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Past Tense

Opinion: Living in a railroad section house

Railroad section house

One of the three old railroad section houses on Chamblee Dunwoody Road used to house railroad workers.

There were originally three railroad section houses on Chamblee Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody, just north of Mount Vernon Road. They were built to house workers on the Roswell Railroad line. However, once the railroad discontinued in 1921, the houses were no longer needed.

J. C. Finley lived in the section house that still stands. He shared his memories of that time with Lynne Byrd. (Story of Dunwoody: 1821-200, Ethel Spruill, Elizabeth Davis, Lynne Byrd, Joyce Amacher)

Finley was born in 1934 to Carlyle and Esther Finley and lived in a house where Heathwood subdivision is today. His older sister Barbara was born in 1931. Carlyle Finley worked at Sirron Nursery, given that name because it is Norris spelled backwards. The nursery was on the estate of the Norris family, owners of Norris Candy Company.

In the late 1930s, the Finley family moved into the railroad section house. The houses were owned by Southern Railway. Finley remembers his mother washing clothes by hand in a washtub and hanging them on a clothesline.

There were plenty of places to explore while living in the railroad section house. Children would gather railroad spikes along the former rail line and use them for digging. They would also play at Calvary Baptist Church next door where it was easy to crawl under the foundation blocks.

Chamblee Dunwoody Road was a dirt road at the time, but Finley could remember men working as part of the Works Progress Administration, preparing for paving.

Finley and other children played on a field by the house. His cousin lived in the first section house. That house and the middle house were demolished in 1994 to make way for a Boston Market Restaurant.

J. C.’s sister Barbara attended Dunwoody School, and Nettie Austin was her teacher. All the boys wore overalls to school, and everyone took their own lunch. By 1940, the Finley family had moved to 770 Woodson Street in Atlanta. Their father worked as a foreman at a landscape business. J. C. attended Sylvan Hills High School, graduating in 1952.

After high school, J. C. Finley worked at General Motors and took college classes at night at Georgia Tech. He had a successful career at Tarkell Floor Covering, retiring from that company.

Growing up, his family were members of Dunwoody Methodist Church. When J. C. Finley and his wife Ellen returned to Dunwoody to live in 1971, they began attending Dunwoody Methodist Church. Their two sons attended Shallowford Elementary School and Dunwoody High School.

J. C. Finley died in 2012 while living in Big Canoe.

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, many families had to sell their homes and property. The section houses provided temporary housing for families. This is another piece of the history of the railroad section house, the last standing structure that reminds us of the Roswell Railroad.

You can email Valerie at or visit her website at