, this same spring posed problems in the construction of the Sears-Roebuck parking lot; 60-70 feet beneath the Sears Auto Center lies the well spring of Buckhead's history. [The three-story Sears store and separate auto center, which stood on the south side of West Paces Ferry west of Peachtree Road is, like much of historic Atlanta, long-gone.]
When the settlement at the crossroads became a thriving town, attempts were made to name it "Irbyville", but the locals would have none of it. Even later attempts to upgrade the neighborhood with fancy names like "Northside Park" and "Atlanta Heights" were resisted more adamently [sic]. A randy buck's head by two kinds of watering holes made a lasting impression which lingers to this day.