LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. -- Marvin Hughes staked out his piece of the American dream on 10 green acres with a wood, a smooth-running stream, a waterfall, and plenty of peace and privacy.
The land in Gwinnett County reminded him of where he grew up, exploring woods and playing in open fields. That idyll was just east of Atlanta, in DeKalb County, but it had become congested and noisy. So, in 1980, Hughes, his wife and two daughters moved to the next county to the northeast, sparsely settled Gwinnett.
''It was a quality of life issue,'' Hughes says.
The Hugheses soon learned that others had the same idea. The rush was on in Gwinnett County.
Mike Overton (right), general manager of Lake Region Radio in Brainerd, represents the Blandin Partnership at the Future Forum.
If the 19th century's slogan for American migration was ''Go West, young man!'', the 20th's dominant trend could be summarized: ''Move farther out, young family!''
By the middle of the '80s, Gwinnett was the nation's fastest-growing county. Now it's Forsyth County, along Gwinnett's northwestern boundary.
The suburbs around Las Vegas and Denver have also been booming in recent years, while four of the top seven growth counties in the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates were around Atlanta.
Gwinnett, meanwhile, has gone from 166,903 souls in 1980 to 500,000 today, and still growing.
Sue Beck (left) Crow Wing County welfare director, and Forrest Boe of the DNR participate in the panel on lakes area quality of life issues in the 21st century.
What does this kind of growth mean?
Ask Wayne Hill. The county commission chairman's family settled in Gwinnett in the 1870s.
''My dad told me he had to wait for 21 cars before he could get out of the driveway this morning,'' Hill recounts. ''I told him, 'Daddy, tomorrow it'll be 22.' ''
Ask Hughes. His own road used to be quiet, country-like. ''We used to hardly ever hear a police car, or an ambulance or a fire truck. There were 10 sirens last night.''
And new subdivisions. And more traffic. ''In a few years,'' Hughes says with a sigh, ''it's going to be every bit as congested and with all the problems I left behind.''
When the 20th century began, the United States was still predominantly a rural nation, particularly in the South.
But a series of events and trends accelerated urban growth. Mechanization came to agriculture, and the gas engine, the tractor and the mechanical harvester were changing the economics and the needs of the farm. Textile mills and factories lured the poor out of the low-paying fields.
Blacks in the South, facing rural poverty and post-Reconstruction lynchings and Jim Crow laws, fled to the big Northern cities: Chicago, Detroit, New York and others.
Tens of thousands of country doughboys returned home from World War I with a new perspective on the world outside their slow-paced home areas. As a popular song wondered, ''How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree)?''
Later the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years triggered an exodus: the rural poor loading up the ramshackle family truck or wagon and heading to California.
Henry Ford had introduced mass production of the automobile, which would be both a boon and a bane for American lifestyles for the rest of the century.
In mid-February 1901, one Henry Brady, with his wife and child, made news simply by traveling from Atlanta to an outlying town in their new ''locomobile,'' powered by steam and gas. ''While here it attracted a good deal of attention as it was the first ever seen in Marietta,'' the local newspaper reported.
In the next decade, Ford would open an assembly plant in Atlanta, and soon ''Tin Lizzies'' became common in the city.
In 1906, Gwinnett County would do something that would later define suburbia: After debate about the impact of vehicles, it passed a traffic law. Speed limit: 10 mph. And horseless carriages were required to yield to horses.
Like many returning from World War II, Wayne Hill's father found little urban housing for what would become the ''Baby Boom.'' So he built a four-room house with an outhouse in Gwinnett County, which had -- and needed -- only one traffic light and only one road running to Atlanta, 30 miles away. Young Wayne, born in 1942, ran trot lines for catfish, hunted rabbits and steered clear of the hills where moonshiners guarded their stills.
Slowly but steadily, farm fields and woods filled in with houses, and not just here. Outside of cities across the country, new neighborhoods were growing.
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