Decatur Station circa 1987 courtesy of RailPictures.net
So I realize that the railroad lines in Decatur are anything but “hidden”.
Horns blare. Trains regularly stop traffic. Especially this week, as CSX has caused major traffic havoc along Decatur streets, closing the South McDonough and Candler Street intersections for rail maintenance.
But have you ever considered: why IS there a train line in Decatur? Or perhaps a better question is “why was a railroad built through Decatur?”
Quite often the location of cities and towns are highly influenced by the natural landscape. This is most obvious in cities situated along rivers, lakes and oceans. Cities more likely to survive and thrive exist in areas when the natural landscape provides them with an advantage over other areas. Think about the “natural ports” of New York City, Charleston and Savannah.
Decatur – and Atlanta’s – natural advantage isn’t quite as noticeable as a large body of water or a rushing river. Yes, Atlanta has a river, but the fact that it’s no where near the population center is a good clue that it wasn’t a major influencing factor in the settlement and success of the city.
To see Atlanta and Decatur’s natural advantage, you actually gotta look at a topographic map.
Scott-Cooper House, Sycamore Street, Decatur GA (pic courtesy of Marianne from the Agnes Scott archives)
From Google Streetview
You may have never thought about it, but if you’ve ever spent any time hanging around outside at the Decatur Recreation Center along Sycamore Street, you may have noticed that there are a few unique and out of place things in and around that site.
First, let’s consider the items most obviously unique to the site.
Have you ever considered the mighty big giant magnolia trees and the rare, “champion” Horse Chestnut tree that stand at the Rec Center entrance? How did they get there? Why wasn’t the site clear cut when the Rec was built back in the 1950s, like so many other sites? Perhaps you’ve never thought twice about them, aside from telling your kids to be careful playing in their branches. But that’s the first clue.
The second clue is much less noticeable. It’s the sheer size and odd shape of the lot.
The AJC’s Actual Factual Georgia feature tackled this question yesterday.
Q: Clairmont Road gains an “e” heading south toward Decatur, or Clairemont loses an “e” when heading north away from Decatur. What’s the story behind that?
The answer is incomplete at best, but it’s worth a quick look so you can bring it up at Decatur area holiday parties over the next few days!
Thanks to Chris for pointing out this feature! He adds…
“Years ago, a local historian who researched at the DeKalb History Center (McCurdy?) told my students that the road was named after a beautiful girl named Claire. The boys who courted her had to climb stairs to the house, “… To get to Claire, you had to climb the mountain.” I always assumed that the Ridley house was across the street from the YMCA, a house with many steps but the AJC article says the land was at the corner of Clairemont and Garden Lane.”
Unfortunately, Sanborn Maps of Decatur only go a bit north of Williams Street (see above), so those don’t answer the question of the location of the Ridley house. However, the map does introduce another alternative spelling of the street, “Claremont Road”.
Perhaps there are just too many ways to misspell “Claire”.
Chris sends in this photo – courtesy of Eddie Fowlkes – of a
women’s men’s soccer game back in 1978 with the Burger Chef that once sat along North McDonough Street in the background. Grindhouse Burger is currently planning to build a new Atlanta location on the same spot.
Eddie also sent along this example pic of a typical Burger Chef.
Thanks Chris and Eddie!