In the 1860s there were few permanent inhabitants of the area now occupied by Buford. Silas King and his family lived in what is now downtown Buford. William Sudderth owned land to the south and east of King. Wyatt Wilson owned more than 1,000 acres north of Buford.
Other early families were William Scales, Benjamin M. Bagby, Willis Benson, James M. Dodd, Jacob Moulder, John Calloway, all of whom were large land holders and, for the most part, slave owners. Others were William Garner, Burton C. Cloud, George and Noah Brogdon, Isham Born, Daniel O. Born, Harrison R. Brogdon, and Hope J. Brogdon.
Soon after the Civil War, construction began on the railroad from Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina. Among the original stockholders were Thomas S. Garner, Thomas Alexander, Amos Fox, B. Y. Saye, and Mr. Larkin Smith.While the road was under construction a camp was set up on the property of Silas King for the road crew.
Silas King was the first non-Indian to occupy the area of the town of Buford. He was an evangelical Baptist minister, born in South Carolina in 1779. He moved to Gwinnett County in the 1820’s and lived for several years near Mt. Mariah Baptist Church where he served as pastor.
Mr. Garner and Mr. Larkin Smith bought property and divided it into lots for a town, and named the town after A. S. Buford, President of the railroad.
After the depot, the next building in Buford was a hotel, and the mother of Thomas S. Garner came from Alabama to run it. The second building was a store across the railroad from the hotel, owned and operated by Mr. Mellville S. Garner. T. S. Garner bought out the interest of Mr. Smith, and gave land for white and African American churches, schools, streets and a city park. In this way Buford was established as a town in 1871.
The town of Buford was incorporated August 24, 1872. The first Commissioners were Adam Pool, A. G. Harris, John F. Espy, W. R. Chamblee, J. R. Stringer, and J. A. Pattillo. Adam Pool came to Buford in late 1870. He was born in Anderson County, South Carolina in 1809, and came to DeKalb County, Georgia around 1830. The next year he moved to Cain’s District in Gwinnett County. He served as Tax Collector, Confederate State legislator, and postmaster. He was one of the first merchants in Buford.
Austin Gilliam Harris lived in the Sugar Hill area as early as 1860. He was a successful farmer and owned a cotton gin. He was a delegate to the Democratic Congressional District Convention, operated a retail store in Buford briefly, and was a Buford postmaster.
John Ferdinand Espy was a teacher who moved to Buford from the Lawrenceville area. It’s possible that he was related to the Silas King family, his mother’s maiden name being King. He served in the Confederate army, and throughout the rest of his life he was known as “Captain Espy.” He built the first brick home in Buford, which is still standing at 583 South Hill Street.
William R. Chamblee was an early Buford merchant, opening a store in 1873. He served as school trustee and Gwinnett County Tax Receiver. He died in 1884.
James R. Stringer was born in Hall County, Georgia in 1845. He lived in Buford for several years and moved to Rockmart, Georgia.
James Alexander Pattillo was an early merchant in Buford, selling dry goods, groceries and produce in partnership with J. N. Thompson.
Early physicians in Buford included Doctors Robert Marbut, Nelson C. Osborn and W. W. Power. Later, Dr. W. J. Rowe, Dr. Rl. L. Neal and Dr. Bryan practiced in the area.
In 1896 the name was changed from “Town of Buford” to “City of Buford,” providing for a Mayor an council. However, documents show that W. E. Haygood and J. E. Cloud served in the office of Mayor as early as 1874.
Robert H. Allen arrived in the area around 1867 and established the first leather industry in Buford, with a harness factory and leather tannery, a business taught to him by his father, Washington Allen. He continued to be a prominent Buford businessman for over thirty years.
R. H. Allen’s younger brother, Bonaparte Allen (later shortened to Bona) moved to Buford in 1872 from Rome, Georgia, and the leather industry was expanded. In the early days it appears that the brothers were partners, but by the late 1870’s they seem to have discontinued their partnership.
The first organized church was the Buford Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1871. T. S. Garner donated the land for the first frame building. The church was organized by Dr. “Buck” Williams and Rev. Joshua Bradford as the first pastor. Buford Baptist Church was organized June 14, 1873, with D. J. Maddox, W. J. Pirkle and A. G. Cooper acting as a presbytery. The charter members were Mr. Sara Barnett, D. J. Barnett, M. A. Kennedy, Mary Cheek, Nancy Cain, Mrs. L. V. Hendrix, W. T. Hendrix, Mrs. Mary Chamblee, W. E. Chamblee, Mrs. V. A. Terry, Stephen Terry, Mrs. W. E. Haygood, and W. B. Haygood. Buildings were erected in 1873 and 1909.
In the early 1900’s Buford was known as the New York of Gwinnett, as many factories and merchants located in the area. As with many small towns where the majority of the buildings were frame, Buford experienced several destructive fires. The worst fire was on October 14, 1903, when a fire broke out in Seal’s Meat Market . Before it was over, nine businesses had burned, those of George L. Brogdon, John T. Smith, J. B. McBrayer, Bank of Buford, R. H. Allen (store), Dr. W. J. Rowe, J. Martin, C. H. Smith, Sr, and E. V. W. Mahaffey. Most of the buildings had been wood, and were replaced by brick structures.
The above history was compiled by Pat Sabin from the books Historic Buford, by Mr. Handsel Grady Morgan and History of Gwinnett County, 1818-1960, Volume II, by James C. Flanigan.