It feels so long since part one of this series in Morgantown but given that our schedule is very backloaded with road games, you’ll be seeing a lot more of these before season’s end.
My dad’s side of the family has roots in Jackson, GA, a small town about halfway between Atlanta and Macon. (They film “Stranger Things” there, in case you were wondering.) I had never dug into my Georgia family history before, but I’d be surprised if I didn’t have close relatives in or around the town today, and even more shocked if I didn’t have a ton of family in the Atlanta metro.
I’ve been to Jackson once, and only briefly, and it’s a bit of a stretch to call Jackson part of the Atlanta metro area (it’s about the same distance as Purcellville to DC and Williamsburg to Richmond) — I’ve never been to Atlanta city proper. It is kind of weird, not knowing a place at all where part of my family lived for generations. But that’s part of why I’m excited about this series—I get to both reflect on things I’ve seen and learn about places I’ve never been.
Generally speaking, most cities in America are built around some geographic or man-made feature that could facilitate commerce and attract businesses and people. Older cities usually popped up near the coasts or on major rivers—I think of a city I lived in, Pittsburgh, as a good example. Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of three rivers (the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio), and was a strategic military location during the French and Indian War. But when cities began to pop up along railroads, civilizations developing became much more random, dependent on where railroad companies decided to lay tracks rather than on some pre-existing natural formation.
Lynchburg could have been the site of a railroad junction between the Norfolk and Western railroad and another line from the Shenandoah, but instead, the junction was established at Big Lick, which later grew into the City of Roanoke. Later, Lynchburg would be passed over by the interstate highway system too. Today, Roanoke is significantly larger and more modern feeling than Lynchburg. Had those train tracks been placed in Lynchburg instead? There’s no telling what would have happened.
Atlanta does have the Chattahoochee River on the edge of the city limits, but it’s not close to any of the downtown commercial development. It’s a railroad city that grew from when the Western and Atlantic Railroad was built with the eastern end at present-day Atlanta. You can still see a replica of the railroad’s zero-mile post at its original location (near Central Ave. between Alabama and Wall Streets), and the authentic post at Atlanta History Center.
If any of you are heading to Atlanta to the game, let me know if you check out the zero-mile post. I know, you could go for the nightlife, the World of Coca-Cola or (if you have some green) you could even catch a World Series game—those are all way more fun than reading a historical landmark plaque. But if I were in the city, I’d want to check it out for the simple reason that everything else you visit Atlanta for started with that railroad. It goes to show development can be so arbitrary when you think about it, based on decisions made by a few people hundreds of years ago. I think that’s pretty wild.
I know, I didn’t talk a ton about Atlanta here (I’ve never actually been there, after all), but hopefully you found this somewhat interesting. It can’t be worse than dwelling on how this football season is going. Oh well. I guess we’ll see what happens (I’m not super hopeful). Anyway, see you guys next week for Part 3 on Boston/Chestnut Hill.