First a Shawnee Indian village, later a railroad stop, Suwanee was until recently a small agricultural community.
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Photo by Edna Grosskopf
Suwanee began as an Native American village about 3 miles southwest of the current downtown area along the banks where Suwanee Creek runs into the Chattahoochee River. For hundreds of years prior to the beginning of the Town of Suwanee, a large Native American village flourished on both sides of the river. The village was originally settled by Shawnee, but later, according to U.S. government documents, both Cherokee and Creek came to the area they referred to as Suwanee Old Town. The village/town is shown on maps indicating land ceded to the U.S. government by the Cherokees in 1817 and the Creeks in 1818.
There are various accounts regarding the naming of the City of Suwanee. One suggests that Suwanee is a Native American word meaning “echo,” while another maintains that it is the Creek word for Shawnee. Another account credits the name to the early white settlers’ way of pronouncing the word “Shawnee.” Either way, the name Suwanee appears to be closely tied to the city’s Native American heritage.
The federal government recognized Suwanee as a town when the Suwanee Post Office was established in 1838. As is the case with many communities throughout the South, Suwanee’s growth is tied to the evolution of transportation. As transportation evolved, so did the community of Suwanee.
Photo by Dick Goodman
On May 21, 1869, Abram Moore sold a right of way to the Georgia Airline Railroad. The Southern Railroad and depot were constructed through this section of Gwinnett County in 1871. The village of Suwanee grew around this depot. A second small railroad station, called Shadow Brook, was added on the south side of the railroad tracks at what is now the intersection of the tracks and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. “The Belle,” which stopped at this station, was in operation from 1879 to 1931. In 1881 the Richmond & Danville railroad opened a narrow-gauge railroad, known as the Lawrenceville-Suwanee Narrow-Gauge Railroad, which ran from Lawrenceville to Suwanee. Suwanee became a changing station as people transferred from this line to the Southern Railroad line that could take them into Atlanta.
In 1880 the Town of Suwanee consisted of 39 dwelling units and 216 people. A hotel, department store, and other commercial establishments existed in the town. A 1923 Sandborn Map Company detailed map of the town showed 12 stores in operation, cotton gin house, feed mill, two auto repair garages, two blacksmith shops, coffin factory, gristmill, planing mill, and livery stable. Pierce's Corner, built in 1910, remains standing today and currently is owned by the Suwanee Downtown Development Authority. Cotton served as the town’s economic foundation. Until 1830 the majority of Suwanee area farmers grew cotton. The first cotton gin house was built between 1872 and 1875 on the northeast corner of Jackson and Scales Street.
Photo by Veronica Hogan
Suwanee was incorporated in 1949, but remained a small agricultural-based community into the 1970s. Then with the growth of the highway system, including I-85, in the 1970s, more development occurred along the interstate and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. While growth and new development have occurred throughout the City of Suwanee over the past several decades, the historic downtown area has remained much the same as it must have appeared in the early part of the 20th century.
At the time of its incorporation in 1949, Suwanee was about 3.1 square miles. Today, Suwanee incorporates nearly 7,000 acres, about 10.8 square miles. And the city’s 1970 population of 615 has mushroomed to more than 19,500.