‘Lost city’ being rediscovered
by W. Winston Skinner
The once flourishing county seat town is a crossroads community now — with only grave markers, a couple of churches, a Masonic lodge and a single home remaining from its heyday.
“When it was no longer the county seat, Campbellton quickly became a ghost town,” observed Jeff Bishop of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society. “You can still tell where the court square was located, and there's a marker there in a central grassy spot, noting the courthouse location. Most of the original buildings are gone.”
Now the history of the town — which is on the Chattahoochee River in Douglas County — is being unearthed by Coweta historical fiction writer Sidney Brown and Douglas resident Jeff Champion. They want to share what they are finding, and they are hoping people will share tidbits of information to create as complete a picture as possible of Campbellton.
“Campbellton was established by the Georgia legislature in 1828, six years before the Battle of the Alamo,” Brown said.
The location of the city was “at an important river crossing,” Bishop noted. “Across the river is an old Indian mound site, so its significance goes back into pre-history.”
Campbellton was the county seat of Campbell County, losing that status in 1870 to Fairburn, which was then “a small but developing town located on the Atlanta & West Point Railroad.”
In the 1860 census there were 1,200 residents in Campbellton. “This was a considerable number of residents in a town of less than an estimated square mile, by the 1848 property survey,” Brown said.
When the courthouse and its business shifted to Fairburn, residents began streaming away from Campbellton. Some moved to Atlanta where they started “thriving businesses,” Brown said.
Others moved to Fairburn.
Some of the accepted history of Campbellton is getting a second look from Champion and Brown. It has been often stated the railroad bypassed Campbellton because residents were against the railroad — feeling it would mar the tranquility of the town.
More recent researchers have taken a look at geography — for a more analytical approach. Topographical maps dating to the 1850s show “a natural ridge of high ground” stretching from West Point to Atlanta, Brown noted.
“Engineers of the railroad were enthused over this natural plateau, rather than the hilly, flood prone river bottoms along the Chattahoochee,” Brown added.
What remains of Campbellton is located at the intersection of Cascade-Palmetto Highway/Highway 154 and Campbellton-Fairburn Road/Highway 92. Campbellton Baptist Church, Campbellton United Methodist Church, Masonic Lodge 76 F&AM and the Beavers House remain from the time when Campbellton was a growing city with a seemingly promising future.
Bishop is a descendant of a Virginia native, Thomas A. Latham, who came to Coweta County from McMinn County, Tenn., and became one of Newnan's first attorneys. “He won some property in the land lottery in the 1830s and moved up to Campbellton, re-establishing his practice up there. He was an important early settler there and a state representative,” Bishop said.
Bishop wrote about a murder in the family in the early 1900s in his book, “A Cold Coming.”
Some of the Lathams are buried in a spot at the Canongate golf course, which was once a family plantation. Others, including Thomas Latham, are buried in the Baptist church cemetery at Campbellton.
Latham’s elegant home “on the main road going into town” burned in the early 1990s, Bishop said.
Last year, Brown met Champion, co-owner of Champ’s Clock Shop in Douglas County. The two say their beliefs about research — and the sharing of history — meshed.
So the two men are combining their efforts to and reconstruct the old town, at least on paper — and possibly in photos. History, the two strongly believe, should be shared and open.
Their efforts often take very practical and “feet on the ground” tactics. One morning late last year, Brown headed to Old Campbellton with a land survey of the town — dating to around 1848 — so the document could be compared to what is on the ground now and what tradition says was located in various spots.
Champion and Brown are seeking information and leads from anyone who has anything they feel relevant to history of the old town. Both can scan or photograph images, making the sharing of information simple. Brown, a resident of north Coweta County, can be reached at 678-850-6506 or DogRiverPress@yahoo.com. Champion’s phone number is 770-827-1132, and his e-mail address is Champ1964@aol.com. “The charter for the town of Campbellton has not been revoked,” Brown said.
Campbellton “started with all the promise that Newnan did, and you can still imagine it as a bustling little place,” Bishop reflected. “But when the railroad went west of there, that was the end of the town.”