A Look at Stone Mountain's Rich History
On April 12, 1861, the first shot was fired in the Civil War. The 150th anniversary of the war has drawn historians' interest in the city's history.
As we observe the 150 year anniversary (sesquicentennial) of the Civil War, many local historians are paying homage to the rich history of this area. Dr. George Coletti, the city historian, is a longtime resident of Stone Mountain and a published author. He provided the historical information for this article.
Stone Mountain was first incorporated as the town of New Gibralter December 31, 1839. Officials were anticipating the arrival of the Georgia Railroad to pass through the city in 1845. The center of the city was measured 300 yards from the house of Andrew Johnson, the founding father of the city. His house is the oldest structure in the city and is now The Rock House Café on Mimosa drive in the village.
Andrew Johnson was the first Mayor of the city. In 1847 the town was renamed Stone Mountain, the same year Atlanta was incorporated and the same year Atlanta’s population exceeds that of Stone Mountain.
Due to the entrepreneurship of Andrew Johnson, Stone Mountain became a tourist mecca and a granite industrial quarry center, thanks to the existence of the mountain and the abundance of stone in the area. The city became one social, economic and political unit.
In August of 1846, the city of Stone Mountain hosted the first Georgia State Fair, then known as the Agriculture Fair and Internal Improvement Jubilee. The fair had just one exhibit—three horses and two cows, both belonging to the event’s organizer, John Graves.
Popularity of the event grew quickly and the next year, 1847, the visitors and exhibitors filled the Ten Pin Alley in front of the Stone Mountain Hotel. Admission fee was ten cents. Articles on display were caskets, marble, embroidery, brooms, bed- spreads, vegetables, blooded stock, wheat, farm tools and the magnetic telegraph. Hotels were overflowing and the town was filled with people. The state fair was held in Stone Mountain until it was moved to the city of Macon in 1850.
According to published historical reports, Stone Mountain played a significant role in the Civil War, though this has been overshadowed by larger events around Atlanta. Stone Mountain is mentioned at least 144 times in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (later referred to as Official Records). At the outbreak of the war, military personnel members of groups known as the McCullough Rifles, Marauder Dragons, Dekalb Rifleman, or the Stone Mountain Guards.
As the war continued, hard economic times descended on the town. By July 1863, wives, mothers and widows of those in service lined up to receive state-subsidized rations of salt, an important commodity in those days for preserving meat. Georgia’s Governor Joseph E. Brown’s 1864 militia census revealed that the Stone Mountain district had only 30 men left for local defense, a third of whom were 16 and 17 years old. Most of the rest were in their 40s and 50s, considered too old to serve.
The first encounter the citizens of Stone Mountain had with the Union forces occurred on July 18, 1864 when a Union cavalry division and brigade moved from Browning Courthouse in Tucker to this vicinity and destroyed two miles of the Georgia Railroad track. The Union troops entered town and destroyed the water tank. The next day July 19, the brigades and cavalry again struck the railroad and destroyed railroad boxcars and 200 bales of cotton. Union soldiers could only burn the roof of the train depot, as the structure is made of Stone Mountain granite. The train depot still stands today, located at 922 Main St. in the historic downtown.
From July 18 through early November, foraging by the Union army in this area was ruthless. On Nov. 15, 1864 12,000-15,000 Union troops under the command of Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams marched through the City of Stone Mountain, destroying more railroad, using the “Sherman’s necktie” design during the destruction. Troops would burn the railroad ties and heat up sections of the rails hot enough that they could be twisted around the base of a tree.
To observe the 150 year anniversary of the War, Stone Mountain City officials are commissioning a public art display depicting Sherman’s Neckties. The permanent display will be located in the city center and is expected to be completed soon.
Stone Mountain cemetery, located on the north end of Main Street in the village, is home to approximately 200 graves of unknown Confederate soldiers, as well as notable people including George K. Smith, delegate to the secession convention. DeKalb County voted against secession. Others buried in the cemetery include Paul Turner Goldsmith, a cadet at the Georgia Military Institute and George Pressley Trout, a man who was buried with his wife and his horse. There are 71 known confederates buried there and one Union soldier, James Sprayberry.
Stone Mountain city officials and local historians are putting together walking tour brochures for both the cemetery and for the town in general, as there are numerous structures and locations in the city limits with historical significance.
Stone Mountain resident and Civil War history expert George Coletti, who contributed information to this article, has written a novel of historical fiction that centers around Stone Mountain during the time of the Civil War. The Granite Sentinel is available for sale at local businesses in the historic downtown district of Stone Mountain village, or at www.thegranitesentinel.com.