a neighborhood re-written

I learned something new about history along the Beltline the other day!

The old Bellwood Quarry property was purchased by the City of Atlanta in 2006 for the future 300 acre Westside Reservoir Park which will connect to the Beltline in its northwest segment. The park will incorporate the abandoned Bellwood Quarry which will serve as a reservoir for Atlanta’s water supply. When filled, the quarry will be deeeeeeeeep (so don’t fall in!) able to contain 30 days-worth of back-up water supply for the city. This is a thorough WABE report on the future Westside Reservoir Park.

WestsidePark-overlay notes

The property (outlined above) appears to be a shoe-in for a park, comprised of great expanses of field and forest besides the quarry itself. But all of that property is not all undeveloped land or at least it wasn’t always. I learned the other day that, in fact, a whole neighborhood had been built, lived in, and demolished–not once, but TWICE–where woods now stand on the northern portion of the future park, enter…

ROCKDALE PARK

Perry-Rockdale crop Atlanta_Base_Map 1940

The neighborhood of Rockdale Park has disappeared purposely from Atlanta’s maps two times in the 20th century, as Joe Hurley told us in a session of the 2015 Atlanta Studies Symposium. “Rockdale” does appear in the list of Westside neighborhoods on beltline.org though all that appears today is 21st century development north of the future park. Physical evidence of this area before the turn of the millennium has been all but wiped out. This too is about where the google-able information stops but Mr. Hurley’s tale of urban housing fails picks up.

It started to make sense when I discovered how closely Rockdale Park was linked with one of Atlanta’s infamous housing projects, Perry Homes. In fact, it appears that the original Rockdale Park neighborhood (a grid of streets and early 20th century houses) covered the ground from the Bellwood Quarry north to the railroad line and Inman Yards. In the 1939-40 real estate map of Atlanta above, you can see the neighborhood clearly laid out both north and south of Johnson Road which today (it’s route redrawn a little) makes the northern border of the future Westside Reservoir Park. 1949 aerials of Atlanta clearly show what may have been American small houses, but I’m just guessing. It is likely too that the residents of this neighborhood were mostly blue collar, associated either with the quarrying to the south of or the enormous Inman Yards.

Inman Yard Atlanta, c. 1917, Atlanta History Center

Inman Yard Atlanta, c. 1917, Atlanta History Center

In 1960, the area between the railroad and Proctor Creek was majority African-American (see this “Percent Non-White” map) and was already part of the urban housing–“projects”–experiments going on across mid-century America. In 1959 the first Perry Homes housing project was built just north of Johnson Road, after a fire, the “homes” were rebuilt in the mid-1970s and this so-called “residential brownfield,” “a region [of Atlanta] that for nearly 50 years has been synonymous with crime and violence and blight” (AHA press) was eventually torn down by 2000 when the mixed use development, West Highland, was begun to transform the area. Heck, Marta wouldn’t even go there–although a Perry Homes spur was proposed, the line (now the Edgewood-Bankhead short train) would only be built as far as the Bankhead Highway.

Mr. Hurley showed us that the Rockdale Park neighborhood was razed, and while the northern portion became Perry Homes, the lower portion was never redeveloped to it’s full potential. Some but not all of the proposed buildings of a housing project on the South side of Johnson Road were built, and within short decades, also demolished. Nothing stands there now except the scraped earth of the most recent development, and forest with no trespassing signs shrouding any evidence of the earlier neighborhood called Rockdale Park.

Current googlemap of the northern Westside Reservoir Park overlaying the 1939-40 map of Rockdale Park neighborhood.

Current googlemap of the northern Westside Reservoir Park overlaying the 1939-40 map of Rockdale Park neighborhood.

While Rockdale Park has been mostly forgotten for decades, the creation of the Westside Reservoir Park offers a great opportunity to bring its memory, history, and the lessons of the neighborhood’s demise back into the public consciousness and the story of Atlanta.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping Mr. Hurley will put more on the web soon as his studies progress!

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