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Posted on: June 7, 2017

Chamblee History

Roswell Railroad

The City of Chamblee was incorporated by the Georgia legislature on August 17, 1908. It is one of 10 cities located within DeKalb County.

There is great discussion about the origination of the City's name. One story has the name coming from the 1885 petition for the U.S. Postal Service to establish a post office in what was then known as Roswell Junction. The U.S. Postal Service was concerned that the proposed name of Roswell Junction was too close to the nearby City of Roswell. The Postal Service then randomly selected the name "Chamblee" from the list of petitioners for the new post office name. The Chamblee selected was an African-American railroad worker. Another story has the Chamblee family beginning the town and then later altering their name to fit the current spelling.

Chamblee's history is intertwined with three entities - dairies, railroads and the military. For years, Chamblee was known for its rolling hills and numerous dairies. Irvindale and J.W. Brown are just two of the numerous dairies that made Chamblee more of a pasture than a town. The only thing that crisscrossed the pastures during the late 19th and early 20th century was the railroad. Chamblee was located at the junction of what is now the Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Roswell Railroad. Passengers traveling from Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina barreled through Chamblee heading north. On the Roswell Railroad, which operated until 1921, textile goods and workers were transported back and forth from the Roswell Manufacturing Company.

In 1917, Chamblee's dairy land was transformed into Camp Gordon. The new military installation was two square miles, with 1,200 buildings and home to 40,000 military personnel. The influx of "doughboys" caused a building boom in the small town. Almost overnight, forty new stores, three theaters, two hotels and a bowling alley were built to cater to this new population.

After World War I, Camp Gordon was closed, but then reopened in 1941 as a Navy Flight Training Center. Lawson Veterans Hospital was built on the site. Lawson specialized in training amputees to use prosthetic limbs. Harold Russell, Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor for The Best Years of Our Lives, learned to use his "Boston" arms at Lawson Hospital.

After World War II, the City experienced a growth in its industrial areas, largely based on the opening of the General Motors plant in neighboring Doraville. Large corporations such as Frito-Lay, Kodak and General Electric built plants along the newly constructed Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. These corporations provided a strong tax base and a source of employment for more than 30 years.

In the 1980s, Chamblee began to see its fabric change dramatically. Many large manufacturing sites downsized or closed. The City was faced with a dwindling tax base and the loss of population as young workers followed jobs to the fast-growing northern suburbs. At the same time, refugees and immigrants, drawn to the employment potentials of metro Atlanta and the affordable housing found in Chamblee, began repopulating many neighborhoods along Buford Highway.

The 1990 Census dramatically outlined the change in demographics for Chamblee. Seeing this shift in population as a positive step, the City Council concentrated on long-range planning efforts to create sustainable growth for a diverse population residents. Chamblee was one of the first communities awarded a Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) planning study from the Atlanta Regional Commission. The City has maintained that focus on active planning to ensure quality private and public investment residents and business owners deserve. These planning efforts resulted in new zoning codes that favor more walkable, pedestrian-friendly development for a diverse community. In 2010 and 2013, neighborhoods to the north and south of Chamblee voted to annex into the City, tripling its size. The City limits now stretch from I-285 to the north to I-85 to the south. Chamblee has seen a recent explosion in residential, retail and office development projects thanks in large part to its embrace of thoughtful planning and strategic expansion.

As Chamblee moves into the 21st century, its history is being written in a multitude of languages. From its foundation as a southern rail town, its people have built a progressive urban city that is eagerly awaiting its next transformation.

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