Thursday, March 6, 2014

Casey's Hill

The view from Casey's Hill in Atlanta looking northwest to Vinings and Smyrna in Cobb County. Photo by me, November 2013.

High on what might be the highest point in the city is a little known spot that once was an important place in Atlanta. As over a century has passed and the city has grown faster than fertilized kudzu this quiet place has been mostly forgotten and slowly encroached upon by development. At just over a thousand feet above sea level you can see well northwest into Cobb County on a clear day. In the distance are the buildings from the Cumberland, Galleria and Vinings areas. That high vantage point is one of the reasons this ridge is important to Atlanta. The other reason it has historical significance is for the man who lived and died here. Internet searches will not reveal much about Casey's Hill outside of a few mentions on American Civil War sites and I was unaware this place existed until I explored neighboring Crest Lawn Cemetery. Just as I was when I was a rural boy, curiosity had me wondering what was at the top of the wooded hill. I decided to find out.


Photo by me, November 2013.

As the city, then known as Terminus in 1837, was being born between two railroads, the Casey family settled in and began helping build the rail network that spawned it. John A. Casey moved to Terminus in 1838 and contracted the grading and construction of the Western and Atlantic railroad. Fulton County did not come into existence until 1852, but was a part of DeKalb County when Casey arrived. By the time of his death in 1907, John A. Casey was heralded in his obituary as the oldest living settler of Fulton. It was said that kept within the family they retained the broadax that hewed the first railroad cross tie laid, if true, I wonder what became of that.

1928 Topographical map from the City of Atlanta Mapping Division.

Casey settled on this hill northwest of the zero mile marker, along the old Marietta Road and built his home. He would father eleven children which by today's standards sounds incredible but back then large families were common in the United States. In addition to railroads he became a justice of the peace and according to his obituary was referred to as "Squire Casey." He was said to have stayed mentally sharp until his death and was buried on this hill.

Photo by me, November 2013.

The old Marietta Road ran through here and was an important connection between Atlanta and Marietta. Once a traveler crossed Casey's Hill heading north it was downward to the Chattahoochee River and across via Montgomery's Ferry. This connection and the higher elevation than that of the surrounding terrain made Casey's Hill an important strategic spot in the defense of Atlanta during the American Civil War. Three Confederate infantry corps along with state militia formed the outer defenses of the city on this hill. With advancing Union troops, the Confederates fell back to the inner lines in July 1864. Atlanta was captured by General Sherman in September of that same year beginning his March to the Sea campaign.

The road leading up Casey's Hill. Photo by me, November 2013.

Other than two historical markers there is no evidence that a war was once fought here. There are no cannons and no visible trenches that I found. What remains today are the mostly untended graves in the cemetery atop the hill adjacent to Crest Lawn Cemetery. While Crest Lawn receives perpetual care that is not so for the graves on Casey's Hill. The graves here nestled among the trees, vines and leaves are mostly forgotten. Without the occasional cleaning and maintenance of surviving family members and volunteers, Casey's Hill would eventually become by the forces of nature. 

Photo by me, November 2013.

The top of the hill has a park-like quality high above the noise of the city and under an older tree canopy. Ivy vines and brush have rooted their way in and some of the headstones are losing the battle to nature.

Photo by me, November 2013.

Photo by me, November 2013.

Photo by me, November 2013.

The gravestone reads:
A light from our household is gone.
A voice we loved is stilled.
A place is vacant in our hearts
That never can be filled.

It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2013 when I visited. Many people were fighting for Black Friday deals, but I strolled through some city history under the blue sky and cool temperatures.  I had the cemetery to myself, at least among the living.

Photo by me, November 2013.
Photo by me, November 2013.

Some old stone works surrounds these graves. The unique tree headstone dates back to 1890 and the smaller one is from 1894.

Photo by me, November 2013.

This aerial photograph shows how rural the area surrounding Casey's Hill was in 1938. Crest Lawn Cemetery is on the right and Casey's Hill is roughly in the center of the photo.

The most recent aerial photograph from Google Maps shows just how development has surrounded Casey's Hill and Crest Lawn Cemetery.

Today development has come within a few feet of Casey's Hill and claimed part of it except for the area containing the cemetery. A large portion of the hillside abutting the cemetery was excavated and you could almost step out from the cemetery onto the roofs of some of the houses. In other areas where the houses were built level with the cemetery you could stand at a grave and touch the side of a house. There was no fencing or protection between the cemetery and the housing development.