Even before Gwinnett County was created, it played a role in frontier settlement in Georgia. Since the late 1780s, Georgia maintained small forts along the frontier with Native Americans, and one was established at Hog Mountain near the headwaters of the Appalachee River on the line that separated the lands of the Cherokee and Creek Indians, a line after 1798 called the “Hawkins Line,” after the US Indian Affairs agent. During the War of 1812, General Allen Daniel, who commanded the fourth division of Georgia’s Militia, ordered a rotation of soldiers through the fort at Hog Mountain, and the construction of a new fort to replace the old one in order to better protect Georgia’s western frontier from attack from the Creek Indians, a portion of which allied with the British. At the same time, orders were given to construct a road from the newly rebuilt fort, likely renamed Fort Daniel at this time, to another fort to be built on the banks of the Chattahoochee River at the confluence of Peachtree Creek. A young Lieutenant George R. Gilmer (future governor of Georgia) constructed a 30 mile road from Fort Daniel to the fort at Standing Peachtree in 1814. The road became known as the Peachtree Road, the first of many Peachtree Roads in the Atlanta area. Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett still follows portions of George Gilmer’s frontier defense road. [ James J. D’Angelo, “Fort Daniel,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, Web: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/fort-daniel]
Gwinnett County history officially began on December 15, 1818, and amended 3 days later, when Georgia’s General Assembly created four new counties out of land extracted from Native Americans. These new counties were Walton, Gwinnett, Hall and Habersham. The area that became the southeastern United States had been populated by humans for at least 13,000 years, and the Native peoples of Georgia had consolidated into two major tribal configurations, the Creek and the Cherokee, before Georgia was founded as a British colony. As the people of Georgia decreased their reliance on the Natives in trade and agriculture, Georgia’s government increasingly saw the Creek and Cherokee as impediments to its expansion, and used all means available to take their land. In July 1817, the US signed a treaty at the Cherokee Agency claiming the remaining Cherokee land east of the Chattahoochee River, over the protests of the Cherokee National Council that the treaty was illegal. In January 1818, a similar treaty was made at the Creek Agency on the Flint River, ceding the remaining Creek land on the east bank of the Chattahoochee in northern Georgia. The Creek Treaty identified the Hawkins Line separating their land from the Cherokee as a line running from Suwanee Old Town (which is roughly where McGinnis Ferry Road crosses the Chattahoochee River today) eastward to the head of the Appalachee River near Fort Daniel. [ American State Papers, Senate, 15th Congress, 1st Session
Indians Affairs: Volume 2, Pages 151 through 153, No. 152. “Treaty with the Creeks.” Web: https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsp&fileName=008/llsp008.db&recNum=158. “Cherokee Treaty , July 8, 1817,” Andrew Jackson papers, 1775-1874, Series 1, General Correspondence and Related Items, 1775-1885, MSS 27532, Vol. 45, Library of Congress, Web: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/maj.01045_0066_0074. Also see “Ratified treaty no. 89, documents relating to the negotiation of the treaty of July 8, 1817, with the Cherokee Indians, Washington, D.C.: National Archives, July 8, 1817,” University of Wisconsin Library, Web: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/History/History-idx?type=article&did=History.IT1817no89.i0001&id=History.IT1817no89&isize=M ]
Gwinnett County was both Southern and Western from the start. The law creating Gwinnett County specified that the county’s Justices of the Inferior Court (akin to today’s county commissioners), could choose a site for its permanent court house, but that until that time, county offices would meet at Elisha Winn’s house near Hog Mountain. Another law passed in December 1818 defined the territorial limits of each county, and then specified that all new lands taken from the Natives would be distributed by lottery. [ Lucius Q. C. Lamar, A Compilation of the Laws of the State of Georgia, Passed by the Legislature since the Year 1810 to the Year 1819, Inclusive (Augusta: T. S. Hannon, 1821), pp 226-229, 231, 234-235, 416-425.]
Gagnon Collection of Indian Removal Documents
Bill Arp Childhood
Postbellum – Reconstruction/Lynching
Burning of Gwinnett County Court House
Following “the Surrender,” as many Southerners called the end of the Civil War, Gwinnett was treated like most Southern places. Federal troops briefly bivouacked in Lawrenceville. General orders from Atlanta required the surrender of all guns in possession of anyone not in uniform. The new federal agency, the Internal Revenue Service, added Gwinnett to its collection districts, and most adult white males started signing loyalty oaths to the United States at the court house, which gave them amnesty from prosecution for treason. Additionally many of the fears expressed during the Secession Convention of what would happen should slavery end, came true. The Republican Party did eventually push for citizenship and voting rights for African-Americans, and the formerly enslaved people then required their elected officials to push for social equality. The political and social upheaval resulted in racial and gendered boundaries being crossed, with African-Americans and women making decisions for themselves, decisions that violated former norms. For example, one Gwinnett white resident, whom the newspaper identified as “respectable,” reported in 1867 that his daughter had run off with an African American man in Atlanta and hoped authorities would aid in her return. This was not an isolated case, the Freedmen’s Bureau investigated similar social dislocations elsewhere in northeastern Georgia. Howell Cobb Flournoy of Athens, the Freedmen’s Bureau agent whose district included Gwinnett, wrote to Congress about how reaction to all the changes turned to violence and intimidation against African-Americans, and against white Georgians who also voted Republican. Only one source reports such violence in Gwinnett, the Constitution reported that a riot at Gobey School House in Gwinnett in 1868 seriously wounded four African Americans, killing one of them, but the level of violence in Gwinnett did not match the riots in Camilla, Georgia, or New Orleans or Memphis, where African-Americans were killed in large numbers. Over time African-Americans ceased voting in Gwinnett too, indicating a longer term trend. More research is needed to discover exactly how Reconstruction proceeded in Gwinnett.
It was during Reconstruction that the brick Gwinnett County courthouse in Lawrenceville, built in 1824, was burned by members of the Ku Klux Klan on September 10, 1871, and nearly all the county’s records were lost in the fire. The superior court had been in session, considering civil cases the first week, with criminal cases coming up the following week. The Atlanta newspapers reported that, immediately following the fire, authorities arrested one of the criminal defendants who was out on bond. He possessed a box of matches and a pistol in his pocket at the time of his arrest. Meanwhile a group of three men left town while shooting pistols in the air as soon as the fire was detected, and were thought to be part of the same gang. They were later arrested and released on bond. The grand jury meeting at that time investigated the fire, found it to be an act of arson, and authorized a $500 reward to capture whoever set it. The newspapers never reported the connection to the KKK. However, in October, Gwinnett County Sheriff M. V. Brand, told a Congressional Select Committee investigating KKK terrorism in the South, that the defendants were arrested for assaulting African-Americans. These “Ku Kluxers”, as Klansmen were called at the time, attempted to intimidate key witnesses and public officials to get the charges dropped. When that failed, reported Sheriff Brand, they burned down the court house to destroy the evidence against them. The sheriff also testified that he continued to receive death threats for prosecuting the desperadoes, but that he would hold them for trial if he could. He was not confident that sufficient witnesses would testify since everyone was afraid of retaliation. There is no record that anyone was convicted in this case. Another grand jury the following March recommended paying R. M. Cole $50 for saving the few records of the Court of the Ordinary that he was able to remove from the burning building. The county issued bonds and by 1875, the current historic brick court house was completed. [ “Testimony Taken by the Sub-Committee. … Atlanta, Georgia, October 20, 1871 (M. V. Brand).” Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs of the Late Insurrectionary States (Washington, 1872) in 13 volumes, 6:350-356; and “Testimony Taken by the Sub-Committee. … Atlanta, Georgia, October 28, 1871 (James Skiles),” 7:743-752. ]
Lynching of African Americans
There were 2-3 documented lynchings of African-Americans in Gwinnett, one or two lesser known ones in 1882, as well as the thoroughly
documented lynching of Charlie Hale on April 7, 1911, on the courthouse square at the corner of Perry and Pike Streets.
The 1882 lynching was on the Jefferson Road from Lawrenceville, near the Jackson County line, and involved Thomas Martin. The accounts vary as to when and who was killed, but the gist is that Martin was accused of horse stealing and taken away. The body was found in February, either hanging from a tree, or found in a body of water. An inquest found cause of death to be blunt force to the head. Because of the differences in the accounts, there may be two lynchings but there seems too much overlap between the accounts for that.
The loss of stability and prosperity in farming resulted in the rise of educational and political efforts to reverse the trends. By the 1890s, Gwinnett farmers understood that getting involved in market relations involved risks, and it seemed that people outside the local area seemed to control the farmers’ future. They believed they need to organize, first the Grange, then the Alliance, and finally a political party for the farmers, The People’s Party, also known as the Populists. As early as 1874, the Grange was active in Gwinnett. The Grange, also known as the Patrons of Husbandry, primarily sought to improve agriculture by holding county fairs and awarding prizes for the best examples of what the county produced. By the late 1880s, significant numbers of Gwinnett County farmers feared they would lose their mortgaged farms, and they organized local chapters of the Southern Farmers Alliance, which brought in speakers to teach better agricultural techniques to aid them in their work. By 1888, the Alliances nationwide saw the need to become politically active to elect representatives to represent the needs of farmers against the rise of local, state, and national monopolies and trusts. In 1890, Gwinnett elected Col. Thomas Elisha Winn, who was an Allianceman, to represent them as a Democrat in Congress, and Washington DC papers noticed him as one of a few Alliancemen in Congress. Winn had served as the county’s Commissioner of Education from 1876 to 1890. The county also elected Alliancemen as its representatives in the General Assembly. By 1892, both Tom Winn and the Gwinnett legislative delegation joined the Populist Party, along with many of the same people in Gwinnett who elected them. However, Gwinnett Democrats saw Winn and the Populists as a betrayal of the Democratic Party, and their worst fears were confirmed when Gwinnett Populists fused with Gwinnett Republicans in the 1894 election. In the 1890s, if you voted Republican in the South, there was a 90% chance you were African-American, and so the alliance with Republicans alienated many Gwinnett farmers from the Populists. Gwinnett, like most rural South places, joined in punishing the African-American vote by rigidly establishing segregation through Jim Crow laws. By 1900, the Populist movement had died, but Jim Crow was increasingly alive in Gwinnett.
Edward F. Buchanan of Norcross was Gwinnet County’s most famous son in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Buchanan typified the rags to riches story presented in Horatio Algers’ Luck and Pluck stories of the late Nineteenth Century in America. Orphaned early in life and then adopted by Mr. & Mrs. Leslie Buchanan of Norcross, E. F. Buchanan began working at the age of 8 at the railroad depot in Norcross. By the age of 13, Buchanan mastered the profession of sending and receiving telegrams and moved west for several years where he presumably worked as a telegrapher. By 1907, Buchanan moved to New York City to work on Wall Street, having transformed his skills in following the flows of information from his job as telegrapher to a successful Wall Street stock broker. In 1907 the Atlanta Constitution reported Buchanan was worth ten million dollars, and when a visiting delegation of Atlantans made him aware that they lacked the money to purchase a zebra for Grant Park Zoo, Buchanan sent for his checkbook and paid $650 for the zebra on the spot. The zoo’s delegation then named the zebra “Buch” in his honor. E. F. Buchanan then followed the zebra to Atlanta, taking a train load of New York capitalists to visit Atlanta in July 1907, presumably to invest in it. On the same trip, Buchanan visited his adopted mother (then Mrs. G. B. Tedder) in Norcross, in the $100,000 house he built her. In November 1907, Buchanan purchased a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, no small feat for a small town boy. That year was the high point of his New York life. In 1908, it all came crashing down. As managing director of the brokerage firm of A. O. Brown, Buchanan ran a speculation on the market in August 1908 that ruined himself and his firm. A. O. Brown made more trades in that one day than had ever been made on the exchange. Then the firm lacked the capital to make good on its trades, and some speculated that they had been trying to create a depression in order to benefit their firm. When all the smoke and lawsuits cleared, Buchanan had only $8,000 left to his name. He briefly worked in San Francisco, but after a stroke returned to Atlanta to work in the Western Union office as a telegrapher again, while he commuted from his mother’s house in Norcross. On December 4, 1910, Buchanan died in Grady Hospital in Atlanta after suffering another stroke.
Gwinnett reported only one gold mine during Georgia’s gold rush years, but a gold craze struck Gwinnett in the 1890s. Adam Q. Simmons operated a gold mine in District 7, on Level Creek between modern day Suwanee and Buford in the northern part of Gwinnett, starting in 1831. An 1833 newspaper account of Georgia’s gold fields reported the Simmons mine as Gwinnett’s only successful mine. Sometime later, William Chambers ran shafts as deep as forty feet in his gold mine on Richland Creek. Georgia‘s heyday of gold mining ran from 1840 to 1860, with much of the decline after 1849 resulting from so many Georgia miners moving to California. But by 1889, interest in Gwinnett gold arose again with assays made of ores between Buford and Flowery Branch, looking for gold, silver and lead. By 1893, a mining syndicate was organized at Suwanee, and in 1896 profits from Gwinnett mines were expected to pay the cost of mining, with the doubling of output by a stamping mill near Buford. Mr. G. W. Thompson of Gwinnett claimed that gold veins in Gwinnett brought $12 in gold per ton of ore. State Geologists W. S. Yeats explained in an 1896 report, that the Gwinnett gold belonged to the Hall County belt that crossed the state from Habersham to Troup counties, which ran in Gwinnett roughly parallel to the Airline Railroad, at a distance of about one to four miles west. The Shelley mine, located three miles west of Buford, was considered the best prospect for developing the gold industry in Gwinnett, with a vein of 6 inches to several feet across, with improved quality of ore as the vein went deeper into the ground. In 1898, the Owens gold mine in Gwinnett reported large quantities of copper found in its gold ore. While none of these optimistic claims seemed to have panned out for gold miners in Gwinnett, by 1910 the operator of the Suwanee Mining Company, J. B. Frost of Atlanta, was arrested for salting his mines to increase the sale value and defraud his investors.
New South Mfg
Race relations in Gwinnett reflected those throughout the South. Jim Crow was king by the 1890s as the Plessy v Ferguson Supreme Court decision made a mockery out of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. While segregation preceded the Jim Crow laws, it was based on traditions that predated emancipation, and was somewhat flexible, depending on the circumstances. With the failed alliance between poor blacks and poor whites during Populism, segregation became the law throughout the South, and Gwinnett communities would have been required by state law to pass local segregation ordinances that separated the races in a variety of settings. These laws also intended to disenfranchise African-American voters, without technically violating the Constitution. One cannot tell exactly how difficult these legally enforced race relations were, since the newspapers rarely commented on them, but one can know in certainty that African Americans were relegated to second class citizenship. Unsurprisingly between 1910 and 1930, the African American population of Gwinnett decreased significantly from 4,431 to 3,343. We cannot tell if these people joined the Great Migration to northern cities, or if they simply moved to Atlanta seeking greater opportunities. One can see that this was happening throughout Georgia, at even larger numbers as the percentage of Blacks in Gwinnett’s population fell from 15% to 12% while the percentage of African-Americans in Georgia fell from 45% to 37% during the same time. After World War 2, the Black population in Gwinnett decreased to its lowest level of 3,052 people or only 9% of Gwinnett’s population in 1950. African-American population experienced slow growth after 1950 to 4,154 in 1980 which nearly re-achieved the total number of Black people living in the county in 1910. However, the percentage of African-Americans fell to 2% of Gwinnett’s population in 1980 because the White population had grown so large. The growth rate for African-Americans in Gwinnett closely resembled the Black growth rate for the state at large, with slight variations due to the small numbers of African-Americans living here
Utilities/Buford Dam/Lake Lanier
Modern conveniences came to Gwinnett towns long before the rural parts of the county. Lawrenceville first attempted to start telephone service in 1886 but waited until 1894 before the telephone exchange became a reality. By 1903, the town built an electrical plant to power the lights throughout the town, and then began agitating for a water system as well. In 1900, Southern Bell connected Buford and intermediate places to Atlanta by telephone. Buford and Norcross received electricity from North Georgia Power Company in 1907. Bona Allen Company supplied fresh running water to the town of Buford from the company’s reservoir starting in 1904 and continuing until the town voted water and sewage bonds to replace it with municipal water in 1919. Outside the towns, electricity would await the coming of the New Deal. After passage of the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, most Georgia electric membership co-operatives became operational by 1939. Gwinnett farms were serviced by three EMCs: Walton EMC, Jackson EMC and Sawnee EMC. The federal government loaned the EMCs the money to run electrical power to farms throughout the 1940s, as funds became available. By 1950, 90% of Gwinnett households had access to electricity.
Buford Dam/Lake Lanier
The construction of Buford Dam and the development of Lake Sidney Lanier changed the topography of Gwinnett forever. In 1946, The US Army Corps of Engineers proposed damming the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta to create a reservoir that would feed a “Little TVA” project south of Atlanta, with barge and boat traffic on the Chattahoochee all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Atlanta. The Corps originally estimated costs at about $21 million, but in 1949 expanded the size of the lake behind Buford Dam, which increased estimated costs to $43 million. Atlanta’s Mayor Hartsfield and 5th District Congressman, James Davis, consistently pressed for adoption and funding of the project, when other Georgia congressmen like Phil Landrum (whose district included the entire project) waffled in support of the project. The Army broke ground on the dam on March 1, 1950, and the gates of the completed dam were closed on February 1, 1956. Naming the lake for Sidney Lanier, who immortalized the Chattahoochee River in poem, was suggested as early as 1952, and made official in 1955. National, state and local officials dedicated the completed Lake Sidney Lanier on October 7, 1957. Buford Dam and the southern edge of the lake includes the northern edge of Gwinnett County. By May 1959, the lake reached its full pool. As early as 1959, local boosters proposed a state run resort at Lake Lanier which was finally built in the early 1970s as Lake Lanier Island Resort. The resort plan also proposed a four lane super highway to directly connect the resort to Atlanta via Chamblee, the route of today’s Peachtree Industrial Blvd, or to connect the resort to the Northeast Expressway which was under construction (with I-985 in mind).
- In 1956, Gwinnett briefly gained national notoriety when a 26 year old,
first-year, tenth-grade teacher inadvertently allowed her students to discuss
racial integration. The issue originally started in May 1956 as a classroom
debate in Bethany High School over the best way for white Southerners to defend
segregation. When asked for her opinion, Collen Wiggins admitted that she could
not support segregation after having served as a Methodist missionary in
Hawaii. Parents of some of the students complained to the Board of Education
and called for her removal for having violated Georgia law for teaching racial
integration. In October, Gwinnett County Public Schools ruled she had not
introduced the idea of integration, and therefore had not violated the law.
However, state officials interceded and worked to revoke her teaching
credentials since she refused to renounce her position. As a result of
continuing death threats, she resigned her job and then moved her family out of
state for personal safety. She and her husband eventually settled in leading a
Methodist parish in West Palm Beach, Florida, for the next 50 years. National
newspapers like the Washington Post
and New York Times followed the story
closely, and it ended only when the Governor decided to drop all criminal
charges against Mrs. Wiggins in December. Bethany High School closed the
following year as new construction allowed for consolidation of the county’s
schools into four regional high schools.
White Flight Suburbanization
- Government Reports
- The construction of the Northeast Expressway, (now called I-85) brought Gwinnett County firmly into metropolitan Atlanta and eventually led to Gwinnett becoming a suburban place. The Georgia DOT completed I-85 to Suwanee exit on December 1, 1958, allowing Gwinnett citizens to commute to Atlanta for work. However, by 1960, most of Gwinnett’s growth extended from Chamblee up to Norcross and Berkley Lake rather than from the extension of the expressway. The construction of a county water system proved a financial burden since fewer households than expected hooked up to the system. However, Gwinnett leaders felt the water system would help attract more industries to locate in the county, but worried that a lack of a sewer system would slow its industrial growth. After waiting for federal funds, I-85 was finally completed through Gwinnett in August 1965. The spur from I-85 to Gainesville (now I-985) began soon afterwards, to be completed in 1969. A housing boom took place in Gwinnett starting in 1969 as school integration became a reality following the conclusion of the US Supreme Court decision in Green v New Kent County, VA, that finally implemented the 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision across the South. By the time recession curtailed the construction boom in 1974, Gwinnett had become part of the suburban white belt that surrounded an increasingly black Atlanta.
- Complete run of Gwinnett County Hospital Authority annual reports starting in 1957 should be in Georgia Archives in Morrow. A partial set can be found at Emory Med Library
Gwinnett Place Mall
of the largest changes to retail and culture in Gwinnett was the opening of
Gwinnett Place Mall near the Pleasant Hill interchange of I-85 in Duluth in February
1984. Davison’s, Sears & Rich’s originally anchored the one million square
feet mall, with other department stores to follow. As the county’s population
continued to grow in the 1990s, the creation of other large malls, including
Discover Mills (now Sugarloaf Mills) and The Mall of Georgia, had the same
impact of creating demand for additional retail locations on its periphery in