the histories of our streets

Georgia State University students map Atlanta's past

Category: Atlanta Stories (page 1 of 2)

The History of MARTA and How it Economically Impacts Metropolitan Atlanta

MARTA History   

MARTA, an acronym for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, has created a powerful influence on Atlanta’s history and its economics. To see how MARTA got to serve nearly 400,000 passengers a day and became the eighth-largest transit system in the United States (Georgia Encyclopedia), we must travel back to the early 1960s, where it all began. 

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Vine City Project

Vine City is one of the oldest historically African American neighborhoods in Atlanta, located in West Atlanta. Historically, the city gained traction around 1867-1880 when many HBCUs were constructed including Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Morris Brown College. The area was originally dominated by educated African Americans who were wealthy enough to attend these prestigious universities, while the rest of the area was considered slums and crime-infested. [1] Segregation and redlining caused the city to become predominantly African American, as many Blacks were forced out of their former homes in downtown Atlanta. The Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 led to a housing shortage, which led to Vine City becoming a majority Black working-class area.[2] Today the neighborhood is best known for housing the Mercedes Benz Stadium and the Georgia World Congress Center, the area is extremely underdeveloped and faces crime and poverty as its main challenges.[3]

Map of Vine City Development Area, 1970
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The Creation of Technology Square

Today, there is a stark contrast between Downtown and Midtown Atlanta. Over the past 30 years, Downtown Atlanta has been on the decline. Companies are leaving, buildings are beginning to decay, and the driving force of commercial business in the area revolves around Georgia State Students, most of which are absent for a quarter of the year, and conference attendees. Downtown to many Atlanteans can give off a dreary presence these days. However, a quick walk over the Peachtree St. bridge will abruptly transition you into Midtown. All of the sudden, you are surrounded by filled restaurants, expensive high-rises, and new tech company headquarters. When did Midtown become this booming area of both the finance and technology industries? 30 years ago, the contrast between Downtown and Midtown was quite the opposite. One of the largest contributing factors to the transformation of Midtown was that of Georgia Tech and the development of Technology Square under the leadership of Dr. Wayne Clough. Since 2015, hundreds of companies have set-up regional headquarters, research facilities, and in some cases, international headquarters in and around Technology Square. Today, Tech has developed relationships with many of the companies who have moved to the perimeter of the campus, but this was not the case 30 years ago.

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Swan House, the Historical Home in Buckhead that is too fancy to be eaten

Swan House Atlanta, GA
Source: Carol M. Highsmith Archive

The Swan House is one of the oldest standing mansions in the city of Atlanta. The home is a marvelous spectacle of 20th-century residential architecture that has yet to be drastically altered since its completion in 1928. It is no surprise to anyone familiar with the Buckhead community to find a mansion on that side of town. However, what sets the Swan House apart from other large homes in Buckhead is the architecture by Philip Trammell Shutze and the family that it housed. The Swan House is a symbol of Atlanta’s historically wealthy Inman family, whose influence can be seen throughout the city of Atlanta. Multiple generations of the Inman family had used their wealth to contribute to Atlanta’s public parks, historical research, and arts. 

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Grady Memorial Hospital

One day, I grew curious after seeing the construction workers extending Grady’s complex building. I asked myself, “where Grady’s original building stands and how were the nurses and patients treated in the public institution?” Like any other institution, Grady started with one building. During the early and mid-20th century, the First Public Hospital in Georgia expanded. Grady mirrored the social structures in the south during Jim Crow segregation. Many people are not aware of the hidden story about the Training School of Nursing Program for Caucasian and Colored Nurses. In my report, I will discuss the origin and development of Grady Hospital, the Grady Hospital Nursing Training School, and the nursing training program’s history in the United States. I will also talk about the pioneers who pushed for equality. Unifying Grady Nursing Program created a promising future for the hospital. 

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Rich’s Department Store

Rich’s Department Store began operations in 1867 as M.Rich & Co in Atlanta. Morris Rich, a Hungarian immigrant who settled in Atlanta, founded the company. He opened a small dry goods store that year that would grow into a retail empire over the course of his life. From its inception, Rich separated his business from that of other retailers. He employed a liberal credit policy, giving patrons more time than usual to pay their debts. He also insisted on customer satisfaction, giving Rich’s the long-lasting reputation of having some of the best customer service in the city4. As his operations grew in the late 1870s, he pioneered a one-price policy. The need for bargaining over price was eliminated. The business would become a family affair as his brothers Emanuel and Daniel Rich joined the company. In 1884 the company name reflected this change, becoming M. Rich & Bros. Rich saw continued growth as his company gained more recognition within Atlanta and made several relocations to expand the store. In 1907 the company relocated to 52-54-56 Whitehall Street, where they opened their largest department store yet.

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The William Oliver Building: Atlanta’s Original Art-Deco Highrise

The William Oliver in 1930

Downtown Atlanta is certainly devoid of many of its original prominent buildings. Just a few, such as the comically endearing wedge-shaped Flatiron Building and the lavishly decorated Candler Building sit amongst modernist monuments to an era of Urban Renewal and post-war corporatism. One of these surviving buildings was also the city’s first entry into the Art Deco wave of the late ’20s and ’30s, the William Oliver building.

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The Battle of Atlanta

In a Time Long Ago…

A War Department map detailing the locations of major fighting around Atlanta in July of 1864, with Confederate earthworks in black and Federal Earthworks in red. Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

For many residents of Atlanta’s Eastside, US-23 (or Moreland Avenue) is the backbone of their community. It connects the vibrant cultural hubs of Little Five Points and East Atlanta Village to a myriad of classic Eastside neighborhoods such as Candler Park and East Atlanta. While this route may be a high-traffic residential road today, in 1864 it was little more than undeveloped farmland—unremarkable in every way except its role as the dividing line between Fulton and Dekalb counties. However, as Sherman’s Federal armies made their way towards Atlanta, this undistinguished strip of land would become the site of some of the fiercest fighting experienced by participants of the Atlanta Campaign in the American Civil War. While this clash of arms took place in an area that was, at the time, southeast of the city limits, the action which centered around Federal fortifications at Bald Hill came to be known both to its contemporaries and historians as the Battle of Atlanta. The Battle of Atlanta, though a fierce and bloody contest, would prove inconsequential to the fate of the city and today is a forgotten relic of Atlanta’s past, its historical markers serving as the only testaments to this tremendous folly of war.

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Maynard Jackson Jr.: First Black Mayor of Atlanta

Taken by me 4/23/22 along Auburn Ave SE

Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. was the first Black mayor to be elected in any major city as well as being one of the first to be elected in a southern city. Born to Maynard Jack sr. and Irene Dobbs on March 23, 1938, Jackson came from a lineage that valued education and political activism. His maternal grandfather, John Wesley Dobbs, was a renowned civil rights leader who paved the way for Black voting in Atlanta by co-founding the Atlanta Negro Voters League. Jackson’s mother, Irene, graduated and taught at Spelman College and led the integration of Atlanta’s public libraries. Jackson grew up surrounded by politically forward-thinking people, especially when it came to Black activism. According to Jessica Ann Levy, “Jackson’s tenure as mayor … represented a shift in the city’s black politics and Atlanta politics more broadly.”

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Spelman College

Spelman College is currently regarded as one of the most highly esteemed and respected colleges dedicated to the higher education of African American women. The school has a long history that has led to this achievement.

Gates of Spelman College

Spelman’s beginnings may surprise some due to its distinguishment as an HBCU. Originally named Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman College was founded in 1881 by Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles. Both were white women who hailed from Massachusetts and came to Atlanta with the hope of establishing a school for young black women. Backed by financial support from the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society (WABHMS) and others, Giles and Packard opened a school in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church, an African American church in southwest Atlanta.

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Prohibition and Prejudice in Atlanta

A. Abelsky Saloon in Downtown Atlanta

Prohibition in Georgia has a long history; starting as early as the 1830s, temperance communities had become prevalent. Because of Atlanta’s explosive growth and development post-Civil War, saloons and other entertainment establishments were widespread throughout the city, particularly on Decatur Street. With an ever-increasing number of saloons, public drunkenness became commonplace, and the societal costs of drinking became more apparent. Saloons not only provided space for interracial mingling and intoxication, but they were also a symbol of the growing Black middle-class. These factors only incited tension among the races, further pushed to the brink by inflammatory publications that ultimately lead to a massacre of the Black community. The Riot of 1906 was the catalyst for Georgia’s statewide prohibition act, which sought to further disenfranchise minorities rather than address the societal issues at hand.

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Atlanta Area School for the Deaf and the History Behind Deaf Education in Atlanta

Deaf and hard of hearing children were never allowed the same level of access to education that hearing children received. Up until the early 1900s, Deaf education was overlooked in Atlanta. Deaf and hard of hearing children weren’t allowed to attend public schools and were forced to be homeschooled. Without the proper tools they needed to succeed, such as a form of communication and effective teaching methods, hearing impaired children were given the label of “Deaf and Dumb”.

Georgia School for the Deaf in 1888
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Injustice Hidden Deep in Atlanta’s Forest: The Old Atlanta Prison Farm and the South River

The Old Atlanta Prison Farm has become a strong source of controversy in Atlanta’s political sphere due to the City of Atlanta’s future plans for the land. The prison was located in southeast Dekalb on 1248 acres of forest next to the South River. For some Atlantans, this revelation might come as a surprise. As a native Atlantan who grew up in southeast Decatur 5 miles away from part of the land that is now Cedar Grove Middle School, this discovery was a shock. For others, it’s not so surprising considering Atlanta’s environmental history. It’s hard to imagine trees where there are now buildings, but there are many green spaces inside the perimeter that are clues to this past.

Atlanta plans to sell the land to BlackHall Studios, meaning many trees will have to be cut down to build what Blackhall Studios wants to be the biggest sound stage in the nation. The world is currently in a vulnerable environmental climate; these actions put our city at further risk. The city also plans to allot 300 acres of the land to build an extensive facility as well as a mock city, hence the nicknamed “cop city.” Considering the history of this space as well as environmental issues, these future plans should concern all Atlantans.

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1996 Olympic games: Changing Atlanta’s Infrastructure



1996 was a summer that Atlanta had never seen before. One that could make or break the city’s reputation. In the spotlight of the world Atlanta saw an opportunity to grow financially, while shaping the city’s appeal. “Atlanta hosted the Centennial Summer Olympic Games from July 19-August 4, 1996. This was the largest event in the city’s history, and it helped establish Atlanta as the business and sports capital of the Southeast. Atlanta spent millions of dollars in preparation for the Games, including building new sports venues, improving streets and sidewalks, and altering housing patterns. The Centennial Games brought global attention and investment to Atlanta.”[1] . Andrew Young, activist and former Mayer of Atlanta played a huge role in this victory. Alongside Billy Payne, they pushed the idea that Atlanta could become a major city pushing past poverty and racial tensions. Atlanta had to work hard for this. The bidding process was hard, with tons of powerful cities competing for the 100thOlympic Games. As you can see from the graph below revenue was all over the place but, global attention through broadcasting was high.

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Located in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta, GA is a strip of Edgewood Ave. that seems to have undergone constant evolution. From the outskirts of the city, an industrial zone to now a thriving bar scene, is the area I will refer to as the “Edgewood Bars.” Bordered on the West by Hillard St. and the East by Boulevard, Edgewood is currently home to restaurants, bars, and a stop for MARTA’s streetcars. One such place is Joystick Gamebar. Located at 427 Edgewood Ave SE, Joystick is currently a unique spot for people of all walks of life to come together and share a beer or a game of Frogger. This bar, which to many of its guests seems like a blast from the past, has a significant history. While Joystick was only founded in 2012, the bar and its surroundings are the byproducts of its neighborhood which has undergone significant demographic changes in the last 10 years1 . Understanding the history of this street from the founding of Atlanta to its recent history in dealing with the struggle of gentrification is important for all those who flock to the Edgewood Bars on a night out.

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Gentrification in the Historic Old Fourth Ward

Caty Kennedy April 2022

From a small neighborhood filled with factories and small parks came what we know today as Ponce City Market, the Beltline, and 3,000 brand-new luxury apartment buildings. Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward has become so developed and gentrified, that it has been transformed into a whole new landscape.

The Old Fourth Ward neighborhood is located right between Downtown and the Beltline. Historically, O4W and its neighbor Sweet Auburn were home to prominent Civil Rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King and John Wesley Dobbs. Its population was racially mixed in the early 1900s. It used to house Mom and Pop shops and housed lower-income families from the late 1800s into the late 1900s.

Redefining Fine Arts in Atlanta: The History of Fox Theatre

Fox Theatre, Atlanta 2017
Photograph by Reid Callaway (July 25th, 2017)

Fox Theatre is an iconic attraction for fine arts enthusiasts in Atlanta and is seen as a cultural icon. The Fox is one of the best theatres in the world and hosts more than 150 performances a year. Many Atlantans see Fox Theatre as an integral part of their city’s history with its extravagant ballrooms and artistic entertainment. However, despite its success, Fox Theatre has not always been the cultural icon that it is now and has been faced with several challenges and new ownerships. Thankfully, Fox theatre is still standing today because of concerned Atlantans fighting to preserve the theatre’s symbol. Taking a look back into the wild history of Fox Theatre will help us understand its importance to Atlanta and the beauty of fine arts.

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Techwood Homes

Tanyard Creek
Image of Tanyard Creek

In 1936, Techwood Homes became the first-ever public housing project in the Nation. It was located northwest of Downtown, between the Coca-Cola headquarters and Georgia Tech’s campus. Its construction replaced a de facto integrated low-income neighborhood known as Tanyard Creek. At the time of its opening, Techwood Homes was established as a “whites only” complex. It would remain this way until white flight infringed on the city after integration was brought on by the civil rights movement. Over the years, federal funding was not properly allocated toward housing projects such as Techwood. As a result, the neighborhood became a blight to the city with failed revitalizations, high crime, and high poverty rates. In 1990, it was announced that the Summer Olympics would be hosted in Atlanta, and thus began the revitalization of poor neighborhoods such as Techwood Homes. Sixty years after its creation, Techwood Homes would be demolished and replaced by a mixed-income housing project called Centennial Place which still stands today. The initial development and then redevelopment of Techwood Homes are both terribly similar as both times business and political leaders sought to replace a blighted neighborhood and, in the process, ended up disproportionately harming some of the city’s most vulnerable communities.

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Dr. King’s Nobel Prize Banquet and Coca-Cola during the Civil Rights Era

African American integration leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., right, winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, receives a glass bowl inscribed to him as a “citizen of Atlanta, with respect and admiration,” from Rabbi Jacob Rothschild of the Temple Synagogue in Atlanta on Jan. 27, 1965. (AP Photo)

“African American integration leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with Rabbi Jacob Rothschild in Atlanta. January 27, 1965.” AJCP552-028b. Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archive. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library

In January 27th of 1965, a huge dinner banquet was held in Dinkler Plaza Hotel (known as Hotel Ansley until 1953), located alongside Williams street in downtown Atlanta. The banquet was to congratulate and honor an Atlanta native who just won the Nobel Peace Prize in November 1964, the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The banquet was a huge success, and was attended by as many as 1,500 people of both black and white races. The New York Times next day reported that “the Dinkler Plaza Hotel was jammed far beyond comfortable capacity with Atlantans” who “stood and sang [We Shall Overcome], the most famous song of the civil rights movement”, and commented that the successful banquet was “symbolic of Atlanta’s attitude on race relations”.[1]

However, though it is not very well known, success of this banquet and the civil rights movement in general, were also closely tied to Coca-Cola, an Atlanta native company that became an international giant. The banquet to honor Dr. King was a symbolic incident which highlighted Coca-Cola Company’s effort to respond to a changing American society, and to the civil rights movement during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Continue reading

Oakland Cemetery Origins

Oakland Cemetery Entrance. Photo by John Chapman (4 April, 2016)

Oakland Cemetery Entrance. Photo by John Chapman (4 April, 2016)

Oakland Cemetery serves as one of the key landmarks of antebellum Atlanta, Georgia. Oakland Cemetery sits in stark contrast to the rest of the city with its towering trees, rather than towering building, and its old brick roads rather than hot black asphalt. Oakland Cemetery serves as a monument to Georgia’s past while simultaneously growing and morphing with the present. It is general knowledge that some of the city’s most influential characters, such as Margaret Mitchell and Bobby Jones, lay at rest within its walls and it is the oldest cemetery in Atlanta. However, who in the city knows about the erection of the eastern wall or the problems that had to be handled in Oakland’s early years? A great deal of Oakland’s history remains a mystery to the people of Atlanta and throughout this analysis I will shed light on its origin story. Continue reading

The Professional Career of Bobby Jones, Jr.

Despite his relatively brief career, Bobby Jones is universally recognized of one of the greatest golfers of all time. His name, in the minds of the sporting world, does not sound out of place spoken among the names of far more contemporary players such as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods or even those whose fame and feats are even more recent than they. The same can be said for few other athletes of his time- Jones retired from golf at the age of 28 in 1930. By that time, he had won 13 major championships. In the year of his retirement, he won all four, making him the only golfer in history to win the impregnable Grand Slam. The very next year, however, he would not compete in one tournament. Wrote the great sportswriter and best friend of Jones, “the greatest competitive athlete of history closed the book, the bright lexicon of championships, with every honor in the world to grace its final chapter.”[1] And yet, Jones never made one penny from playing golf. He was always keen to remind fans that “some things were more important than winning.”[2] This decision spawned from an intense modesty for which he is famed. On several occasions, Jones called penalties on himself in major championships- penalties that would not otherwise been assessed; one of these that cost him a victory.[3] And yet his scrupulous honesty, stringent self-governance and vivacious energy to achieve were not just limited to golf.

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Ivan Allen, Jr. Stadium (Atlanta-Fulton County): Mayor Allen’s Impact on Atlanta

Growing up thirty minutes outside of Atlanta has its perks. For me, the best thing about it was going to Braves games. By the age of 10, I considered myself a dedicated Atlanta Braves fan. I’d stay up late fantasizing about inviting Braves players to my birthday party or playing for the team in the big leagues. The main reason I live in Atlanta today is because those games made me fall in love with the city. Atlanta has so much life and energy so I’ve always been intrigued by its history. While Turner Field became the permanent home of the Braves following the 1996 Olympics, I never got the chance to witness a game in the Braves’ former ballpark, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Yet, the remnants of the coliseum still stand tall and firm, casting a long shadow over the infamous Turner Field ‘blue lot’ reserved for commuting fans. My passion for the Braves and curiosity of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium inspired me to identify the party responsible for bringing my favorite team to the city; that search led me to a familiar name, Ivan Allen, Jr. An individual whose impact on Atlanta stands tall and firm much like the memorial wall wrapping around the blue lot today.

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Flatiron Building


Flatiron, Atlanta January 15, 2015. Posted by Taylor Gordon. Atlanta Backstar.

Flatiron, Atlanta January 15, 2015. Posted by Taylor Gordon. Atlanta Backstar.

The Flatiron Building of Atlanta Georgia

            Everyone who drives through Atlanta on interstate-85 will wind through the city passing by a multitude of skyscrapers. Coming south from the north, you will pass the iconic Olympic torch, the Varsity, the Bank of America plaza (the “Pencil building”), the W, and the Westin, among others. Atlanta is ever-growing as cranes are scattered throughout the city, adding more lines and structure to the skyline. But if you drive off the highway and head deeper into the city to find the Fairlie-Poplar Historic District, you can get a glimpse of the elders amongst the giants.

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Zoo Atlanta

Zoo Atlanta has gone through different periods of being a top Zoo in the nation. From either being one of the first Zoos in the United States in 1889. To then being one of the first Zoos to have a gorilla. Then in the more recent period being one of four Zoos in the United States to have pandas. What happened between these different show casing is one of many rebuilding projects, as the Zoo has nearly fell apart during multiple different periods. This is the story behind those different phases.

Jennifer Cuthbertson and Phillip Cuthbertson, "Historic Grant Park". Georgia: Arcadia Publishing, 2011. 30

Jennifer Cuthbertson and Phillip Cuthbertson, “Historic Grant Park”. Georgia: Arcadia Publishing, 2011. 30

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John Wesley Dobbs Plaza

Photo shot by author

Photo shot by author

Talking a walk down Auburn Avenue is an experience that many Atlanta residents and tourists have enjoyed. When walking down Auburn, it is easy to be taken aback by how beautiful the birth home of Dr. King is. It is easy for residents and tourist to stop and admire the burial site of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King. Tourists and residents are blown away when they view the massive mural of civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis. With all of these civil rights giants in one small street it is easy to understand why the John Wesley Dobbs Plaza on the corner of Auburn and Fort Street does not get much attention. Hundreds of people drive or walk pass the plaza on a daily basis and yet one does not find many people stepping inside the plaza and admiring the statue of John Wesley Dobbs. The plaza is overshadowed by the presence of Dr. King’s historical site and John Lewis’ mural, which is an appropriate metaphor as to how the legacy of Mr. Dobbs has been largely forgotten by the mainstream public.

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