The Spring That Got Deleted
The earliest maps of historic Athens, GA are disarmingly simple. Although they were drawn around the same time that topographic mapping was beginning to gain popularity across Western Europe, they feature little in the way of landforms. In an example from 1805, a thin, wavering line symbolizes Town Spring, the first site of European settlement in this area. No other natural features are recorded, save for the note “Road to River,” and an accompanying arrow.
What a map tells you and what it doesn’t both reveal a lot about those who created it, and in 1805 the most essential pieces of information to understand were the locations of streets, buildings, and fresh water sources. In fact, the site that Athens sits upon was determined by its proximity to Town Spring, but that particular waterway doesn’t even appear on most contemporary maps. Indoor plumbing has diminished our need to chart the location of every small stream, of course, but there’s more to the disappearance of this feature. A.L. Hull wrote in the Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801–1901 that in 1866, “The space around the old town spring was all open and wagoners from the up country used to camp there.” Forty years later, he lamented,
…[the] bold spring where thousands have quenched their thirst, shaded by grand old oaks under which great men in Georgia used to loll, is covered up by Dozier’s lumber yard and its once limpid waters seep through the soil into a dirty drain below.
Dozier’s lot was sold in 1919, but the stream was never fully restored. Ecologist and University of Georgia professor Lizzie King once described its near neighbor, Tanyard Creek, to Eric as having been “deleted” from the downtown landscape. Save for a small amount of water that surfaces beside Spring Street (See what they did there?), the same could be said of Town Spring.
In his writings, Hull described university commencement celebrations that were held along the waterway as “a solid mass of human beings.” Festivities and markets unfolded there near a cane break that spread across its historic banks for blocks. By his accounts, Town Spring was once a cultural and ecological focal point of old Athens—now it just gets piped beneath our feet.