20-Feb-2006 -- 10th Annual International Confluence Day Observance.
What a quick decade! It doesn’t seem possible we've made ten whole orbits of the sun since Alex Jarrett and Peter Cline first biked and hiked to 43N 72W
to start the whole business with their visit on this date back in 1996. And now, 4787 confluences later, here am I, for the third year in a row, taking part in the growing world-wide tradition of everyone on the planet taking a holiday to visit a confluence each February 20th!
Certainly one of the highlights of last year’s celebration was Colorado’s Dr. Joseph Kerski tagging one of the last remaining confluences in the eastern United States, 34N 78W at Sunny Point, NC. It therefore seemed appropriate this year for me to mark the day by following in his footsteps seven degrees further west on that same latitude, at a confluence last visited by the good geographer Kerski in January 2005. (And if I was successful, Georgia would make the 13th U.S.A. state in which I have visited a confluence!). Although this has been a much documented location, with six earlier visits in addition to Mr. Kerski’s thorough report, I will try to add a few more interesting facts and/or anecdotes, starting with a little local history…
34N 85W is located at the eastern edge of Polk County, in the heart of the Coosa Valley area of North Georgia, situated in a triangle formed by Atlanta, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Originally part of Paulding County, Polk County was separated in 1851, and named after the eleventh U.S. president, James K. Polk. At that time throughout North Georgia, a movement had begun to reduce travel time to the county government to less than two days. (Over the next few years virtually every original Georgia county would cede some land to create a new county.) Before white encroachment began, the area surrounding this confluence had been home to the Creek Indians.
After the Civil War’s Battle for Atlanta, Union General James McPherson moved the Army of the Tennessee through the eastern part of the county, following Euharlee Creek. (They made camp at Peak Springs near the town of Aragon. Turning east, they march through Van Wert and continued on towards Dallas.) Fledgling Polk County struggled to survive during Reconstruction, but the arrival of the railroad pumped new life into the county. With the coming of the rails, unlike many of its neighbors, Polk County developed a significant industrial base which remains to this day.
The confluence point sits just south of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, just east of the town of Rockmart (current population about 3,799). Rockmart's name derives from the two words “Rock Market,” for the town was once a scene of roofing slate business. This area has an abundance of slate, limestone, iron shale, and clay. (An early feather in the small city’s cap was Piedmont Institute, built in 1889-92. However, most of the college burned to the ground in 1915.)
Although as other confluence visitors have noted, the rail line is still busy today, its most famous event took place almost eighty years ago. On December 23, 1926, two trains, the “Ponce de Leon” and the “Royal Palm” collided near Rockmart, killing about 20, and injuring more than 100. The small town had no ambulances and the most seriously injured were taken by private automobile to Rome, Georgia.
I have previously by-passed Rockmart once or twice on U.S. Highway 278 on my way to Atlanta, but I usually dip further south to make better time traveling on Interstate Highway 20. This trip was my first traveling west from “Hotlanta” on US278, and I was glad to be going against the heavy Atlanta early morning rush hour traffic. I turned north on Braswell Mountain Road at Coots Lake, and immediately stopped at the parking lot for the Silver Comet Trail, a hiking/biking path built on the former Seaboard Coast Line as part of the “rails to trails” program. One of the trail's most spectacular sights is a 2+ story, 800-foot antique railroad tunnel constructed in 1912, located under Brushy Mountain a mere 2.5 miles east of the Coot's Lake Road parking lot. This section of the trail is not crowded. It runs through forests and next to fields. The trail cuts through large hills exposing impressive rock formations, making it a worthwhile day trip. If I’d have known, I’d have brought a bicycle with me…
Continuing on, I crossed the N/S Railroad about a mile from the confluence, and headed northwest on Braswell Road. A half mile on the right was an enormous trophy home mentioned by Joseph Kerski. Just after crossing the 34th parallel, I parked at the intersection of Braswell and Knox Mountain Roads. The loose rocks of the steep railroad bed will get your attention, but the woods were remarkably free of underbrush. The tree canopy required a full confluence dance to overcome, but I eventually locked in on ten zeroes.
This was a great time of year to visit this site, but if you want to plan a trip for the third weekend in July, you can probably encounter more briars and brambles; and take in Rockmart’s annual Homespun Festival at Wayside Park…