Tucked away in Atlanta’s northern suburbs is the town of Duluth, no not the retail-sprawl you see from Interstate 85 as you travel north-east towards Gainesville and Greenville but the real Duluth; home-town America, restored, alive and prospering in an era of renewed inward American focus. Duluth is equal parts early twentieth-century nostalgia and twenty-first-century modernity. An interesting juxtaposition that would not have been possible a few decades ago but now just feels right…
WHERE TO VISITMaple Street Simply Donuts Truck and Tap Good Word Brewing
Duluth was originally Cherokee territory. When Duluth was established in the early 19th century, it was primarily forest land occupied by tribespeople. An Indian trail, called Old Peachtree Road by the settlers, was extended through the area during the War of 1812 to connect Fort Peachtree in present-day Atlanta with Fort Daniel near present-day Dacula. When Gwinnett County was established in 1818, white settlement of the area accelerated.
Cotton merchant Evan Howell constructed a road connecting his cotton gin at the Chattahoochee River with Old Peachtree Road, creating Howell’s Cross Roads. The settlement later became known as “Howell’s Crossing”. Howell was the grandfather of Atlanta Mayor Evan P. Howell and great-grandfather of Atlanta Constitution publisher Clark Howell. His descendants continue to live in the area, but only Howell Ferry Road in Duluth bears the name.
Howell’s Crossing was renamed “Duluth” in 1871 after Congress funded a north-south railroad line into the community. It was named after the city of Duluth, Minnesota. The Midwestern city had gotten its own railroad connection not long before, which had prompted Rep. J. Proctor Knott, a Kentucky Democrat, to make a speech in Congress mocking the project as wasteful. That speech drew national attention. According to contemporary reports, Evan P. Howell himself jokingly suggested the name change in a speech about the arrival of railroad service in the Georgia town. (Duluth, Minnesota, is named for Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut (1636–1710), a French captain and explorer of the upper Midwest, who negotiated peace between the Chippewa and the Sioux nation.)
The railroad encouraged the growth of Duluth’s economy. A schoolhouse was built in 1871 on the site of what is now Coleman Middle School (formerly Duluth Middle School and Duluth Elementary School). The first Methodist church was organized in 1871, and the first Baptist congregation formed in 1886. Both churches continue today at new locations along State Route 120. The Bank of Duluth was charted in 1904, followed by the Farmers and Merchants Bank in 1911. Neither survived the Great Depression.
In 1922, Duluth elected Georgia’s first female mayor, Alice Harrell Strickland. She donated 1-acre (4,000 m2) of land for a “community forest” and began efforts to conserve land for public recreation.
Duluth grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, along with the rest of Gwinnett County. Georgia Governor George Busbee became a resident of Duluth in 1983 after leaving office, moving to the Sweet Bottom Plantation subdivision developed by Scott Hudgens. A major revitalization of the Duluth downtown area was undertaken in the early 21st century. Development along Sugarloaf Parkway has continued with the construction of the Gwinnett Arena near the Gwinnett Convention Center.
In much of the 20th century, when Gwinnett County was still rural, Duluth was known in the area as being one of the few small towns with its own hospital, Joan Glancy Memorial Hospital. Consequently, many older residents of the area who call other towns home were actually born in Duluth. Joan Glancy was replaced with Gwinnett Medical Center – Duluth in 2006. The site of the old Joan Glancy hospital is now GMC’s Glancy Campus, home to the Glancy Rehabilitation Center, the Duluth location of GMC’s Diabetes & Nutrition Education Center and the Duluth location of GMC’s Center for Sleep Disorders.