Over the last decade, the fate of a historic 77-acre property on the Chattahoochee River in northwest Atlanta was uncertain. Various nonprofit and local groups sought to find a conservation outcome for the former Chattahoochee Brick Company site—an extremely important historical and recreational asset that will enhance racial justice for the community.

In 2021, The Conservation Fund, working together with the City of Atlanta, took the first steps to implement a solution for the land that will both memorialize and honor the workers of Chattahoochee Brick, as well as preserve and enhance the environmental and recreational benefits of this key site at the confluence of the Chattahoochee River and Proctor Creek. Having recently closed on the purchase of the property in June 2022, we are honored to play a role in this historic and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

THE HISTORY

In the late 1870’s, this property in the heart of Atlanta was owned and operated by the Chattahoochee Brick Company—a brickworks business founded by former Atlanta mayor, James W. English. The company was known for its extensive use of convict lease labor, which forced hundreds of mostly African American men to work in conditions like those experienced during antebellum slavery. Many victims died under these conditions, and it is speculated that some workers were even buried on the site’s grounds.

ChattBrick archive 2
Photo courtesy of Whittier Mill Village Association


In 1908, the government of Georgia outlawed the convict lease system. The site continued to host brickwork operations until it shut down in 2011. Its dark history of injustice became widely recognized when discussed in Douglas A. Blackmon's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name.

“This site was one of the most terrible places anywhere in America at the end of the 19th century. There were hundreds of African American men forced to labor here against their will, accused of crimes that many of them had never committed. They suffered terrible abuses and indignities, hunger and whippings. We don’t know how many people died here or how many may have been buried here, but this was a place of grim terror.”

                                                                                                                                                      – Douglas A. Blackmon


Since 2011, several attempts were made by the City of Atlanta and environmental nonprofits to secure this land and turn it into a public park that would both ensure public access and honor the victims of the convict lease labor system. However, none of their efforts came to fruition, and the site was eventually purchased by a branch of the Lincoln Terminal Company that had proposed a rail terminal project on the site.

When the project was cancelled, The Conservation Fund was able to come to the table and offer a purchase solution that was competitive and mutually beneficial, effectively halting any immediate threats of development or conversion of the land. Our acquisition of the property on behalf of the city propels the riverfront greenspace one step closer to being protected as a community park.

ChattBrick Stacy Funderburke project pagePhoto by Stacy Funderburke


THE FUTURE

The Conservation Fund anticipates transfer of the property to the City of Atlanta in late July 2022. The city will work with local community groups such as the Chattahoochee Brick Company Descendants Coalition and other stakeholders like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to determine a plan and vision for the space. Memorializing the workers of Chattahoochee Brick will be a top priority. And once owned by the city, this land will become Atlanta’s newest riverfront park.

“The history books stop with slavery and pick up with Dr. King. It’s ridiculous. Our community’s voice will be essential in the planning for this greenspace and keeping its history alive.” 

  Donna Stephens, co-founder of the Chattahoochee Brick Company Descendants Coalition


The new park will expand public access to the Chattahoochee River and is a critical step in reversing industrial use that has negatively impacted the City’s riverfront for decades. The site will enhance trail connection for the larger Chattahoochee River Lands vision by the Trust for Public Land, which covers a 53-mile stretch of the river, including approximately 10 miles inside the City of Atlanta, and protect important floodplain at the confluence of the Chattahoochee River and Proctor Creek.

ChattBrick9 Stacy Funderburke projectPhoto credit: Stacy Funderburke

Greenspace, especially river access, has immense benefits to the Atlanta community and has been proven to improve community health and mental wellness. Mayor Andre Dickens declared enhancing protected greenspaces in the park as top priority during his 2022 State of the City address, and the City of Atlanta’s ParkScore recently moved from 49th to 27th place in national standings. To date, The Conservation Fund has helped protect over 750 acres of greenspace in Atlanta and has been instrumental in the creation of popular city parks such as the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mills, Lindsay Street Park and the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve.