Apr 11, 2021 • 22M

Antebellum Atlanta

Sherpa Café: Episode #2

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Exploring Atlanta's past, present and future. This podcast is for premium subscribers.
Episode details

Good morning and welcome to the Sherpa Café. It’s Sunday, April 11, 2021 and this is Episode #2. This weekly newsletter and mini-podcast goes out to my premium subscribers and members of the Sherpa Club. This week’s topic is Antebellum Atlanta.

Source Content

As part of the Department of the Interior's strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage tourists to visit historic places throughout the nation, the National Register of Historic Places worked with communities, regions, and Heritage Areas throughout the United States to create online travel itineraries. Using places nominated by State, Federal and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the itineraries help potential visitors plan their next trip by highlighting the amazing diversity of this country's historic places and supplying accessibility information for each featured site. Atlanta was the 25th National Register travel itinerary created through such partnerships.

This resource includes four “essays” which were included to provide historical context for the places included in the itinerary. They are Antebellum Atlanta, Industrial Atlanta, the African American Experience, and Growth and Preservation. The itinerary also includes 70 specific sites (buildings, districts, etc.) that are of cultural and historical significance. We’ll start with the four essays and then move on to the specific sites.

Images & Links

I created the custom images below for this episode of the Sherpa Café. They consist of photos I have taken over the years as well as photos and maps curated over time. My hope is that they will make the content more interesting and allow you to connect with Atlanta’s past, present and future.

Finally, I have included some links under “Explore More” at the bottom of this post. I think you will find those interesting so please spend some time with those.

Essay I: Antebellum Atlanta

Antebellum (adj.) from Latin phrase ante bellum, literally "before the war." In the United States, usually in reference to the American Civil War (1861-65); attested in that specific sense by 1862 (it appears in a June 14 entry in Mary Chesnut's diary).

Atlanta is often identified with its major air transportation hub and automobile-oriented culture. This association is only fitting, since antebellum Atlanta quickly grew from a frontier outpost to a bustling city largely due to the rise of transportation. From old Indian trails to ferries to railroads, Atlanta's early history is intertwined with the movement of people and goods. Atlanta's economy and its youth — it was founded in 1837 — made it vastly different from the plantation South and older eastern seaboard cities like Savannah and Charleston. Instead of a planter aristocracy, the leaders of pre-Civil War Atlanta were more likely to be merchants or railroad men.

From old Indian trails to ferries to railroads, Atlanta's early history is intertwined with the movement of people and goods.

The original inhabitants of the north Georgia locale that would one day become the Atlanta metropolitan area were the Cherokee and Creek nations, with the Chattahoochee River separating the two. Despite treaties and other official policies prohibiting white encroachment, white settlers moved into the region. In 1830 the United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which called for the relocation of all southeastern Indians to western territories. The Cherokee Nation contested the act in court, but the discovery of gold on Cherokee lands near Dahlonega in 1832 brought an influx of white squatters and gold hunters, and the state of Georgia illegally surveyed and parceled out the Indian lands.

Some 18,000 Indians were forced to leave their homes and lands in Georgia on a journey known as the "Trail of Tears."

In 1838 General Winfield Scott and his troops rounded up the Indians and began the forced march west to Arkansas and Oklahoma. Some 18,000 Indians were forced to leave their homes and lands in Georgia on a journey known as the "Trail of Tears." Almost 4,000 died enroute. The lands they formerly occupied were opened to white development, but evidence of the first inhabitants abounds in geographic names still used today: Chattahoochee and Oconee from the Creeks, and Kennesaw, Tallulah, and Dahlonega from the Cherokees.

The “Texas” engine above was built in 1856 for the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which had established its terminus in 1837 at the site that became Atlanta. That’s your ATLsherpa standing next to the Zero Mile Post + Sherman’s map of the W&R line + Stephen H. Long, the surveyor who sited the location for Terminus.

In 1837 the Western and Atlantic Railroad, a state-sponsored project, established a town at the termination point for the railroad, calling that location "Terminus." You can see that railroad's historic Western and Atlantic Railroad Zero Milepost just north of Underground Atlanta, a shopping and entertainment area. In 1843 the town was named Marthasville in honor of the daughter of former Governor Wilson Lumpkin, who had been instrumental in bringing railroads to the area. Two years later, the town was incorporated as Atlanta. The origin of this name is the subject of some debate, with some people saying that it is the feminine version of the "Atlantic" part of the railroad's name, while others believe it is a variation of Martha Lumpkin's middle name, Atalanta. Some cities in the metropolitan area were founded earlier than Atlanta: Lawrenceville (1821), Decatur (1823), and Fayetteville (1827).

Bridge that crosses the Chattahoochee River just south of where Hardy Pace operated his ferry business.

Because of the Chattahoochee River, some of the earliest businesses in Atlanta were ferries and mills. The road named after Hardy Pace's ferry — Paces Ferry — winds its way in front of the governor's mansion and other prestigious addresses in the upscale Buckhead section of Atlanta. The site of James Power's ferry, and the road named after it (Powers Ferry), is now the location of numerous office parks and apartment complexes. Some of these ferry services survived well into the 20th century. Antebellum gristmills and sawmills also left behind traces through such names as Moores Mill Road and Howell Mill Road.

In 1864, Atlanta was the connecting point for several rail lines, including the Georgia Railroad; the Macon and Western; the Atlanta and West Point and the original railroad that created Atlanta, the Western and Atlantic.

Railroads, however, were the key to Atlanta's rapid growth. In 1836, only 35 families occupied the area. The population expanded to 2,572 residents by 1850. At the beginning of the Civil War, Atlanta, with a population of more than 9,000, was the connecting point for several rail lines, including the Georgia Railroad from Augusta, Georgia; the Macon and Western, from Macon, Georgia; the Atlanta and West Point to West Point, Georgia; and the original railroad that created Atlanta, the Western and Atlantic to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Railroad-related industries thrived, including the Atlanta Rolling Mill, the second largest manufacturer of railroad tracks in the Southeast. These businesses and railroads centered on the area that Underground Atlanta occupies today.

The Atlanta Rolling Mill (later the Confederate Rolling Mill) was constructed in 1858 by Lewis Schofield and James Blake and soon after, Schofield and William Markham took it over and transformed it into the South's second most productive rolling mill, after the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia. [Wikipedia]

Their specialty was re-rolling worn out railroad rails but during the American Civil War it also rolled out cannon, iron rail, and 2-inch-thick (51 mm) sheets of iron to clad the CSS Virginia for the Confederate navy.

Historic Oakland Cemetery: A collection of photos I have taken over the years. The image in the upper left was my “desk” in front of the Visitor’s Center on one of my Battle of Atlanta walking tours. Highly recommend Oakland Cemetery!

Another antebellum landmark is Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta's first municipal cemetery, established in 1850. If you are looking for an antebellum Georgia plantation, Tullie Smith Farm at the Atlanta History Center on West Paces Ferry Road demonstrates how some north Georgia farmers lived and worked. This plantation-plain-style house was built just outside the present-day city by the Robert Smith family in the 1840s. Smith was a yeoman farmer who owned 11 slaves and cultivated about two hundred acres in DeKalb County.

The Tullie Smith Farm at the Atlanta History Center accurately represents a working slaveholding farm of the Atlanta area in the 1860s with historic buildings moved here for preservation. The landscape represents the era, with historic varieties of crops in the fields, the enslaved people’s garden, a kitchen garden, and a swept yard by the house planted with heirloom flowers. Surrounding the farm’s outbuildings are naturalistic, native plantings. Heritage-breed sheep, goats, chickens, and turkeys also live on the farm. [Atlanta History Center]

Hogs and cattle ranged freely on the other 600 acres. Despite popular belief to the contrary, the large, extravagant plantations of Hollywood and romantic novels were more the exception than the rule in the Upper Piedmont portion of the South. Tullie Smith Farm consists of a farmhouse, a separate open-hearth kitchen, vegetable, herb, and flower gardens, a blacksmith shop, a smokehouse, and a barn complete with animals. Living history interpreters lead tours and demonstrate the crafts and everyday activities.

Few antebellum buildings exist in the Atlanta area. Bulloch and Barrington Halls (both in Roswell) are rare examples of buildings that were constructed before the Civil War.

While some enslaved persons in antebellum Atlanta were agricultural laborers, most worked as general laborers and domestic servants or else pursued skilled trades as brick masons, carpenters, and blacksmiths. Many of these slaves were hired out and sometimes were allowed to keep a portion of their wages. These men and women often went about their daily lives with little or no interference from their owners, but the city passed numerous ordinances restricting their movement and assigned much harsher penalties for slaves and free blacks found guilty of infractions than whites guilty of the same offense.

* This essay was written by Andy Ambrose, Karen Leathem and Charles Smith of the Atlanta History Center. For more on Atlanta's history, see: Andy Ambrose, Atlanta: An Illustrated History. Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2003. Source: USNPS

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