William Brown’s murder in Buckhead by a man working on a nearby road has a curious footnote.
In its obituary, the Atlanta Constitution described Brown as one of the best-known men in the county. “Uncle Billy,” as he was known, moved from Alabama to the banks of Nancy Creek in the early 1870s. He purchased 25 acres from C.A. Howell for $250 in 1874. The Browns were potters and used the creeks in the area to make their pots.
They were close with the Roladers, another prominent early Buckhead family known for their Georgia clay pots. Marriage connected the two families.
News accounts from 1897 state Brown’s final resting place was “just a half-mile from where the death blow was struck.” Not to get too gory, but a man hit him in the head with a pickax following an argument near “Bolton.” He served in the Confederate Army alongside Stonewall Jackson, and received several wounds. He survived, but lost his life as a result of an argument near his home.
Brown’s grave is in Pleasant Hill Cemetery, on land he donated for a church, which is today Paces Ferry United Methodist Church in Buckhead. The small white clapboard building with the distinct red door sits on a hilltop on Paces Ferry Road overlooking Mount Paran Road.
Bolton Road is about six miles to the southwest of the church, so how could Brown’s final resting place be just half mile from where the attack occurred?
At a recent Arbor Day event celebrating a 300-year old oak tree in front of the church, I asked historians and longtime church members about it.
No one had an answer.
But I have a theory.
It starts with the state’s decision to extend the terminus of the Western & Atlanta Railroad from the Chattahoochee River in 1837.
The legislation authorizing the railroad that created Atlanta called for the terminus to be on the southern bank of the river. Engineer Stephen Harriman Long selected the site of James Montgomery’s ferry.
For reasons unknown, the state later approved an extension of the construction to what became downtown Atlanta, about eight miles away. At the same time, the state created a board of three elected officials to supervise the “business of the road,” according to Franklin Garrett in his book, “Atlanta and Environs.”
The commissioners were Joel Crawford, Thomas Hamilton and Charles Bolton.
The construction site around Montgomery’s ferry was one of the first settlements in the area. It was known as Boltonville for Charles Bolton, and later just Bolton. It was incorporated in 1893. Previously it had also been called Iceville, for the Atlanta Brewery and Ice Co. located there.
Atlanta streets — including Atlanta Road, which passes through the area — often bear the names of their destinations. For example, Marietta Boulevard, which Atlanta Road becomes, leads to Marietta. Roswell Road leads to Roswell, and Decatur Street — you guessed it — leads to Decatur.
My theory is a road once passed near Paces Ferry United Methodist Church leading to the city of Bolton, which Atlanta annexed in 1952.
I further believe, but can’t prove, the road still exists to this day.
Present-day Bolton Road more or less dead ends into Atlanta Road near the R.M. Clayton Water Reclamation Plant. On the other side of that plant, in nearly a straight line with Bolton Road, is Ridgewood Road.
Is it possible Ridgewood Road, which meets Paces Ferry Road maybe 100 yards from Paces Ferry United Methodist Church, once bore the name “Bolton?”
It could explain the discrepancy in the distance, but it also could be the city of Bolton in 1897 extended that far to the north.
An amateur like me with a name and a map is dangerous, but I put it to you to tell me I’m wrong.