For nearly 180 years, the far-off train whistle signaled the approach of the clickety-clack of the coming train on the tracks that cross a major street in Vinings. Trains have made their way through the northwest Atlanta hamlet since the early 1830s. It’s been that way for almost two centuries, starting shortly after former North Carolinian Hardy Pace settled there all those years ago.
“The train has always been an important part of Vinings and our history,” says Gillian Greer, executive director of the Vinings Historic Preservation Society. “From connecting Atlanta to Chattanooga in the 1830s, to bringing young couples to Vinings from Atlanta for vacations in the 1880s, the romance of the railroad has been inextricably woven into the fabric of Vinings. The train still travels through Vinings more than 40 times a day, but the train whistle is silent because of noise restrictions. For local businesspeople and residents, all those train crossings are the order of the day, a small inconvenience for the privilege of living or working in one of northwest Atlanta’s most exclusive areas.”
Vinings has long figured into the fabric of the history, culture and economic development of Atlanta. It is home to a number of corporate offices filling the towering glass and steel buildings that line the nearby Interstate 285 corridor. Home Depot was among the first to locate there when the company was founded by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank in the 1980s. Other companies soon followed suit, building in Vinings and the nearby Platinum Triangle, Cobb Galleria area and Cumberland Mall.
High rises blossomed toward the interstate and up Vinings Mountain, but the heart of the village remained the same. Much of the land that belonged to descendants of the Pace and Yarbrough families had passed into other hands by the mid-1900s. While a handful of area preservationists tried to hold on to the history of Vinings, they seemed to be outnumbered.
“As development came, descendants of Hardy Pace made their commitment to their family’s heritage known,” Greer says. “His great-great granddaughter, Ruth Carter Vanneman, was one of the most vocal. Known as the ‘Duchess of Vinings,’ she actually tied herself to an historic oak tree to prevent it from being cut down. She was very passionate about her family’s legacy.”
In the late 1960s, Vanneman offered a piece of land in the center of historic Vinings for sale and local real estate developer Felix Cochran purchased it with an eye to create a gathering place for residents. By 1986, the Victorian-style, two-story retail and restaurant village of Vinings Jubilee opened. It quickly became a hub of social and retail activity with a number of restaurants and shops, plus special events drawing people from the surrounding area. With its inviting architecture, brick-paved sidewalks and a plethora of established trees and landscaping, it is truly a town square.
Vanneman also was responsible for the creation of the historic society. At her death in 1992, she left a small endowment that allowed the establishment of the Vinings Historic Preservation Society in 1993.
Who and What Brought Us to this Place
Before Hardy Pace arrived, the gently rolling countryside of Vinings and its signature McKinley Mountain, also known as Vinings Mountain, was home to Native American Creek and Cherokee Indians who lived on either side of the river, farmed, traded and hunted in the lush forested lands. Cobb County was founded in 1832 and shortly thereafter, the state enacted the Indian Removal Act, forcing the Native Americans to leave the land and to become part of the infamous Trail of Tears. One of the most famous, a Cherokee widow named Nancy Still, reached out to then-Gov. Wilson Lumpkin to plead for her home, children and land. Nonetheless, she joined more than 20,000 Cherokee and Creeks; her fate is unknown, but present-day Vinings officials erected a bronze statue of her holding a gold peach in the lower courtyard of the West Paces Office Complex.
Originally known as Crossroads, Vinings’ attracted the attention of Pace around 1830, when he decided to move his family from Putnam County northward. Through the Georgia Land Lottery in the early 1830s, he acquired nearly 10,000 acres of rural countryside north of what would become Atlanta, property that ran from modern-day Smyrna down to Buckhead and included the shorelines of the Chattahoochee River. Pace operated the ferry service that crossed the river; he also built a gristmill nearby.
About the same time, construction began on the Western & Atlantic Railroad to connect Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Civil engineer William Vining supervised laying the train tracks and building the station at the crossroads. Some say the area subsequently became known as Vinings’ Station because of him.
Hardy Pace built a 17-room house where he and his wife raised their family. He became one of the area’s most prominent and well-known residents, but with the arrival of turmoil in Georgia with the Civil War, the family retreated to Milledgeville and the Hardy home provided headquarters for William Tecumseh Sherman and his captains. From there, they planned the Battle of Atlanta, probably doing recognizance from the top of nearby McKinley Mountain with unobstructed views of Atlanta and the railroad hub to the south.
Pace died in Milledgeville in 1864 and never returned to his beloved Vinings. He and his wife are buried in the family cemetery on top of Mount Wilkinson, formerly Vinings Mountain. However, his son, Solomon, came home to find the family home in ruins. He rebuilt the home, which still stands today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
By the 1870s, the railroad had built five open-air pavilions along the Western & Atlantic line. Used by travelers and vacationers in the last several decades of the 19th century, they were often the site of social events. “For a time, Vinings was a resort community, and people would come up from Atlanta to picnic, party and dance,” Greer says. “It was quite a fun time.”
Vinings has preserved the only one still in existence, moving it next door to the Pace House.
In 1880, Samuel Yarbrough built a home in Vinings for his wife Ella, great-granddaughter of Hardy Pace. The home became a tea house in the early 20th century and later the Old Vinings Inn, a popular restaurant in the 1980s. Today, it is the headquarters of the Vinings Historical Preservation Society. The society renovated the building in 1997. “It’s the heartbeat of Vinings, a welcome center and the centralized place for all things Vinings,” says Greer, who is informally known as the mayor of Vinings. “So many things happen here and people just know to come see us for all their questions.” She knows her Vinings’ history and freely shares stories.
Vinings has not jumped on the make-me-a-city movement so prevalent across metro Atlanta. “I don’t think that becoming a city or town is on our radar,” Greer says. “If we became a city, we’d have to have our own fire and police services, and all kinds of other things. We have such a strong sense of community and a rich heritage; we’re just fine as the Village of Vinings.”
So, let’s return to the southward view from the top of Vinings’ Mount Wilkinson. Instead of a small town once named Marthasville, a railroad hub that seems dozens of miles in the distance, the view today is rather like looking across the poppy fields toward the Emerald City of Oz. But those who live and work in Vinings know they have something special just for them, their own special hamlet that proudly embraces and celebrates its rich history with pride.