What A Road Sign Can Teach About History

sign Old Federal Road Countless times on the road to my home, I passed a sign denoting an old historical route.

I never questioned its significance, until one day I stopped at a railroad crossing to wait on a train. The sign with the horses pulling a wagon caught my interest. I had been searching for a setting for a novel. Perhaps the history of the old road would provide the details I needed for the story.

My research began by discovering that the Georgia Road, later called The Old Federal Road, was a main thoroughfare through the state in the early 1800’s. It began as a path through Cherokee Indian territory. Later, James Vann, a property owner, cut the road through to the Chattahoochee River.


Settlers, stock men, post riders and others ferried across the Chattahoochee River at present day Flowery Branch at place known as the ‘Federal Crossing’. The landing point located at Vann’s Ferry was part of the Cherokee Nation. Later, it was known as Winn’s Ferry.

 In 1817 ferry boats were made of thick wooden planks reinforced with an extra floor and the platform was large enough to accommodate one wagon and a team. A rope that stretched across the river and was tied to trees end to end was the means by which the ferry was pulled to the other side. Some research suggests that the ferry may have been pulled by horses if the river bed was shallow enough, however it is possible that ferry operators used wooden poles to guide the craft utilizing the current. In later years, a system of cables and pulleys may have been used.

Additional facts about the road

  • Became a stagecoach route between Georgia and Tennessee

  • Andrew Jackson traveled the road to the war with the Seminoles

  • Route to  The Georgia Gold Rush

  • Used for the relocation of The Cherokee Nation



The river valley that was the site of Vann’s Tavern and James Vann’s plantation is now submerged under Lake Lanier. The building known as Vann’s Tavern was relocated to New Echota State Park where it can still be seen today.

By the mid nineteenth century parts of The Old Federal Road were abandoned as railroad and steamboat transportation developed. Today the road signs mark the route. A driving tour that originates in Dalton, Georgia is available. The link is posted below. According to Brown’s Guide to Georgia, “the trip from east to west takes about three and a half hours, driving the speed limit and stopping only once or twice.”

As I studied the landmark sign and the site of the crossing, I pictured families of settlers in covered wagons proceeding from the road to a crossing at the ferry. Their destination, farm land where the timber would provide wood for their home, the grasses would feed their livestock. Fertile soil would grow fruits and vegetables to feed their families. Though the roads and crossings were primitive, they provided the means to a better life.

Have you discovered interesting historical facts in your state? I would love to hear what they have taught you about the early years of our country.