Editor’s note: I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a reader about the origin of the name “Nancy” in Nancy Creek. This throwback column answers that question. Kind of.
If David Kaufman had his dithers, Nancy Creek might be called something else.
In his highly recommended book “Peachtree Creek: A Natural and Unnatural History of Atlanta’s Watershed,” he wrote the South Fork of Peachtree Creek should be called the Lower Branch, the North Fork the Middle Branch and Nancy Creek the Northern Branch.
But, he lamented, engineers don’t get to name the tributaries; early settlers do.
Looking at the two creeks on a map, it makes sense.
Near the point Peachtree Creek empties into the Chattahoochee River in west Buckhead, Nancy Creek flows from the north, starting off of a small lake near Womack and Tilly Mill roads. It passes Murphey Candler Park and The Marist School in DeKalb County, then through Chastain Park and by The Westminster Schools before ending at Peachtree Creek.
Peachtree Creek flows from east to west through the heart of Buckhead, by Peachtree Hills and Atlanta Memorial Park. It splits just east of Piedmont Road, before the two branches pass beneath Interstate 85. The North Fork comes from Chamblee, and the South Fork flows from Morningside.
The three tributaries are the same animal, fed by the same plateau to a single source, Peachtree Creek, and ultimately, the Chattahoochee, thus the idea of an upper, middle and lower branch.
Now, we know why Peachtree Creek bears that name. At the confluence of the creek and the Chattahoochee there stood for more than a thousand years a Muscogee village called Standing Peach Tree. That village is the alpha and omega of all “Peachtrees” – streets, roads, avenues, apartments.
But who was Nancy? As with all things in Atlanta, it depends on who you ask.
Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett wrote in his book “Atlanta and Environs” that Nancy was the wife of John Evins, who settled in what would become Fulton County in 1818 along the creek.
They owned three land lots, totaling hundreds of acres. Their home is thought to have been near the intersection of Peachtree Dunwoody and House roads, and looked out over the valley formed by the creek, according to Garrett. He also noted Evins’ land in 1850 was valued at $15,530. I couldn’t find House Road on a map, but I assume it is in the vicinity of where Peachtree Dunwoody crosses Nancy Creek, near the YMCA athletic fields on the corner of Windsor Parkway.
Garrett wrote Evins named the creek for his wife, Nancy. She is buried in an unmarked grave at Nancy Creek Primitive Baptist Church. It is ironic the woman for whom the church may be named (in a roundabout way) is in an unmarked grave, with no tombstone bearing the noteworthy name.
Others have said the creek is not named for a Nancy, but for a female Native American chief named Nance, whose village was along the creek more than 200 years ago.
The two tales merge in the final theory, which Kaufman noted in his book on Peachtree Creek is the only one publicly recorded. It is found in Walter Cooper’s “Official History of Fulton County.”
It is taken from a 1931 interview with a 95-year-old man, who remembered a Native village along the creek in what today is Vinings. The creek flows into Peachtree Creek from the north and passes through the area. The village served as a trading post, he said.
The chief of that village was Nance, and Nancy Creek was named after her, Kaufman said.
This makes some sense, especially in the context of what we know about the Muscogee — or Creek — people. They were a matriarchal society, and therefore a woman may well have been the chief of the village.
Were Nancy Creek named the North Fork, it would be technically correct, but it wouldn’t reflect the people — be it a chief or an early settler — who came to this land more than a century ago, and whose tales are lost to time, except in the name of that meandering creek.