Chamblee54

Cross Keys

Posted in Georgia History, Library of Congress by chamblee54 on August 15, 2019


Mr. Bear “Speaking of obscure, do you remember the location of a restaurant downtown called the “Crosskeys”. There’s a photo of it in the Georgia State Library archives, but no notation of its location other than it appears to be near a big Gulf Oil lighted sign.” chamblee54 “I have seen that picture. There is a historic brass marker near Ashford Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry. Apparently there was some kind of trail crossing there called Cross Keys. Full disclosure: I went to Cross Keys High School. Nobody ever talked about what Cross Keys was. Google is not much help, except for an 1862 Battle of Cross Keys in Virginia.”

Some helpful person sent a couple of links, and soon PG was learning about Cross Keys… the militia district, not the school. Apparently, Cross Keys was centered around the intersection of Ashford Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry. The crossroads is a doozy… the two major thoroughfare are combined into a hundred yard stretch of asphalt, only to be separated again at an overworked red light. Both roads run between Peachtree and I285. One goes through pill hill, and the other leads to Perimeter Mall. None of this was going on when the Post Office was built in 1846.

“Historical records provide that the militia district of “Cross Keys” was established in 1827 and continued to be referenced as such at least as late as 1951. Prior to 1827 the only Federal post in the region was known as “Cross Keys,” and subsequently, “Old Cross Keys,” when the post moved to near current City of Chamblee just prior to Sherman’s March. … The area was increasingly settled by farming families during the first quarter of the 19th century. As land concessions were signed with the Creek (Muscogee) Nation between 1818 and 1821 more land was made available via grants to European settlers. While the mascots and symbols of “Indians” at Cross Keys High School are culturally inaccurate and reflect garb and headdresses of nomadic tribes of the mid and far west, it is a fitting and ironic tribute to the Muscogee Native Americans who long thrived on the same land…. The area remained primarily an agricultural community until the acquisition by the United States Army of a large tract of land in heart of the district in July of 1917. This tract became Camp Gordon, an infantry training and artillery cantonment. Part of that original 2,400 acres later became a Naval Air Station at the current site of Peachtree-DeKalb Airport.”

“There was a Cross Keys post office as early as 1846, when the postmaster was James A. Reeve.” A marker at Johnson Ferry and Ashford Dunwoody Road in Brookhaven gives this history for Old Cross Keys: “Ante-bellum crossroads settlement & post office, James Reeve (1792-1852) Post Master & merchant. Prior to 1864 the Post Office was removed to a point between Chamblee and Doraville where, name unchanged it was known as Cross Keys Post Office. To distinguish the one from the other, this place was called Old Cross Keys & was cited in Federal dispatches, maps & reports of military operations here in 1864. At this point, a brief contact was made between the marching columns of Dodge’s 16th and Schofield’s 23rd A.C. July 18, both enroute to Decatur from Chattahoochee River crossings.”

“Samuel House was one of the early settlers of this area, arriving in 1830. In 1850, he built a brick home that is now part of the Peachtree Golf Club. General Sherman spent the night at the home on July 18, 1864 and described it as “a brick house well known and near old Cross Keys.” … The name Cross Keys is referenced in Civil War records. Special orders from General James McPherson on July 16, 1864 instructs “The fifteenth Army Corps, Major General John A. Logan commanding, will move out from its present position at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow on the road leading to Cross Keys, following this road to a point near Providence Church, where he will take a left hand road (sometimes called the upper Decatur road, and proceed on this until he reaches Nancy’s creek, where he will take up a good position on each side of the road and go into bivouac.”

Major General William T. Sherman also issued orders on July 18. At the 15:00 mark of this lecture, the speaker quotes a dispatch to Gen. James Birdseye McPherson. “I am at Sam House’s, a brick house well known, and near old Cross Keys … a sick negro is the only human being left on the premises … we are eleven miles from Atlanta, five from Buckhead, and the signboard says ten miles to McCaffrey’s bridge and eleven to Roswell.” Four days later, Gen. McPherson was killed, in what is now East Atlanta Village.

There is little indication about why this area was called Cross Keys. In 1827, this was the middle on nowhere. “The symbol of the “crossed keys” itself traces to early Christian representations of the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth” famously offered by Jesus to Peter according to Matthew 16:19.” The phrase Cross Keys does not appear in the verse.

No one seems to know much about the Cross Keys restaurant. The GSU picture is dated November 8, 1951. A postcard gives the address as 237 Peachtree Street, and has the address of a CKR in Nashville. The Nashville restaurant is mentioned in a WSB-TV film from May 13, 1963. “… African American students protest segregation at two restaurants in town. … a white doorman outside the Cross Keys Restaurant. African American students march on the sidewalk … where police forcefully push the demonstrators away and let white people through the crowds.”

Pictures today are from The Library of Congress. Two articles were quoted in this post: Going way back to Cross Keys. Every few years I tell story of name, ‘Cross Keys,’ so our community doesn’t forget. The second story has a comment by Mr. Bear.

2 Responses

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  1. chamblee54 said, on August 16, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Here is a conversation about this post at GeorgiaPol ~ chamblee54 – Yesterday, there was a discussion here about the term Cross Keys. Here is what I found. In four years at Cross Keys High School, I never heard anyone say what it meant. ~ Mr. Bear – Nice nosing around c54. As with any good research, the answers spur a new set of questions. Like bringing up the subject of restaurant sit-ins and of why Herren’s survived a lot longer than Leb’s and the Pickrick. I’m old enough to remember the demonstrators who were outside my high school baccalaureate ceremony. And that the issues which were raised found remedy later that summer. A different time. Thanks. ~ chamblee54 – The buildings that housed Leb’s and Herren’s are still standing. Herren’s is now a theater. The Pickrick was bought by Georgia Tech, of course, used as a storage building, and demolished. I always thought it should be remembered in some way. When you tell a story, you should tell about the villains, as well as the heroes. I worked with this man once who claimed to have worked at the Pickrick. He said they had a parrot, which he taught to cuss. The night Lester was on the Dick Cavett show, Truman Capote was one of the other guests. Mr. Capote said, in his own inimitable manner, that he had eaten at the Pickrick. “All I’m going to say is that it was not finger lickin’ good.” ~ Mr. Bear – In my feeble bear brain, I seem to remember the cussing parrot story. It’s funny what gets remembered and what doesn’t. People who make it a point to know such stuff make a point of remembering the ax handles and his penchant for riding a bicycle backwards, but they forget his opening the governor’s office to all comers for “Little People’s Day” and for his efforts toward prison reform in Georgia. However odd he might have been, he was honest. I’ve got an ax-handle story from 1968 that is probably best lost to the mists of memory…… ~ chamblee54 – The time I went to “Little People’s Day” it was held at the Govenors Mansion. “The migration north continued to West Paces Ferry Road when the current Governor’s Mansion officially opened on January 1, 1968. Lester Maddox was the first governor to occupy the current Governor’s Mansion.” The previous GM was on The Prado in Ansley Park. “The large granite home sat impressively on three hilltop acres, but the scale of the house was not considered large enough for many state functions. The grandness of the house was also not enhanced … by the goats and cows that were kept on site during the terms of both Eugene Talmadge and Herman, his son and later governor.”

  2. Grammar Nazis | Chamblee54 said, on August 19, 2019 at 7:11 am

    […] list of links chamblee54 – Yesterday, there was a discussion here about the term Cross Keys. Here is what I found. In four years at Cross Keys High School, I never heard anyone say what it meant. ~ Mr. Bear – […]


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