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DeKalb County Historic Preservation Commission

SOAPSTONE RIDGE HISTORIC DISTRICT What is Soapstone Ridge? Soapstone Ridge is a twenty-five square mile area lying in the southwest corner of DeKalb County, with smaller sections lapping over into Fulton and Clayton Counties. It is a low ridge, cut by several streams, rising from the south bank of the South River. The ridge is composed of a soft rock - soapstone - rather than the granite found in the surrounding area. Why is Soapstone Ridge important? About 3,000 BC to 100 BC, Native Americans quarried the stone from this ridge, carving it into the forms of bowls, pipes, and other items. Work on the ridge thrived at the same time the pyramids were being constructed in Egypt, and one thousand years before Stonehenge was built. Around 1,500 BC the discovery of the technique of making clay pottery led to the eventual abandonment of these quarries. Soapstone Ridge contains the largest collection of these Archaic soapstone quarries in the eastern United States. In the 1970s archeologists surveyed portions of the ridge and identified sixty-five archeological sites. Three small sections of the ridge are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service is currently preparing to nominate a portion of the Soapstone Ridge as a National Historic Landmark. Doesn't the National Register protect the historic areas? Listing on the National Register of Historic Places provides only slight protection to the sites, and only if the project threatening them is a federal government project, is funded with federal monies, or is licensed by a federal agency. What is happening now? On August 25, 1997, the DeKalb County Commission designated about ten and a half square miles of the ridge as the Soapstone Ridge Historic District. The initial nomination was sponsored by the Greater Atlanta Archeological Society and supported by the DeKalb County Historic Preservation Commission. What is included in the historic district? The district runs from just north of the South River to the Clayton County line, and from the Fulton County line east to the crossing of River Road over Conley Creek near the county-owned Seminole Landfill. This area is rather like a Swiss cheese, with many holes through the body of the district. Properties that have already been developed, or properties of five acres or less, have generally been excluded from the district because of the unlikelihood of finding significant archeological remains on these sites. These properties will not be required to comply with the historic district ordinance. Most of the proposed district is undeveloped wooded property.

How does being a historic district affect the area? Property within the district must be checked to determine if there are any significant archeological sites before permits can be granted for grading, building, or other actions which cause a change in the appearance of the property. The primary concern is identifying and protecting archeological sites. The property may be checked either by the county historic preservation planner or by a professional archeologist. What if archeological sites are found? If a potentially significant site is found, the property owner has the choice of working around it or of conducting a more extensive archeological investigation. If the site is set aside it may be retained as a green space within the development, or the owner may consider selling or donating the property, or an easement on the property, to a non-profit organization. This will usually allow the developer to obtain a tax credit. Who pays for the archeological survey? The preliminary archeological assessment of the property can be conducted by the county's preservation planner at no cost to the developer. The cost of more in-depth archeological work would be borne by the developer. In the case of demonstrated hardship, especially involving the owner/resident of a small property, or charitable organizations, the DeKalb County Historic Preservation Commission can attempt to find volunteers to conduct the study. For further information please contact: David Cullison 404/371-2155 DeKalb County Planning and Development Department

March 27, 2001


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