After all these years, my favorite column — indeed my favorite Buckhead history tale — is about a shotgun and Christmas morning.

It’s not the first murder in Buckhead, which took place on Christmas Day in 1856. That one is far too gruesome and grim for such a festive time of year, but I’ll write it anyway.

In that instance — again, not my favorite — George Irby, the son of Henry Irby, the man generally recognized as the founder of Buckhead, shot Henry Norton at the family’s tavern near the present-day Buckhead triangle.

In a drunken rage, Norton accused the elder Irby of cheating him. The two men got into a fight. Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett wrote in his books “Atlanta and Environs” Irby wore a size boy’s shoe. He was a little man.

When it was clear Norton had the upper hand, Irby’s teenage son George shot Norton in the head. Found guilty of murder, the courts sentenced him to two years of hard labor. The case went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which upheld it.

Rather it was another early Buckhead family who shared a story that is much more appropriate.

The Roladers lived on and around the corner of what became Moores Mill Road and Northside Drive. Their land today is a city of Atlanta water storage facility, but 100 years ago, several generations of Roladers lived on both sides of the road as far as the eye could see.

In 1849, William Joseph Rolader, an itinerant preacher, settled in the Howell Mill Road area. Thirty years later, his son, William Washington Rolader, purchased 50 acres from the estate of Clark Howell for $800.

Called Red Ridge because of an abundance of Georgia red clay, it is the area around Northside and Moores Mill today.

William Washington Rolader, known as W.W., had an old cabin moved onto the property, and with his wife, Arrie Cofield, raised his family there. Over the years, his children moved into houses on the property and had families of their own.

In those early days, the Roladers exploited that vein of red clay to make earthenware — jugs and pots that could keep goods cool. Famously, Four Roses Bourbon used their jugs. The distillery was down Paces Ferry Road in Vinings.

The entrepreneurial family found other means of income in the land, including the Rolader Springs Water Co. They supplied five-gallon bottles of fresh spring water to Atlanta businesses downtown in a rickety old truck. The family also ran a general store on the corner, with a tub of ice-cold Coca-Colas out front.

Family members worked in the pottery business in the late 1800s, and they worked for the water company through the 20th century. They handled the grocery store as well.

They were a tight-knit group, both in business and in proximity.

On Christmas morning, as all of the grandchildren slept in their homes, W.W. Rolader’s son Homer would walk outside of the cabin and fire his 12-gauge shotgun into the air.

It was the wakeup call for all the grandchildren.

Pete Rolader, the grandson of W.W., related the Christmas morning ritual to the Buckhead Heritage Society for its oral history program. He grew up in the 1920s and the 1930s in the original cabin.

After the boom, he said, it was “pandemonium” as the grandchildren ran amok in the joy of Christmas morning. Eventually, the family would gather at the cabin for the feast.

There is an empty lot next to the water facility east of Ivanhoe Drive on Moores Mill Road today. For many years the chimney of that cabin remained. It is now a pile of rocks taken over by the undergrowth.

The family donated the cabin to the Atlanta History Center nearly three decades ago.

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Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at


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