What's In A Name? | Atlanta's Ferries and Bridges

Aug 6, 2018

Many Atlanta roads are named after ferries and bridges, so at the request of listeners "40Watt" and Bill Witherspoon, we took a peek at the watery origins of these Atlanta roadways.

The Chattahoochee River is one of the metro area's most prominent natural features. The 'Hooch, as Atlantans affectionately call it, is for more than just a summer afternoon of water sports. The Chattahoochee helped shape Atlanta into the city we know and love. 

"While the railroads brought Atlanta into existence, it is the Chattahoochee that, in many ways, sustains us." - Curbed Atlanta

Atlantans can now drive over the river with ease, but they didn't always have that luxury. Just travelling from Point A to Point B in Atlanta required careful planning and often costly fees to cross the river. 

Here are the stories of the original ferries and bridges behind some of Atlanta's most-travelled roads.

Powers Ferry Road

Powers Ferry Road at the site of Power's original ferry

The original Power's Ferry was established in 1835 by a man named James Power. According to the Georgia Historical Society, it was used by a company from Sherman's army as they headed towards Atlanta from Roswell in July 1864.

After more than 70 years of use, the ferry was replaced by a bridge in 1903. Powers Ferry Road starts up in Marietta near the Big Chicken and winds south towards Chastain. It crosses the Chattahoochees River with I-285 (at the location of Power's original Ferry) and ends when it meets Roswell Road in Buckhead. 

Paces Ferry Road

The Georgia Governor's Mansion at 391 West Paces Ferry Road NW
Credit Georgia.gov

Now the location of the governor's mansion, Paces Ferry Road was named after Hardy Pace. According to Georgia Place-Names, Pace was one of Atlanta's earliest settlers and became known for running a ferry across the Chattahoochee in the 1830s. Today the path between Vinings (which was originally called Paces, after the ferryman) and Buckhead remains, now lined with some of Atlanta's most beautiful and expensive homes. 

Holcomb Bridge Road

Holcomb Bridge connects Roswell and Peachtree Corners, right where Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties meet along the Chattahoochee. The road that bears its name is one of suburban Atlanta's most travelled and densely developed roads. It starts in Roswell where Highways 92 and 9 meet, then travels southeasterly until it crosses Peachtree Industrial and becomes Jimmy Carter Boulevard.  

The last remaining column from the original bridge along Holcomb Bridge Road.
Credit Alpharetta-Roswell Herald

According to the Alpharetta-Roswell Herald, you can still see one of the original structures that crossed the Chattahoochee. Just downstream from the current Holcomb Bridge, you can see one of the original stone columns that made up McAfee's Bridge. Robert McAfee, a local landowner, built the bridge in 1834 as an alternative to the nearby ferry. It was the only bridge for miles until 1864, when Sherman himself burned it down during the Atlanta campaign.

Rogers Bridge Road

According to listener Bill Witherspoon, the road in Gwinnett County is named for 19th-century businessman William Rogers. The area surrounding the ferry was Native American territory, but Rogers was able to own property there because he was part Cherokee.

A view of the bridge from Rogers Bridge Park
Credit Atlanta Journal Constitution

In 1838, the Trail of Tears displaced all Native Americans in the region. Rogers was forced to sell his land and move West to Indian Territory (what we now know as Oklahoma). 

Years later, a descendant of Rogers, also named William, was born in this Oklahoma territory. He grew up to become the famous actor, social commentator, newspaper columnist and American cowboy Will Rogers. 

"His comments on life were widely followed and almost universally quoted. One of the most used American expressions was 'Did you see what Will Rogers said?'"- The New York Times
Will Rogers
Credit Library of Congress

Rogers, known as "Oklahoma's Favorite Son," was beloved for his wry humor and joyful approach to life. According to a 2007 article on Oklahoma newsite OKInsider.com, Rogers acted in more than 71 films, wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns and travelled the world three times. Rogers died in a plane crash in August 1935. He was 56 years old. 

While we couldn't verify Bill Witherspoon's origin tale, it certainly makes for a great story.

Click here to find more stories behind curious Atlanta names from our summer 2018 series "What's In A Name?" on 88.5 GPB Atlanta’s All Things Considered.