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Duluth Town GreenDuluth Town Green

What’s in a name?
By Katie Hart Smith
Staff Correspondent

Which Gwinnett city was once referred to as Howell’s Cross Roads?
a) Norcross
b) Buford
c) Duluth

The correct answer is c, Duluth.

Evan Howell, the first known settler, established his homestead on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in the area now known as Duluth in 1821. He owned over 2,000 acres of land. Interested in building a community, he attracted other pioneers to the area. At that time, there was only one road, Peachtree Road, a former Indian trail that connected Fort Peachtree (Atlanta) with Fort Daniel (Dacula) during the War of 1812. Howell, realizing there was a need for an additional route, obtained permission from Gwinnett County to construct a thruway from the river, across his land, towards Lawrenceville. Completed in 1833, Howell’s road crossed over Peachtree Road. The intersection became known as Howell’s Cross Roads for the next forty years.

While farming was the chief livelihood during this time, Howell started a ferry business, operated a cotton gin, managed a plantation, and became the town’s first merchant. The town grew and flourished. When the railroads decided to lay tracks in the town in 1871, it opened up the possibilities for the community to become economically viable and gave businesses the ability to sell and trade with northern states. In addition, the train created another mode of travel for passengers seeking to take a trip into Atlanta and beyond. At the depot dedication, Evan Park Howell, the grandson of Evan Howell, editor of The Atlanta Constitution, and eventual Mayor of Atlanta (1903-1905) was asked to rename the town. 

About that time, Congress was still mocking a speech delivered by Kentucky Congressman, J. Proctor Knott. In his classic 1871 speech, he made fun of a bill before Congress to build a railroad to an obscure little town in Minnesota named Duluth. He felt it would be a waste of tax-payer money and put his heart and soul into a long, funny speech that actually killed the bill. 

Evan P. Howell thought it would be ironic to give this little Georgia town that was also connected with a railroad, the same name. Two of the streets in Duluth today, Proctor and Knott, are named for that Kentucky Congressman. Though it was given in jest, the people of Duluth still value this name.

To this day, descendants of Evan Howell include the Parsons family who are still making a positive impact to the area. Duluth has transformed from a quaint cotton community, evolved and grown to include being the home of Gwinnett’s first hospital, Joan Glancy Hospital, built in 1944. The City of Duluth now boasts a population estimated at nearly 30,000 residents. As Kathryn Parsons Willis, resident and Duluth historian, said, “Duluth has a determination to be more than just another suburb of Atlanta. Through its churches, citizens efforts, volunteerism around community events such as the Duluth Fall Festival, and other year-round activities on the Town Green, Duluth has continued to maintain the closeness and small town spirit that has been felt here for generations.” 

Source: Sincere appreciation goes to Kathryn Parsons Willis for sharing her knowledge about the history of Duluth. 

For more information about the City of Duluth, visit: http://www.duluthga.net.

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