The North-Central section of the Downtown Highway Interchange before the advent of the interstate system in the 1950s and 1960s was primarily residential with several noticeable community centers. This post will focus on the history of the Crew St. School from its beginnings and what eventually became of the space after the highways tore through the south side.

This 1899 Sanborn map captures 97% of the North-Central portion of the downtown highway interchange. As one can see, the area was bounded to the north by Fair Street (now Memorial Drive), to the east by Capitol Avenue (also known as Hank Aaron Drive), to the west by Washington Street, and to the south by Clarke Street (cut off in this image).
This 1899 Sanborn map captures 97% of the North-Central portion of the Downtown Highway Interchange. The area was bounded to the north by Fair Street (now Memorial Drive), to the east by Capitol Avenue (also known as Hank Aaron Drive), to the west by Washington Street, and to the south by Clarke Street (cut off in this image).1
This page from the 1899 Sanborn map depicts mainly homes labeled with a capital "D" in the area south of Downtown. Towards the top of the image lies the Crew St. School at the intersection of Clarke and Crew Streets.
The remaining 3% of the North-Central portion is depicted here. The Crew St. School lies near the top of the image. Please note the southern boundary of the portion at Clarke Street.2

The Community Anchor on 407 Crew Street

Before the Crew St. School came onto the scene in the early 1870s, Atlanta did not yet have a public school system. That all changed in early 1872 with the establishment of the three first public elementary schools to serve the city’s white children: Crew St. School, Walker St. School, and Ivy St. School. With enrollment limited only to city residents, the Crew St. School taught kids from the first to eighth grades in a two-storied, wooden frame schoolhouse.3

People’s memories of the school reveal an institution that was not only well respected but also formative to the city’s development. Interviewed in the late 1950s right before the construction of I-20, Mrs. Aurelia Roach McMillan had served as the first woman principal of the school from 1891-1911. She cited the school’s adaptability as one reason for its long life. While the school initially educated children from longstanding Atlanta families, Jewish, Greek, and Syrian immigration to south side communities from the late 19th century meant that the school now received pupils from these newer families. Regardless, Mrs. McMillan was proud that alumni of the school had gone on to become civic and business leaders. Mrs. Willie Street, who had attended the school in the 1890s, remembers her mother sending refreshments to the teachers waiting for the street cars that would take them home at the end of the school day.4

One noteworthy event in the school’s history was the suspension of Dorothy Leoles in June 1936 for refusing on principle to salute and pledge allegiance to the flag. Having immigrated to America from Greece, father George Leoles had raised his daughter as a Jehovah’s Witness. One of the tenets of that faith forbids believers from pledging loyalty to any entity that is not G-d. To reverse his daughter’s suspension, Mr. Leoles would exhaust every available avenue: speaking in front of the school board, appealing to the Supreme Court of Georgia, and even sending his daughter’s case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Alas, his daughter’s suspension was upheld.5 For a “city too busy to hate,” religious tolerance only went so far.6

This screenshot of the front page of a 1936 Atlanta Constitution article depicts Dorothy Leoles and her father. Ms. Leoles was suspended from Crew St. School for refusing to salute the flag, which would have violated her faith as a Jehovah's Witness.
Dorothy Leoles is pictured with her father George Leoles, a Greek immigrant. Ms. Leoles’s case would become a test case of religious freedom or the lack thereof. This photo was featured on the front page of an Atlanta Constitution article dated to October 14th, 1936.


By the 1940s, the area surrounding the school had fallen into disrepute. At a meeting of prominent Black and white women’s civic and church organizations, representatives discussed what was to be done about the south side, which had become the “largest and perhaps the worst slum district in the city.” Juvenile delinquency, high rates of diseases, and poor living conditions all seemed to have afflicted an area once lauded as “populated by a highly moral and intelligent class of citizens.”7 By the late 1950s, a program of “urban renewal” targeted substandard downtown neighborhoods for forced removal and demolition to make way for the behemoth that is the Downtown Connector where I-75 and I-85 link up. The Rawson-Washington area, which encompasses the entirety of the North-Central portion of the highway, would soon yield. Thus, the final chapter closes on the Crew St. School.8

The embedded map below depicts the approximate location of the Crew St. School. An exact location would be impossible to find as the Downtown Connector sits right on top of the south side neighborhood that had included the school.

  1. Map 93. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. Sanborn Map Company, 1899. Map. ↩︎
  2. Map 94. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. Sanborn Map Company, 1899. Map. ↩︎
  3. “Registration in the Public Schools,” Atlanta Constitution (1869-1875), January 21, 1872, 2; “Crew Street School,” Daily Constitution (1876-1881), June 25, 1881, 4; Daniel Frank, “Pioneer Crew St. School to Yield to Expressway,” Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution (1950-1968), September 1, 1957, 13A,; “Crew Street School House Burned: The City Loses a Building Which Cost $12,000–It is Insured for $6,000,” Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), February 12, 1885, 5, ↩︎
  4. Frank, “Pioneer Crew St. School to Yield to Expressway,” 13A; Marni Davis, “Streetscape Palimpsest: A History of Georgia Avenue,” ArcGIS StoryMaps, accessed April 8, 2024, ↩︎
  5. “Girl, 12, Refuses Pledge to Flag: Jehovah’s Witnesses Member Defends Daughter Before School Board Girl Is Suspended for Refusal to Salute Flag,” Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), October 14, 1936, 1,; “Atlanta Flag Salute Case Appeal Goes Before U. S. Supreme Court: Dorothy Leoles, Member of ‘Jehovah Witnesses,’ Asks Final Decision as to Whether Board of Education Had Right To Bar Her From School She Asks Nine Judges to Rule in Her Favor,” Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), December 5, 1937, 10A,; “Void Flag Salute in Pennsylvania: ‘Students May Refuse on Religious Issue’; Opinion Contrary to Georgia’s,” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), November 11, 1939, 1, ↩︎
  6. Andy Ambrose, “Atlanta,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified June 8, 2022, ↩︎
  7. Katherine Barnwell, “Atlanta’s Women Organize To Demand Cleanup of Slums,” The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984), February 1, 1946, 1,; “The Last Day!: Of the School Year for Grammar School Children. Very Interesting Exercises, The Roll of Honor in the Different Schools. Some Special Features: The Commencement at West End Academy–The Mallon Society–The Exercises in Detail.,” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), June 23, 1888, 10, ↩︎
  8. Harvey K. Newman, “Decatur Street: Atlanta’s African American Paradise Lost,” Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia & the South 44, no. 2 (June 2000): 16-17,; Doug Monroe, “Where It All Went Wrong: Atlanta,” Atlanta 52, no. 4 (August 2012): 94-95,,shib&db=f6h&AN=78276963&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=gsu1. ↩︎