The events that led to the construction of a World War I training camp in the small town of Chamblee began 100 years ago. It was January of 1917 when General Leonard Wood, Chief of Staff of the U. S. Army, came to Atlanta to look for a location for an army cantonment. The property requirements were that it be 800 or more acres, with access to the railroad and water.
General Wood contacted the President of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Ivan Allen, to help him with his search. Wood was met at Terminal Station, had a short rest at the Piedmont Hotel, and then visited the Capital City Club in downtown Atlanta to meet with several of Atlanta’s business leaders. Cars were ready to drive to portions of DeKalb and Fulton, north and south of Atlanta to search for the site.
General Wood left Atlanta without having found a location and requested the Chamber of Commerce continue the search. Ivan Allen formed a committee, which located two thousand acres in DeKalb County, primarily in Chamblee. The tract was adjacent to the Southern Railway and much of it was located where DeKalb-Peachtree Airport is today.
America entered World War I on April 6, 1917 and Chamblee, a small community of farmers, received word that it would be home to a training camp on June 2, 1917. Sixteen training camps were constructed, but the largest in the southeast was Camp Gordon.
Although Camp Gordon was located near the Southern Railway, the railroad didn’t believe it would be able to handle transportation to and from the camp for the large numbers of soldiers. At the time, the streetcar line stopped at the Fulton/DeKalb line on Peachtree Road. This was three miles southwest of the gate to Camp Gordon. The Georgia Railway Commission extended the streetcar out to Oglethorpe University, which it intended as permanent, and then on to Camp Gordon on a temporary basis.
The name of Camp Gordon was announced in July of 1917, in honor of Confederate General John B. Gordon, who also served as a Georgia Senator and Governor.
Chamblee experienced sudden growth to accommodate the arriving soldiers. Before Camp Gordon, the town consisted of a main street with a post office, depot and two stores. Forty stores would be built by mid-August, with more stores, a movie theater, and two hotels planned.
DeKalb-Peachtree Airport is celebrating Camp Gordon’s centennial as part of their Good Neighbor Day on June 10. More information about this event and more about Camp Gordon will be in upcoming Past Tense columns.
Other sources cited include: “Atlanta and Environs: Volume II” by Franklin Garrett and “Atlanta Historical Bulletin,” Winter 1976.