Even by the standard of America, Atlanta is a young city. Even before it became a settlement, such cities like Cincinnati, Charleston, Chattanooga and New Orleans were already thriving cities. Atlanta can be said to be a bright, aggressive and brash town with the rough ages smoothed by time. The city dashes with the charm of the south. Atlanta has a unique and proud heritage despite its relatively young age and has a past that is worth being preserved. Even though Atlanta was in the South, it was not however of the south from the beginning. It begun as a small railway crossing.
As such, it was established as a railway terminus. The culture, values and mores of the town resembled those of the frontier towns of the Old West than of the cities of the Old South. The catalyst for its growth and economy still remains transportation. The city always attracted men and women who possessed vision from the beginning, the opportunists who possessed the foresight to offer the facilities that would make Atlanta become one of the most important cities in the Southeast. The Creek and Cherokee Indians owned the land that is now Atlanta some one hundred and fifty years ago (Robert, 1981).
When the first white settlement was founded on the banks of the Chattahoochee River near the Indian village of Standing Peachtree, the United States was well into war. This was in the year eighteen twelve. The white people and the Indians lived together until the year eighteen thirty five when the leaders of Cherokee nation consented under the Treaty of New Echota to leave their lands and move west. During this period, the Cherokee lands were officially under the possession of Georgia, an act that resulted into the infamous Trail of Tears.
Farmers and craftsmen from the mountains of North Georgia, Carolinas and Virginia were the early settlers in the area of Atlanta. These early settlers were in most part hardworking and deeply religious. Through lottery disbursements, they came to possess their lands. They lived in harmony and peace with their Indian neighbors. They also owned a few slaves. They built schools and churches. They often traveled to Decatur to trade besides marketing their cotton in Macon which was a hundred miles to the south.
In the antebellum south, this society was as close to being termed yeoman as possible. In the metropolitan Atlanta area, some of their pre-Civil War churches, homes, mills and cemeteries are still in existence. The inception of Atlanta was the integration of necessity and geography made possible by the steam engine. The construction of a trade route from the coast of Georgia to the Midwest was voted by the Georgia General Assembly in the year eighteen-thirty six. It was meant to be a state railroad which was to facilitate trade between the state and other regions.
The terminal for the railroad was to be at the sparsely populated Georgia Piedmont. It was to run from a particular point on the Tennessee line close to the Tennessee River, starting near Rossville to a point on the Southeastern bank of the Chattahoochee River that could be easily accessed by the branch railroads (Reed, 2006). The name of the railroad was to be the Western and Atlantic Railroad of the State of Georgia. Stephen Harriman Long, an army engineer with a wealth of experience, was offered the task of finding the most practical route foe the new rail line.
He chose a site that was eight miles south of the river. The Indian trails and connecting ridges converged at this point. This point that he chose proved to be just the right site with an ideal climate. The stake was driven near the present Five Points in Downtown Atlanta. Atlanta is positioned in the Piedmont Plateau with an elevation of one thousand ands fifty feet yet no natural barriers can impede on the growth of the city. Atlanta grew developed like the towns in the West between the periods that long drove his stake on the ground and the beginning of the civil war.
Gold was stroke in the rail lines instead of mining. Opportunists, salesmen, merchants, craftsmen and land speculators were soon attracted by the railroad workers’ little settlement which was aptly named Terminus. What followed were the warehouses, ironworks, textile industry, sawmills and banks. The city later came to be called Marthasville in honor of the Governors daughter. However, prominent citizens considered this mane to be too long and bucolic for the progressive city and hence were changed to Atlanta.
The patterns of settlement were slowly being formed. A substantial merchant residential community known as Mechanicsville thrived around the rail yards. Near the White Hall Tavern grew the West End. Luxurious home begun to be built on Marietta, Whitehall, Broad, lower Peachtree and Washington Street as residential avenues of important citizens begun to be established. However, pre-War Atlanta was not a quiet business community. According to Franklin Garrett, the town was classified as tough even as the number of good, moral citizens increased.
The city distinctively developed as a railroad center with vices that were characteristic to rough frontier settlements. Gambling dives, brothels, resorts and drinking were normal in the city and the sporting elements were insulting on their defiance of the public order (Robert, 1981). When the Civil War erupted, Atlanta was already an important city. It had a population of more than ten thousand individuals, banks, manufacturing and retail shops, four rail lines, banks, carriage and wheelwright shops, three thousand eight-hundred homes, tanneries, warehouses, mills and iron foundries.
It became an important shipping and supply center for the Confederacy. It also possessed the facilities which made it necessary for the Union forces, led by Sherman, to seize and destroy it. In July 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman began his campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The city surrendered to his forces on September 2 after a series of battles and a siege of the city lasting for a month. The city was on fire not because of Union shells but mainly due to the box of explosives that the retreating Confederates blew up.
Evacuation of the city and the destruction of buildings that could be used by the confederates were ordered by Sherman. By the time Sherman started his march to the sea, the only structures left standing in Atlanta were about four hundred buildings. The city became a ghost town of ashes and rubble. When the residents came back and begun rebuilding the town, the city was still smoldering. The residents came back with a new and stronger spirit than before. Their confidence in the future of Atlanta grew and within five years after the holocaust, the city was rebuilt and its prewar population redoubled.
The city adopted a new form of architecture which waxes popular during that era since the original antebellum architecture was almost entirely destroyed during the period of the war. However, some of the few fine whitewashed columned mansions that were in downtown Atlanta survived even though others were later destroyed to provide room for state and city buildings. The limits of the city were originally circular and extended one mile from the zero milepost. Its initial expansions were circular too.
The demographic patterns of the city were reestablished as before the war. West End continued to thrive as a residential business community of the upper class. Along the Peachtree and Washington Streets, wealthy white citizens established and built Victorian mansions. Prosperous black enclaves also developed despite the fact that segregation existed in the city. These enclaves were concentrated along Auburn Avenue after 1906. Summerhill, Vine City and many other residential pockets around the central city emerged as black neighborhoods.
The city experienced rapid growth from the time that the Civil War ended through the last decade of the nineteenth century. The central business district expanded from Union Depot toward the it’s limits by the end of eighteen seventy (Best of Images of America, 2000). The city was dissected by a path of railroad tracks which converged in the lower downtown gulch. The flow of traffic over the tracks was facilitated by the construction of a network of viaducts that were planned in the turn of the twentieth century and completed twenty five years later.
The business district was moved to another level by the viaducts which led to the establishment of another area that is presently known as Underground Atlanta. For the railroad depots, a simple utilitarian Italianate architecture was encouraged and this influenced so much the design of the design of the commercial buildings that were constructed before the turn of the century. The foundation of Atlanta’s economy within this period still became the railroads. This continued through to the Second World War when emphasis shifted to truck and air transport.
The city’s growth was spurred by transportation and private enterprise. In the final decade of nineteenth century, new rail lines were added to the city’s network. Its dominance as southeast’s railroad center became established with the consolidation of ten radiating lines within that decade which included divisions of Southern Railway totaling five. With the recession and depression of the economy of the nation in the nineteen eighties, a series of fairs and expositions were staged by an Atlanta promoter to attract business in this area.
In an attempt to establish a new economic base in the postwar south, the International Cotton Exposition was staged in 1881. Atlanta was advertised as a commercial and transportation center by the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895 which made Atlanta to emerge as one of the major cities of the Southeast. The Exposition became recognized worldwide and by 1903, many regional and national companies had their headquarters in Atlanta. The growth of Atlanta as an industrial base, contrasting it with the rest of the south which was inclined toward agriculture, came as a result of the fair and exposition.
Industrial complexes were established along the rail lines, textile mills also came south and mill villages were also constructed to house the workers. The residential perimeters also expanded with the introduction of horse drawn street car in the 1871. There was also the emergence of several private developers. Among the notable private developers was Joel Hurt who built the fast skyscraper in Atlanta. He also established the first planned residential suburb in Atlanta. Atlanta adopted the Chicago school of architecture in the establishment of skyscrapers of elevator buildings.
The city’s skyline was transformed from the picturesque High Victorian to a collection of multipurpose skyscraper office buildings and hotels. These new buildings attracted a large railroad and insurance. Atlanta’s distinctive personality is offered by the early commercial buildings and the Victorian and post-Victorian settlements that were build between 1890 and 1930. Atlanta in the southeast’s capital city, a future city with strong ties to the past, its soul being the old in the new, a heritage that enhances the quality of life in a modern city.
Courtney from Study Moose