No fewer than 12 waterways in Georgia bear the name Tanyard.
That’s not because the Tanyards were the state’s Rockefellers, a family whose wealth and influence is so vast their name appears on streets, buildings and towns.
In fact, Tanyard isn’t a proper name at all. The name comes from the process of tanning animal hides into leather. A creek or branch called Tanyard means it was once home to a tannery.
In the early history of our country, tanneries were big business. In 1840, there were 8,229 tanneries in the U.S. according to that year’s census. About a third were located in the South. Nationally, tanneries represented an overall capital investment of nearly $19 million in 1858. Adjusted for inflation, that is more than $600 million.
The Atlanta Tanning Co. was among them. Located at the headwaters of what today is known as Tanyard Creek, it starts in downtown Atlanta and enters the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta Memorial Park and Bobby Jones Golf Course.
The Atlanta Tanning Co. would have been located at what is today is the corner of Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Simpson Street near the World of Coca-Cola. Tanneries were major plants, with several large buildings for the various equipment and processes. It would have been a major concern.
Tanning requires a lot of water, which is why there are so many Tanyard creeks and Tanyard branches throughout Georgia. The animal hides were soaked and treated with all kinds of dyes and chemicals to create certain colors and textures. Workers dumped the vats into the nearby creeks and waterways when finished.
As it grew north, the city buried Tanyard Creek. It emerges just north of Deering Road in south Buckhead.
Just as tanning gave the creek its name, the creek gave Tanyard Creek Park its name. The park is perhaps best known for the wooden railroad bridge at its south end. The bridge spans the creek.
The park can be traced back to an 1899 resolution by District 5 U.S. Rep. Leonidas F. Livingston to create Atlanta Military Park. A major Civil War battle raged around Andrew Jackson Collier’s mills, which were on Tanyard Creek, in 1864.
The Union Army had advanced down Peachtree Road and what today is Northside Drive and Howell Mill Road, crossed Peachtree Creek and was approaching Atlanta when on July 20, Confederate Gen. John Hood launched an offensive.
The two armies comprised more than 40,000 men. The fighting raged along what is now Collier Road, with Tanyard Creek the epicenter of the battle. When all was said and done, the Union victory resulted in more than 4,250 casualties.
Atlanta Military Park would have encompassed the Battle of Peachtree Creek battlefield and then some, from Peachtree Road near present-day Piedmont Hospital almost to the Chattahoochee River.
The Atlanta Business Men’s League estimated the cost for the 1.5-square mile park averaged $122 an acre, making the acquisition price roughly $155,000. The bill requested an appropriation of $300,000.
However, some in the Georgia delegation preferred Kennesaw Mountain, a battle the Confederates won, which ultimately came to pass. The Atlanta Military Park effort, however, ensured the future preservation of Atlanta Memorial Park and Tanyard Creek Park.
A 2006 acquisition by Trust for Public Land of property on Collier Road and Overbrook Drive, now Louise G. Howard Park, connected the two parks.
The important addition allowed the popular Atlanta BeltLine to run along Tanyard Creek from Northside Drive to 26th Street.
In the park the city installed large bronze plaques that tell the story of the Battle of Peachtree Creek, and historic markers note the location of Andrew Jackson Collier’s mills. Collier Road takes its name from his family’s mills. Anjaco Road also gets its name from Collier. It is the first two letters of his first, middle and last names, combined.
There is little information, however, about the origin of the name Tanyard Creek, or the Atlanta Tanning Co.