Where, oh where has my childhood gone?

Map of Mableton, Georgia

On May 12, 1957, Harvest and Daicy Cochran welcomed their fourth, youngest, and last child into the world; me. I was brought home to the small house on Wild Cherry Drive in Mableton, where I lived for the next 18 years until I married in 1975. During those years, I saw many changes take place in this small town about 20 miles west of Atlanta. But, it was when I traveled there a couple of weeks ago that I realized that my childhood has gone forever.

In 1843, a family settled on a few acres on what has become known as Floyd Road. The family’s name was Mable, and the town they “founded” became Mableton. As the years went by, more families began to settle here to farm the land. In the early 1900’s, one such couple was Alexander and Myrtice Davis. Together, they had nine children, three boys and six girls. The fourth child, born in 1925, was to become my mother. At the age of 21, a year after the end of World War II, she married my father.

Shortly after my brother was born, my parents moved into the old homestead of the farm my grandfather owned, and remodeled the house. At the time they moved back, Mableton was still a very small, rural town. While many houses had been built with the housing boom after 1945, Mableton still only had one grocery store, two restaurants, two Baptist Churches and one school. Our house faced Bankhead Highway, which was a two lane road with Atlanta to our East and Alabama to the west.

Original Davis Chapel Built for My Mother’s Family

A vacant lot stood between our house and the highway, and woods were across Wild Cherry Drive. We could sit on our front porch and see Davis Chapel Baptist Church katy-kornered from our house. My great uncle, a Baptist preacher, started the church for his nieces and nephews in a small one room cabin. As the family and the community grew, a proper sanctuary was built. We walked to church on the Sunday mornings that the weather permitted.

Then, in 1963, a boom took place in Mableton. I watched the trees being cut down for a lumber/hardware store and a department store across the street. We went to the grand opening of Hawthorne Plaza, two streets down on the other side of Bankhead Highway. A Krystal was erected at the corner of Bankhead and Floyd Road, while the first Martin’s was built at the other edge of town, almost in Austell. And, in 1963, I started first grade.

I began my education at Mableton Elementary, the same school my mother graduated from. My brother and sisters also attended. At that time, Mableton went to the ninth grade, then students began the tenth at South Cobb High School in Austell. That same year, Pebblebrook Junior High was being built, and the sister closest to me transferred there for the ninth grade the next year.

In 1929, a small hardware store was opened by one of the more prominent families in the area, the Barnes’. At first, it was just a small place selling seeds and fertilizer. As the business continued to grow, another building was erected next door which became a general hardware store. Both buildings are still standing on the edge of the railroad tracks, which is considered to be downtown Mableton. A descendant of William Henry, Roy Barnes became Georgia’s 80th Governor in 1998. He is probably the most famous citizen of Mableton.

As a little girl, we didn’t wander too far from home very often. Prior to 1963, we bought our groceries at the Brock and Wallace grocery store across the street from Davis Chapel. When Hawthorne Plaza was built, a Big Apple Grocery opened its doors there, and a Winn Dixie came to the Grant Department Store center. The small individual grocery didn’t stand a chance, and closed its doors shortly after.

A few times a year, we went out to eat at the Palms Restaurant, except on birthdays, when we went to the steakhouse in town. The few times we went to the movies, we had to go to the Strand Theater in the Marietta Square, except for the two times I was taken to the Fox Theater in Atlanta. In around 1965, Jerry Lewis opened a chain of theaters so that all children would be able to go to the movies. The ticket prices were $1 for all showings, and even the refreshments were reasonable. Fortunately, one was opened within walking distance of our house, so I was able to see films a little more frequently.

Mableton Elementary circa 1940’s

In 1928, after roughly 50 years of changing locations, Mableton School was built at the corner of Church and Center Streets. My mother graduated from there in 1942. At that time, it was an all grades school. After the school burned to the ground in 1948, it was re-built on the same site. In 1952, South Cobb High School was built, and Mableton School became Mableton Elementary, serving 1st through 9th grades. My brother, two sisters, and I all attended school there. My two daughters even attended there for a year in 1985. I wanted to take pictures of the school for this story, but when I went to see it, I found an empty lot where the original school sat, and a brand new school had been erected where the playground had been. One of my favorite places at the old school had been a small room next to the school which housed the school store. Before classes began, we could go there and buy paper and pencils; after school we could get a cold Coke and candy bar. That room, too, has now gone.

In 1965, Floyd Junior High School opened its doors for seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students. Mableton Elementary then taught students until the sixth grade. When I completed the sixth grade in 1967, I transferred to Floyd in its third year of classes. At that time, the school colors were green and white, and we were known as the “Floyd Greenwaves.” Students from other schools took pleasure in teasing us by calling it “Floyd Frogs” instead. I have discovered that the school changed its colors to royal blue and the mascot is now the panther. However, the school has not changed much, at least from the outside. I remember walking into school that first morning to see a sign posted on the door that read “Beware of Dog.” I thought the administration had a sense of humor. Instead, I discovered that the school’s security system was indeed a guard dog.

In 1972, I began my high school career as a sophomore at South Cobb High School and graduated with a general degree in May 1975. Although South Cobb was in Austell, there wasn’t a high school in Mableton at that time. The school was huge, with three floors, a gym, and auxiliary building where the ROTC classes were held. It took a few weeks for students to stop getting lost. But, we still had to have three or four trailers as classrooms. My graduating class was three hundred. In 1975, I would say less than 10% went to college, roughly another 10% joined the military, and the remaining students got jobs and married. This school is still standing, along with the original stadium, but it has changed considerably. There are new buildings. The front has been dramatically changed, with a prominent covered walkway. I couldn’t even see the front doors to the school.

It was during these three years that I discovered most of the places I spent time in. I spent Tuesday nights at the South Cobb Skating Rink. When I started dating, we mostly went to the Marlboro Twin Drive In. After skating or the movies, we went to Gino’s to get a coke and pizza. Now, the rink is a warehouse, the drive in is a strip mall, and Gino’s is a bar-b-q place.

Even though it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, that I went wandering around Mableton taking pictures, there was a heavy pall over me. Everywhere I looked, the places I remembered have been torn down, are dilapidated, or changed so much I couldn’t recognize them. Even the house I grew up in, though it is still there, is unrecognizable to me. Some places have been destroyed, others updated, a few abandoned. Either way, my childhood is gone forever.