Snellville’s convenient location, approximately 18 miles east of Atlanta and 45 miles west of Athens at the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Georgia Highway 124, has allowed it to prosper and become one of Gwinnett County’s fastest growing cities for the past thirty years. Snellville’s roots extend much deeper than thirty years, however, to 19th century London.
The birth of Snellville can be traced to 1874 London, England when a secret voyage to the New World was a glimmer in the minds of two teenage friends, James Sawyer and Thomas Snell. Unfortunately, their plans were altered when Snell’s parents wouldn’t allow him to make the trip when they learned of the plan. Instead, Sawyer and his brother, Charles, took off on the adventure, leaving England for the United States on March 18, 1874. After a two-week voyage, the Sawyer brothers arrived in New York on April 1st, where they stayed for a few weeks. They left New York and eventually settled in Madison County, Georgia, where they worked on a farm for $10.00 a month. Thomas Snell was finally able to make the trip and met his friends in Georgia where they all traveled through Jefferson and Lawrenceville. Charles Sawyer left his brother and friend in Georgia and in time settled in Alabama, where he entered the turpentine business. While Snell worked on the farm of A.A. Dyer, James Sawyer traveled back to New York and then to London, to claim his inheritance shortly after his 21st birthday in 1878. James Sawyer eventually returned to the United States and after traveling through parts of Georgia, was reacquainted with his friend Thomas Snell after settling in a small farming community named New London, now called Snellville. Prior to that time, the area where Snellville now rests was an old growth chestnut-oak-hickory forest settled by the Cherokee Indians.
The two friends built a small wood frame building and started a business together – Snell and Sawyer’s Store – and commerce was born in Snellville. Until that time, local farmers had to travel to neighboring towns in order to purchase anything they could not make themselves or borrow from neighbors. Snell and Sawyer printed store money with the trade value and Snell’s likeness on the front that their regular customers could exchange for goods, a common practice in small mill towns of the time. In just a short time, the business was prosperous and attracting customers from the neighboring towns of Lawrenceville and Loganville. These travelers who purchased supplies at Snell and Sawyer’s would often spend the night under the nearby oak groves, as the round trip was too long for one day’s travel. While it is uncertain when the town officially changed from New London to Snellville, Snell and Sawyer’s advertising identified their location as Snellville.