Start of Norcross

On May 3, 1870 a letter appeared in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper giving a firsthand account of the town of Norcross in its infancy. Let’s look back at what the (unidentified) author reported.

The story was titled “A New Town in Georgia” and had been written by a “Special Correspondent” on April 29, 1870, a few days before its publication. At that point the new Piedmont Air-Line Railroad, chartered to connect Atlanta with Greenville, SC, Charlotte NC and points north, was under construction. (This is the railroad line, now part of the Norfolk Southern system, that still runs through downtown Norcross today.)

John Thrasher and several associates had been awarded a contract in 1869 to build the first 20 miles of the railroad. (Thrasher had considerable experience in railroad construction at that point – it started thirty years before when he had built a huge embankment that allowed the Monroe Railroad (later called the Macon and Western) to connect to other railroads in what is now downtown Atlanta.) That 20 mile distance from Atlanta corresponds to where Norcross is located today – but at the time it was a heavily wooded area of sparsely-populated southwest Gwinnett County. Thrasher evidently liked what he saw there – and in response he bought 250 acres of land, laid out a new town (which he called Norcross) and built a hotel to hold the many travelers he expected to arrive on the railroad. Thrasher is shown in the photo below.

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“Special Correspondent” said in his letter to the editor that the first railroad cars had arrived at the new town two days before (April 27, 1870), indicating that the construction of that segment was done. “S C” also reported to the editor of the newspaper

It is the first depot on the road from your city, and from the energy and perseverance of cousin John Thrasher is being rapidly built, in nice style. He is succeeding in improving this place beyond the most sanguine wishes of his many friends. His hotel, which will be completed soon, will be one of the finest wooden buildings in the State, it being almost built of oak and poplar. The style of the house, as well as the place of the town, does cousin John great credit. When it is completed it will be worth $16,000. He has been assisted in his labors by our friend, Capt. D. T. Williams, one of the best architects and civil engineers in the state.

Georgia native D T Williams was listed as a surveyor in the 1860 census, and had served as a sergeant in the 2nd regiment of Engineers in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. (It does not appear that he achieved the rank of Captain during the war, but it seems to have been common in post-war days for newspapers to give ex-soldiers a promotion to Captain or Colonel in articles mentioning them.) Williams had enlisted at Griffin, Georgia in 1861, and was one of the 30 surviving members of the regiment who were with General Robert E Lee at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox in April 1865. His role in the engineer regiment was as an “Artificer”, indicating he was a skilled craftsman. Part of his enlistment record is shown below:

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From the Atlanta Constitution article it seems that the founders of Norcross had great expectations for the new town:

We trust, e’re long, we will have a new county, and Norcross our county-town, it being so far and inconvenient to Lawrenceville for the citizens of this portion of the country. 

“Special Correspondent” also reports on business activities:

There are also several business houses finished, among them the dry goods store of Mr. G Arnold. “Little George” has a nice barroom in front of the depot and is doing a heavy trade. Others are here, doing well. “Big Bill” is putting him up a nice store room.

Note: The dry goods merchant mentioned here was likely Givens W Arnold, a member of a pioneer settler family in the Alpharetta / Norcross area. Arnold served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War, having been wounded at the battle of Chickamauga in 1863. He is buried in Roswell.

This 1870 article, possibly written by Thrasher himself, make it clear that our founders were intent on getting our town off to a good start – and, given our now almost 150 years of history, you would have to agree that they succeeded!