Blog

 
 
 

was there really a community known as possum corner, gwinnett county?

by Carl H. Tiegreen,     March 1, 2018

A storybook name, for sure. I'd heard long-standing local families of south Gwinnett County, Georgia refer to Possum Corner on more than one occasion and it always made me smile. Of course, there are no road signs pointing to Possum Corner, no information on current maps, and of the transplanted residents to Smoke Rise, Mountain Park, Lilburn, and Stone Mountain of the last 50 years, I'd safely wager that 99.9% of them have never heard of an historic community in their midst that even hinted of this quaint name.

Now before we delve into where exactly Georgia's Possum Corner was, it should be stated that this is not an entirely random place name: there are Possum Corner communities in Jasper County, South Carolina; Wilkinson County, Mississippi; another historic one in Washington County, Alabama; and one, too, in Vermont, among others. This is a fitting honor for an originally Southern animal, presently underappreciated and overlooked. In fact, possums are North America's only marsupial and a tenacious devourer of ticks.

It is an intriguing notion to live somewhere and realize that your town, community, and/or area may have been named something entirely different at one point. Some places have even evolved through a series of names, so I was eager to pinpoint the location of Possum Corner. This could really give a certain "depth" in conversation to describing where I lived, if I lucked out. I set out formally and informally interviewing the elders, those whose years were bound by the local fields and roads of south Gwinnett. 


In bringing together such game, one man brought one of the largest ‘possums ever seen. It attracted much attention. It was declared that the neighboring locality should be known as ‘Possum Corner...it was exclaimed ‘Hurray for Possum Corner.’
— A. J. Furgurson
 
 
 The blue dot highlights the map's mark of Possum Corner, while the purple dot notes my reference point of Trickum (Mountain Park). In between the two, the black square with cross was Corinth Baptist Church (1913) of which the second building and cemetery lie across from the present Walmart.

The blue dot highlights the map's mark of Possum Corner, while the purple dot notes my reference point of Trickum (Mountain Park). In between the two, the black square with cross was Corinth Baptist Church (1913) of which the second building and cemetery lie across from the present Walmart.

 A close-up aerial photograph from 1960 showing the same area of what was known as Possum Corner. Notice the profusion of field and forest, and the minimal building structures.

A close-up aerial photograph from 1960 showing the same area of what was known as Possum Corner. Notice the profusion of field and forest, and the minimal building structures.

 
 
 The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce's famous Possum Banquet with honorary guest President-Elect William Howard Taft.

The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce's famous Possum Banquet with honorary guest President-Elect William Howard Taft.


What I learned was that they seemed to remember Possum Corner existing near the Corinth Baptist Church on Rockbridge Road, at least that was the present local landmark used to describe the vicinity of its former location. Then, lo and behold, a thorough search of archived newspapers yielded an origin story.  To a researcher finding an origin --and a well-documented one, even -- feels like finding lost keys to your car. It's pretty good.

An article of 1896 in the Atlanta Constitution relates the first-person remembrance of Andrew Jackson Furgurson who had lived in what became known as Possum Corner (it is unknown if it possessed a prior name). In 1846, this area held a community-wide bbq at which one of its residents brought in a huge possum after a day of hunting for the event. It was an exciting enough part of the festivities to give the community a new identity, that of Possum Corner. 

With a documented origin story and personal recollections of living individuals I next searched for physical proof of its exact location. That came through another exhaustive search. The result was a topographical map printed in 1953 and again in 1958 that showed me my needed exact position of Possum Corner: the crossroads of Rockbridge Road and Highway 78 (one road of several named Stone Mountain Road of old days). And combined with another piece of information contributed by Furgurson, that Possum Corner became known "to some extent as Trickum," the area must have been the northern quadrant of the crossroads that extends towards and overlaps with Mountain Park, the current name of Trickum.

All of this information happily coincides -- the oral interviews, archived newspaper testimony, and 60 year old maps -- offering the beginnings of a well rounded story of an historic community. We know from the date of origin recounted in the Atlanta Constitution article, 1846, to the second of the published topo maps, 1958, that Possum Corner existed at least 112 years before it began to fade in identity. Other than these sources, there was not much documentation on Possum Corner. So, I included all of these in full in my book, along with more newspaper information, former residents, old photos and memories.

It's a shame that this longtime area, which surely helped inspire the name of a nearby lake 93 years later, became a casualty to the progress that smothers its borders and our memory of it. We can't let whole communities disappear in our hurried and hectic lives.

A quick afterword that may be interesting, especially for those who dismiss a possum dinner as an event, rare in backwoods allure: in that era it was not uncommon to partake of the critter. Even as late as 1909, President elect Taft came to Atlanta and requested that "possum and taters" be served at a black-tie banquet with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.  At the feast Taft was served  a large whole specimen, which gave the man no hesitance in its eating. As all eyes typically follow the president elect's activities it was news, and so not long after, the toy "Billy Possum" hit the shelves across the country, with intent to unseat Roosevelt's Teddy Bear as the current fad.

 

Blog Sources:

  • Aerial photograph Southern Gwinnett County, grid portion. 1960. University of Georgia Library. Athens: University of Georgia, 2017.
  • Army Corps of Engineers. Atlanta, Georgia; Alabama Topographic Map. 1 x 250,000. Washington: United States Geological Survey, Department of the Interior, 1953 & 1958.
  • Furgurson, Andrew Jackson [contributer]. "The Story of Possum Corner." Atlanta Constitution. Atlanta, 1896.
  • Miller, Robert. "Opossums - Killers of Ticks." Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. www.caryinstitute.org/newsroom/opossums-killers-ticks.
  • Reilly, Lucas. "Billy Possum: President Taft's Answer to the Teddy Bear." Mental Floss, June 10, 2013.
  • Various oral interviews. 2011 to present, conducted by Carl Tiegreen.