History

A vibrant history, breathtaking beauty and intriguing cultural changes in a compact area form the basis for the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area. From early settlers to immigrant rock cutters, freed slaves and Trappist monks many of those stories are still waiting to be told. This is a brief overview of the Area. Click through the menu to the left for more details on our history.

There is little written evidence of the area’s early history. By the time of Anglo settlement in the early 1800’s, the area was sparsely inhabited by Creek and Cherokee tribes.  It’s believed that the area served as a buffer between the two nations as well as a transportation and trading area.[1]  The land was ceded by the Creeks to the State of Georgia in 1821 and land lots were distributed by lottery to American settlers, many of whom were Revolutionary War veterans.

Historic Downtown Lithonia

The area remained sparsely populated well into the 20th century.  A 1935 School District map of DeKalb County shows that many roads remained unpaved.[2]  The landscape was dotted with stone quarries and rural farms.  Most of the earliest settlements formed around the South River, which bisects the Heritage Area, or along crossroads such as the National Register Historic District of Klondike. As the railroad was established between Augusta and Atlanta, settlements moved from the river to take advantage of new transportation and commerce in the city of Lithonia, which was formed in 1856.

Today, the AMNHA’s proximity to Atlanta and its large parcels of undisturbed land make it attractive to suburban development. The broader Atlanta region was the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the country in the 2000s.[3]   However, the area has been noted for its distinctive ability to retain “open and small scale character in contrast to the character of the fast growing metropolitan area.”[4] The topography and geology are “defined by rolling hills and ridges cut by numerous streams… most of the landforms in the region relate to underlying bedrock of granite and metamorphic rocks.”[5] Two exposed granite monadnocks that formed hundreds of millions of years ago are the primary features of the area.

Quarry ruins at Arabia Mountain

Arabia Mountain and Panola Mountain, now a county and state park respectively, bear evidence of 19th century human settlement and 20th century quarrying activities. Smaller granite outcroppings are scattered throughout the area and active quarries are found within the northern boundary.  This “Lithonia Granite” has been used in buildings throughout the heritage area, the region and the country. The close proximity of the railroad allowed granite to be transported all over the United States for use in street curbing, municipal buildings and significant structures at the West Point and Annapolis military academies.


[1] Price, Vivian. The History of DeKalb County, Georgia 1822-1900. Wolfe Publishing Company. Fernandiana Beach, FL. (1987)

[2] Roberts, Leigh. Cultural Resources Report for Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. Not published. (1997)

[4] ICON Architecture. Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area Feasibility Study. (2001)

[5] Ibid.