the histories of our streets

Georgia State University students map Atlanta's past

Category: Section 2 (north/center)

Woodward Avenue

Image of the Downtown Connector.

The Downtown Connector runs through the heart of Atlanta, conceived during the transformative period of the city. The ambitious project of the connector connects the northern and southern suburbs outside of Atlanta giving into the car culture that was flourishing within the city. Before its construction, residents and businesses lie where there are now strips of interstates. Looking at an illustrative view of a 1911 map, where north was Fair Street (now memorial Drive), East is Capital Avenue, South being Clarke Street, and West was Washington Street we notice how the space’s landscape consisted of residences and commercial establishments. 

Map of Woodward Avenue showing the sanitorium and the Christian & Missionary Alliance Chapel along with duplexes.
Map of Woodward Avenue showing the sanitorium and the Christian & Missionary Alliance Chapel along with duplexes.

In the upper north part of the downtown connector lies Woodward Avenue. Before the 1920s, the northern segment of Woodward Avenue, lying beside Capitol Avenue boasted a rich community life including an old sanatorium (which is another name for hospital) with surrounding duplexes and a church called Christian & Missionary Alliance Chapel. Based on old city directories, Woodward Avenue consisted of white residents until the gradual influx of Black individuals came and integrated themselves into the community which changed the foundation and became a main target of the renewal plan that has yet to come.

Old City directory page In Atlanta from 1922.
Old City directory of Woodward Avenue from 1922.

In the late 1800s, ambitious Christians wanted to provide education to kids, particularly in literacy. This process eventually becomes a Sunday school which evolves into a church called the Fifth Baptist church. The church was established with a mission to serve and uplift the community. This church lies in the space of where the old Christian & Missionary Alliance Chapel used to be. As mentioned earlier there was a growing population of black individuals in the area which impacted the church leaders’ attitude towards a mixing community. This caused the church to sell its property and move to the Grant Park area. The church then decided to rename themselves Woodward Avenue Baptist Church. The church was then displaced later on with the construction of I-20. The story of the Woodward Avenue Baptist church reflects the dynamic between faith, community, and urban development in Atlanta’s history. Its humble beginnings soon shifted due to race changes and a shift in the city social landscape.

1932 Sandburn map of Woodward Avenue. Show the vacant church lot, Atlanta Hosptial, and the Eliza Magnet Home for Girls.

In a 1932 sandburn map, lies a noticeable absence which was once home to a couple of churches now lying vacant. Comparing this picture to old maps still shows the area being congested with apartments and businesses. What was known as the sanatorium in an older map in the area now has a name called Atlanta Hospital. What was really surprising was that the hospital chose to turn the apartment building next to it into a nurse’s home with a tennis court sitting behind it. This choice speaks to the hospital commitment to provide medical services and support the comfort of their staff. Right next to it was housing for displaced girls called Eliza Magnet Home for Girls. These elements of this urban environment paint a vivid picture of institutions and communities addressing the needs and challenges of that time. 

The Downtown connector signifies the city’s evolution and adaptation amidst a shifting culture. Born during a period of culture, it transformed the urban fabric which replaced residential and commercial space with interstate highways. Memories of Woodward Avenue may fade against the background of urban renewal, but it illustrated the intricate relationship between institutions and communities to evolving needs.

Resources

Sanborn, D.A., “Atlanta 1931-1932 vol. 3, 1932, Sheet 312,” ProQuest, (ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps ~ Map of Atlanta 1931-1932 vol. 3, 1932, Sheet 312 (openathens.net) accessed March 8, 2024).

Atlanta City Directory Company. (1970, January 1). Atlanta City Directory Co.’s Greater Atlanta (Georgia) city directory … including Avondale, Buckhead … and all immediate suburbs .. : Free download, Borrow, and streaming. (Atlanta City Directory Co.’s Greater Atlanta (Georgia) city directory … including Avondale, Buckhead … and all immediate suburbs .. : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive : accessed March 8, 2024).

History. Park Ave Baptist. (n.d.). (History | Park Ave Baptist: accessed March 8, 2024).

Explore. ATLMaps. (n.d.). (Explore: ATLMaps: accessed March 8, 2024).

Washington_rawson_1911.jpg (4467×9985) (wikimedia.org)

 

Congregation Ahavath Achim

The Sanborn map below contains a view of 4 blocks from the Atlanta, Georgia Sanborn Map of 1932 Volume 3.1 Before the construction of the Downtown Connector, the Congregation Ahavath Achim once sat on the corner of Washington Street S.W. and Woodward Avenue.

Congregation Ahavath Achim first began in 1887 in a small house on Gilmer Street and Piedmont Avenue (where the Georgia State University Student Recreation Center is now!), very slowly expanded to accommodate members, and by 1899 had begun construction on a synagogue on the same lot.2 By 1920, the congregation was servicing over 200 families, and their synagogue on Gilmer Street was not enough to accommodate all their members, so they expanded and began construction on another synagogue on the corner of Washington Street and Woodward Avenue, completed in 1921.3 There were about 800 families being serviced at the congregation by 1940.3 Ahavath Achim is Atlanta’s second oldest Jewish congregation.4

Rabbi Mayerovitz served the congregation from 1901 to 1905, Rabbi Joseph Meyer Levine served from 1905 to 1915, Rabbi Yood from 1915 to 1919, and Rabbi A.P. Hirmes from 1919 to 1928.4 But the most notable of the congregation’s history is Rabbi Harry H. Epstein. Rabbi Harry H. Epstein became the congregation’s fifth spiritual leader in 1928, and he went on to serve the congregation for over 50 years.5 In his first 25 years, he increased the congregation size from 225 families to 1,400.6 By 1952, he had completed the conversion of the congregation from Orthodox Judaism to Conservative Judaism, which the congregation still practices today.4,5 Thanks to the foundation he gave Ahavath Achim, it is currently the largest Conservative congregation in Atlanta.4 Rabbi Epstein was the author of “Judaism in Progress,” a book of sermons.6 He also was state chairman of the Jewish National Fund and served as the head of Atlanta Jewish Welfare Fund, Gate City Lodge of B’nai B’rith, and the Mizrachi Organization.6

Now, the synagogue no longer stands due to the space being cleared for the Downtown Connector. This is what the site of a space that used to contain so much Jewish Atlantan culture looks like today.

But the congregation still exists today despite having to endure several relocations in its lifetime, its last being due to the construction of the Downtown Connector. The congregation now sits just south of Buckhead, by Memorial Park, and has been renamed to Ahavath Achim Synagogue.7

  1. Sanborn Map Company. Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, 1932. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1932. “Atlanta, Georgia Volume Three 1932” ↩︎
  2. “WILL BUILD NEW SYNAGOGUE,” The Atlanta Constitution, Aug 26, 1899. https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantadailyworld/docview/495555532/846E4987D4D145AEPQ/10?sourcetype=Historical%20Newspapers ↩︎
  3. Kysa Daniels, “Ahavath Achim Synagogue: A warm home for spiritual journey,” The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Aug 23, 2003. https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantadailyworld/docview/337035280/B0C34F21B92B4A53PQ/1?sourcetype=Newspapers ↩︎
  4. Berman, Sandra, Josh Waldrop, and Erin Wright. “Congregation Ahavath Achim (Atlanta, Ga.) Records.” Collection: Congregation Ahavath Achim (Atlanta, Ga.) Records | The Breman Museum ArchivesSpace. https://archivesspace.thebreman.org/repositories/2/resources/123. ↩︎
  5. “Epstein, Rabbi Harry.” The Breman Museum. https://thebreman.aviaryplatform.com/collections/994/collection_resources/48204.
    ↩︎
  6. “Rabbi Epstein To Be Honored At Synagogue,” The Atlanta Constitution, Feb 27, 1953. https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantadailyworld/docview/1533166955/96A3DE5BB0CD40A7PQ/18?accountid=11226&sourcetype=Historical%20Newspapers ↩︎
  7. “Ahavath Achim Acquires Site for New Synagogue,” The Atlanta Constitution, July 15, 1953. https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantadailyworld/docview/1534857589/AE834E0E7E8B4EBDPQ/40?sourcetype=Historical%20Newspapers ↩︎

Public Schooling on the South Side

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).
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.

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.1

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.2

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.3 For a “city too busy to hate,” religious tolerance only went so far.4

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.

Decline

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.”5 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.6

The following link depicts the approximate location of the Crew St. School: https://maps.app.goo.gl/k4Gkr8HTTRy4FvyD9. 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. “Display Ad 3 — no Title,” Atlanta Constitution (1869-1875), January 21, 1872, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/display-ad-3-no-title/docview/494564537/se-2; “Crew Street School,” Daily Constitution (1876-1881), June 25, 1881, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/crew-street-school/docview/494788829/se-2; Daniel Frank, “Pioneer Crew St. School to Yield to Expressway,” Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution (1950-1968), September 1, 1957, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/pioneer-crew-st-school-yield-expressway/docview/1635832889/se-2. ; “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, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/crew-street-school-house-burned/docview/494995435/se-2. ↩︎
  2. Frank, “Pioneer Crew St. School to Yield to Expressway”; Marni Davis, “Streetscape Palimpsest: A History of Georgia Avenue,” ArcGIS StoryMaps, accessed April 8, 2024, https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=b907a20ea0564aaa921ecd208ec746bf. ↩︎
  3. “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, https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantaconstitution2/docview/502660892/abstract/D4FE6C43DCC64B72PQ/164; “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, https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantaconstitution2/docview/502671685/abstract/B75E2BDA751543F5PQ/1; “Void Flag Salute in Pennsylvania: ‘Students May Refuse on Religious Issue’; Opinion Contrary to Georgia’s,” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), November 11, 1939, https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantaconstitution2/docview/503168598/abstract/62C7E45A7F0F44BCPQ/1. ↩︎
  4. Andy Ambrose, “Atlanta,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified June 8, 2022, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/counties-cities-neighborhoods/atlanta/. ↩︎
  5. Katherine Barnwell, “Atlanta’s Women Organize To Demand Cleanup of Slums,” The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984), February 1, 1946, https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantaconstitution2/docview/1528566406/abstract/E8B2E86EA07B43B3PQ/35; “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, https://www.proquest.com/hnpatlantaconstitution2/docview/495155818/abstract/2764C1CA9D3D45E4PQ/1. ↩︎
  6. 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, https://eds.p.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=8&sid=5c0db777-098b-4844-99df-10fbe5896979%40redis&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWlwLHNoaWImc2l0ZT1lZHMtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=46931121&db=ahl; Doug Monroe, “Where It All Went Wrong: Atlanta,” Atlanta 52, no. 4 (August 2012): 94-95, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=f6h&AN=78276963&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=gsu1. ↩︎
Skip to toolbar