Archives of Dekalb County

Archives of Dekalb County
From the editors of
Roadside Georgia
Named in honor of Hans Kalb, a hero of the American Revolution who died after the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, August 16, 1780. His last words were "I thank you for your generous sympathy; but I die the death I always prayed for - the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man." Kalb assumed the name of dashing Jean De Kalb, an acquantance from Kalb's Paris estate. He altered it to be more Germatic, Johann DeKalb and added the title Baron by the time he came to the United States. Today Hans Kalb is commonly known as Baron Johann DeKalb.

Early Dekalb County Courthouse
Most of DeKalb County was ceded from the Creek Indians on January 8, 1821. Originally organized as Henry County in December, 1821, DeKalb was quickly organized as a separate entity on December 9, 1822, but the history of the land that comprises the county predates its organization by 250 years, and the prehistory takes it back thousands of years. Perhaps as early as 6,000 B.C., Souteastern Archaic Indians roamed the land that today is DeKalb County. Beginning about 1,000 B.C. the less nomadic Woodland Indians established villages in a number of places in the county, but especially in the vicinity of Stone Mountain. During his travels in the state of Georgia, he heard of the "Lone Mountain" in Musceegee land, but chose not to visit it. One of the men under him, Hernando Moyano, visits the mountain and mistakenly believes that the quartz at the base is a valuble gem. He calls the mountain Crystal Mountain as a public relations ploy to attract an army to march to the inland of the American continent, an idea he quickly abandons.

The first Englishman to visit present-day DeKalb County was Dr. Henry Woodward, from South Carolina. Woodward made contact with the Musceegee, now called the Creek by the English, and established a trading post southwest of DeKalb. From that point on, contact with the Creek was almost continuous and the English traders from South Carolina frequently travelled through present-day DeKalb County.

In 1790 the son of the Mayor of New York travelled to today's Stone Mountain, where he met a group of Creek tribal chiefs and escorted them to New York. Col. Marinus Willet meets the chiefs on June 9, 1790 and takes them to meet President George Washington (at that time, New York was our nation's capitol). With the forming of the counties, first Henry in 1821, then DeKalb in 1822, people did not flood into the area, although there was a slow growth. Hindered by the lack of good roads and transporation, a weekly stage, from Milledgeville to Stone Mountain and Decatur was the only form of public transportation. Diaries of the time almost universally complained of the roads, which were impassible after a heavy rain. The city of Decatur was designated as county seat, but the "city" only had residents, no businesses. Still, residents constructed a log cabin on the north side of the original square in downtown Decatur and some business did move in. Seven years later the county had outgrown its first courthouse and built a brick building on the site of the present courthouse at the cost of $5,100.00. Destroyed by fire in 1842, along with virtually all the county's records, the fire came in the middle of a severe economic depression (called a "Panic" at the time), and the county waited five years to complete a new building.

In 1833 the advent of the railroad would prove a hugh boon to the city of Decatur. Although it turned down to option to be the hub connecting the Chattahoochee River to the Tennessee River (this became Atlanta's claim to fame), Decatur and Stone Mountain were stops on the Georgia Railroad as it moved west from Augusta. Land was being purchased in DeKalb County for the new railroad in 1837, but it too was delayed by the Panic of 1837. The railroad was completed across the county in 1845. The biggest news in the county in the 1850's was the creation of Fulton County which would entirely encompass the rapidly growing city of Atlanta on the western end of DeKalb.

In July, 1864, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was firmly ensconsed defending the city of Atlanta behind his "River Line." General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered his men to spread out in an arc across northern Atlanta, with the Army of the Tennessee under the command of General James Birdseye McPherson ordered to cut the Georgia Railroad, Atlanta's major supply line from Augusta. At the time near Smyrna, McPherson withdrew his men from the front lines, traveled behind the Union lines to Roswell, which he captured on July 17. After reorganizing he moved Confederate troops out of Decatur and Stone Mountain, severing the railroad on July 18, the same day that General John Bell Hood assumed command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. During the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864, General Joseph Wheeler attacked Union forces in Decatur, securing a number of wagons and 255 prisoners. Over the next 4 months a contingent of Union forces remained in the county, but when the Left Wing of Sherman's Army came through DeKalb County on the March to the Sea the Georgia Railroad was torn up in both Decatur and Stone Mountain and twisted into Sherman's Neckties.

After the Civil War DeKalb's subsistance farmers became businessmen and over the next 50 years agriculture, including raising cotton, was a major economic force in the county. Another was granite quarrying at Stone Mountain and Lithonia.

Battle for control of the county was waged between Stone Mountain and Decatur in the 1890's. When the county decided to bid out the new courthouse some residents wanted the thriving city of Stone Mountain to become the county seat. Incredibly, so did most of the voters in the county, who chose Stone Mountain over Decatur by a margin of 814 to 160. The election was challenged in court, but in March, 1897 the Georgia Supreme Court declared it valid. The final hurdle was an approval by the Georgia General Assembly. The November, 1897 vote broke 85 to 60 for Stone Mountain, a clear majority but short of the 2/3rds margin required by the state constitution.

County Commissioner Scott Candler played an important role in the creation of Dekalb's Stone Mountain Park. The park, with its hiking trails and attractions, including the Skylift and the railroad were his idea. Proposed in 1939, the state began working on purchasing the land in 1941. By 1958 the state controlled the mountain and surrounding land through purchases. By 1960 crews had completed much of the work on both the park and the Confederate Memorial, a carving featuring Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson.

Colleges are an important part of DeKalb's history. Begun in 1834 by the Georgia Methodists west of Covington in tiny Oxford, Georgia, the Georgia Conference Manual Labor School. In 1914 the school accepted $500,000 from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and 1 million dollars from Asa Chandler to start a school in Druid Hills. By 1919 the entire college had moved to its new location. Agnes Scott College began as the Decatur Female Seminary, a "girls' school" in a house donated by Dr. Frank Gaines of the Presbyterian Church in 1889. The name was changed to Agnes Scott to honor the mother of a major donor, Col. George Washington Scott. Oglethorpe University has been rebuilt from the ashes twice. Originally formed in Midway (the one near Milledgeville), it moved to Atlanta after the Civil War, but went bankrupt in 1872. The DeKalb County school grew out of a 1912 fundraising effort by Dr. Thornwall Jacobs. The college was the site for much of the filming of Remember the Titans

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