We have an incredibly busy airport. Traffic is a mess because we are fundamentally dependent on our cars. And it all started with great locomotives carrying people and goods across the U.S. But the first signs of our city as a transportation hub harkens back to ferries.
These include, in no particular order, Pace’s ferry, Johnston’s ferry, DeFoor’s ferry, Power’s ferry and Heard’s ferry. These were Chattahoochee River crossings operated by the pioneering families who first settled the area. For a fee, a traveler could load his horses and wagon onto a long flat boat anchored to the shore by ropes and cross the river at several points. These ferries became the most important conduits for commerce in metro Atlanta as the burgeoning city grew, so much so that the names are still in everyday use more than 100 years after they were in operation.
Perhaps the best known of these is Pace’s ferry simply because West Paces Ferry Road is lined with Atlanta’s defining homes and is one of the only east-west routes through Buckhead. Hardy Pace, who founded Vinings, originally lived on the northern side of the current West Paces Ferry Road between Northside Drive and Randall Mill Road.
He operated his river crossing not where the Paces Ferry Road bridge spans the Chattahoochee today but about 50 feet up river, a crossing that would later connect today’s Lovett School campus with the riverside restaurant Canoe. Pace was born in 1785 and died in 1864. The first bridge to replace the ferry was completed in 1904.
A bit further upstream, a farmer named William Marion Johnston operated a ferry across the Chattahoochee, which would today connect Sandy Springs with Cobb County. Johnston, who died in 1879, didn’t live to see the first bridge across that span built in 1906. Interestingly Johnson Ferry Road is misspelled. Johnston’s name is spelled with a “t.”
In between Pace’s ferry and Johnston’s ferry was a plantation owner who owned a good portion of what is now Buckhead, James Power. A justice of the Inferior Court and a justice of the peace of the 722nd Militia District, which is today Buckhead, Power lived from 1832 to 1870. The Power’s ferry crossed the river about where Interstate 285 crosses today.
Nearby was Isom’s ferry, which was operated by James Isom. In 1868, John Heard purchased the ferry and operated it until he passed in 1890, thus Heards Ferry Road. There is not a bridge where Heard’s ferry crossed, but it was at the confluence of Sope Creek and the Chattahoochee.
DeFoor’s ferry was also operated by another man before being bought by Martin DeFoor. James Montgomery served at Standing Peachtree during the War of 1812, which was located off present-day Ridgewood and Moores Mill roads. He returned to the area and operated an eponymous ferry until 1853, when it was taken over by DeFoor. In 1879, DeFoor and his wife were victims of one of the most brutal unsolved crimes in Atlanta’s history, but that story is for another day.
Just as Atlanta would become known for railroads, roads and an airport, these ferries served an incredibly important service to the growth and development of the city.
While lobbying Fulton County for a bridge in the late 1800s, a descendent of James Power noted there were often traffic jams at the ferry as travelers queued up to cross. He expressed concern if a new bridge was not built, the commerce would go to Marietta because it was more convenient.
That certainly sounds familiar.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.