For those who have ever wondered what it was like to live and work on a
19th-century southern farm or how the events of 1864 shaped the outcome of the
Civil War, the Atlanta History Center is the place to head for answers.
The center features a number of exhibitions, and on its grounds stand two
historic homes and 33 acres of woods and gardens.
Through its exhibitions, visitors can trace Atlanta's history from its
origins in the 1800s as a rail terminus to today's bustling metropolis, learn
about the evolution of folk art and music in the area, and discover how two
major wars shaped Atlanta.
The sheer enormity of the Metropolitan Frontiers exhibit is
inspiring—it allows visitors to explore almost 8,000 square feet of the
artifacts, period clothing, furniture, maps, and documents that characterized
Atlanta throughout its history.
The exhibit reaches back to the early to mid-1800s, when the northwestern
region of Georgia was inhabited by Cherokee Indians, and Atlanta was a
frontier town ripe for the arrival of the Western & Atlantic Railroad.
On display are Native-American artifacts and copies of Atlanta's first
newspapers, such as the Atlanta Intelligencer.
Also included is a "shotgun house," which was moved from its
original location in southwest Georgia. An African-American house design,
shotgun houses date back to the early 1800s and were usually one room wide by
two or three rooms deep. They are found in both rural and urban southern
Another distinctive exhibit piece is a fire engine without the flashing
lights and sirens—this one was built in 1898 and drawn by horses. Though
it now seems antiquated, it helped extinguish Atlanta's "Great
Fire" of 1917 in which structures along 50 city blocks were destroyed,
including 400 homes.
War aficionados will flock to two exhibits that focus on the Civil War and
World War II. Some of the exhibits include period military garb, weapons,
bullet-proof armor, and a two-mouthed canteen.
The history center even has something to offer golf lovers—an exhibit
on Bobby Jones, a professional golfer from Atlanta who won 13 major
tournaments between 1923 and 1930.
Music and art lovers will enjoy an exhibit that traces the evolution of
folk art and music in the Southeastern United States. "Folk Arts in a
Changing South" includes more than 500 handcrafted pieces of pottery,
colorful quilts, and musical instruments.
Those who want to conduct their own research into the history of Atlanta
and the South will find what they are looking for in the James G. Kenan
Research Center library and archives, which houses 3.5 million historical
items including books, photographs, gay and lesbian historical literature, and
rare maps and paintings.
Behind the history center stands the Tullie Smith Farm, featuring a
two-story farmhouse built in 1845 and moved to its present location in 1972.
Docents in period costume show visitors what it was like to live on a
19th-century farm in Atlanta.
For those who are curious about how Atlanta's wealthy families lived, a
tour of Swan House is in order. Swan House, also located on the center's
grounds, was built in 1928 for real-estate magnate Edward Hamilton Inman, the
patriarch of a well-known Atlanta family. The mansion, designed by renowned
Atlanta architect Philip Trammell Shutze, features at least one swan emblem or
decoration in each room, and in front of the mansion are a pair of cloverleaf
fountains, a terraced lawn, and a stone wall.
For nature lovers, the center boasts 33 acres of gardens and woods,
including a rhododendron garden; the Cherry Sims Asian American Garden, where
Satsuki azaleas grow; and a quarry garden enclosed in a three-acre wooded area
that is home to hundreds of plant species.
The Swan House reopened to the public in May 2004 after a five-year,
$5.5 million restoration project. The mansion is named for the swan motif
found throughout its many rooms. Photo by Joan Arehart-Treichel
Visitors can refuel at the history center's Coca-Cola Café, which
features a recreation of a 1950s soda fountain.
The Atlanta History Center is located at 130 West Paces Ferry Road
NW. More information about the center and the Kenan Research Center is posted