Our Friday tour takes us to the Martin Luther King Historic District and the Oakland Garden Cemetery. We will then have lunch on our own at Ponce city Market followed a drive down Peachtree Street to Buckhead and an overview of Atlanta as we drive through the main artery of the city. Our day will end with a stop at the Atlanta History Center. We expect to return to the hotel at 3:30.
Friday's tour will leave the hotel at 9:00. Our first destination will be the Martin Luther King Historic District. This traditionally black neighborhood of several blocks in Atlanta includes Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was a pastor, and his gravesite. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the nation's most prominent leader in the 20th-century struggle for civil rights. Born in 1929, he excelled as a student and graduated from Atlanta's Morehouse College in 1948. Also in 1948 he was ordained at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Following his ordination, he became Assistant Pastor of Ebenezer. He later studied at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, then graduate studies at the University of Boston. In 1954, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Following Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Martin Luther King, Jr., led the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 (381 days). In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. He moved back to Atlanta in 1960 and was co-pastor with his father at the Ebenezer Baptist Church while still President of the SCLC. Martin Luther King, Jr., worked tirelessly to assure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was arrested 30 times for his participation in civil rights activities and delivered some of the most famous speeches of the 20th century including his speech at the March on Washington in 1963, his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his final "Mountaintop" speech in Memphis. King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was helping striking sanitation workers.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in a two-story Queen Anne style house at 501 Auburn Avenue, in a neighborhood known as Sweet Auburn. The house has a one-story partial front and side porch with scroll cut woodwork trim, two porthole windows, a shingled gabled end, and a side bay. The porch sits on an enclosed brick foundation. Dr. King was born in an upstairs middle room on January 15, 1929 and lived here until 1941. The Ebenezer Baptist Church, where for eight years he shared the pulpit with his father, is a short walk away at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street. It is a three-story red brick building detailed in stone and has several groupings of stained glass windows. Construction of the church began in 1914 and was completed in 1922. Across from the church at 449 Auburn is the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., which continues King's legacy and work. King's gravesite occupies most of the cleared lot east of the Ebenezer Baptist Church to Boulevard Street. In 1976 a memorial park was installed around the marble crypt. The park consists primarily of a brick and concrete plaza with arch-covered walkway and chapel partially surrounding a reflecting pool. In the center of the pool, on a raised pedestal rests the King crypt. On it is engraved the inscription: "Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929-1968, 'Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I'm free at last." This National Historic Landmark historic district is also featured in our We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement travel itinerary.
Our next stop will be Atlanta's Oakland Garden Cemetery. Less than a mile from the heart of downtown Atlanta, this garden cemetery, founded in 1850, is the final resting place of many of Atlanta’s settlers, builders, and most noted citizens like Bobby Jones, Margaret Mitchell, and Maynard Jackson. It is also a showplace of sculpture and architecture, and a botanical preserve with ancient oaks and magnolias. Here in this peaceful place the full scope of the city’s rich and fascinating history unfolds before you.
Founded as "Atlanta Cemetery" in 1850 on six acres of land southeast of the city, it was renamed in 1872 to reflect the large number of oak and magnolia trees growing in the area. By that time, the city had grown and the cemetery had enlarged correspondingly to the current 48 acres. Since then, Atlanta has continued to expand, so that the cemetery is now located in the center of the city. Oakland is an excellent example of a Victorian-style cemetery, and reflects the "garden cemetery" movement started and exemplified by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts.
The original 6 acres of Oakland remains one of the oldest historical plots of land in Atlanta, most of the rest of the city having been burned in 1864. Because of its age and location, the cemetery directly reflects the history and changing culture of the City of Atlanta and the significant events it has seen. Names of Atlanta streets, buildings, parks, subdivisions, and more can be found within the cemetery gates. An estimated 70,000 people are interred at Oakland, and while the last plots were sold in 1884, there are still regular burials today. These are largely conducted on family-owned plots or areas owned by Atlanta, one of the most recent being former mayor Maynard Jackson, whose plot was contributed by the city.
Immediately upon entering the gates of Oakland is found the original 6 acres purchased for use as the Atlanta Cemetery in 1850. The gates and perimeter walls were not erected until 1896, the date engraved on the keystone of the gates' highest arch. After a short distance along a brick walkway, Oakland's first resident since its establishment can be found. Dr. James Nissen was a medical doctor visiting Atlanta who fell ill and died in 1850. Legend has it that Dr. Nissen shared a common fear of the day, being buried alive. Therefore, before his death he asked that his jugular vein be cut prior to his burial to ensure he did not wake up later under the ground. Being the oldest grave in Oakland since its designation as a city cemetery, Nissen's headstone is nearly completely worn away by the passage of time and the elements. The inscription is only known due to an extensive survey of Atlanta cemeteries performed in the 1930s by Franklin Garrett. Back towards the main gates of Oakland on a plot donated by the City of Atlanta lies Martha Lumpkin Compton. The daughter of Governor Wilson Lumpkin, from 1843 until 1845 Atlanta was known as "Marthasville" in her honor.
The first thing many people notice when entering the gates of Oakland is the mausoleum of Jasper Newton Smith, on which sits a striking life-size statue of Smith himself. Jasper Smith was a real estate investor who financed two buildings downtown. One, known as The House that Jack Built, was constructed with the stipulation that its cornerstone be left even after the building was torn down. That cornerstone still stands at the entrance of the Peachtree Center MARTA station on Carnegie Way. Smith was well known for refusing to wear a necktie due to a bad experience as a child. Therefore, one story describing the creation of his statue notes that when the artist sculpted him wearing a cravat, Smith refused to pay until the offending item had been chiseled off. Farther into this section can be seen the Kontz Memorial and the Neal Monument, two sculptures showing vastly different styles of artistry. The latter is an example of Neoclassical art and imagery, while the former is Oakland's only known example of Egyptian Revival. Also to be found in the original 6 acres is a small area of land marking the old Jewish section. This area was bought by the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation and is the second oldest Jewish burial ground in the State of Georgia, preceded by a colonial Jewish cemetery in Savannah. Also resting in the original 6 acres is Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones, an Atlanta-native amateur golfer known for first winning The Double. His grave can always be found with golf balls and other paraphernalia relating to the sport. The immediate area surrounding Jones' grave is adorned by all eighteen flower-bearing plants that are the namesakes of the holes on the Augusta National course. Franklin Garrett, a man dubbed "Atlanta's Official Historian" who extensively cataloged Atlanta's history as well as many of the graves at Oakland and other Atlanta-area cemeteries also rests in the original 6 acres.
While walking throughout the original 6 acres, and indeed much of the entire cemetery, many visitors will notice a lack of ironwork which is uncommon to a cemetery from Oakland's era. This is due to the City of Atlanta's contribution of much of the original ironwork in Oakland to the U.S. government for use in producing arms during World War I.
The Confederate section of Oakland is home to an estimated 6,900 burials, of which about 3,000 are unknown. During the Civil War, Atlanta was a major transportation and medical center for the Southern states. Since several of the largest military hospitals in the area were within a half mile from Oakland, many soldiers who died from their wounds were buried here. Shortly after the war ended, a few thousand fallen soldiers from the Atlanta Campaign who were previously buried in battleground graves were moved to the Confederate grounds in Oakland. The area is marked by a large monument known as the Confederate Obelisk. This 65 foot tall obelisk is made from granite quarried from Stone Mountain and was dedicated on April 26, 1874, the anniversary of Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to William Sherman and thus the end of the American Civil War. For a number of years, the Confederate Obelisk was the tallest structure in Atlanta. To the northwest, very close to the obelisk itself, are buried four Confederate generals, John B. Gordon, Lucius J. Gartrell, Clement A. Evans, and William Wright. To the south of the obelisk is a large section of marked military graves. Of special note are the 16 marked graves of Union soldiers that are buried alongside Confederate soldiers. This practice was very uncommon at the time, but was likely done at Oakland due to dwindling burial space. Also located in the Confederate section is one of the most striking monuments at Oakland, the Lion of the Confederacy, or Lion of Atlanta. The lion, which guards a field containing the remains of unknown Confederate dead, was commissioned by the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association and carved by T. M. Brady in 1894 out of the largest piece of marble quarried from north Georgia up to that time. Though Brady claimed that the design was original, with a few exceptions it is actually a near copy of the Swiss Lion of Lucerne.
Located relatively close to the old Jewish section contained in the original 6 acres, the plots designated as the "new" Jewish section were acquired by the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation in 1878 and 1892. The burial sites, and the headstones and monuments marking them, reflect the blending of the German-Jewish culture of which the Benevolent Congregation was primarily comprised, and the American culture that the community had adopted. In contrast to this cultural blending are the resting places of members of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, to which the Benevolent Congregation sold some of the plots. Members of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue were mostly Eastern European Jewish immigrants who were much more Orthodox. Unlike the Benevolent Congregation, the Synagogue sought to preserve their traditional culture and to avoid cultural blending. This is evident in the grave sites of members of the Synagogue, which are identifiable by their use of the Hebrew language and engravings of traditional Jewish symbols. In more recent years, the new Jewish section fell victim to vandalism by two teenaged locals in 1982.
Potter's Field is a 7.5 acre area that is traditionally designated for burial of those without the means to purchase a plot of land. Beyond the outer wall bordering the field is the former Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill and Cabbagetown, both constructed by Jacob Elsas, who is buried in the new Jewish section. By 1884 all of the traditional plots at Oakland had been sold. This meant that peoples' only options for burial at Oakland were to either buy a plot from a private owner or be buried in Potter's Field, and records show that many people opted for the latter. Potter's Field makes a significant contribution to the number of residents at Oakland, as indicated by a 1978 archaeological survey conducted by Georgia State University that revealed the entire area to be occupied by an estimated 17,000 persons.
One section of the cemetery is a testament to the period of history during which segregation was at its height in the United States. The entire cemetery reflects the great cultural changes that occurred in Atlanta during its service; from the Jim Crow era exhibited by the segregated black section to the modern era that strives for social equality, as shown by the recent burial of Maynard Jackson on a plot in the original 6 acres of Oakland. One striking feature that visitors will notice is that the black section, similarly to the adjoining Potter's Field, lacks a great deal of headstones, monuments, and grave markers in general. This is because many grave markers here were made of wood and other biodegradable materials. These markers have succumbed to the passing of time and as a result have rendered a large portion of the grave sites in the black section unknown. Despite the social difficulties that had to be overcome by African-Americans living in the Southern states at the time, there are several outstanding black figures buried at Oakland who made significant contributions to the history of Atlanta. Some of these include Bishop Wesley John Gaines, Reverend Frank Quarles, an early benefactor of Morehouse College, Carrie Steele Logan, and Antoine Graves, the owner of the only mausoleum in the black section.
Before the Bell Tower was constructed in 1899, a farmhouse owned by James E. Williams, who would later be mayor of Atlanta, stood in the spot. From this location, General John B. Hood directed Confederate forces in the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. The Bell Tower building as it stands today was originally the sexton's office and living quarters. Atop the tower is a bell that was formerly used to signal for workers to gather at that location, and for funerals. The basement was used as a vault for storing coffins awaiting burial. In 1998 the Bell Tower building saw extensive restoration and now serves as the offices of the Historic Oakland Foundation as well as the cemetery's visitor center.
As with most cemeteries of comparable size and age, Oakland contains numerous monuments and mausolea that are often outstanding examples of art and symbolism, or are of great historical significance. In the southeast area of the cemetery is a historical marker describing the events surrounding the Great Locomotive Chase, in which Union raiders stole a locomotive with the intent of cutting vital telegraph lines. They were captured by Confederate forces and seven of them were hanged in Oakland and temporarily interred there before being moved to the National Cemetery at Chattanooga. Near the Bell Tower lies a monument dedicated by the City of Atlanta to its first mayor, Moses Formwalt, who was also the youngest Atlanta mayor at 28 years old.
Sitting atop a hill near the original 6 acres is the Austell Mausoleum, likely the most elaborate in Oakland. The mausoleum was constructed by Alfred Austell, one of the founders of Atlanta National Bank, in the Gothic Revival style. The Austell Mausoleum cost around $90,000 to build in the 1880s, and is estimated to cost over $3 million to replace by today's standards. Another notable burial on the original 6 acres is the rose-adorned site of the Marsh family, on which Margaret Mitchell Marsh, author of Gone with the Wind, rests. Near the Marsh grave is a gas lamp that was one of the original 50 installed by the Atlanta Gas Light company in 1856. The lamp, which bears scars from the shelling of Atlanta in 1864, was donated to the cemetery by Franklin Miller Garrett. The keen observer might notice that the plaque that describes the gas lamp's history incorrectly dates the lamp to 1850.
Since Oakland is not and was never a perpetual care cemetery, maintenance of grave sites was the responsibility of the families of the interred. Of course, time sees the movement of families and the general disconnection with ancestors as generations pass. Because of this, many grave sites have fallen into disrepair from neglect and sometimes vandalism. Therefore, shortly after Oakland was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 28, 1976, the Historic Oakland Foundation was established. The Foundation has overseen the restoration and upkeep of many grave sites, monuments, mausolea, and buildings that had been affected by the ravages of time. Their activity, which is supported by donations, grants, and special events, continues today as they maintain and restore the cemetery as well as provide guided tours of the grounds.
Nest stop, lunch at Ponce City Market. Ponce City Market is a mixed-use development located in a historic building in Atlanta, with national and local retail anchors, restaurants, a food hall, boutiques and offices, and residential units. It is located where the BeltLine crosses Ponce de Leon Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward where that neighborhood touches the Virginia Highland, Poncey-Highland and Midtown neighborhoods. The 2,100,000-square-foot building, one of the largest by volume in the Southeast United States, was used by Sears, Roebuck and Co. from 1926–1987 and later by the City of Atlanta as "City Hall East". The building's lot covers 16 acres. It officially opened on August 25, 2014. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
The complex contains offices, apartments, a gourmet food hall, retail stores, educational facilities, and a rooftop amusement park. Larger retail stores include Anthropologie, Citizen Supply, J. Crew, Williams-Sonoma, and West Elm. Ponce City Market states that its food hall is similar to the famous Chelsea Market, New York City, also owned by Jamestown. James Beard-awarded chefs with presence in the food hall include Anne Quatrano of Star Provisions, Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, and Sean Brock of Charleston, S.C.'s Husk restaurant.
The building was built on the site of Ponce de Leon Springs, later the Ponce de Leon amusement park. From 1926 to 1979, it was a Sears, Roebuck and Co. retail store, warehouse and regional office. The Atlanta regional headquarters was closely linked to Sears' efforts to capture the market of Southern farmers through the Sears Agricultural Foundation. From August 1926 until October 1928, the Foundation hosted a radio show, broadcast from the Atlanta Sears tower called "Dinner Bell R.F.D.". R.F.D. stood for the club "Radio Farmers' Democracy. The show aired on WSB radio between noon and 1 pm three times a week, featuring old-time musicians and string bands. Sears held a farmer's market at the back of the property starting in May 1930 through New Year's Day 1947. In 1939, the market hosted the First Georgia Clay Products Show, which garnered an audience of 5,000. The market established partnerships with local 4-H Clubs and Future Farmers of America clubs. In 1979, the retail store closed but the building continue operating as a Sears regional office until 1987.
In May 1990, the city of Atlanta bought the building for $12 million, with plans to place 2,000 police and fire employees there, and later rent space out to county, state, and federal agencies. The city subsequently moved the central offices of its police department and fire department into the building. A city-funded art gallery was also established on the first floor. From 1995 to 1999, the Southeastern Flower Show was held here. The building was closed to the public on March 29, 2010. The City sold the property for $27 million to Jamestown, a private-equity group, on July 11, 2011. Jamestown, which also invested in the redevelopment of the White Provision retail and restaurant complex in West Midtown, bankrolled the 180-million-dollar plans by developer Green Street Properties to convert it into a mixed-use development. In a July 2011 interview, Michael Phillips, managing director of Jamestown, said that Jamestown is focused on Ponce City Market becoming the fourth nationally relevant food hall in the U.S., alongside Pike Place in Seattle, the Ferry Building in San Francisco, and Jamestown's own Chelsea Market in New York City.
It was hoped that the new development, along with the new adjacent BeltLine trail and Historic Fourth Ward Park, would stitch together the four neighborhoods that meet where it is located and revitalize the Ponce de Leon Avenue corridor. In August 2012, a coffee house, Dancing Goats, opened in a temporary location at the southwest corner of the site in the renovated Sears auto service center building, which also houses the Jamestown offices. Ponce City Market officially opened on August 25, 2014 with "Binders, General Assembly, and the Suzuki School joining Dancing Goats Coffee Bar as the first tenants; the plans at that time being that on September 22, Athena Health, the building’s first office tenant, would move 200 employees into the space and food trucks would also be on site starting that day, and residents of the Flats at Ponce would move in October through January.
After what I hope will be a great lunch break, some time to relax on a driving tour of Atlanta's Peachtree Street. Atlanta grew on a site occupied by the Creek people, which included a major village called Standing Peachtree. There is some dispute over whether the Creek settlement was called Standing Peachtree or Standing Pitch Tree, corrupted later to peach. Pine trees, common to the area, were also known as pitch trees due to their sap.
A trail known as the Peachtree Trail stretched from northeast Georgia to Standing Pitch Tree along the Chattahoochee River. The original Peachtree Road began in 1812 at Fort Daniel located at Hog Mountain in present-day Gwinnett County and ran along the course of the trail to the Chattahoochee. Some portions of the present road trace this route. After the American Civil War a shantytown named Tight Squeeze developed at Peachtree at what is now 10th Street in Midtown Atlanta. It was infamous for vagrancy, desperation, robberies of merchants transiting the settlement. In 1867, the name of Whitehall Street, the original road to White Hall Tavern in today's West End neighborhood, was changed to Peachtree Street from Marietta Street south to the railroad crossing just north of Alabama Street. Later in the 1980s, the portion of Whitehall Street from Five Points south to Forsyth Street and Memorial Drive, a major shopping district from the Civil War through mid-20th century, was renamed Peachtree Street SE.
In 2007, Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin unveiled a $1 billion, 20-year plan to transform Peachtree Street with streetscape upgrades, public parks, buried utilities, and the addition of a streetcar, based on a sixteen-month study by the Peachtree Corridor Partnership task force.
Our last stop is the Atlanta History Center. The Atlanta History Center is located in one of Atlanta’s most vibrant neighborhoods where the stories, mysteries and crusades of the region thrive. The 33 acre experience features award winning exhibitions, historic houses, enchanting gardens, interactive activities and a variety of year-round ault and family programs. Inside and outside of the buildings, we reveal the magic, meaning and context that gives rise to a multidimensional, shared understanding of our city.
The Atlanta History Center was founded on the big ideas and relentless fascination of 14 Atlantans who were emphatic about our city’s historical relevance in society. In a sense, the organization was created by Atlanta’s biggest fans, and we love that detail. In 1926, these founding members introduced the Atlanta Historical Society into the world with one mission: to help preserve Atlanta’s history. In 1990, after decades of collecting, researching, publishing and celebrating the early stories of our great Southern community, the Atlanta Historical Society and all of its holdings officially became the Atlanta History Center.
We returned to the hotel around 4:00.
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Updated by Terry W. McManuels