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Chattahoochee Brick Company Lands on Track to Become an Atlanta Park

The Chattanooga Brick Company site in northwest Atlanta. (Stacy Funderbury)

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit group, recently purchased the Chattahoochee Brick Company’s historic land in northwest Atlanta. The city of Atlanta is expected to purchase the land from the organization this summer with plans to turn it into a public park.

The purchase of the 77 acres northwest of Atlanta ensures that it will be preserved from industrial development. For years, activists have tried to save the land for public use and to commemorate its place in Atlanta’s history. The property was originally intended as a fuel terminal for Norfolk Southern, which outraged the community. The city and the Conservation Fund entered into a partnership agreement last year to save the property.

From the late 1870s to the early 1900s, the Chattahoochee Brick Company was a brickyard owned by former Atlanta Mayor James W. English. The company used convict labor to make the bricks used in the construction of Atlanta’s homes and buildings. Black men charged with petty crimes made up the majority of those forced to work at the factory. They worked in inhuman and sometimes deadly working conditions like slaves before the Civil War.

“This is a monumental step in transferring ownership of land with a history of pain and injustice and placing it in the hands of the people of Atlanta,” Mayor Andre Dickens said in a statement. Press release.

The Conservation Fund paid $26 million for the property. The owner was Lincoln Terminal Company. A $4 million grant from Atlanta’s Kendeda Fund was used to help purchase the land. The city expects to pay roughly the same price for the land this summer, said Valerie Keefer of the Conservation Fund.

The land will provide new public access to the river and commemorate the African American victims of the horrific history of the convict forced labor site, she said.

Google Maps shows the former Chattahoochee Brick Company site.

Donna Stephens, co-founder of the Chattahoochee Brick Company Descendants Coalition, hailed the Conservation Fund’s purchase as “an historic first step towards the permanent protection of this site, which will be a dream come true.”

“What an incredible way to educate people about this part of history between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement that is too often forgotten,” Stephens said in a press release. “All different types of people have come together to prevent this land from being lost, and the voice of our community will be essential in keeping its history alive.”

Now that The Conservation Fund has secured the site, partners such as the City of Atlanta, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Partnership for Southern Equity, Center for Community Progress, and community groups such as the Chattahoochee Brick Company Descendants Coalition will work to complete a vision for the space, including a memorial for the victims of the Chattahoochee Brick Company’s convict labor practices, Keefer said.

The site will also expand public access to the Chattahoochee River and serve as a catalyst for trail connections to the Proctor Creek Greenway and future Chattahoochee River preservation efforts.

The bricks remain on the property of the Chattahoochee Brick Company. The business opened in the late 1800s and closed in 2011. (Stacy Funderburke)

The Chattahoochee Brick site has been named one of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s Top 10 Places in Danger for 2022. It will be one of the only sites in the country to commemorate and tell the story of the convict rental system that prevailed after the Civil War, Keefer said.

“It’s probably one of the most significant properties we’ve ever purchased because of the historical and cultural significance it represents,” she said. “When talking about risky properties, this one was literally at risk of being lost for so long. We were founded to step in and protect these kinds of places.