1899: A high school student comments on Cobb County’s roads

An automobile ad from the first decade of the 20th century

by Larry Felton Johnson

In the March 2, 1899 issue of the Marietta Journal (one of the previous names of the Marietta Daily Journal) a letter appeared from a high school student that seemed very advanced for her age, and highlighted the condition of roads in Cobb County at the turn of the century.

I found the letter during an attempt to find the earliest reference to the automobile in an Atlanta or Cobb County newspaper that also mentions Cobb County, and that has been digitized by the Georgia Historic Newspapers site.

The search returned an earlier use of the word “automobile,” but it referred to a type of torpedo. The student’s letter is the first reference to the word as a motorized vehicle in Cobb County.

Without limiting the search to Cobb County, the first mention of an automobile was in an 1889 issue of the Thomasville Times, where a Captain Henry Metcalf was reported to carry a card explaining that if his automobile frightened horses, he would stop the car and help lead the horses forward. He also predicted that horses would become accustomed to automobiles.

The letter from the student, transcribe below, is a commentary on the state of the road system in Cobb County.


No one who does not travel over Cobb county roads in all kinds of weather can be a good judge of them. In good weather, no one could desire better roads.

They are almost like asphalt pavement, so hard and smooth.

Many people are seen at all times of the day, riding wheels along the county roads, and at dusk, many, both young and old, are seen taking an evening stroll.

But when the rains set in, no worse roads could possibly exist. Great holes are to be found all along; the mud is hub deep; the poor horses can hardly move the lightest load.

There is a place between town and my home, about two hundred yards long, and as the horses pull through the mud here, they can scarcely go half of their length before they are completely exhausted and have to wait a few minutes before they can get breath enough to go on.

I know if the road commissioners could have driven only a few miles out Canton road, the week before last, they would have immediately ordered it to be macadamized. If this were done, real estate would increase 50 per cent.

To prove this, I will take one of the Northern states for example: viz, New Jersey.

The macadamized roads leading out from every city in New Jersey have doubled the value of real estate along which they lead; for now, rich people of the cities go out fifteen or twenty miles and buy small places and build splendid country residences; and now large numbers of automobiles and electric carriages are running out and in every day.

A farmer can draw seven or eight tons now when one and a half tons was considered a good load before the roads were built of MacAdam.

The state pays one-half, the city one-fourth, and the township in which the city is situated, one-fourth of the total expense. New York state appropriated $9,000,000 for canals and it was stolen.

If that had been devoted to macadamizing roads, New York would be in the lead.

Georgia must take hold of it.

Since this state has the chain gang system for its convicts, it would be an excellent idea to use them on the roads.

The main roads could be called state roads; the state would furnish one-half, and the county through which the road runs and the city into which they run could each pay one-fourth of the expense. But to return to the roads as they now are. In the place which I before mentioned, some person, meaning well, no doubt, has put eight or nine loads of marble chunks of various sizes.

These pieces stick out of the mud about a foot, and as you ride along, you are almost jostled to death as the carriage goes bumpy-bump over them.

A stranger would doubtlessly think he had discovered a marble quarry or else a recent volcanic eruption had taken place.

A few days ago, we were coming to school and as we bounded over a huge boulder, we rose into the air as if shot from a gun, and coming down again with great force, we broke the bottom of the seat.

The county ought to pay for it, but if it had to pay for all of the accidents, both great and small, caused in this way, I am afraid it would be bankrupt, so I think it would be vastly cheaper to put in macadamized roads immediately.

See the advantage coming to the farmer of good roads. The time which is now consumed in carrying a 50 cents load of wood to market would be sufficient to carry four times that amount, and the same amount of labor would do it.

I should think Mr. Gramling would be in favor of a good roads law, for the farmers instead of driving rude lumber-wagons would then have fine carriages.

The harness man would be benefited, for when the carriage is substituted for the lumber-wagon, a nice harness would take the place of the rope, chain, and strap affair which is now so commonly seen.

The grocer would be benefited also because country produce could be delivered cheaper, and through him, the whole community would be benefited.

So it is very evident that everyone should be in favor of good roads. –

EDNA A. BAKER, 2nd High School Grade

The student had to wait a couple of decades before widespread paving made inroads into the county. The interstate Dixie Highway began construction in 1915, and was largely completed by the 1920s. But even into the 1950s paved roads were mostly limited to state and U.S. highways, and paved streets within cities.

Georgia Historic Newspapers

Reading old newspapers has always been an interest of mine, and with the development of the Georgia Historic Newspapers website I’ve been like a kid in a candy store.

Georgia Historic Newspapers is part of the GALILEO project, and is housed at the University of Georgia.

The project team finds and scans copies of Georgia newspapers, and now includes newspapers from the 17th century through the present.

They digitize the papers into PDF copies and run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on them so that they are searchable and available in text format (although the text renderings are not perfect).