William Vining came to a community called Crossroads to build a bridge.
A civil engineer from Delaware, he spent about two years in the area. And yet, the community still bears his name nearly 180 years later.
The Western & Atlantic Railroad hired Vining to oversee an especially challenging part of the route connecting Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the future city of Atlanta. The thorny area curved around a mountain and crossed a stream a few miles west of the Chattahoochee River.
An encampment of workers grew up around the construction site. When supplies came or visitors were looking for it, locals would send them to “Vining’s Bridge.”
This was in the 1840s, well after a pioneering and industrious settler came to the area.
Hardy Pace was originally from North Carolina but made his way to Buckhead after the American Indian removal campaigns of the 1820s and ’30s. The Pace farm was on what today is West Paces Ferry Road around the Kingswood neighborhood in Buckhead.
Whether Pace knew the railroad was coming and thus bought property, or if he already owned the land and lobbied for the Western & Atlantic to go through we don’t know. But he amassed about 10,000 acres of what today is Vinings, including that mountain, known as Pace’s Mountain, Signal Mountain, Vinings Mountain or Mount Wilkinson.
Before the arrival of Vining — and afterward — the community was known as Crossroads, or Paces Crossroads. That name may have come from the fact it was between Marietta and Atlanta.
Hardy Pace is best known for operating a ferry over the Chattahoochee to the north of the bridge on what today is his namesake road, Paces Ferry.
Vining was also responsible for the nearby rail depot. Just like Vining’s Bridge, the depot was referred to far and wide as Vining’s Station.
Given the amount of land and the standing of Hardy Pace, it is remarkable the civil engineer who was in the area temporarily overseeing a massive construction project is the man whose name adorns the community today.
The exact opposite happened in Atlanta.
One of the first individuals to arrive in downtown Atlanta was “Cousin” John Thrasher. He had the contract to build the Monroe Railroad embankment to connect it to the Western & Atlantic Railroad. For a time, this was to be the Western & Atlantic’s terminus.
Just like at Vining’s Bridge, the construction project drew a small village. Thrasher had homes and a store for his workers built.
The area was called Thrasherville.
Thrasher also purchased speculative real estate in the area. But at the direction of engineer Lemuel P. Grant, the terminus moved to land he donated northwest of Thrasher’s land.
The decision so angered Thrasher that he moved to Griffin.
Thrasherville faded from memory, and the area became known as Terminus before Georgia Gov. Wilson Lumpkin named the burgeoning town for his daughter, Martha.
The railroads didn’t like the new name. Marthasville was too long to write out on the freight lists. Georgia Railroad Chief Engineer J. Edgar Thomson recommended a new name, the feminine of Atlantic — Atlanta.
At least Lumpkin got his name attached to a city, a county and a street.
Hardy Pace’s name remains across Buckhead and all over the community he founded.
William Vining is just a footnote in the story, his name far outlasting his work. The train still follows his layout, though, along present-day Stillhouse Road.
Thrasher, on the other hand, returned to Atlanta in 1844 and opened a store on Peachtree Street. He served in the state Legislature. Following the Civil War, he played an important role in opening the city’s first school and the first jail.
In 1870, he moved north of the city and founded Norcross, named in honor of his friend, Jonathan Norcross.
Thrasher was instrumental in building early Atlanta, from the railroads to the schools to the jail. He is much more than a footnote.
His work far outshone his name.