Acworth’s present-day Main Street traces the path of the Peachtree Trail, the Cherokee Indian trade route of the late 1700s that connected the Cherokee capital of New Echota and the Creek Indian trading post and fort, Standing Peachtree.
By the end of the 18th century, white encroachment shrank Cherokee holdings to North Georgia, and small areas of Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina. The land grab was exacerbated by the 1828 gold strike in the Auraria/Dahlonega area of Northeast Georgia.
Prospectors and settlers rushed into Cherokee land; Georgia seized the territory, surveyed the land and carved out 40-acre gold lots, and 160-acre farm lots, which were distributed in the 1832 land lottery. In 1838-39, the Cherokee were forcibly removed to Oklahoma by federal troops along the Trail Where We Cried, as translated from Cherokee language.
The frontier soon was connected to established towns via the Western and Atlantic (W&A) Railroad. The railroad eventually would run from Marthasville (later renamed Atlanta) to Chattanooga, following the same route as the Peachtree Trail, just north of Acworth.
By the early 1840s, the railroad was completed as far north as Acworth, where a water stop, Northcutt Station (named for railroad agent Alexander Northcutt), was established. Thus, the W&A Railroad determined where the town would sit, as newcomers settled near the tracks.
In 1843, Joseph Gregg, a local railroad engineer, renamed the small settlement after his hometown in Acworth, New Hampshire. By the late 1840s, Acworth was “a small village … in the midst of a thickly settled country,” with a population of 50. On Dec. 1, 1860, the eve of the Civil War, the town was incorporated, with its limits extending in a half- mile radius from the W&A Depot at Main and Lemon streets.
Acworth and the railroad played important roles in the Civil War. Union and Confederate forces fought for control of the tracks from Chattanooga to Atlanta, for strategic and supply purposes. In early June 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his troops camped in Acworth. Minor skirmishes and major battles occured in the area: New Hope Church on May 25, Pickett’s Mill on May 27, Dallas on May 28 and Kennesaw Mountain on June 27.
Acworth homes and churches served as field headquarters and hospitals. After the capture of Atlanta, the closest battle to Acworth occurred on Oct. 5, the Battle of Allatoona Pass. On Nov. 13, 1864, Sherman’s troops burned much of Acworth, leaving fewer than a dozen structures, as they set off on their march to the sea. Acworth families scattered; farms and businesses were shattered.
After the difficult Reconstruction years, Acworth began recovering. The value of farmlands doubled between 1870 and 1890. The town boasted two flour mills and a tannery. It was a regional center for cotton warehousing, ginning and transport. In 1880, Acworth reportedly shipped 6,000 cotton bales annually, along with large quantities of dried fruit, flour and leather, while several highly valued gold mines in the vicinity paid satisfactory dividends.
With the scourge of bad weather and the boll weevil in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the city attempted to diversify the cotton economy. Acworth residents aggressively pursued industrial growth. The Acworth Board of Trade was established in 1907 to advance the economy.
In the 1920s, the city advertised for new residents, businesses and tourists, and offered city and county tax exemptions for five years to new industries. The close proximity of the railroad was touted, as well as Acworth’s proximity to major markets. A city booster wrote in 1929, “Acworth wants you to make your home here … if you are no drone and are honest.” By this time, Acworth had three major textile mills, employing hundreds of workers.
In 1915, after the start of the automobile era, the unpaved Main Street became part of the Dixie Highway, the first interstate highway to link the urban North to the rural South, and Florida vacation spots.
By the summer of 1926, Main Street was paved with a contract that included convict labor. The most direct Dixie Highway route, from the Great Lakes to Florida, was completely paved in the fall of 1929. In the height of the vacation season that year, more than 800 tourist automobiles were expected daily. During its Dixie Highway heyday, Acworth boasted a Victorian downtown, churches, three textile mills, a chenille toy factory, gas stations, automobile dealers, a tourist court, diners, a bowling alley, a movie theater and a hotel.
– Abbie Parks, an Acworth resident, co-authored pictorial essays on regional history and collaborated on a book celebrating Acworth’s 150th birthday that featured anecdotal history and family photographs.