A Reporter’s Recovery of Place

Dave Winter


Bennett Golder’s news article that appeared in our school newspaper was among the first pieces of student writing at our school that came directly out of the Keeping and Creating American Communities initiative.  The Chattahoochee Plantation subdivision and its attempts to establish an identity distinct from east Cobb County surfaced several times during our teacher research group’s two-week summer 2000 study.  This story intrigued me, in part because it seemed an attempt to realize the two major goals of our group: recovering the history of past communities and creating inclusive communities in the present.  

More directly, this contemporary initiative reflected two of our five project themes: reclaiming displaced heritages and reconfiguring 21st-century suburbs.  Prior to our discussions of it during the summer institute, I had never heard anything about “Chattahoochee Plantation” even though it is very near the high school district where I taught from 1992 to 2001.  Naming a community by combining a Cherokee word (“Chattahoochee”) and a word evocative of antebellum times (“Plantation”) connected a present suburban community to two of the region’s most enduring heritages.  

To name a community, after all, is to define it and to form its geographic and membership boundaries.  On the one hand the name “Chattahoochee Plantation” suggests to me a community that values its history, but I was also stricken by how invoking the word “Plantation” might make black residents (or potential black residents) feel unwelcome because of the history the word connotes.  I wondered if this suggestion was intentional or inadvertent.   

For these thematic reasons, I wanted to investigate this particular story. Because of my role as the KCAC print publications coordinator, however, I also wanted to find out if journalistic approaches to writing might be a fruitful way for our students to research and recover past community history and also to promote future community formation.  In pursuit of this objective, I suggested the story assignment to my newspaper editorial board, and my assignments editor gave the story to Bennett.

Instructional Sequence:

The story required Bennett to do some real research.  All I gave him was the idea.  I had no contact information.  Even an e-mail list-serv plea produced no help from my KCAC colleagues.  Ultimately, by the deadline for our second issue, Bennett had done all the recovery himself, first by calling the Cobb County commissioner’s office and then by contacting Mr. Joe Gavalis, the community activist who was instrumental in erecting road signs that marked the boundaries of the Chattahoochee Plantation community.

Through his interview with Mr. Gavalis, Bennett—a junior and one of two news editors on staff—was able to uncover that the community has a long history.  Bennett found out that it was originally a Cherokee settlement and that in 1968 Chattahoochee Plantation was purposefully extended to form a buffer between Atlanta and Marietta. This would effectively prevent Atlanta from annexing Marietta because a state law prevented any city from crossing one “city” to annex another. 

Bennett also discovered that the present rekindling of Chattahoochee Plantation is more motivated by real estate value than by any genuine sense of community. Still, it’s very interesting to me that residents in that area feel that identifying with Cherokee and antebellum heritages increases the material value of their community.  Bennett’s final quotation of Mr. Gavalis ­ well placed at the conclusion of the story ­ suggests that home values will increase by 10 percent as a result of the name identification and other planned improvements to the subdivision.

Student artifact

Bennett’s story, “Chattahoochee Plantation Attempts a Community Feel; Homeowners are Delighted,” appeared in the Oct. 20, 2000 issue of The Catalyst, Wheeler’s student newspaper.

What do those green signs mean?  Found in eastern Cobb County, along Paper Mill Road, the Chattahoochee River, Powers Road and Johnson Ferry and mostly centered around Atlanta Country Club, the green “Former City Limits- Chattahoochee Plantation (1961-1995)” signs have baffled and intrigued many drivers for the past few months.

The story behind Chattahoochee Plantation begins during the Civil War when several paper mills on the Sope Creek were burned by Union troops.  The area, once a large Cherokee settlement, was first developed by Hugh Spalding in 1935. 

“The banks of Sope Creek were a large Cherokee settlement.  The area that is now Merchant’s Walk shopping center was a Cherokee trading area that they called ‘Stop and Swap’,” said Mr. Joe Gavalis, the chairman of the Community Association of Chattahoochee Plantation. 

The area began to grow, and in 1961, House Bill Number 631 incorporated the city of Chattahoochee Plantation, GA,  complete with a mayor, Richard Simms, Jr., and a five-man council.  In 1968, Cobb County State House representatives added a 10-foot strip to Chattahoochee Plantation to stop the city of Atlanta from annexing Marietta.  They were taking advantage of a state law that no city could cross another city in an annexation move.  So this “new city” of Chattahoochee Plantation is not a new notion at all--it has been around for 39 years.  Since then, the community of Chattahoochee Plantation has grown together as a close-knit city that does not act like a city.  They do not have a mayor or government, but rather a group of residents, the Community Association, that meets to come up with regulations in the best interest of the homeowners.

Recently, Gavalis was instrumental in putting up the green city limit signs.  “By putting signs up, we have rejuvenated a little history and a community feel.  We feel there is a lot of uniqueness to this community. We are trying to combine a village feel with lots of green space,” Mr. Gavalis said.

The approximately 1,100 residents of Chattahoochee Plantation are overall happy with the results of these signs.  There are many ideas that have been brought up, including continuing a riverside walking path from Roswell through most of Cobb County and an 18-acre park in the community.  “It has been estimated that the average home value in Chattahoochee Plantation will go up 10 percent.  This is an appealing community,” Mr. Gavalis said.  “Realtors have started to recognize us as a gem in Cobb County.”

Teacher reflection

I was happy with Bennett’s story and even happier with the research and recovery that led to it.  The information that Bennett uncovered was valuable to me, but perhaps the greatest discovery was that this type of student writing enables students to see the value of authentic research and the benefits of writing for a real audience. 

Bennett shared with me that he felt he understood his community better by having researched and written about it.  One of my goals will be to replicate this aspect of this writing assignment in future KCAC student writing tasks.  Perhaps Bennett summed it up best in a reflection he wrote afterward: “Sure, it was only for a school newspaper, but this was the first time that I actually felt like an investigative journalist.”

Curricular Crossing:

Suggestions on how you might adapt this lesson for a different classroom setting

► Every historical marker emits the call for research similar to this that Bennett Golder pursued. Anyone who teaches research skills, at any level, should consider such an activity to engage students in true “field research.”

► Golder’s article was an assigned school newspaper project, but the results of similar research assigned to an entire class could be published on a web page and thus made available for all Internet users, or even submitted to a local or community newspaper for publication.

► This assignment can reach beyond the bounds of existing community to inform those outside of it of its historical significance.

-- Patsy Hamby


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