I was introduced to the William-Oliver Building during my freshman year when one of my friends lived there, it always stood out to me for its sense of opulence in an otherwise industrial-looking block. As an environmental science major with an interest in urban planning, I am at times hyper-aware of the built environment and curious about its histories such as why infrastructure like streets developed and how. Continuing my education this kind of information did not always feel readily available – looking for further history on land use in the area I was drawn back to the William-Oliver Building where I noticed a large plaque structure for the first time.

Student Selfie at downtown street history Installation
Student Selfie at Historic Downtown Streets Plaque Installation outside of William-Oliver Building

The installation is located across Peachtree St. from Hurt Park and features five panels including brief histories on Peachtree St., Marietta St., Whitehall St., Decatur St., and Edgewood Ave. – some of the most crucial roadways to Downtown. Each panel provides the street’s name and timelines, mostly dated back to the early 1800s, as well as the street’s past functions as indigenous routes or intra/inner city connectors. It seems to be one of the few places nearby that acknowledges (although incorrectly) the indigenous Muscogee-Creek Peoples that once lived in the region or their land uses. The “Peachtree Street” panel specifically provides information on the Peachtree Ridge, dubbed such by indigenous inhabitants, that the city expanded from. I have since learned that the indigenous-given name for the region surrounding the ridge, “Standing Peachtree”, was changed in the early 1800s when indigenous groups were forcibly removed by settlers and indigenous-erasure campaigns were executed. Such information is critical to understanding the socio-environmental history before colonialism, indigenous land use, and their impacts on modern development patterns.

Partially hidden from streetview, the plaque appears more historic and official than others I have seen due to its unique engraved metal structure. It is, however, visually similar to one nearby art installation (directly to the left of that discussed on the “island” on Peachtree St.) at the site of what was once a municipal well that provided water resources to the settlement of Terminus in the 1800s. The art piece provides no indication of this history or any relation to the installation at hand and they may have both been installed in preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games held in the city.

Regardless of when the historic downtown streets plaque was installed the provision of such information in a public space feels crucial to education on urban development and a good start towards more accurate historical representation. I find the understanding of how and why our travel paths and geographic resource use developed to be crucial in having a holistic understanding of concerns such as urban renewal and cultural preservation. There are still four panels on Downtown Street history not pictured here so if you’re curious to learn more I recommend stopping by and checking it out!