Sugar Hill is not the only community in Georgia called Sugar Hill. In fact, old maps dated to the mid-1800s identify a Sugar Hill in Hall County between Gainesville and Jefferson.
In the early days of settlement in these parts of Georgia, there was a post office affiliated with this first Sugar Hill community. There are still remnants of this community, including a school called Sugar Hill Elementary School, just off Athens Highway.
To make it even more confusing, there is another Sugar Hill community in Dooly County near Unadilla. There is very little left of this South Georgia community, and a namesake bed and breakfast recently closed and was the last remnant of proof to its history.
In modern times these communities share very little in common and our sweet Sugar Hill, in Gwinnett County, is the only community that has an official and legal city title. The three communities have unique geographies and histories, but, interestingly, each share a similar origin story of a wagon of sugar overturning on a hill. It might be sacrilegious to say, but Sugar Hill, our modern-day home, may have a different origin story than the one passed down to the generations since 1939.
Long before Sugar Hill was incorporated as a town in 1939 and after passage by the Georgia General Assembly and signature into law by Governor E. D. Rivers, this area of Georgia was included in the Sugar Hill Militia District. The district name was likely tied to the original Sugar Hill community in Hall County, which would have additionally been linked to a place of communication or a post office. The first written reference to Sugar Hill’s origin story appears in an August 3, 1966, article in The Atlanta Journal and has “tongue in cheek” connections to our moonshining past:
“According to older residents of the town [of Sugar Hill] it got its name from a farmer who was traveling from Buford to Cumming in a wagon. On his wagon he had a 100-pound bag of sugar which fell off the wagon on a crest of a hill. Thus, the farmer gave the place the name Sugar Hill.”
One-hundred pounds is a specific amount and a lot of sugar for day-to-day use. Moonshining, because of the isolated nature of the land around the Chattahoochee River, was more common in Sugar Hill than Cumming. If the story is truth and not legend, this farmer was likely traveling a short distance from the train depot in Buford to his home in Sugar Hill. Our founding fathers and mothers in 1960 could have been shifting some of the embarrassment and lawlessness over across the county line into Forsyth County. Another spin on this story is that a wagon broke a wheel on a hill and spilled its load of sugar. Each story, again, has something indirectly or directly related to moonshining.
Over the years, the name of our community has also been attributed to our unique gold mining past. Gold mines are a surprising and unfamiliar part of Sugar Hill’s history. Many believe the name of our city could be related to gold versus the tale of sugar spilling out of a wagon on a hill. There are other cities in the United States, like in New Hampshire, with the same name that also have a history of or connection to mining. Pulverized quartz, in the areas where this type of gold mining took place, looks like dirty sugar crystals. The connection could be coincidental, or both stories could contain an element of truth. The quartz extracted out of mines in Sugar Hill would have been transported by wagon to a location where it would have been ground and processed for gold.
As the evidence of other communities and various creation stories suggest, our community’s name origin is somewhat of a mystery, but, regardless of the uncertainty, Sugar Hill has a history and maybe a name like no other.
Brandon Hembree serves as mayor of Sugar Hill. He is a 20-year resident of the city, and he uses his interest in history to detail Sugar Hill’s rich past.
FEATURED PHOTO: A replica of the wagon in Sugar Hill’s origin story sits atop the city’s West Broad Street roundabout. As the story goes, the city got its name after a 100-pound bag of sugar fell off a wagon a crest of a hill, and the farmer driving that wagon gave the area the name Sugar Hill. Photo by Brandon Hembree.