Old US78

It’s hard, sometimes, to find the old roads. They vanish completely, like that spot where US 441 once dove off Newfound Gap into North Carolina, or they pick up new names when their shiny, four-lane replacements speed travelers around the towns and landmarks linked by those older thoroughfares. Quite often, they’re completely forgotten.

I find them by knowing where to look — a Main Street in a small town is a good bet, or watching when some road goes off the main route at an odd angle, only to come back at an equal and opposite odd angle further along. It does help if they’re named Old US 441, as happens in and around Tallulah Falls, Georgia, or even Old Andrew Johnson Highway, the name owned by several segments of two-lane blacktop running parallel to the new Andrew Johnson Highway (US11E) between Jefferson City, Tennessee, and Knoxville.

Sometimes, though, I find them quite by accident. Just today, in fact, on a return trip from a dental appointment, driving west on US78. There it was, a hard right turn and the street sign said — “Old Highway 78.”

How many times had a driven right by that sign? This is the main route between Atlanta and Athens, and I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve made that trip. But there it was. I turned right, of course, and realized quickly that this was very old US78. I would never have guessed that it was once part of the US highway system, this piece of road that barely reached 1/2 mile and showed no signs of ever even having yellow or white lines painted on it.

Maybe it didn’t even survive as US 78 long enough to be paved, which happened to that stretch of the highway between Decatur and Snellville in 1937. Google Maps shows me one 200-foot section of Old Highway 78 is still on some maps although it’s completely gone now — the last 200 feet before Highpoint Road, where a new road called Thorngate Court cuts off to service a small subdivision. Across Highpoint Road is another missing street — Sophia Street — blocked by a rail by the side of the road, but reappearing through the woods as a tiny unpaved spur off Britt Drive.

US78 started life in Georgia over by the Alabama line as State Route 8. State Route 8 eventually leaves 78 and takes on US29, while the 78 portion is State Route 10 (formerly SR45). It leaves the Peach State for the Palmetto State at Augusta, carrying several other state designations (and sharing some US numbers) along the way.

And while 78 now scoots north of Decatur and Avondale Estates, its earlier permutations carried it through Decatur on Ponce de Leon, then across the rail road and out on College Avenue, traveling north of what’s now the Kensington MARTA station to pick up Memorial Drive just shy of the DeKalb County jail. The Decatur/Avondale side is called US 278 now, and it’s SR10 when it splits off at the MARTA station on its way to Stone Mountain.

Imagine that. An old road right under my nose.

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