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Yes, There Are Still Gravel Roads

It wasn't that long ago when many Bartow County roads were unpaved.

This past Saturday afternoon my wife and I were doing a little genealogy sleuthing between Cedartown and Cave Spring and stopped at Friendship Baptist Church cemetery near the Polk County line. Either by blood or marriage I am related to probably more than half of the folks interred there, but we were focused on the family of my great-grandmother Sarah King Shiflett.

A short distance from the church is King’s Bridge Road where the King family settled in the 1830s and where some of the descendants still live on the old home place along the banks of Cedar Creek next to the bridge. I had used Google Earth to locate the road and homestead, so after finishing up at the cemetery we headed that way.

King’s Bridge Road has existed for almost 175 years and intersects with the main road from Cedartown to Cave Spring, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find. We drove for a couple of miles and I was a little perplexed, as we didn’t see the road anywhere. So we turned around and headed back for another pass. Once again we couldn’t find it.

After a lot of head scratching it seems the seldom-traveled road isn’t paved. Nope, it’s a narrow gravel unmarked road. I guess having been born in this “modern age,” I just wasn’t used to seeing gravel or dirt roads anymore, especially gravel or dirt roads that people actually lived on.

However, it really hasn’t been that long ago that many of the side roads around northwest Georgia weren’t paved. Some of our older Bartow County residents can quickly point out roads around the county that were unpaved until the 1950s or 60s and a few were still gravel until the 70s. Some we consider major routes today were just old-fashioned dusty roads not that long ago.  

My wife and I bought our land on Richards Road between White and Pine Log back in 1983. At that time there was no county water service and only four homes existed on our side of the road from Lipscomb Spring up to the intersection with Cass-Pine Log Road. Today there are 13 homes along that stretch, we have county water and AT&T even recently installed digital cable along the road. Welcome to the 21st Century.

To look at Richards Road today, you would think it had probably been around in either its dirt, gravel or asphalt incarnation for 100 years or more. The layout and route just makes sense. However, I was recently chatting with an older lifelong Richards Road resident who showed me where the road had previously run along the small creek some 40 feet east of the current route.

Then, if that wasn’t surprising enough, he explained that the original road ran along the top of a ridge several hundred yards to the east and was known as the Ridge Road. Having only known Richards Road in its current configuration, this totally blew my mind!

Since then I’ve spoken with several other older Bartow County natives and have looked at old pictures of the county. The roadway changes in just the last few decades are amazing. Roads are such an integral part of our lives and changes to those roads can have a major impact on where we live, shop, work and play.

In the 1930s my wife’s grandfather, H.M. “Henry” Bell, owned Cass Grocery. The store was located on the old Dixie Highway, which was a primary route for those traveling north or south through Georgia. The store is still in business in downtown Cassville.

Soon plans for the new Highway 41 were unveiled, a major roadway to run through Bartow County giving travelers a faster, straighter route than the narrow, curvy Dixie Highway. Fearing a loss in business volume, as travelers would soon bypass his store, Bell sold Cass Grocery and opened a new store near the intersection of Cassville Road and the new Highway 41.

He also owned several small guest cottages behind his new store, which he rented to travelers passing through. Of course over time, motels began to spring up along the new highway and in response Bell converted his cottages into homes that he rented out to local residents. Business at his store gradually decreased as modern convenience stores sprouted nearby. Finally, as he reached old age, H.M. Bell Grocery served its last customer.

If you travel Highway 41 today through Bartow County, you’ll see lots of road construction as medians and turn lanes are being rebuilt and there are many other road projects on the horizon. While the construction is inconvenient at times and the changes may negatively impact a few businesses, we really need to be thankful. For it was not that long ago that dirt and gravel ruled the day.

Follow me on Twitter @chuckshiflett and also check out my statewide columns at The Backroom Report.

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