Hiking Shorts: A Beautiful Ruin

Elisa Ruland, Shorts

Atlanta, Georgia morphed into a thriving modern city despite the double whammy of destructive a civil war in 1864 and a great fire in the early 1900’s.  What wasn’t destroyed in the war, was likely consumed by flames from the later fire. The lack of architecture from this time period haunts me, I like to embrace the past with my eyes, feel it with my fingertips, and it was in part the reason for my choosing to hike the Red Trail in Sweetwater Creek State Park last weekend, a vast wooded park located just west of downtown Atlanta, known for its civil war and Cherokee history. About a half mile into the hike, it was both exciting and sobering to find the towering civil war ruin from my research, nestled peacefully beneath the canopy of trees along the glistening white-water rapids of Sweetwater Creek, both rewarding my curiosity and offering a history lesson about a tranquil area belied by its violent past. My search for remains of civil war architecture brought me to the same sandy banks of the creek where the Union Calvary approached the New Manchester Factory textile mill during the 1864 campaign, ordered it closed, and burned it a week later along with the small surrounding town. The employees, all woman and children, faced a life of hardship when forced to leave and head north, many of them to fend for themselves in towns already crowded with refugees.

The site’s painful history was palpable, and with my mind buzzing I turned to explore further when suddenly the atmosphere shifted slightly, and in a ripple, rows of dull-eyed soldiers marched forward intently toward their destination in a haze of hot summer dust, brushing through me, invisible. The sound of their boots hitting the ground was lost in the laughter from children darting among the rocks, distant conversations lilting lightly in the wind, the muffled tap of my own shoes hitting the dusty, uneven path, until each step fractured the image into a dull melancholy shadow.

ELISA RULAND, SHORTS

The remains of the five-story structure is now protected by a border of chain link fence, limiting access for safety and preservation, but also limiting angles to take pictures. In order to lighten my load for the hike I had switched my camera lens to a small portrait lens, which I enjoy for landscape photography. It captured the dreamy quality of this elegant structure that is slowly and inevitably being reclaimed by its woodland environment. Nature has a way of softening life’s hard edges, of soothing old wounds.  I discovered that a hike in the midst of this process had become a compelling history lesson.

For more information on The Sweetwater Red Trail, and to view beautiful photography of the area see Atlanta Trails.

58 comments

  • I watched the video “Sweetwater a timeless place” on your link, it looks very inviting, a beautiful spot. A pity it’s so far away!
    I really enjoy you writing, once again a lovely post, Elisa.
    Have a great evening.
    Dina xo

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    • Dina, I was so touched that you took the time to click the link. You’re passion for travel and curiosity about the world is inspiriting! Thank you for for your lovely comment.
      Elisa

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  • Wonderful photos, Elisa, and such a beautifully written narrative. The second paragraph–both its rhythm and its language–reads like poetry.

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    • Ken, you were kind to read my post, and I’m happy that you enjoyed it. Thank you for the lovely comment! Have a wonderful evening,
      Elisa

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  • The sound of soldiers marching boots is sadly one of those sounds that still reverberate around the world today, Elisa. I love your photos with the softened edges. It must have been a fascinating weekend. I look forward to hearing more 🙂

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    • It’s true, isn’t it? Mankind is as destructive as it was centuries ago. Thank goodness this world has much natural beauty to soothe our souls. Take care, and keep walking, Jo!

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  • What a tragic story these ruins tell, Elisa. Your camera lens has perfectly captured the sombre mood of this place, and your wonderful narrative really gave me goose bumps.

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  • Nice post. The “brush” of invisible soldiers…
    I like Atlan’a! Went to Grad school “next door”: “Tuscalooser” of all places!
    Have a nice week-end y’hear!
    Brian

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      • Ah did go to Bama, yes Ma’am! 😉 It is a beautiful campus.
        Roll Tide!
        Have a great week over there yonder!
        Brian

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  • What a great place to explore. Your words and photos make me want to visit. I’ve travelled through civil war sites in Virginia, but haven’t been further south than Richmond. Thank you.

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    • A war worth fighting, but at such a terrible cost. I think you’d like the trails at Sweetwater, it’s an enormous place and really very beautiful. It’s about an hour drive from where we live, and I’d like to go early one day and search the woods for arrowheads or other remnants. So much history packed in one place. Virginia is another state with incredible civil war history, I’m glad you were able to explore a few sites!

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  • Elisa your writing has the amazing ability to share historical data but draw the reader in with such visual detail. Like Sylvia I was left with goose bumps. Your photos are beautiful and i would have to say your photo of the ruins is more appealing to me than the ones on the link. Thank you for taking me on this wonderful outing with you.

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  • “Nature has a way of softening life’s hard edges, of soothing old wounds.” I discover this daily in the garden.

    Atlanta is so rich with history, the city virtually oozes depth. Enjoyed visiting it myself, years ago.

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  • Elisa, you’ve combined a heartfelt look at the human condition and its history that endures. We also are privy to your interpretation of the historic site through your images, which are captured with heart too. Really enjoyed your commentary.

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  • Your narrative brought this place to life, stunning visions of a sad part of our history. A beautiful elegance against the beast of war.

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    • A beautiful elegance against the beast of war….wonderful description, Mary! Thank you for reading and for the your thoughtful comment.

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  • I really enjoyed this post. The photos are lovely, despite the restrictions on approaching. I also enjoyed the narrative and saw the soldiers and the tired and weary women and chidden

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  • Exactly, Elisa. I love having the sense of how it was then when it comes to visiting ruins. Though the history of it is grim, it really is very nice that people hasn’t exploited the area for people to feel that part of the past. Very nice post.

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  • Wonderful post, Elisa. Thank you for sharing. reading your post was like being there, feeling the rich history of this place.

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  • Stunning and strangely moving shots of the ruined textile mill Elisa. Thank you for the superb narrative that brings its poignant history so vividly alive.

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    • Thanks, Madhu. I’m often able to make a connection with a historical sight, this one more than others, I think. Take care, Elisa

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  • You did a great job of capturing the eeriness and beauty of a former civil war site, Elisa. Matching a historical site to current times is a fascinating pursuit.

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    • Thanks, Jet. Someday I’d like to remove another layer of history from this sight and write about the Native Americans who owned this land first. Their part in these stories always seems to get glossed over, but I find that their sad history is very challenging to write about. Thanks for stopping by, and for the support,
      Elisa

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    • The south is so rich in Civil War history that it’s hard not to imagine the sound of Union or Confederate boots hitting the ground somewhere. Thanks for reading, Naomi!

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  • Haunting photos. Nicely done.

    The question – are there any signs of Old Atlanta in Underground Atlanta?

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    • Thank you, I’d love to know that you’re enjoying our “southern charm!” So nice to see your smiling face,
      take care
      elisa

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