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The History of Peachtree Corners - Part Six: ‘The Vision of Paul Duke’

For a century, Pinckneyville remained a quiet little farming community in the shadow of Norcross. But that would all change with the vision of one man - Paul Duke.

Soon after the railroad to Atlanta came through from the north in 1870, spurring the development of a new town called Norcross just a few miles east of Pinckneyville, the community began to lose its prominence as a notable crossroads of Georgia – becoming a sleepy farming community.

It would stay that way for a century.

Then in the late 1960s, a visionary by the name of Paul Duke began to secure investors for an idea he had nurtured for sometime; a "planned community" that would bring a new age of commerce and growth to the area – using home grown talent, so to speak.  The place would be called Peachtree Corners.

His idea behind the “planned community” was to accomplish two main goals; first, to keep talented engineers from Georgia Tech in Georgia and, second, to provide a place where people could live, work, and play in the same area, thus, eliminating what he and others saw as a nemesis to a higher quality of life – the long, tedious commute into Atlanta.

Of course, the “planned community” concept wasn’t exactly an original idea. 

One of the first planned city concepts was a part of what became known as the "Garden City Movement" of 19th century England.  Letchworth, England was created to counter the effects of pollution and overcrowding brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Then in the early 1920s, drawing inspiration from the Letchworth, England project, American architects Clarence Stein and Henry Wright created the city of Radburn, New Jersey.  

Perhaps the most famous planned community was Levittown on Long Island, NY, which was built after World War II to help GIs returning from the war use their GI Bill to get a piece of the “American Dream.” 

But Duke’s unique twist to the planned community found its genesis at Georgia Tech.

According to journalist Elliott E. Brack, author of the book, Gwinnett: A little above Atlanta, Duke realized from a study made by the consulting firm of Booz, Allen and Hamilton that Georgia Tech engineers were leaving Georgia after graduation for the simple reason that there were few engineering jobs in Georgia.

Duke set out to change that and in 1968 established Peachtree Corners, Inc., located in the area that had been known as Pinckneyville.  With investors committed and money in hand, Duke set his plan in motion.

First, the vast office component of Peachtree Corners, named , took the form of a large “campus” of low-rise buildings, surrounded in a quiet setting of lush trees and pristine lakes, which would house high technology industries.  This design also helped diminish the other nemesis of the growing metro Atlanta area – pollution. 

Before long, “high-tech” firms such as GE, Scientific Atlanta and Hayes Microcomputer, inventor of the Internet modem, were filling the area with thousands of employees, including engineers from Georgia Tech, just in time to catch the wave of the next world changing technology – the Internet.

At the same time, Duke turned to Dunwoody residential developer Jim Cowart, who created the charming, family friendly neighborhoods, beginning with Spalding Corners.

The industries continued to prosper, grow and even weather the recession of 1974.  By the late 1970s, Peachtree Corners was recognized by people around the country as the standard for a planned community.

Community leaders who shared Paul Duke's dream worked constantly to continue attracting more high-tech firms and fostering innovative ventures which spawned a stronger local economy and supported a higher quality of life for those who lived and worked in Peachtree Corners.

Paul Duke died in 2009, at the age of 84, but left an indelible mark on the area once known as Pinckneyville.

What was once a farming settlement with a tavern, an inn, a church and a post office on a dusty stop between the Georgia coast and Alabama, had become a thriving community once more.

Editor's note: This is our final story in our History of Peachtree Corners series.

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