30 Days of Good

Given how often I link to their content, I think we’re all clear on the fact that I love Good Magazine. Now it’s time for the rest of you to get on board. Go here and sign up for 30 Days of Good. Each day, you’ll get a new assignment that will help make you a better citizen. It starts today, and today’s task is this: Learn the history of your neighborhood.

Now, as most of you know, I’m at my parents’ house right now. I’m leaving in a week and a half, but since I’m here for now, I’m going to call this my “neighborhood” for this assignment. I put it in quotations because my parents live in the forest. These days, there are a few houses around, unlike when my parents built their house here. I was two when my parents bought this property in Forsyth County on a long, mostly empty dirt road that at the time didn’t even have power. My parents learned a bit more about their adopted community when their friends from Atlanta, in horror, informed them that they wouldn’t be coming out to visit.

Forsyth County has had, to put it mildly, a violent history. If you want a glimpse, here you go. Take it for what it’s worth, obviously; that’s a link to Wikipedia. But as much notoriety as this community has gotten for its past, that’s not the whole story. Today Forsyth County is just a sprawling exurb of Atlanta. But it’s also a place where almost every one of my friends as a child grew up next door or down the road from their grandparents. My grandmothers were hours away, but I still got to experience that Southern staple, Sunday dinners at grandmothers’ tables, because of where I grew up.

Another interesting “neighborhood” fact: when I was in elementary school, the Olympic torch runner passed a couple of miles from my school. The administration and teachers took the entire school – ALL of us – and we WALKED the whole way, across fields and down empty roads, to line the street where the runner would pass. I remember being electrified with the thrill of it. Funny that it took me another twenty-five years or so to become a runner.

My immediate neighborhood is harder to pin down. I grew on up Wallace Tatum Road and they DID put electricity in, by the way, when my parents built their house. The road was dirt until I was in middle school, and for at least the first two decades of my life, it was lined by small family farms. One of those farms was owned by Wallace Tatum, the man for whom the road was named (obviously). I haven’t been able to learn much about him, except that he was a farmer and he planted a new tree around his house in honor of each of his daughters. Today they’re huge oak trees that shade the road, marking the spot where his house once stood.

Wallace Tatum was old enough to be retired when my Mom and Dad moved here. He came down to meet them when he built the house, to welcome us to the neighborhood. Mom says he only came to visit that one time, and my family, with two-year-old me and my brother in kindergarten, got busy building a new life in this quirky, unfamiliar and – at the time – tiny Southern town. I never knew him, but I remember Wallace Tatum every time I pass those oaks. I wish I’d had the chance to cook him a Sunday dinner like his grandmother would have made. That would have be something.


6 thoughts on “30 Days of Good

  1. Our property has Native American connections. Way before we Pattys were Georgians, a Grist Mill was built just about a mile away by Native Americans. When the terrible Trail of Tears took the Cherokees away, the mill was taken over by the Pool family and the covered bridge called Pool’s Mill Bridge still stands over the creek that backs our 5 acres and flows under it to the Etowah River.

  2. Your mother is right about the Cherokee connections. All of Forsyth County was part of the Cherokee nation until quite late — 1832, I think I recall. There were white settlers as well before then, but they lived there only with the permission of the Nation. Go down to the fairgrounds in Cumming and visit the historical village; in the tavern building there are a number of stories that date to that time. There’s a great story about a woman fighting a panther at one of the local creeks.

    Also, remember that one of Vann’s taverns is nearby (still standing, last time I drove past it). It’s just a piece north on the road toward Burnt Mountain. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the area by studying James Vann.

    All that said, I’m not sure the county was any more violent than any other place in the South — and probably less violent than many cities. Chicago sees more people are killed annually than in Baghdad, for example. People who tell the stories about Forsyth County often forget that there are long periods of almost perfect peace between the violent moments — between the trail of tears and the Civil War (which almost entirely passed the county by in terms of harm), between the Civil War and 1912, between 1912 and the marches in the 1980s (which, though captivating to the media, didn’t result in any deaths at all). During those long stretches, people mostly grew crops and went to church.

    In fact, if you really want to dig into the history of the area, it’s the history of the churches that you should study. Many of them will have records.

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