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Column: Mills served as backbone of early Buckhead
by Thornton Kennedy
Neighbor Newspapers Columnist
January 15, 2014 04:33 PM | 2586 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
In “Atlanta and Environs,” historian Franklin Garrett concluded more people know Judge Clark Howell’s mill than ever “made use of its facilities.”

That is because of Howell Mill Road, which takes its name from the historic mill.

A few months ago I wrote about the ferries, which lent their names to many popular roads; Pace’s ferry, Johnson’s ferry and DeFoor’s (family name is capital “F;” road name is lowercase ‘f.’) ferry to name a few. This week I want to look at the mills that did the same and two in particular: Howell’s and Thomas Moore’s.

Both the ferries and mills harken back to the earliest businesses in the area. In just about every case, the namesake operators were leading residents who contributed far more than a crossing of a river or sacks of flour. That is the case with Howell.

He had served on Atlanta’s young city council but moved out from the city in 1852, when he purchased land along Peachtree Creek and established his mills. One was a grist mill, the other a sash-sawmill. Grist is simply grain that has been separated from the chaff, but it can also be grain that has been ground in a mill and used to make flour or cornmeal. A sash-sawmill is a particular type of saw used in the cutting of wood. Rather than a circular or band blade, a sash saw has vertical blades that move up and down. It takes its name from the apparatus which holds it together, which looks a bit like a window sash.

The mills were located about 1,000 yards to the west of the bridge on Howell Mill Road spanning the creek. They were on the northern bank of the creek in a low-lying area. They were twice destroyed by fire, the final time in 1879 when they were not rebuilt. Howell died just three years later at the age of 71.

The Howell’s mill became the center of the community when it became a U.S. Post Office in 1876. Howell served as the first postmaster. He earned the title “judge” for his service on the Fulton County Inferior Court.

Moore had problems of a combustible nature as well. His grist mill burned to the ground in 1861, but was rebuilt that same year. Moore’s mill was also on Peachtree Creek just above the confluence with Nancy Creek. He purchased the land around the Bolton neighborhood in 1850 and built his mill four years later. It operated until 1901, when it ceased operations because of its owner’s generosity, it would seem.

In 1892, Moore donated the right of way to the city of Atlanta for a water plant. Just nine years later his mill was deemed “untenable” as a result of wastewater from the city’s sewage disposal system.

The circumstances that surrounded the death of Moore also pointed to Atlanta’s continuing growth. April 2, 1914, he was thrown from his buggy when an interurban car — think of a tram on the railroad tracks — startled his horse. The 86-year-old died from injuries sustained in the fall.

Coincidentally, Moore married the daughter of Martin DeFoor, who operated the ferry across the Chattahoochee River in the same area. Of course the DeFoor family gave rise to Defoors Ferry Road.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at

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