A mysterious nonprofit’s proposal of cityhood for Atlanta’s neighborhood of Buckhead has raised the hackles of some powerful opponents, including the mayor, major business organizations and several elected officials. But its biggest obstacle may stand 60 miles east down I-20: the existing Morgan County city called Buckhead.

“Tell ’em to back off. We got the charter,” was the cheerful reply of Morgan County Commissioner Bill Kurtz, whose district includes the city, when told of the Atlanta group’s aspirations.

A tale of two Buckheads as told in Google Map images: downtown Buckhead, Atlanta is above, and downtown Buckhead, Morgan County is below.

Chartered in 1908, the town of Buckhead, as it’s called locally, is a dot on the map with a population around 225. It’s got four or five buildings, a Baptist church and a couple of country stores, says Kurtz. “It’s a very small town. It’s quiet, no crime. Just easy-going,” he said.

Buckhead also has a mayor, Ricky Walker, who did not respond to comment requests; a call to City Hall was answered by a fax machine. But Kurtz said he can’t imagine the mayor and Town Council voting to give up the name to some big-city newcomers.

“It’s a very quaint little town, very close-knit, and they’re proud of the fact that they are a city,” said Kurtz. “This has come up several times before in the past. I don’t know how the Buckhead, Atlanta group feels they can do this, because we’ve got the charter.”

Atlanta’s Buckhead dates back to a rural area of the 1830s and was annexed into the city as an unincorporated neighborhood in 1952. Both places attribute their names to a hunter killing a deer.

The identical name issue has long annoyed the Morgan County locals. The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta was one big era of confusion. “A lot of people came through Buckhead, Morgan County thinking that they were going to Buckhead, Atlanta, and it got right comical there for a while,” Kurtz recalled.

Kurtz understands both sides pretty well.

“Ironically, I was born and raised in Buckhead, Atlanta. I went to Garden Hills Elementary and all that,” he says. The former banker retired to Morgan County in the 1990s after enjoying hunting and fishing there, and now lives a couple of miles outside the city of Buckhead.

Morgan County Commissioner Bill Kurtz, who represents the residents of the city of Buckhead and grew up in Atlanta’s identically named neighborhood.

“Back then, [Atlanta’s Buckhead] was a small area,” recalled Kurtz, who was born in 1945, of his boyhood. “I drive up there now and I just absolutely cannot believe it. It does not resemble the Buckhead that I knew at all. It’s a great area, but I like this one down here better. It’s got two stop signs. That’s a big deal.”

The massive redevelopment in Atlanta’s Buckhead, and attendant questions of local control over zoning, are among the reasons for the cityhood talk. Morgan County locals might have some sympathy for that, since late last year, the city of Buckhead made a controversial annexation that nearly doubled its territory and will “allow for massive residential and commercial development,” according to the local newspaper.

But Atlanta’s would-be city founders shouldn’t expect any such sympathy over the name “Buckhead.” Kurtz said that after hearing from the Reporter, he bounced the idea off a couple of local residents.

“You could not publish the responses I got.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.