Local businessman Wayne Shirey thinks downtown Duluth is divisive, but in a totally interesting way.
Back in 2009, the owner of Duluth United Tool Rental mentioned to the city leaders that the Eastern Continental Divide runs straight through downtown – about 100 yards from Shirey’s storefront.
“Evidently, we got it all verified and here we are,” Shirey commented. “I wish I had been smart enough to print T-shirts.”
The Duluth Downtown Development Authority unveiled the first permanent Eastern Continental Divide Marker in the metro Atlanta area in 2011, on West Lawrenceville Street. Lesser known than the western Great Divide, the Eastern Continental Divide demarcates the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico watersheds. If water falls on the east side of the divide it eventually runs into the Atlantic Ocean, whereas water falling on the west side flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The base of Duluth’s marker shows which sides the water will flow toward.
This geographic wrinkle, which starts at the southern tip of Florida and meanders up through Wisconsin, hopscotches across dozens of communities in Georgia, including Duluth and Norcross. Last year, the City of Norcross erected a sculpture in Thrasher Park to mark the Divide. The public art piece features a mosaic design with two intertwining streams, which convey the flow of water to the east and west, representing the effects of the Eastern Continental Divide.
The Chattahoochee River defines the Divide from Underground Atlanta eastward, following the railroad to Mountain Industrial Boulevard, then crossing Peachtree Industrial to Old Peachtree Road until it links up with Highway 124. It’s not a coincidence that major roads follow the divide: modern roads evolved from Native American trails which were intentionally blazed along ridges, as they are naturally immune to flooding and avoid lowlands while minimizing the need for bridges. The Eastern Continental Divide also explains why the railroad is where it is: the watershed divide is usually a fairly level line of ground. When the tracks were laid in the mid-1800s, it was literally the path of least resistance.