I came across the Chattahoochee River on the U.S. Route 41 bridge in early January of 1964. My dad said we were moving to the country—a place called Vinings.

After crossing the river, we drove to the top of the hill, past “Storyland,” an amusement park, which was on the right, near the top of the hill. I was told that we could have birthday parties there. That was a bit of encouragement for my otherwise deeply discouraged—already missing my old neighborhood—nine-year-old mind.

My new house was on Stillhouse Road, a left-hand turn at the top of the hill just passed the four white mailboxes that faced the four-lane. Stillhouse was right across from Akers Mill Road. The Jones’ house was on the corner. I can remember only one other place on Aker’s Mill was a single-family home with farm tractor implements that were displayed and sold out on the front yard. There was a house at the corner of the four-lane and Stillhouse, where, I would soon learn, the family raised pigs. In those days, Route 41 was generally referred to as “the four-lane” because when it was completed from Atlanta to Marietta in 1938, it was the first four-lane road anywhere in Georgia. Even in the mid-60s, there wasn’t another four-lane road around Vinings. Our house was on top of the hill, on the left.

Our new home was referred to by the locals as the “old George house” because the George family had built the home and lived there for generations. It was a two-story house with clapboard siding on the first floor and wood shingles on the second. The year “1898” was inscribed on the backdoor step, but the house was probably built years earlier than that. From the front porch, you could see the Atlanta skyline rising up on the horizon over the seemingly unbroken forest of trees. Yet, more prominent and imposing was the mountain. The mountain overlooked the countryside and was a geographical reference point for travelers and visitors to the area. The mountain had different names. It was once called Elk Mountain and later Mount Wilkinson. For the locals, we usually just called it “the mountain,” At one time or another, we would climb the abandoned ranger tower atop to take in the incredible views and see the graveyard where Hardy Pace was buried. The mountain heralded the coming of spring with the first flush of light green; in the fall, the colors blazed along the steep ridge overlooking the town—marking the passage of time and the promise of permanence. To those of us who lived in Vinings, the mountain was not only a landform on the horizon but a visual anchor in our souls of the place we called home.

Everywhere in Vinings, at various times throughout the day and night, you could hear the trains, their horns announcing their passage along a railway that dated back to the antebellum south. From my bedroom window, I could see the trains as they wound around the mountain’s base. I remember well the lights on the engines at night. One light illuminated the tracks while another, a signal light called a “Mars Light,” rotated upward and around, sparkling jewels on the mountain’s necklace of metal rails.

Having our own mountain in town was quite a distinction, but having the Chattahoochee River defining the boundary of Vinings on the south made the area all the more interesting and unique. The limitations caused by the powerful, flowing waters created the opportunity for Hardy Pace to open up the Vinings area to more significant commerce. During the 1830s, he initiated a ferry service across the river. This ferry operated until 1904, when a one-way steel suspension bridge was built. (It is now a refurbished walking bridge commemorating the life of Hermi Alexander. She and her husband Cecil were friends of my parents.) I learned to drive over that bridge at 15, and, having seen the turbulence of the waters from the vantage point of an inner tube on the water on many occasions, I approached that rickety bridge hanging over the water with a great deal of respect. At flood stage, the river inspired awe and reminded us of our limitations against the forces of nature. As the river surged from its banks and threatened homes along the basin, those impacted directly could do nothing but move to the safety of higher ground, and wait for the water to recede. When heavy rains fell, the words “The river is really high” were an oft-stated description of just how much rain had fallen. The mighty Chattahoochee served as our town’s perpetual rain gauge.

Some of the river’s tributaries begin as small streams of water, percolating up through the rock from deep underground. The spring waters flow through cracks of a granite mass that is under every home and every building in Vinings. In the late 1800’s, these springs were tapped for distilleries along the old Stillhouse Road and at the mountain’s base. The springs also fed a one-acre lake built for the Bert Adams Scout Camp along the mountain’s north slope, where scouts began camping in 1925. (This lake was still in existence until the land was sold for apartments in the late 1960s.)

I am often reminded of one building in Vinings as it existed when my family arrived in 1964. It was the United States Post Office where Mrs. White served as the post-mistress. Our mail was addressed to “Vinings, Georgia” and was collected and put in our box. As a youngster, I would bound up the front steps of the post office while my mother waited in the car. I would greet Mrs. White and request, “Mail for the Harpers, please.” Mrs. White knew us all. It was her post office, and it was ours as well. (Today, Mrs. White’s house, our post office, is a charming business called the “Front Porch,” which is owned and operated by one of our own citizens.) Of particular interest to me, and I am sure many others, is the old oak that still stands beside the house, right alongside Mountain Road. The oak may date back to the days of Hardy Pace, who died in 1864. It is well-worth pausing from time to time to look upon this grand white oak and to appreciate its majestic crown and sculpted trunk, especially in a time when so many other century old trees have been cut down by outsiders, with their governmental supporters, who care little for the natural beauty of the area.

Many of our citizens and businesses have worked hard to hold on to Vining’s past and light a path for the future. The Old Pavilion House, the Pace House, and the Yarbrough house have been preserved, giving to Vinings a sense of its past by honoring its history in the present. The Vinings Jubilee brought graceful architecture and a well-needed anchor to the city center. Yet, the future requires that a perspective on Vinings directly reflect the aspirations of those who live here.

Much has been lost in Vinings as populations, neighborhoods, and businesses have grown. The old George house was demolished in 1973 after being used as a temporary bank. The mountain now seems but a pedestal for modern buildings that dominate the skyline. We speed over the Chattahoochee without a pause, scarcely remembering that a beautiful, powerful, and often turbulent body of water flows beneath us. Four laned roads, even five and six lanes, are everywhere.

Yet, amid all the changes, as citizens of Vinings, we share a place in the annals of Georgia and share a common affection for our community. Without a firm foundation in law and local leadership, Vinings will erode and eventually vanish, subsumed by the centralizing forces that dominate the County of Cobb, the City of Atlanta, or both. For years, the name “Vinings” has been flung far afield from the town center, diminishing the geographical significance of the name but simultaneously testifying to the depth and resiliency of the goodness and permanence that “Vinings” engenders.

Cityhood is not only important but is a critical call to preserve Vinings’ legacy and marshal the capabilities of its citizens for the future. Cityhood will enable us to protect and cultivate a civic culture with knowledge, concern, and trust for each other that large governmental bodies cannot appreciate or even recognize. It offers the possibility of neighbors, instead of a phalanx of bureaucrats, making decisions for our community. Confirming and building the City of Vinings in law and tradition, with mutual concern and respect for our fellow citizens, will anchor the bonds of our community deep into the bedrock of our land, our neighborhoods, and the businesses that serve us. Only in this way can we ensure that Vinings will live on as a special place where its own leaders serve the interests of its citizens who know them and live alongside them, ensuring that all of us will have a place we love to call home.

James R. Harper, III